The interrogator was Xiao Shao .
Xiao Shao was in charge of the Jin Yi guards and was usually out on special missions . Occasionally, he too would capture people who were determined to take their secrets to their graves . For these people who were under his interrogation, none of them had managed to keep their secrets to the very end . Thus, the more that outsiders did not see Xiao Shao in action, the more ferociously the rumours spread about him- there was not a mouth that Xiao Shao could not pry open . Furthermore, his temperament was particularly cold and cheerless; even if one was acquainted with him, they too would not dare to personally ask him about this . Therefore, they could only surmise that the torture methods that he used were incomparably callous .
After hearing the news about him, Xia Cheng suddenly felt a sinking feeling in his chest and he clenched his fists tightly, “How did they fall into Xiao Shao’s hands? What sort of connection does Xiao Shao have with Jiang Xin Zhi!”
“It was during the ambush; General Guan and Xiao w.a.n.gye suddenly rushed there . At first General Guan wanted to bring those people back but Xiao w.a.n.gye said these matters were of major importance and so asked for them (the men) to be handed over for him to personally interrogate . ”
“d.a.m.n it!” Xia Cheng’s complexion had turned pale, “If this implicates the Xia fu, then will we still be able to have an auspicious future?” He paced in a circle twice inside the room . “This won’t do, I need to seek an audience with the Eighth Prince . Make haste and prepare a horse for me . ”
Simultaneously, in another part of the capital, the Grand Councillor fu was also in a state of uproar . An irate Li Dong was pointing his finger at Li An admonishing, “You lost control of this situation and were unable to end it well . Well now that’s just great! Those men are now in the hands of Xiao Shao . No matter how tolerant His Majesty is, he would never condone any of his va.s.sals having their own private army without any approval . You have weighed down our Li family with such a huge burden, now what can we possibly do next?”
Li An had always been Li Dong’s pride . From his childhood till adulthood, he had always given this son much recognition . Yet, currently, now that something bad had happened to himself (Li Dong), his heart was distracted and his thoughts were in turmoil . Now that Li An had made such a huge slip-up, when Li Dong looked at Li An, he felt that his son was not particularly pleasing to his eyes anymore .
With a heavy and cold look on his face, Li An remained where he stood without saying a single word . Only, his expression was extremely gloomy . He wanted to attack Jiang Xin Zhi after the Jiang family affair so that he could win the rest of the Jiang family and also see Jiang Ruan’s pain . Yet he would never have thought that midway through this attack, Guan Liang Han and Xiao Shao would appear out of nowhere . They had ruined his good work! However, in Li An’s eyes, there was a flash of radiant light . He had heard that Zhao Yuan Feng and Zhao Yi had been present too; how could there be such a coincidence . Although he was still unsure what had happened, a cold smile surfaced on Li Ai’s face .
He was unconvinced that this matter had nothing to do with Jiang Ruan .
Noticing Li An’s silence, Li Dong was filled with even more anger . “You, hurry and think of a solution . Now that your elder brother has already become a useless person because of the Jiang family, are you going to harm the entire Grand Councillor fu just for the Jiang family?”
“What’s the rush?” Li An retorted . “Regarding this matter, I will consult with the Eighth Prince . ” Xuan Li needed his ability and wisdom, while he needed Xuan Li to support the Li family in resolving this inconvenience before them .
* * *
Outside the prison, Guan Liang Han had been waiting anxiously when Xiao Shao slowly appeared from within . As soon as he spotted him, Guan Liang Han impatiently probed, “How was it? Have they confessed?”
“It was both Xia Cheng’s and Li Dong’s people,” Xiao Shao said indifferently . These people were unexpectedly split into two groups: Xia Cheng’s machinations aside, according to these people, they had only tried to prevent Jiang Xin Zhi’s return to the Jiang fu as it would threaten Jiang Chao’s position within the family . Yet, as for the people arranged by Li Dong, it was rather peculiar . The people who had been sent were unsure of the reason, they only knew that this order had been given .
Guan Liang Han muttered to himself, “This is truly stange, how could there even be two groups?” He patted Xiao Shao on the chest, “You are really quite something . However,” Guan Liang Han took a glance inside, “the method that you used surely wasn’t like the one that the girl from the Jiang fu mentioned- using boiling oil to burn the brain?”
“No . ” Xiao Shao responded . He naturally had his own methods .
