Chapter 156: The woman who ran into the fire Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
“If you like it, then drink some more,” Lou Zigui said mildly as he picked up the soup spoon. Seeing that, Ning Xiaoyao simply picked up the entire pot of soup, lifted her head, and started gulping it down.
Lou Zigui’s hand stiffened around the ladle. Big Boss Black covered his face, unable to bear the sight of Xiaoyao embarrassing herself. Meanwhile, Shadowgale appeared by the door and asked to be let in.
“Come in,” Lou Zigui spoke on behalf of the girl who was currently guzzling her soup.
“Your Majesty,” Shadowgale’s voice sounded furious. “Many of the properties in the capital are ‘leaking water’“
Ning Xiaoyao kept gulping down her soup because she had no idea what ‘leaking water,’ or zoushui (走水) meant. Lou Zigui put down his soup spoon.
“Could it have been on the Grand Preceptor’s orders?” Shadowgale asked.
Lou Zigui asked, “Where is it leaking?”
“The west part of the city,” Shadowgale replied. Lou Zigui glanced at the sword at Shadowgale’s waist. Here was a man already preparing to go out and seize some properties, only to find that they’d caught fire. No wonder he was all fired up himself.
Ning Xiaoyao finally finished her soup and put the pot aside. She stuck out her tongue and licked it clean before asking, “What does ‘running water’ mean? Is there a flood?”
Shadowgale scratched his ears. I must have been hearing things just then.
“‘Running water’ means that they’ve caught on fire,” Lou Zigui patiently explained, his expression showing that he was used to this.
“Catching on fire means running water?” Ning Xiaoyao felt this way of phrasing things was fresh and new.
He doesn’t even know that? Shadowgale didn’t get it anymore. Just how did His Majesty grow up? Lou Zigui simply stared at Ning Xiaoyao.
“‘Running water’ is ‘catching fire,’” Oblivious to her own foolishness, Ning Xiaoyao repeat the phrase a few times to herself before coming to a pause. Then she looked at Lou Zigui and Shadowgale and exclaimed, “That’s not right, why is it fire again? Who did it?!”
Lou Zigui exhaled. Thank goodness, this girl’s not actually a fool. (Author: Hey hey, don’t be like that, Supreme Commander!)
“It should be the Grand Preceptor,” Shadowgale replied. “He doesn’t want Your Majesty to get Old Madame’s houses and shops.”
Ning Xiaoyao wanted to flip the table, but didn’t want to break the dishware sitting on it. What if she broke one by accident?
“Bring some men out of the city,” Lou Zigui said. “I’ll take care of the things inside the capitol.”
“How are you going to take care of things? Everything’s burning!” Ning Xiaoyao made a racket.
“They should have burnt the shops first,” Lou Zigui stood up and grabbed a handkerchief before skillfully wiping Ning Xiaoyao’s mouth. “So we’ll forget about the shops. The houses are still rather valuable.”
Ning Xiaoyao felt her body ache from the loss. “Shops, ah. Those were all worth money!”
“Wait for me at the palace,” Lou Zigui examined the mouth he’d just cleaned. Ning Xiaoyao was pouting so much that her lips could be an oil jar spout.
“I’ll go too,” Ning Xiaoyao wanted to jump.
“You should treat those seven men’s injuries,” Lou Zigui held her back as he lowered his voice. “If you want them to survive, then you should heal them faster so they can leave the city sooner.”
“Fine then,” Ning Xiaoyao nodded. Between saving lives and saving houses, she’d pick the former first.
“Let’s go,” Lou Zigui brought Shadowgale out of the audience hall.
Standing before the palace were thousands of imperial guards all ready for a journey. At the sight of Lou Zigui, one of the generals ordered the troops to mount their horses.
“If we meet with resistance,” Lou Zigui told Shadowgale and the generals, “Kill them on the spot.”
“And if they happen to be just farmers?” one of the generals asked.
“If they’re trying to bludgeon you, they’re not just farmers anymore,” Lou Zigui said coldly. “Once the rowdiest ones die, the others will turn docile. And don’t let any of the Grand Preceptor’s men escape, regardless of where they’re hiding in the crowds.”
Shadowgale and the generals replied in assent. One order later, the imperial guards and their horses were heading for the streets.
“Go find Old Huo,” Lou Zigui told Fang Tang once Shadowgale and the rest were in the lead. “Tell him to have Xie Laibao meet me in the western part of the city.”
Fang Tang nodded and left.
“The two of you, bring two hundred imperial guards to the east and southern parts of the city,” Lou Zigui handed over the various deeds and titles in his hands to two generals. “Claim all the properties listed on these papers. If you meet with resistance, there’s no need to act polite.”
The two generals obeyed and took two hundred guards with them out of the palace. One group headed for the south, the other for the east.
“Protect His Majesty well,” Lou Zigui instructed Shadowthunder and Shadowbolt, who were to stay behind in the palace. Then he mounted his horse and left with 100 troops of his own. While heading for the western part of the capital, he could already see the skies overhead dyed with red from the flames. Two entire streets had been swallowed by the fire, forcing its residents to flee into the streets. Between the cries of women and children, there were also the elderly who had fallen by the streets, helplessly begging for help. Lou Zigui saw many of the civilians attempting to fight the fire, but there were no local authorities anywhere in sight.
When the civilians saw soldiers and horses heading their way, they were beside themselves with excitement. They assumed that the palace had sent men to fight the fire. But when all they saw were the imperial guards, they lost hope again. These were none other than His Majesty’s personal guads. How could they ever lower themselves to things like putting out fires?
