Book 2: The Infinite Heart
Chapter 18 - Every Desperate Step (Part A)
The gloomy, shadowy moonlight shone onto the ditch.
Wild grass grew all over in the ditch, shielding the body that lay submersed within. A long time later, the "corpse" curled its fingers, grabbing ahold of the wild grass. After struggling for a time, he slowly straightened his body.
Gasping for breath, he finally crawled up bit by bit from the mud. The fresh blood and clumps of mud covering his whole body rained down from his clothes nonstop.
A terrifying gash trailed down his back. It was almost a huge hole, with exposed flesh and white bone. In the deep darkness it still looked completely sickening.
That was the wound cut from Meng Fuyao's last knife that struck through three men. Originally it actually was not this large. In the moment he was struck, this man used the force of the blow to leap into the gutter, and the wound on his back was not life-threatening at all. However with the help of Zong Yue's corpse-dissolving powder, the gash spread much larger.
As for why his injury did not get even worse and transform him into bone dust like the other dozen corpses, if Zong Yue were here and saw the bizarre grass by the gutter, he would immediately understand.
"Hooked Grass" was the greatest counter to the main ingredient in the corpse-dissolving powder. Usually the grass would grow by steep cliffs, yet now it actually appeared inside the gutter. When falling, the man had crushed some of the Hooked Grass. When the snapped grass fell into the water they were picked up by the agitated waves, surging into his back wound, and halting the more extreme rotting effect of the corpse-dissolving powder.
The rare corpse-dissolving powder had actually happened upon Hooked Grass; the endangered Hooked Grass had actually grown in this small, urban water ditch; the grass had further coincidentally saved the life of the Rong man who had landed in the gutter, allowing him to become the fish who slipped out of the massacre net! These mysterious coincidences of life, could only vaguely be explained as heavenly will.
Heaven desired for the dense web of secrets to tear with a small gap, igniting a flaming beacon heralding troubled times, and finishing a girl's critical plans.
The Rong man stood up with difficulty. He panted to catch his breath underneath the off-white moonlight. Stagnant gutter water shone on his face, filled with a putrid expression of unreconciliation.
Unsteadily staggering while trying to straighten up, he bent over and held onto the wall and trees to steadily move out of the alley.
On the dark stone slabs of the alleyway road, two trails of fresh blood and mud were left behind, barely visible under the moon. The footsteps led into the distance —-
As the moonlight was rising, Meng Fuyao was supporting the daughter-in-law of the old Han named Hu as she knocked on the office gates of the Official Su Xuanyong. At first, she had gone to the citizen shelter, but unexpectedly the assistant officer had refused to allow this family to live there without the city master's or vice-master's personal written command. Fuyao had no choice but to bring them to the county administration. She and Zong Yue would have needed to come here and meet with the city master anyways.
To her surprise, the large gates of the offices were tightly shut. Only after knocking on the door for half a day did an office attendant lazily come out and say, "Look at the time! What are you knocking for? If you disturb the elder official's rest, there will be consequences!"
Fuyao held back her indignance. She didn't want to fuss around with this snobbish lackey who could only bully others with his backing, so with as calm a tone as she could manage she said, "Respected bureaucrat, can I bother you to send a message? This woman's entire family was bullied by the Rong, with even their house burned down, and they need the elder official's personal order to seek refuge at the shelter …"
Before she could finish, the attendant's face changed and he hurriedly waved his hand saying, "This office does not accept cases of personal disputes between Rong and Han, without exception! Shoo shoo!"
Fuyao blanched, then angrily said, "You don't accept? Is this your opinion or the city master's?"
"Are you stupid?" The lackey looked at her strangely as he laughed at her, "The city master isn't at the county offices, he resides at his own villa in the eastern city. Only the honorable vice-master is here, and this is naturally his honor's will."
"Then give my message to the vice-master."
"Who are you?" The attendant looked at her askance. "Do I have to report just because you said so? Let me tell you, Sir Su definitely doesn't care about this kind of stuff. Don't loiter around here anymore. Why don't you just get out of here already?"
Fuyao lifted her eyes to glance at him, then suddenly laughed.
With her laugh, the old Han's family looked at the attendant as if they were looking at a dead man. This fellow actually didn't know his place! He actually dared to provoke the god of slaughter!