He did not explain, and Guan Liang Han was too lazy to inquire further . While he was conversing with him (Xiao Shao), he commented, “Hey, with such a person like Jiang Xin Zhi who has a good temperament, how can he have such a meimei; they do not seem like siblings at all . Third Brother, you couldn’t possibly have become fond of that girl? I don’t think that’s a good idea; even though she is so young, her thoughts are already this vicious . ”
Haplessly, Xiao Shao responded, “She’s too young . ” Towards a young girl, he would not go as far as to have any alarming thoughts . Only, the way that Jiang Ruan had handled matters was too baffling . She seemed to have an infinite amount of secrets . Moreover, judging from all of the matters that she had had a hand in thus far, a deeply woven relationship with Xuan Li had begun . For her to even have helped Liu Min, if her objective was the entire imperial household, then one would need to be even more mindful of her every move .
Guan Liang Han burst into loud laughter, “I’m joking, just jesting . Let’s go, come on . I still have matters to ask Seventh Brother, come along with me . ”
Xiao Shao nodded and said, “Ye Feng . ”
Ye Feng appeared behind him and listened to Xiao Shao’s orders . “Send someone to watch over those people in the prison, prevent anyone from entering to silence them . ”
Ye Feng cupped his hands in obeisance, “Yes, Master . ”
* * *
In the Eighth Prince fu, Xuan Li looked at Xia Cheng and Li An before him; as always, his face bore a gentle smile .
Xia Cheng patted some sweat away, “I implore His Highness to please lend a hand in this matter . ”
“The Old Marquis and I have always had a close relationship, so naturally I would not remain indifferent and just sit by and watch . However, this matter is of grave importance . Even if I do have the intention to help, I am truly powerless as well,” Xuan Li replied unfazed .
As Xia Cheng glimpsed Li An’s composed demeanor, his heart was in a jumble as he gritted his teeth in chagrin and beseeched, “I beg His Highness to save the Xia fu; if His Highness is able to help with this matter, then His Highness would be the benefactor of the lives of the entire Xia fu . If His Highness has any use for the Xia fu in the future, I, this Xia Cheng, hereby swear that I would definitely go through water and tread on fire for you without hesitation . ”
All along, the Xia family and the Eighth Prince fu had always had a relationship of mutual support . Although Eighth Prince was extremely capable, what he had done mostly remained hidden . The Xia family presently had a steady foundation, and the wealth and power they had was what Xuan Li truly needed . Yet precisely for this reason the Xia family was not easy for him to exercise control over either, thus they had such a mutually beneficial relationship . With this overture from Xia Cheng, this was him clearly expressing his stance: a display of absolute submission and allegiance .
Xuan Li quietly sighed, “Since the Old Marquis has said as much, I am extremely gratified . However, I am unable to guarantee that the Old Marquis will not harbor some kind of hostility towards Eight Prince in the future and have other thoughts in mind . Then what would happen?”
Seeing that Xuan Li had softened his stance somewhat, Xia Cheng replied, “I would definitely put more words into action and prove the Xia family’s sincerity . I only request that His Highness think of some way to save the Xia fu . ”
Xuan Li mildly a.s.sented, “The Old Marquis has overthought this, the Xia fu and I have a relationship: where one prospers, both parties benefit, if one suffers a loss, all will be harmed, too . How could I watch on with folded arms? Hand this matter over to me . I will definitely give a satisfying response to the Old Marquis . Only, I hope that the Old Marquis will not disappoint me either . ”
Xia Cheng inwardly heaved a sigh of relief as he nodded repeatedly, “Yes, definitely . ”
Pleased with the response, Xuan Li chuckled, “So, if there is nothing else, the Old Marquis can return first . I still have matters to settle with Second Young Master Li . ”
Whilst both his heart and emotions were unwilling, Xia Cheng glanced at Li An before bidding farewell .
After waiting for Xia Cheng to leave, Li An cupped his hands in salute to Xuan Li and said, “Your Highness . ”
“There’s no need for you to say anything . Since I’m already helping the Xia family, I should not remain indifferent to the Li family’s plight either,” Xuan Li mildly answered . “Besides, between you and I, the two of us have a very close understanding with each other, it is unlikely for me to look on without even lifting a finger . ”
Li An nodded, yet in his heart, he sneered in disdain . What friendly relations, this was merely the value of being able to exploit them; the Li family’s usefulness and value were ever greater than the Xia family and that’s why Xuan Li was willing to lower his posture to maintain the status quo . Every person had their own price; this was just a.s.sessing the price to consider if it was reasonable, there was nothing else to it . The Xia family’s worth was only this much, yet the Grand Councillor fu was certainly not limited to this much .
