Book 2: The Infinite Heart
Chapter 15 - Breaking Encirclement by Herself
Meng Fuyao hunkered down on the edge of the outer walls of the Jianwu general's residence, her whole face filled with melancholy and annoyance.
Annoyance reason number one: it seemed like that person really did get angry. That day he stuffed her mouth with fish, then dusted himself off and left just like that! Even Master Yuanbao, when leaving, purposefully peed in her direction in a show of contempt.
Annoyance reason number two: It had already been three days since Qiao Ling married into the general's residence. She had set her mind on not caring about the little girl who wanted to cling onto the dragon and phoenix to rise in society. Fuyao thought, if Guo Pingrong truly treated the girl differently then wouldn't she just be meddling in other people's affairs? Plus, Guo Pingrong was already on guard, and if she wanted to act she would just be walking into a trap - she wasn't so dumb as to do that. Who could have known that today outside the residence she would coincidentally meet a couple grandmas who were going out to buy? From their conversation she could gleam the tragic situation of the general residence's new concubine. After hearing this, Fuyao sulked by the wall corner for a while, in the end letting out a sigh and going to prepare. Before midnight, she had ended up crawling up onto the roof of the Guo residence inner hall.
Night wind gusted past the roof eaves. It was already nearing the 12th month, and with the night chill snowfall seemed close. The unfortunate Meng Fuyao sadly had no red clay furnace or Luyi alcohol to enjoy; a person up high still cannot escape the cold. Deep gusts blew in the four directions, bringing a bone-chilling bite as it swirled over. After Fuyao crouched there for some time, even her eyelashes began to gather a layer of white frost.
Despite this, her two eyes still shone like starlight in the darkness, sparkling like jewels. No trace of weariness or hesitation could be seen, and instead she even seemed cheerful.
Far below her, under the roof ledge, a light quiet noise traveled over. Even though the sound was small, in the frozen stillness of night it still possessed an astoundingly piercing quality. It was a woman's dismal weeping sighs and a man's aroused panting. On the light rosy window paper was dimly outlined the ambiguous shadows of an intertwined man and woman. It could be imagined that while the furnace flames fiercely danced, the inside of the room was warm like spring. On the brocade bed and between the jade curtains was a tumbling red sea. The contact of skin, mixing of sweat, and slightly fishy smell of scattered rouge and body fluid transformed into a tumultuous yet sentimental scene, breaking the night's originally calm state.
The people inside the building rolled and tumbled all night without rest. Meng Fuyao leaned on the eaves listening, not uncomfortable in the least. Her clothes were thick anyways. A couple days ago Zong Yue gave her a fur undercoat, and although it looked thin, when worn it was extremely light yet warm. There was just a light medicinal odor on the coat collar, but then again anything that medical saint Zong gave out would always have a bit of medicinal odor, so Fuyao wasn't picky about it.
When deep night arrived, heavy snow suddenly fell. Snowflakes like plum blossoms showered down unceasingly from the pitch-black heavens, and soon a layer of snow buried the person lying on the roof. From afar she looked like a snow-cast statue.
At the fourth watch, the door underneath sounded. Wrapped in colored robes and heavy fur, Guo Pingrong opened the door and came out. Immediately the guard waiting in the hall hurried forward. Carrying a rain coat and umbrella, the guard shielded the man as he walked.
After the footsteps meandered through the snowy ground into the distance, the surroundings gradually returned to silence. It was only then that Fuyao pushed herself out from under a couple pieces of tile. Like a snow blossom, she floated down from the roof.
Fuyao landed and brushed off some snow. To the Qiao Ling who lay weeping on the bed she smilingly said, "I've come again."
Qiao Ling raised her head in shock, her tear-filled pupils staring her. Fuyao rolled her shoulder and said, "Last time my luck was bad and I happened upon your man in your room wanting to consummate the wedding night early. This time I watched him leave, I shouldn't have the honor of meeting him again, right?"
Qiao Ling straightened her back as she looked at Fuyao numbly. After a while, tears tumbled down again like a waterfall.
Fuyao let out a sigh, not wanting to say anything. Her eyes were sharp - the moment Qiao Ling straightened up she could see that the girl's whole body was covered in horrible wounds and bruises. It could be imagined what kind of pitiful sight was hidden underneath the blankets.