All Fuyao did, though, was to suddenly twist her body and walk with large steps to the complaint drum out in front of the bureau gates.  She grabbed the mallet and fiercely flung a strike.
"BOOM!" A huge pounding noise.
The sound was deafening to the point of shock, rolling like gigantic thunder bolts, and in the space of a blink it had pierced through the darkness and scattered the clouds. With a crushing "PA" a hole suddenly appeared on the front of the complaint drum out to the back. The mallet shot out from within the drum and heavily smashed onto the large gate of the imperial offices, sending out yet another great boom.
Amidst the sounds of destruction came Meng Fuyao's clear words. "With three blows of the complaint drum blood stains the robes , yet this useless drum actually broke after one hit! I guess the next blow will have to be on your big gate, and then after the gate is finished I'll pound someone's head in. At that time I won't be able to promise whose blood will stain my robes!"
The attendant stood dismayed in place. Numbly staring at the originally very sturdy, but now completely collapsed drum, then looking at bronze dent on the gate, bashed in by the flying drum mallet, he reached out a shaking hand to rub his head while quickly saying, "I'll go to report, I'll go …"
"No need!" A cold yell traveled over. The large gate suddenly opened. A sharp-faced elder was already standing behind the door, and behind him followed a large group of attendants. The door guard lackey panicked, sprinting over with small steps to pay his respects. "Sir!"
Official Su Xuanyong hefted his sleeves with an iron face, angrily shouting, "Presumptuous person! You actually dare to destroy the complaint drum and stain the honorable administration's dignity! Do you really think nothing of my Infinite Court?"
Meng Fuyao gave him a glance. This was a county's vice-official, Elder Su? The solemnly standing, clearly important Han official who didn't care at all for the tens of thousands of citizens, and allowed them to be downtrodden by the Rong and fall into desperate straits? That Elder Su?
Fixedly glaring at him, Fuyao subconsciously grinded her teeth. After a while of grinding she suddenly put away her sharp teeth, then walked forward smiling to give a long, well-mannered bow. "Greetings Elder Su. This little one was discourteous."
"Only now do you know your disrespect? Unfortunately, the crime of disturbing this official won't be merely washed away by some words!" Su Xuanyong seethed as he gazed at the rascal that suddenly changed arrogance to humility, and became even more convinced that the rascal had been suppressed by his great imperial power. He very sternly swished his sleeve. "Come, take him away, pillory him for three days. Teach these unruly mobs the consequences of not having any sense of propriety!"
The attendants chorused their assent and went forward to grab Fuyao. She narrowed her eyes, allowing them to bind her with no resistance at all. Zong Yue stood serenely by the side watching, not interfering either. Only when an attendant clumsily bumped into Fuyao's shoulder did his expression slightly flicker.
Meng Fuyao was shoved forward by the crowd of imperial attendants, their hands tightly holding onto her slender shoulders. Zong Yue's eyebrows jumped again and he suddenly said, "Wait."
Fuyao turned her head back to look at him sadly - really, you are way too impatient, I still want to fool around with them some more.
Zong Yue ignored her. He clasped his hands and mildly said, "Elder Su, you can't afford to pillory this person."
"En?" Su Xuanyong frowned as he looked at Zong Yue. "Who do you think you are? You think you can just make remarks indiscriminately in front of this official?" His nose upturned towards the sky, he didn't bother with Zong Yue anymore, only impatiently waving his sleeve. "Bring him away …"
His words suddenly stopped.
In front of him, Zong Yue had stretched out his palm. A dark command token quietly sat there, engraved with a golden "De" character that sparkled with light. 
Prince De's command token, a symbol of an imperial descendant, and was the same as the Royal Prince De personally arriving.
"This one's surname is Zong, personal name Yue." Zong Yue's tone was warm and polite as if he was speaking with a close friend. "This one is not very capable, however by receiving His Highness Prince De's favor, the royal estate bestowed me land and passage rights. Let alone a seventh-level court such as Elder Su's, even if it were at His Highness Prince De's Tiger's Might Court, if this one wanted to stand in the hall to say some words, it would still be acceptable."
Su Xuanyong froze in place.
This was a mysterious man who was a legend among legends!