“Setting fire to his own house is one thing, but how could Xie Wenyuan be so ruthless?” one of the Black Frost Cavalry generals said through gritted teeth.
“The soldiers from the capital barracks are here!” a few of the citizens shouted from the end of the street. Lou Zigui heard the sound of hooves and looked back to see a thousand-strong team of soldiers and horses heading their way. A few generals moved to guard him. With their 100 imperial guards, they were hard-pressed to face off against such a large party.
Lou Zigui only glanced at the battalion behind them before turning around and continuing forward.
“They’ve left,” one of the military officers in the battalion reported to his general, who exhaled in relief at the sight. That’s for the best. Their numbers might be few, but it’s uncertain who’d win if we really got into a fight.
“Put out the fires,” the general ordered loudly. The capital barrack’s soldiers immediately split up to fight the flames.
“You, go back,” the general told one of his bodyguards. “The fire’s too big, we need more men. Return to call for reinforcements.”
The bodyguard muttered an assent and quickly galloped back to the barracks.
“It’s this row of shops right here,” one of the imperial guards said as he stopped in a intersection with Lou Zigui to point at five buildings swallowed in flames. “I remember those five were wine shops.”
“It’s useless,” one of the Black Frost Cavalry generals muttered. “What could be left after a fire like that?”
“The capital barracks soldiers should be here to fight the fire,” another general said as he looked behind them.
“These five buildings were all wine shops?” Lou Zigui asked again.
The imperial guard replied, “I’ve never entered them myself. The wine shops on this street are too expensive for me.”
A woman’s sobs came from the direction of the flames. Some people attempted to save her, but the flames were too high for them to rush in. Two imperial guards dismounted from their horses and doused themselves with a bucket of water before rushing into the flames. Soon enough, they rescued a woman clutching a child to her chest.
“A refugee?” one of the civilians muttered to his neighbors as he surveyed the woman.
The imperial guard placed his hand beneath the nose of the child in the woman’s arms, before shaking his head at Lou Zigui. “He’s not breathing.”
The woman clutched her son and sank to the ground with wretched sobs. Whether or not she was a refugee, the cries of a mother who’d just lost her child were heartwrenching enough to earn the sympathy of anyone listening. The civilians around her began to shed tears at the sight.
Lou Zigui dismounted and walked to the woman’s side before half kneeling down to ask, “What happened?”
The woman’s face was completely black from all the soot and ash, her eyes red from crying.
“You’re refugees that live on the streets, so why didn’t you escape in time when the fires broke out?” Lou Zigui asked again.
The fire had burnt off half the woman’s clothes as well. Right now, she was draped in one of the soldier’s robes.
“If you don’t say anything, wouldn’t he die discontent?” Lou Zigui reached out a hand to close the eyes of the dead little boy.
“Nobody lived,” the woman spoke, “Not a single one. They all died. Everyone—everyone died.”
“What?” Lou Zigui asked.
“So many people came,” the woman clutched her child tighter, her expression growing wild and alarmed. “They said…” She made a series of loud gargled noises that Lou Zigui couldn’t understand at all.
“She said there were people cursing the Grand Preceptor,” a middle-aged merchant standing on the side spoke up, growing agitated from the woman’s words. He raised his voice and cried, “So the leader of the men gave orders to trap them in the alley and burn them to death!”
Everyone stiffened at the words as the woman sobbed on. Burning people to death just for cursing someone else?
“They’re all gone,” the woman wailed. Behind them, a four-storied building caved in, sending up clouds of dust that choked the watchers. They beat a hasty retreat from the building. Lou Zigui knelt there unmoving, but he bent down slightly to shield the woman from the incoming smoke and dust.
“It had to have been the Grand Preceptor’s men.” None of the Black Frost Cavalry generals had budged either. It was one of them that spoke now, his voice hot with fury. “Those good-for-nothing bastards. If they had the guts, they should fight like real men.”
“Take her away,” Lou Zigui said as he stood up. But the woman simply kissed her little son’s face before standing up to rush wildly back into the flames. Her family was all dead now, so what was the point if she lived on alone?
Lou Zigui had already turned to leave when he heard the woman’s footsteps. By the time he turned to stop her, it was already too late. Cries of alarm rose from four sides as she threw herself headfirst into the flames. There was a flash of a human silhouette in the fire, then a heartrending shriek. Soon after that, the shrieking stopped, leaving the thrashing human torch falling to the ground. Another building collapsed from the flames and buried the woman’s body beneath its rubble.
A deathly silence fell upon the intersection.
Gradually, some of the women began to weep. Their sobs grew louder and more intense until others joined them. Without a home, a person could build another. But what could one build from lost lives?
Lou Zigui stared at the flames before him, his expression ice-cold. At this moment, one of Old Huo’s subordinates came huffing and puffing to his side.
“Did you see them?” Lou Zigui asked the newcomer. “Who gave the orders to kill those people?”
“It was Xie Anshi,” the man replied softly.
Lou Zigui nodded. Compared with Xie Anyi and Xie Anji, Xie Anshi’s personality resembled his father and elder sister the most. The only thing he lacked was the brains to back it up. Killing refugees at a time like this? If the refugees dared to charge into the palace, what made him think they wouldn’t attack the Grand Preceptor’s estate in the same way?
“Supreme Commander,” the messenger pointed to one of the streets leading to the north. “Xie Anshi went to his elder brother-in-law’s house—Tao Chen’s estate.”
Lou Zigui looked towards the north as killing intent flashed through his eyes.