Chapter 367: A Fight
It happened in an instant.
Fang Quan suddenly launched himself at the Concubine Liu, produced a knife from somewhere about his person and abruptly stabbed it at the Ninth Prince who was in the Concubine Liu’s arms!
He did it so fast that nobody was able to stop him. When the Concubine Liu’s scream was heard, the Ninth Prince had already fallen to the ground, lying in a pool of blood. The ringleader kicked Fang Quan aside, whipped out his saber and held it to Fang Quan’s neck, a glacial look on his face.
“You’re not supposed to have done this, Your Lordship.”
Fang Quan’s teeth were chattering from the coldness of the blade against his neck. “You–You can’t kill me. I’m the Eighth Prince’s grandfather, and my life is worth something. You want to lose the part of the payment for my life?!”
The ringleader’s eyes went cold, the rippling muscles on his face making him look like a cacodemon. The Concubine Jin and the Eighth Prince both screeched with horror, flinching and curling up.
“My son! My son!” wailed the Concubine Liu, holding the Ninth Prince. “You’re scaring me, my son!”
All the others stood motionlessly, not daring utter a word. The Concubine Liu’s shrill crying sounded exceptionally poignant in the wilds on this pitch-dark night.
The ringleader dealt Fang Quan a blow with the flat of his saber which knocked him out. Icy-faced, looking at the Ninth Prince’s body and the Concubine Liu who was still wailing, he instructed, “Gag her.”
Soon someone forced the Concubine Liu into stop crying. With a demented face, the Concubine Liu stared murderously at Fang Quan and the Concubine Jin, the look in her eyes so venomous as though she would eat them alive and drink their blood if she could.
At first the Concubine Jin was scared, but after a while, seeing that the ringleader was showing no inclination to kill Fang Quan and the Concubine Liu had been restrained, she became smug again. “It’s no good staring at me. This is your fate.”
The Concubine Liu struggled frantically and somehow she actually managed to free herself from her bonds and lunged towards the Concubine Jin and the Eighth Prince. The Concubine Jin immediately dodged aside, squawking, so anxious to save her own hide that she failed to notice that her son was glued to the spot. The Concubine Liu held the boy, jerked the pointed gold hairpin out of her bun and plunged it deep into the Eighth Prince’s chest.
“NOOOO!” yelled everybody nearby, but none of them was quick enough to stop the Concubine Liu who had suddenly put on a spurt.
“AAAAAAARGH! YOU BITCH! I’LL KILL YOU!” It was after seeing her son sink to the ground that the Concubine Jin came to herself and dived at the Concubine Liu.
The ringleader gave each of them a kick, sending them flying, his face so cold as though it were about to frost. Then he looked from the Eighth Prince’s dead body on the ground to the two women who were half dead from the kicks, a bloodthirsty expression flashing across his eyes. “What a double whammy. These two women ruined such a lucrative deal.”
“What should we do now, Chief?” a killer asked.
The ringleader’s eyes raked the Concubine Jin and the others who were still alive, and then he replied flintily, “It’s the two princes that our employer wants. The others are insignificant. Now that the most important goods were damaged, the others are naturally useless now. Kill them all and burn this place.”
“Yes, Chief,” answered the killer.
“No! Don’t kill me! I’m the Concubine Jin! I’m an imperial family member! You riff-raff! Don’t you dare kill me!” the Concubine Jin cried out in fright.
The two courtiers were also thrown into terror.
“Chief, the pursuers are here! We’ve been surrounded!”
In the distance, a vast patch of lighted torches were approaching. The ringleader’s face twisted with fury for quite a while before he ordered, “Retreat!”
“What about these people?”
“Let them be. They’re just a bunch of good-for-nothings.”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
The gang of killers quickly retreated. Before leaving, they set the whole place on fire. Nobody knew how they did it, but the flames instantly raged out of control, encircling the Concubine Jin and the others!