However, Fuyao didn't immediately walk forward, instead walking in front of the dresser table. Picking up the bronze mirror and admiring for a bit, she put the mirror back, then chuckled, "After the snowfall my face got all wet." Casually grabbing a handkerchief on the table, she wiped her face and neck.
Only after cleaning herself up did she turn around and walk in front of Qiao Ling. Pulling aside the girl's covers, Fuyao's gaze landed on her lower body, and Fuyao instantly sucked in a breath and turned away. Taking off her own cloak, Fuyao wrapped it over Qiao Ling, then knelt with her back facing Qiao Ling.
Qiao Ling woodenly clutched the cloak without knowing what to do. Fuyao patiently said, "Are you really going to refuse to leave again?"
Opposite her on the dressing table was the bronze mirror which had already been placed at an angle by Fuyao. It directly reflected and showed the Qiao Ling behind; her panic seemed very genuine.
Meng Fuyao watched the mirror - she wasn't a fool. Among veterans of the jianghu there was an inviolable practice, and that was to never expose one's back to anyone else, even if the person behind them had no martial ability whatsoever.
Tonight, she had walked into the mountains despite clearly knowing the mountain had a tiger, and Fuyao would naturally advance carefully with every action she took. If she were dumb enough to cause herself to be caught while saving someone, it would just be too shameful! If Yuan Zhaoxu knew about it he would also disdain her to death.
Qiao Ling finally timidly crawled on her back. Sniffing her nose, she quietly said, "Little brother Meng … it was all my fault …"
"Who in the world hasn't made mistakes? If there are still chances to fix those mistakes, none of it matters." Fuyao carefully lifted her up, then tied the girl tightly to herself with a ribbon.
Qiao Ling's tears, drip by drip, began to soak the clothes on Fuyao's back. Her voice was quiet, yet still choked with sobs. "He isn't human … he isn't human …"
Fuyao was speechless. A type of moving sadness arose in her heart. She had originally been a little on guard against Qiao Ling, and was prepared to abandon her at a moment's notice to escape. However now seeing her miserable injuries, at once Fuyao realized this poor girl had most likely suffered harm that would be difficult to ever recover from. Even a self-inflicted wound intended to lower her guard wouldn't be done to this severity. Sighing, Fuyao reached out and patted Qiao Ling's back, saying, "You've been here a couple days, are you familiar with the way back?"
Qiao Ling shook her head, holding back tears. "I was always locked in that building."
Fuyao let out an assenting "en" and prepared to follow her previous route. Suddenly she heard Qiao Ling say, "… but I did hear the nannies taking care of me mention something once. The general's residence doesn't have very many guards due to the general himself being a skilled master. The southern side at the ceremonial hall has more guards, while the west side where the servants live has very few people. I heard there is even a back-door route on the west side, where one can directly exit."
"Why would they talk with you about this?" Fuyao turned her head to look at her.
Qiao Ling began to sob. "I don't know … but it seemed like their gazes were filled with pity … little brother Meng, every day … I waited for you to come …"
Fuyao let out another "en", then suddenly said, "Today on the streets I heard that general Guo had once said, as long as someone could beat him, they could ask him to do anything that was within his power."
Without waiting for Qiao Ling's response, she suddenly pressed on Qiao Ling's paralysis pressure point. Blasting the door flying with a kick, she dragged over a chair and leapt on top of it, yelling loudly, "Guo Pingrong! Come out, let's have a fight!"
"Pa! Pa! Pa!"
From the darkness at once came the sound of applause. Guo Pingrong walked into view from around a hallway corner and coldly said, "Good. Good ear. To actually realize that I hadn't walked far. Quite brave, to actually want to have a one-on-one duel with me."
Meng Fuyao gave out a burst of laughter, saying, "You waited for me for so long, how could I have been willing to leave? As soon as I came out I would have instantly been ambushed by you. After all, there are precious few people in the world who have the ability to take off your pants; naturally you must properly receive a guest like me."
Guo Pingrong's expression changed. Up until now he had always been prideful and arrogant, where even small grievances had to be repaid in full. That day, when in front of so many guards Meng Fuyao tricked him and cut off his pants, was the greatest disgrace of his life up until then. Now that Fuyao didn't even hide in the least and mentioned this event to his face, he became even more infuriated.