Xuan Li had taken in Li An’s disdainful response whilst his smiling expression remained unchanged, but, in the depths of his eyes, a deep intent flashed through . Whilst the power and wealth in the Grand Councillor fu was considerable, he could still obtain these from other people . What was truly worth ‘purchasing’ was undoubtedly the man standing in front of him . Li An and Li Yang were very different; Li Yang was just a pile of ignorant, incompetent rubbish . However, for many years now, Li An had helped in devising many strategies for him and he had regarded Li An as his right-hand man . He needed his ability and wisdom, thus, he could even bear the irreverence that Li An had towards him .
“But why would the Li family want to kill and bury Jiang Xin Zhi in an ambush?” Xuan Li asked . Xia Cheng naturally did so due to the relationship between Xia Yan and Jiang Chao, one could still understand this . Yet, the Li family and Jiang family were now like opposing points, like fire and water . He knew of the matter in which Jiang Su Su had harmed Li Yang’s root of posterity . According to reason, for Li An to get involved and kill Jiang Xin Zhi,the one to derive benefit from this would be that pair: Jiang Su Su and her mother . This just did not make any sense . .
Li An did not conceal the truth . “Jiang Ruan harmed my elder brother . She has an extremely deep hatred and animosity with the Grand Councillor fu; one that cannot allow the other to live under the same sky . I had initially planned to kill Jiang Xin Zhi, then slowly torment Jiang Ruan . Who would have thought that there was such an unforeseen event midway through this . ” To torture a person, physical pain was the lowest form of torment, only with mental torture, then could one cause someone else to feel endless suffering . If Jiang Ruan knew that Jiang Xin Zhi had died because of her, she would certainly be unable to withstand the pain .
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“Jiang Ruan?” Xuan Li was stunned, “How could it have been Jiang Ruan?”
Dong Yinger invited them to her fu to be her guests; as the young ladies chatted and drank tea, in the blink of an eye more than half a day had pa.s.sed and the sky before their eyes had gradually darkened . The roads were slippery when it rained and thus, Dong Yinger did not want to inconvenience them by having them stay for a long time . So, she agreed, “Alright . Then we will meet some other day . Yu’er, bring over a set of my handmade pastries for each of my guests . ” She smiled, “Take care on your journey home . ”
Once everyone had made their farewells, they each returned to their own fu . While she was pa.s.sing through the city, Jiang Ruan had the coachman drive the carriage through a narrow alley . The horse carriage stopped at the entrance and Jiang Ruan had Bai Zhi and Lu Zhu follow after her as she walked towards a household in the midst of the alley .
Stepping forward, Lian Qiao knocked on the door and quickly, a young child came forward to open it . The young child was startled upon seeing that it was Jiang Ruan, but politely ushered the three of them inside . As soon as they stepped foot into the main hall, they heard Hui Jue’s voice, “Miss Jiang . ”
Jiang Ruan saw Hui Jue who was sitting in the hall; ever since the last time he had entered the Jiang fu and helped Jiang Ruan to purge the sin of having inauspicious birthdate characters, Hui Jue’s reputation had made its rounds . It may be a.s.sumed that recently, many people had come in search of him . And now, Hui Jue’s complexion was much better than before; he probably had been living very comfortably .
Yet upon seeing Jiang Ruan, Hui Jue did not feel all too happy . Instead, he felt a sort of dread and panic towards her . He continued, “ Miss Jiang, this old monk has already a.s.sisted with the previous matter, why are you still looking for this old monk?”
“The Great Master has misunderstood, today I am here to return the Great Master a favour . ” Jiang Ruan spoke indifferently, “In my entire life, I have never been fond of owing favours to anyone . Since the Great Master has helped me once, naturally, I would also repay the favor . ”
Looking at Hui Jue’s puzzled gaze, she smiled lightly, “Have I not said this before, since one has to be a swindler, then the Great Master should also become this world’s most respected swindler . At the moment, the Great Master has only received a small profit . As for your son’s illness, thus far, the doctors have only been able to treat the symptoms but not the root cause; is the Great Master truly content with that?”