His origins were shrouded in mist and unknown by all. His teacher from youth sent him out from Medicine Saint Valley, and his natural talent made him a genius that surpassed his teacher. From twenty years of age he began to travel the Five Regions Continent, where uncountable numbers of people lived. The Five Regions Continent valued martial arts, with nobility all learning from birth, so injuries and illness were inevitable things. Furthermore, ailments wouldn't go away just because of high societal position; because of this, the lofty status of doctors had never been in doubt, let alone a peak character like Zong Yue, who would make even the various state rulers have to cordially come out and welcome. He had long been given special permissions by every ruler of the Five Regions Continent - not needing to bow when seeing rulers, while kings and princes had to submit a request to even meet him! The number of aristocrats who owed him a life-saving favor wasn't just a couple. Even though he was only a healer, his standing and influence far surpassed a typical king's. It could be said that with a beckon he could summon tens of thousands to follow his commands!
If Zhangsun Wuji was a god of the political realm, Zong Yue would be the god of the living realm. The former reaped domains, power, and lives; the latter cured suffering, illness, and lives.
Those of Su Xuanyong's background would typically be unable to even touch Zong Yue's robe corner. As he stared at the clean young man wearing snow white robes, the elder gulped, completely speechless.
Zong Yue, though, only chuckled and pointed to Fuyao, politely saying, "Can you release my friend there?"
"… Ah, of course of course!" Su Xuanyong hurriedly waved his hand to order them to release the person.
Yet, although he wanted to release her, the shameless Fuyao had her own thoughts. Jumping forward with a shua and pushing away the attendant coming to untie her, "Release who? I still want to be pilloried, take me away!"
"No untying! No release allowed!" Shameless Fuyao nimbly leapt left and weaved right, resolutely refusing to be released by the attendants. "Pillory me! Put me in the stocks already! If you release me, how will you let the residents of Yao see the consequences of 'not having propriety'?"
As she shouted, she ducked and weaved into the large gate, sprinting into the inner hall along the dark stone road. "Where's the stocks? Where are the cages? Bring them to me! Don't waste time!"
When the attendants saw her face full of a scoundrelly satisfaction, they all helplessly let go and pleadingly looked towards Elder Su. The official was shocked for a while, then resentfully stomped and walked up with quick steps, personally reaching out to untie Fuyao's ropes. "Little brother, it was this old man's rudeness, please don't take offense …"
Fuyao turned aside to reject his hand, severely gritting out, "This commoner is a law-abiding citizen and will steadfastly follow the Elder's re-education. If the Elder says to pillory, then I must be pilloried, if the Elder says to lock me in the cages, then I must be locked up! This uncultured commoner will follow one-hundred percent, and determinedly carry out the punishment."
"You … you … sigh!" Su Xuanyong's face was ugly as he woodenly stood there. Only a while later did he awkwardly say, "This elder was inferior … this old man will give you an apology …"
Meng Fuyao was waiting for exactly these words. She cheerfully turned her head, saying, "Elder will truly give me an apology?"
"It was this Elder who was rude and disrespectful …" Su Xuanyong wiped away some sweat. He had always been slippery marble that could deal with anyone and yield when needed, otherwise he wouldn't have been dispatched to this Rong-Han mixed region to act as the vice-master of the Rong city master. After arriving he discovered the head-strong temperament of the Rong city master Ah'Shi, and so became even more submissive and flattering, thoroughly managing the heavy responsibility of advancing "reconciliation" between Rong and Han. As long as it was a dispute between Rong and Han, the Rong would always be favored; as long as any Han dared to resist, he would always suppress the Han. It was only like this that peaceful days would be possible under the stringent rule of Ah'Shi. Now that Prince De's great army was only thirty li out, and Zong Yue was also Prince De's honored guest, even if you killed him the Elder still wouldn't dare to offend the friend of Zong Yue.
"Then good." Fuyao smiled even more politely than him. "The elder has apologized so sincerely, so how could I not accept? Since you are sincerely apologizing, then whether or not the elder releases me isn't important right now. Why don't you first help that family get settled? Once they are settled down, my mood will be better, and when my mood gets better, I'll decide to not go to the stocks anymore."
Su Xuanyong angrily stared at her, then entered the hall to write a command, handing it over to an attendant and telling him to bring the old Han's family to get settled. Only after she saw the family depart did Fuyao lazily stretch her waist. Pa pa two sounds - the tightly-bound ropes, following her casual movement, all snapped into pieces, one by one falling onto the ground.