"I had guessed it was you. As I thought, I was not wrong!" Guo Pingrong deeply sucked in a breath of air, his face like iron. In a surge of his robes, the man turned into a comet, flashing forward!
Fuyao raised her foot. With a kick the chair underneath her was sent flying with a fierce wind, spinning as it shot towards Guo Pingrong. He sent out a horizontal palm sweep, and the chair shattered into countless shards. At this time, though, Meng Fuyao had already took advantage of the brief moment to leap out of the window.
Upon passing out the window, she saw that a group of guards suddenly rushed out from the surroundings. The front row of guards orderly bent their knees. Stretched bows and sharp arrows aimed straight at the two. Exclaiming "yi ya", Fuyao stumbled suddenly and cried out in consternation. "So many?"
Following her trip, a bundle suddenly rolled out from her robes. When the cloth unfurled, an entire ground of golden pearls spilled out, bouncing to the feet of the guards! Fuyao began to shout in an even more panicked tone as she waved her hand and chased. "That's all my savings for the rest of my life, don't touch!"
Golden light sparkled from each of the smooth round pearls, scintillating on the dim snowy ground. After the bow-holding guards saw this their eyes lit up.
A month's salary for them wasn't even five liang silvers. Now that this youth's bag had fallen, a massive fortune was right in front of them! Although they didn't know what Fuyao was doing here, she looked like she was trying to save and elope with the new bride. The treasures in the bundle also seemed like they were stolen from some other residence. If they didn't choose to collect the treasure now when would they have the chance later?
At this time Guo Pingrong had already charged over. With his attention solely focused on Meng Fuyao, he didn't see any of the treasures on the ground, harshly shouting "What are you hesitating for? Shoot, shoot her lower half!"
The guards' eyes, however, were still stuck on the ground. Their eyes wandered as if guarding against others trying to steal the goods. One skinny soldier hesitated for a second before finally giving in to the gold's allure - in the instant he raised his bow, one of his fingers stealthily curled, tightly grabbing onto an ingot of gold by his hand.
With his movement, the others also lost their self-control, and began to start picking up the pearls from the ground.
Only now did Guo Pingrong notice the treasure in the man's hand, and immediately his expression broke, yelling, "Put it down!"
An extremely quiet shattering sound traveled into the snowy night, not much louder than the sound of falling snow. The faces of the people present all fell.
The sound came from the hand of the first guard to pick up an ingot. In his agitation he had clutched too tightly, and the "gold" unexpectedly shattered in his palm.
From within the cracked gold suddenly shot out a stream of black liquid. As it scattered out amidst the indistinct white snow, it drew out a heart-stopping, life-threatening arc.
The guard and the several guards beside him were instantly drenched with black water. The substance started to corrode with sizzling sounds, quickly burning through cloth and darkening the skin, causing several people to scream and collapse. When the blackened skin contacted the ground surface it immediately split skin and bloodied flesh, and streaks of bloody trails appeared on the ground.
At the same time, more of the people who had picked up the pearls began to miserably yell as they curled up on the ground. Guo Pingrong was filled with so much rage that his face turned black. Seeing Fuyao, he coldly sneered and shot forward like a gust of wind. In the chilling, snowy night her voice jumped like the pearls, colliding with the darkness' silence.
"Gold is valuable poison isn't, buying one and getting one free isn't a bad deal! A man's nature is to be greedy, no one is an exception! Great General Guo, you seem to pay your workers too little, otherwise why would they go and pick up poisoned gold? Hahaha!"
Her figure wavered in front of a tree, yet she didn't run, instead tapping her feet and provokingly crossing her arms as she looked at Guo Pingrong.
Guo Pingrong bellowed out. His gray-colored robes flattened into a streak amidst the flying snow, as if a sturdy steel board, sweeping through the space between them in an instant. Only after seeing his sudden closing of distance did Fuyao stride out to run.
Upon reaching the tree, Guo Pingrong raised his head to see that a drawing was hung on the tree at some unknown time. On the picture was man dressed in fancy clothes with an obscene expression, hugging a bow while standing on a high wall. His upper body was nobly dressed, but the pants on his lower body had fallen to his ankles, revealing two hairy bow-legged legs.