“HELP! HELP!” The Concubine Jin and the others started shouting. The Concubine Liu struggled to her feet and, while the Concubine Jin was crying for help, launched herself on the Concubine Jin, holding a blood-stained dagger which she had pulled out of the Ninth Prince’s body, and heavily sank it into the Concubine Jin’s neck. “DIE!” she bellowed.
“AAAARGH–Uh–Uh–” With a dagger sticking in her neck, the Concubine Jin was unable to utter another word, gripping the Concubine Liu’s hand in agony, struggling vainly for her life. Blood was spewing from the wound as quick as her life was leaving her body, and soon she breathed her last.
After watching her die, the Concubine Liu raised her head and broke into hysterical laughter, oblivious of the flames that were about to reach her. When she was on the verge of losing her mind, she blacked out.
The two courtiers whom the killers had bust out of the prison in passing were the only ones still conscious. They yelled madly for help. The lighted torches in the distance were approaching quickly and their bearers would soon arrive.
All of a sudden, a gust of wind generated by a palm strike soundlessly came at the two of them and with that they stopped shouting and fell to the ground.
Two black figures quietly leaped into the inferno. One of them scooped up the two princes from the ground and immediately left. The other quickly tampered with the scene and then rapidly retreated. Nobody saw what they had done.
Very soon, the large number of pursuers surrounded the whole place. As this was a wilderness and it was very inconvenient to get water, the soldiers had no choice but to rescue as many as they could from the inferno. What with the chaotic situation, they didn’t even know whom they had rescued. It was not until the spreading flames became too fierce for the soldiers to get close to any of those still in the fire that the water was delivered to the scene, and putting out the fire alone took the soldiers a very long time.
In the distance, a couple of black figures had been gazing in the direction of the fire all along. After confirming that there was no loose end, they pivoted around and left.
“Lao Shi, can you save the two princes?” asked Miao Shisan, removing the piece of black cloth from his face.
Xie Shi examined the two princes and then replied, “Brother San used his internal energy to change the directions of Fang Quan’s and the Concubine Liu’s stabs in time, and he also struck some of the two princes’ acupoints, so although their injuries are severe, they’re still curable. Give me my medicine chest. We have to get them somewhere quiet. It’ll take some time.”
Miao Shisan unfastened the medicine chest from his back and handed it to Xie Shi.
There was another man standing silently on the side, whose whole body seemed to have merged into the dark night. His existence was barely perceivable when he was not speaking. “Their identities as princes of the former imperial family have met their ends in that big fire. From now on, Zhou Ming’an and Zhou Mingyun no longer exist in this world. Xiao Yi and Xiao Er will be their temporary names. The Marshal will decide where they should be taken after they recover.”
“There’s a small town ahead. Go there and find Tai’an Drugstore. It’s our hideout. Settle the two princes in there. Shisan, bring our men back and report this to the Marshal. I’ll keep watch on those people.”
It was at dawn that the message was delivered back to the capital city. The Eighth Prince had died at Fang Quan’s hands; the Ninth Prince had been killed by the Concubine Liu who did it in revenge for the murder of her son; the Concubine Jin had died in the big fire. It was a quite tragic event.
“Fang Quan, the Concubine Liu and the other two courtiers are on their way back. As the two young princes’ and the Concubine Jin’s bodies were reduced to skeletons by the fire, those in charge of the clean-up are still trying to identify them. It’ll take some more time. The gang of killers fled after their mission failed. Commander Xie is personally leading the hunt for them. So far there haven’t been any developments.”
Courtiers in the hall had different facial expressions at the news. Lord Hu and Lord Pei appeared to be in grief. “Are you sure the two princes are among the victims? Did you see them with your own eyes?”
“When we arrived at the scene, the two young princes’ bodies hadn’t been burnt yet, and all of us saw them with our own eyes. The two princes were indeed in there. We were anxious to rescue those who were still alive, but those killers had used Black Oil to set the fire before leaving, and the flames were so fierce that we were unable to get the two princes’ bodies out of the scene.”
Lord Hu and Lord Pei lapsed into a long silence. Whatever they had expected, it wasn’t that things would come to this.
“Was it really… Fang Quan and the Concubine Liu who killed the two princes?” asked Lord Pei.