As Su Xuanyong fixedly looked at the effortlessly broken ropes, his face turned black, but a trace of fright flashed through his eyes. He frantically smiled and invited his guests, "Please, this way to the rear hall, please."
However, Meng Fuyao only stood there not budging.
"Elder Su has no need to be polite, and right now is not the time to be polite either." Her expression slowly sank as a chilly air appeared between her brows. "Elder, a crisis is around the corner, and commoners will soon fall into disaster. Do you really have no plans for this at all?"
Dazed for a moment, Su Xuanyong gave her an assessing look. As he guessed whether she was an inspector sent over by the imperial court, he carefully replied, "This … the power the Rong hold is great, and their temperaments are brash and unyielding. We cannot afford to provoke them, we have to take it slow, gradually plan …"
Slow your ass! Fuyao's temper billowed up in waves. She stepped forward gritting out, "Elder, acting slow right now might be fine, but once the dagger enters your body, do you think there will still be time for 'acting slowly'?"
"What is the purpose of Little Brother's alarmist talk?" Su Xuanyong forced a smile. "The family of Han and Rong have already lived in complete harmony for the past ten years, how could it come to the point of soldiers and daggers pointing at each other …"
"Ptui!" In her heart Fuyao hatefully spat in disgust, but she had to forcibly restrain her face as she slowly said, "If Elder wants to deceive yourself and your lackeys then do as you like, but you are the guardian of Yao City! If the Han people of the city of Yao meet with disaster, how could the Elder escape blame and the thundering anger of the imperial court?"
Su Xuanyong could no longer maintain his pretense. Gloomily he asked, "And what does this have to do with your esteemed self?"
Fuyao attentively observed him. She shook her head. "Nothing."
Not waiting for Su Xuanyong's ridicule, she continued on.
"It is only because of a person's basic conscience - seeing an imminent catastrophe, seeing people about to be engulfed in the fires of war, seeing the unfortunate being bullied and humiliated - as a human being, I have no way of just sitting back and watching."
She scoffed as she gave Su Xuanyong a derisive glance. "As a master of Yao City, for you to be able to bear such a burden up until now, without feeling the least bit of shame, is something this lowly one admires very much."
"Then what do you want me to do?" Su Xuanyong's face bloated purple from her pressuring, and only after some time did he manage to force out some angered words. "I'm just a scholar, my hands don't even have the strength to wring a chicken! How do you expect me to oppose the city master and his personally-reared army? How do you expect a single person to protect these tens of thousands of commoners!?"
"Third rule of conflict - use intelligence above all." Fuyao glared at him, proclaiming, "The methods that Elder has available to him, are actually many."
"Shelter Han citizens, amass soldiers, invite armies to station in your city, using military power to suppress the Rong - this is the worst plan."
"Preposterous! Not even considering that I don't have the authority to invite the White Pavilion armies, even if they came, the moment the armies entered the city the Rong would immediately erupt in rebellion. At that time it would only be a scene of meaningless fighting!"
Fuyao gave him an "oh I guess you aren't completely hopeless" type of look, then continued on unaffectedly, "Using His Highness Prince De's expedition as a cover, recruit young, healthy Han men to train. This citizen group is supposedly for sending out of the city, to bolster Prince De's ranks, and the Rong definitely won't interfere. At crucial moments, this can be a city militia - this is the middle plan."
Su Xuanyong didn't speak anymore. His eyes flashed as he stroked his beard in deep contemplation.
"With only this Elder has already been convinced?" Fuyao grinned as she shifted closer to Su Xuanyong, quietly whispering, "There is still the upper plan - without wasting even one soldier or pawn, inviting the Rong themselves …"
Fuyao lowered her head to say some words by Su Xuanyong's ears. His eyebrows instantly jumped up in alarm, and his gaze transformed. A little later he shouted, "You've gone mad!"
She only sneered and looked at him, not speaking.
"The villa of Ah'Shi has extremely tight security. Ah'Shi himself is also a martial expert. How could putting him under house arrest be as easy as you say!"
"That is my problem." Fuyao lightly said, "Elder doesn't even need to appear personally. As long as you can lend me a couple attendants to make up the numbers and accomplish the goal."
