Chapter 34: Where there’s a Heaven, there’s a Hell Original and most updated translations are from volare. If read elsewhere, this chapter has been stolen. Please stop supporting theft.
The paved flagstones beneath their feet led straight forwards. Thanks to years of carriage wheels crushing them underfoot, the limestone had acquired ruts that looked like they were carved in by hand. Lou Zigui finally realized today that long use of limestone roads would turn them into such a state.
“It’s time for a change,” Lou Zigui said out of the blue.
“What?” Ning Xiaoyao and the gyrfalcon both looked at him, not understanding.
Lou Zigui pointed at the ground beneath his feet. “It’s time to change these flagstones.”
Ning Xiaoyao looked down but still didn’t get what Supreme Commander meant. Was she in charge of repairing the roads too, now that she was the emperor? She never heard of the emperor being responsible for construction or roadworks. Ning Xiaoyao thought as she lifted her foot to stomp on the ground, puzzled as she spoke. “Isn’t it pretty alright?”
Lou Zigui fell silent as he moved forward again. This time, he didn’t let Ning Xiaoyao support him. Ning Xiaoyao only felt baffled. This wasn’t how one made conversation, ah!
“Supreme Commander wants to fix the roads?” the little gyrfalcon asked.
Ning Xiaoyao thought it over. This was a very long street. “Then who’s going to pay for it?” Her question was very pragmatic. She had a pocket full of sugar beans but not a coin of money. Was he hoping she could fix the streets? The little gyrfalcon shut his mouth. Falcons didn’t have money and neither did his master~
A street can be replaced with a new one, but what about a dynasty? Lou Zigui asked himself. How does one bring a dying dynasty back to life?
Ning Xiaoyao ran to Lou Zigui’s side and asked, “Hey, you really want to fix the roads?”
Lou Zigui turned to look at her. Ning Xiaoyao’s large eyes were shining. She’d realized she was a pauper right now and wanted to find a place to cry. It was no good for an emperor to be poverty-stricken.
Lou Zigui had been hesitant before, but now he’d made his decision. Standing in the empty street, he told Ning Xiaoyao, “Be the emperor.”
Ning Xiaoyao’s eyes widened, making her face seem even smaller than before. This person knew she was a girl, but wanted her to be emperor?!
“I know you had no choice,” Lou Zigui said. Ning Xiaoyao nodded, this was true. The day she arrived, she was already the emperor. Even if she was Ning Yu, how could she blame herself for her unlucky fate? That girl’s entire life was in the Xie father and daughter’s hands, so how could she have made choices for herself?
“If you want to break free from the Xie father and daughter pair, I’ll help you,” Lou Zigui bent his waist slightly to speak in a low voice. His breath still carried the scent of Chinese medicine, which mixed with the fragrance of flowers to leave Ning Xiaoyao a little disoriented.
“As for our matters,” Lou Zigui added, “We’ll talk about that in the future, all right?”
Ning Xiaoyao blinked. “What matters?” As long as Supreme Commander Lou didn’t blame her for the crown prince’s death, what other debts did they have between them? Ning Xiaoyao really had no idea, but Lou Zigui believed that all women in this world valued their chastity. Ning Xiaoyao had to be pretending she didn’t know.
“Let’s go,” Lou Zigui straightened up and walked forward.
“Ah? Oh.” Ning Xiaoyao walked by his side. Lou Zigui released a breath when Ning Xiaoyao didn’t mention the events of that night, but he’d only taken a few steps before he started spurning himself in his heart. After taking away a girl’s virginity, he actually insisted on not talking about their future. So as it turned out, he was that sort of wretch and scoundrel. If his father and older brothers were still alive, they’d definitely beat him to death.
“I,” Seeing that they were about to leave the street, Lou Zigui spoke to Ning Xiaoyao softly. “I won’t take a wife in the future. As long as Your Majesty is in the palace, I won’t marry anyone.”
“… …” said Ning Xiaoyao. If that happened, would Big Boss Black bite her to death?
“In the future,” Lou Zigui’s tone was a little abnormal as he spoke, “In the future, I’ll definitely make things clear to you.”
Ning Xiaoyao still didn’t understand him. Why did Supreme Commander have to make things clear to her and not take any wives? (Author: Did you forget that you two slept together?!)
From a distance, the sound of urgent hoofbeats drew closer. Lou Zigui saw Ning Xiaoyao standing on tiptoes as she strained to look and said, “The Nine Gate Infantry Commander’s troops have arrived.”
Ning Xiaoyao ‘ohh’d’ as if she understood, when she really had no idea what a Nine Gate Infantry Commander was at all. The two of them reached the end of the street as the Nine Gate Infantry Commander Tao Chen 1 brought his men and horses to the crossroads. When he saw Lou Zigui, he gave a start.
“Go on in,” Lou Zigui said coldly.
Tao Chen sat astride his horse as he cupped his fist at Lou Zigui before pressing the animal forward. Only after he galloped past Lou Zigui did he spot the short person by his side. A single glance was enough to make him shift on his horse. He had been present on the day of the execution and clearly seen Ning Xiaoyao’s face. Why is His Majesty here?
“Let’s go,” Lou Zigui stepped behind Ning Xiaoyao and urged her on. Ning Xiaoyao started walking, but kept shooting curious glances at the armed troops before them. Tao Chen watched Ning Xiaoyao leave and felt great uncertainty in his heart. Since when had Lou Zigui become His Majesty’s close confidante? Just what had happened between the Grand Preceptor and His Majesty?