“Both the other two survivors are eyewitnesses to the killing. Also, Fang Quan and the Concubine Liu confessed everything.”
There was a deathly hush in the hall. Yuwen Tong also had a grave face.
“When Fang Quan and the others are escorted into the city, bring them to this hall directly instead of the prison. All courtiers will interrogate them collectively and get justice for the two deceased princes,” ordered Yuwen Tong.
Everybody present were surprised at this instruction, because nobody would be able to play any tricks if this matter was to be handled this way. Lord Hu and Lord Pei exchanged glances, both having mixed expressions in their eyes, torn between admiration for Yuwen Tong’s candidness and grief over the demise of the two young princes.
Night had already fallen when Fang Quan and the others were escorted into the capital city. The Concubine Liu, Fang Quan and the two courtiers who had previously been broken out of prison all cut sorry figures. After they were forced to their knees in the hall, the two escaped courtiers were the first to kowtow and plead for their lives. Fang Quan’s face was full of resentment, while the Concubine Liu’s was pale and blank.
The Concubine Liu’s father, Lord Liu, was also present. His rank was not high, but he was also a courtier. At the sight of the Concubine Liu, a sense of grief flooded over the old man, who burst into tears in spite of himself and implored, “Marshal, would you be so kind as to grant me the permission to personally interrogate my daughter? I fear that she might suffer a mental breakdown or even die on the spot if anybody else questions her.”
Yuwen Tong looked at the others and asked, “What do you think?”
The Right Prime Minister and those on his side kept silent, but judging from the expressions on their faces, they were against it. Seeing this, Lord Hu and Lord Pei had no choice but to step up. “We both find Lord Liu’s request understandable. Please give your consent to it, Marshal.”
Yuwen Tong said, “You have my consent, Lord Liu.”
“Thank you, Marshal.” Lord Liu expressed his gratitude, walked up to the Concubine Liu and crouched down. “My daughter, my daughter, look at your father.”
The Concubine Liu slowly raised her eyes. Bit by bit, her face crumpled up and then she wept, “Father, my son died. He died!”
The father and daughter held each other, wailing in one another’s arms. After quite a while, Lord Liu asked her what had happened. The Concubine Liu, as though having just been subjected to some kind of stimulation, launched herself at Fang Quan like crazy. “It was him! It was this bastard Fang Quan who killed my son!”
The Concubine Liu seemed to have lost control of herself and the guards hurriedly restrained her.
“You son of a bitch! I’ll kill you, drink your blood and eat your flesh! You’ll pay with your life for my son’s death! You’ll pay with your life for my son’s death!”
“Lord Liu, you need to figure out a way to calm the Concubine Liu down so that she could give us an account of what happened back there,” said Yuwen Tong.
While Lord Liu was trying to quiet her daughter, Fang Quan was also hurling abuse. “You bitch! You killed my grandson and ruined everything! You son’s life was nothing compared with my grandson’s! How dare you want me to pay for his death? Today I’ll kill you or die trying!”
The guards, who had far less sympathy for Fang Quan, immediately kicked him aside.
The interrogation was thrown into disarray.
It was after the Concubine Liu and Fang Quan were both restrained that they gradually cooled down. The Concubine Liu was the first to relate what had happened. “It was indeed me who killed the Eighth Prince, and I have no regrets about having done that. Fang Quan killed my son, so I shattered his stupid hope. That bitch the Concubine Jin is also dead. She’s got her just deserts.” After saying this, she burst into laughter.
The Concubine Liu was too demented to continue, so eventually it was one of the two escaped courtiers who gave them a full account of the events, starting from their coming into contact with that killer in the prison who had claimed to be from Jiangzhou and come to rescue them, to the deaths of the two young princes and the soldiers’ coming to their rescue in the end.
After the truth about the whole thing was ascertained, Fang Quan was sentenced to death and would be beheaded immediately; the two courtiers were sentenced to life imprisonment; the Concubine Liu was to spend the rest of her life in the cold palace (a palace where an emperor installs members of the imperial family who do something wrong).