His son was Hui Jue’s sore point, yet every single time, Jiang Ruan just had to use his son as leverage to speak with him . Recently, he had earned much silver and was able to purchase many precious and famous medicinal ingredients . Yet, the child’s condition could only stabilize but would not improve . Hui Jue lowered his head, “This is his fate, this old monk is also powerless . ”
“The Great Master does not believe me then?” Jiang Ruan questioned . “No matter, but eventually, one day, you will accept my words . However, today I only came to say a few things . ” She continued, “Recently, the flooding in the capital has been extremely severe . Eighth Prince and Second Young Master Li were given an imperial command to control the waters . Presently, the situation at the reservoir seems to be under control; however, in three days, the rainwater will undoubtedly suddenly start to pour down furiously . The reservoir will collapse and a countless number of citizens who live by the reservoir will lose their lives . ”
She pressed on, “This will be your chance . I will give you this opportunity to make a prophecy . You only need to say this in front of the public: that the dragon qi is large and in a riot, and the reservoir will collapse . So one must have Eighth Prince divert the location to control the rising waters . Naturally, you would need to think of a way to allow Eighth Prince to persist in his opinion and his influence will definitely cause judgement to fall heavily on you . Yet the more severe his punishment and reprimands are towards you, after the prophecy you have made comes into fruition a few days later, then your position will become that much more secure . ”
 Qi ( 气 ) – In traditional Chinese culture, qi is believed to be a vital force forming part of any living ent.i.ty . Qi translates as “air” and figuratively as “material energy”, “life force”, or “energy flow” . Qi is the central underlying principle in Chinese traditional medicine and in Chinese martial arts .
At first, Hui Jue did not understand what she was saying and looked at her suspiciously . Jiang Ruan was not fl.u.s.tered; she merely waited patiently for him to fully realise the significance of her words . When he did, he could not hold back the faint astonishment on his face as he said, “You . . What on earth are you saying? Why would the reservoir collapse? The rain will become heavier? Absurd! Complete nonsense!”
“Why is the Great Master in such a panic?” Jiang Ruan smiled as she said, “Is it because you don’t trust my words? Great Master, haven’t I told you before, there is a kind of ability in the world, where to know the past is to know the future . ” She continued, enunciating each word carefully, “If Great Master doesn’t believe I have this ability, then think of it from a different aspect . For example, what would cause a reservoir to collapse?”
All of a sudden, Hui Jue stood up and was unable to maintain his usual compa.s.sionate facade . He was in a fl.u.s.ter, “Are you crazy? If this was found out by someone, then we would lose our heads!”
Jiang Ruan smiled lightly at him without saying a word .
She was knowingly leading Hui Jue on . To believe that a person had the power to predict the future yet at the same time be perfectly delighted to handle such matters for her, it was truly too much to expect . But, what if she let Hui Jue think that she was just a front for someone else, that perhaps there was a very able person behind her giving her directions? The prediction may err, but with a deliberate man-made effort and other arrangements, there would not be any slip up . If Hui Jue thought someone would intentionally cause the water reservoir to collapse; once he was certain about this point, then he would waver in his decision .
“This is too audacious,” Hui Jue muttered . The reservoir was highly significant as it concerned the livelihood of the country’s people . Yet, Jiang Ruan had just so lightly spoken of this sort of disgraceful, unnatural matter . If someone found out, then even if she had nine lives, they would not be enough to suffer all the punishment she was due . Yet, at the same time, there was another voice in his heart that was bellowing at him: Agree with her! Accept her favour!
Jiang Ruan’s mouth curled up in a slight smile as she noticed the changes in Hui Jue’s expression . She knew his heart had been moved . Without the slightest hesitation, she once again lit a flame (T/N: ammunition or fodder) in him, “The Great Master certainly has to think this through carefully . With such an absolutely surefire matter, if one only moved their lips to speak of this, then when the day truly arrives, all of the people in this world would have you honoured and revered like a G.o.d . You would enjoy endless glory, splendour, wealth and rank . If you are thus seen by His Majesty and entere the palace then you would also be able to receive good future prospects . There are endless imperial physicians in the palace and Young Master Ling’s illness would surely be able to be cured . ”
Hui Jue’s eyes lit up, only to listen to Jiang Ruan continue, “This matter is not entirely without any benefits . However, after this, Eighth Prince will undoubtedly hate you . Still, you need not worry either, once you have obtained His Majesty’s favour, you would be the most popular and respected person below His Majesty . No one would be able to touch you . Although Eighth Prince might be a mighty figure whom no one dares to approach, when all is said and done, the master of all beneath the heavens right now isn’t him . Now, the Great Master is almost close to sixty years in age, and to speak of words that aren’t to one’s liking; no one is sure of matters that will happen in ten to twenty years . In short, when one is still alive, it would be best to have no worries over one’s life . If the Great Master truly wishes to be content with his place and peacefully idle his days away, that isn’t impossible either . However, while the Great Master can afford this, Young Master Ling may not be able to make it through these days ahead . ”
The expression on Hui Jue’s face was uncertain and one could tell that his heart was extremely conflicted . Jiang Ruan chuckled, “I have already said this much, I shall not say any further . The Great Master still has a night to mull this over . In three days, the reservoir will collapse: you only have three days’ time . In the end, as to what state Young Master Ling will be henceforth, it will depend on how Great Master acts upon this news tomorrow . ”
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