After only a glance, Guo Pingrong already felt faint in his head, and hot blood built up in his chest with no relief. He was so infuriated that even his vision blacked out for a moment, after which he exploded with a shout filled with trembling hatred!
The yell caused even the dark night to shake, yet the slight smile on Fuyao's face didn't even flicker. When striking someone one always had to strike the face; when insulting someone one always had to hit their weak points - Meng Fuyao's life motto.
Guo Pingrong stared at the humiliating picture, finally unable to hold back his rage. He viciously shot out his hand, sending a tiger-like fist out to punch the drawing into shreds.
A heaven-shaking explosion suddenly erupted. Up on the tree scattered out a cloud of black smoke interspersed with fire light, that in an instant gathered around Guo Pingrong's shoulder like a twisting dragon! Bringing with it torn paper scraps and bloody flesh, the dark turbulent smoke covered over the people near the tree.
Guo Pingrong's pained scream shattered the still snowing night, even causing wild dogs in the distance to begin to bark.
Just then underneath the drawing was hidden yet another bomb. Guo Pingrong was incited in his anger to madly punch out, causing the fire bomb to immediately explode, wounding his hand.
Now Meng Fuyao's poisonous scheme had succeeded: poisoned ingots to harm the guards - draw Guo Pingrong's attention - take the chance to stick the wicked drawing that hid a fire bomb on the tree - causing Guo Pingrong to erupt with rage as predicted - attack and destroy the picture - in the end, the fire bomb exploding.
At the instant that the fire bomb detonated, Fuyao finally stopped lingering around. Cackling with laughter, she gave the middle finger, then carried Qiao Ling towards the servant's quarters in the western courtyards.
Freezing snow particles flew towards them, blowing onto their faces with a comfortable feeling. Even though Fuyao carried a person on her back, she ran faster and faster, rushing past clusters of buildings like the wind. Soon the thick smoke, miserable yells, and bloody stench were left far behind.
In front appeared disorderly strewn buildings. Fuyao inspected the surroundings, and as expected saw a section of suspicious wall behind the distant compound. There seemed to be a small door there, so she sent off sprinting over without hesitation.
Nobody stood guard at the courtyard and the surroundings were empty. Steps extended upward to an indistinct temple, dark and foreboding, like a huge gaping mouth. At the very back of the temple was a dimly flashing plaque, yet because of the distance the words could not be made out.
Fuyao squinted and slowed down, doubtfully saying, "What is this place? Doesn't look like the servants' quarters…"
Before her voice fell, a numbness suddenly spread from behind her ear, after which her entire body's blood began to flow sluggishly and stop. Her consciousness also began to blur bit by bit. The snowflakes covering the sky spun and enlarged, sinking down like huge rock monoliths.
Sounds that reached her ears seemed to travel from far away, as if she were listening someone speaking through three layers of leather skin. It vaguely sounded like Qiao Ling's cries.
Cries filled with shock, shame, helplessness, and sorrow.
"I'm sorry, so sorry … the general promised me as long as you were captured, he would treat me well … the rest of my life … I beg of you!"
From even further away drifted over another voice, filled with killing intent, exultation, coldness and maliciousness. It was Guo Pingrong's voice.
"To dare trespass in the general's ceremonial hall! This must be reported to the Crown Prince, and the criminal's entire family shall be arrested and executed!"
After which there was a pause, then with a bit of confusion he said, "The Crown Prince actually is traveling over from Shangyang court? What is the urgent matter? Is the southern border acting up again?"
Another period of silence. In Fuyao's slowly fading mind, she heard Guo Pingrong's cold laugh. The sound of robes, sword, belt, and adornments being taken off one by one seemed sometimes near and sometimes far, like oscillating waves washing over.
"Just in time! First, I'll enjoy you to my satisfaction, then after I'm tired of playing with you I'll use the heavy crime of trespassing to pass you to His Highness to take care of!"Footnotes Reference to a Tang dynasty poem A pun on the Chinese saying that means "a person in a [high position or office] still cannot escape the coldness [that comes with being so lofty and having no friends]". Here it is used literally.