“Just then, that person was the Nine Gate Infantry Commander,” Lou Zigui said. “He’s Grand Preceptor Xie’s third son-in-law. Before he was a fighter in the navy forces of the south. Nine years ago, the grand preceptor recalled him to the capital to become the Nine Gate Infantry Commander.”
Ning Xiaoyao originally felt that these troops were like torch-bearing brigands with their shiny armor and impressive air; after hearing their leader was related to Grand Preceptor Xie she felt nothing about them at all.
“You never saw him while staying at the Grand Preceptor’s estate?” Lou Zigui asked.
“Heheh,” Ning Xiaoyao replied. He’d have to ask Ning Yu for that, she had no idea.
Left of the crossroads was another straight road. Ning Xiaoyao hadn’t taken a few steps before she heard the cries of a cat. After listening for awhile, she realized something was wrong because she couldn’t understand these noises like she understood cats.
“A child?” Ning Xiaoyao asked Lou Zigui. It was so late. Why was a child out crying in the streets?
Lou Zigui glanced at a bamboo canopy not far away and pointed it out. “There’s a soup kitchen there. During the day, a rich family provides free porridge for the poor. The refugees should be waiting nearby so they can get their porridge as early as possible tomorrow.”
There were even families who gave out food for free? Ning Xiaoyao ran forward. She couldn’t miss out on such a good deal. But once she reached the awning, she discovered two alleyways on her left and right. The scene inside them…turned her stupefied as she stared at the incredible sight.
The alleyway was full of people sitting down, all of them wearing ragged clothing. All of them, from the old seniors to the young children and even people at the prime of their life, were sallow and emaciated. In the left alley, a woman was hugging a little child and crying while everyone around her looked expressionless. Ning Xiaoyao listened and listened, but didn’t hear the little child’s cry she heard before. Her heart felt a bit flustered as she quickly ran to that woman’s side. When the woman lifted her head to look at Ning Xiaoyao, her mouth was still making sobbing noises, but no tears flowed from her eyes. Ning Xiaoyao reached out a hand to touch the little boy in her arms. His skin was still warm, but his heart had stopped beating already. She withdrew her hand because she had no way to raise the dead back to life.
“My son is sick,” the woman told Ning Xiaoyao.
Ning Xiaoyao furled her lips. The little boy couldn’t be more than three years old, but his body was as skinny as a reed. His stomach, though, was bloated, a sign of dropsy from starvation. The child must have starved to death.
“Dead,” an old woman nearby said hoarsely. “Don’t cradle him anymore.”
The woman started to cry again, rocking the boy in her arms as if lulling him to sleep. Ning Xiaoyao took a step back. This world had no zombies or pollution, but was filled with blue skies and clean water. But people could still starve to death here? As she looked around the alleyway, she discovered that all of the children had distended stomachs from starving. A few thin men slowly started to surrounded Ning Xiaoyao, who looked like the son of some rich family at a glance. There was a gyrfalcon on her shoulder, so if they couldn’t rob her of money, they could grab the bird. Even if they didn’t sell it at the market, they could make it into a delicious meal for themselves.
It was here that Ning Xiaoyao stomped her feet, utterly discomfited, before running out of the alley. The men were clearly on the verge of surrounding her, but Ning Xiaoyao vanished with a gust of wind, scaring them witless. Was that a ghost?
Ning Xiaoyao ran into the right alleyway next. As before, all the people here were skinny and emaciated, their faces wooden. The children were thin with swollen stomachs, and everyone stared at Ning Xiaoyao as if she didn’t exist. Hunger had robbed them of all curiosity. Lou Zigui sat quietly on a backless bench beneath the bamboo canopy, watching the motionless Ning Xiaoyao. The Grand Preceptor’s estate might be a cage, but it was one made of beautiful brocades, jewels, and jade. Lou Zigui believed that this was His Majesty’s first time see these refugees with her own eyes.
Ning Xiaoyao still had a pocket of sugar beans, but she didn’t dare take them out. Her experience surviving in the apocalypse had taught her that revealing these beans would only sent the people in a mad scramble as they trampled each other for the goods. The old and children couldn’t endure such torments.
“Do you want a servant?” a very soft voice spoke up from her right. Ning Xiaoyao turned to see a little girl sitting there, an old man lying on the mat in front of her.
“I don’t want money, but can you save my grandpa?” the little girl asked with her head raised.
Ning Xiaoyao walked over to the old man’s side and glanced at his protruding ribs, before shaking her head at the girl. “He’s dead.” Livor mortis had already appeared on his body, meaning that this man had been dead for at least two hours.
The little girl lowered her head but didn’t cry. She simply tugged up the frayed cotton bedding until it covered the old man’s face. Ning Xiaoyao saw that a two to three year old boy was sleeping behind the girl and asked, “Your little brother?”
The little girl nodded before suddenly lifting her head again. “Sir, we can be your servants. All we need is some food to eat.”
“How old are you?” Ning Xiaoyao asked.
“Ten, no, I’m twelve,” the little girl said hastily. “I’m strong and willing, I can do any kind of work.”
In just a little while, Ning Xiaoyao had been surrounded by a crowd of people, all who wanted to be her servants. They didn’t want anything in return besides some food to eat. Ning Xiaoya felt very helpless. She knew how to treat illnesses and hack zombies, but nobody had ever taught her how to deal with such a situation. So as it turned out, this world had its ugly places too.
Half crouched by the old man’s body, Ning Xiaoyao dug her fingers into her palms. The Father in the army hadn’t lied to her. Where there was Heaven, there was a Hell.
- Tao Chen (淘谌) – Tao is a surname that means “pottery, earthernware,” Chen is simply a character for a surname. ↩