Su Xuanyong stood dumbstruck in place. His eyes wavered as he swiftly analyzed the pros and cons of the situation. A while later he clenched his teeth, heavily stamping his foot and saying, "Alright! I'll give them to you!"
"The Elder spares no pains to keep his people in his heart. This lowly one greatly admires you." Meng Fuyao's eyes brightened as she generously praised with a smile.
"Ai …" Su Xuanyong sighed, slowly saying, "Little Brother must be unsatisfied by this official's previous behavior. To be honest, if this official were able to use all of my meager strength, how could I cherish my body? I was just being constantly suppressed by higher authority, and was completely helpless." He turned his head, waving his hand to call over a few attendants. "You there, follow this brother to the city master's villa."
"That can't be blamed on Elder. Elder was just biding his time for the right opportunity. Now that the heavy duty of saving the citizens has come, who else would be able to bear it but you?" Fuyao's smile was absolutely brilliant. "As such, many thanks for Elder's unwavering sense of loyalty."
Giving a light bow, she then walked past Su Xuanyong's side. He also subconsciously gave a bow, but the moment he leaned down, a jolt went through his heart.
It suddenly felt like a gap was opened in his back, and ice-cold snow was then shoved in.
Twisting his head back with difficulty, he saw the slender youth leisurely pulling out a dark dagger from his back. Fresh blood dripped unceasingly from the blade. The youth calmly blew lightly, causing the blood to splatter off and fall.
The blood … was his own …
Before this thought could fully form, Su Xuanyong felt an abrupt tearing pain centered around the small of his back, bursting out like an explosion. In a flash, it drowned out the last vestiges of his consciousness.
He gasped, then collapsed onto the ground like heavy rotten wood.
The attacker was naturally the "blood blowing" lady Meng.
Fuyao quietly observed the Su Xuanyong who had died with his eyes open, lying in a pool of blood. She withdrew the dagger and shook her head. "Don't act like others are all fools. Do you really think I have zero intellect like yourself?"
Su Xuanyong stubbornly refused to even shelter Han citizens. How could he so easily agree to her daring plan?
Such secretive, life-or-death matters, and he would allow the attendants by the side to hear?
When signaling to the attendants, why were his eyes blinking non-stop, a cramp?
The people she hated the most were those self-serving, disloyal, villain-helping scum, who ignored the hardships of the common people. If she left alive this old veteran who was familiar with city management and attendants, she definitely couldn't prevent him from sending out a message. It was very apparent that he and Ah'Shi were partners of mutual benefit, and sooner or later he would be put under the Infinite Empire's knife; Fuyao was fairly proactive, so she helped them get rid of him a bit earlier.
Zong Yue's eyes drifted over with a questioning look. She knew his question was "are you sure you want to act against the city master right now?", so she lightly nodded. For some unknown reason her heart had a constant, faint premonition of unease. Despite silencing all the Rong previously, the blade that was flat but then placed upright at an unknown time kept flashing through her mind, as well as that hurried figure that had slipped into the crowd of Rong afterwards. It was precisely because of this figure that drifted in front of her eyes like a ghost and gave her unease, that she thought of acting first, wanting to wrest control of the situation in front of her.
If Su Xuanyong was willing to show his face and help her, then that would be the best case. If he wasn't willing, then she could only send him to an eternal rest.
The fact that Su Xuanyong had turned into a corpse in a blink of an eye shocked all the attendants. Fuyao walked over without a rush, flicking a pill into the mouths of all the Han attendants, while jabbing the scruffs of every Rong attendant.
"The medicine is an immortality pill." She folded her hand in a friendly manner, saying, "It's not much really, if there isn't an antidote, you really will become immortal. The soul is immortal after all."
"That point on the back of your necks, though," She glanced at the clearly rebellious Rong attendants whose eyes were flickering, "that's even less of a worry. It neither cuts tendons nor grinds bones. I know the thing you guys fear isn't death, but rather corrupting the mind. So all I did was block one of your meridians. After a day, without my personal techniques to release it, then sorry, your heads will fade and your spirits will daze. Something like attacking the city master with a knife, or burning down the city, or even urinating on your all-mighty Sun God Ge - anything is possible."
Disregarding the attendants whose faces all paled, Fuyao's smile turned even more amiable as she said, "Now, let everyone accompany this lowly one on a trip to the city master's villa." ———Footnotes 登闻鼓Deng Wen Gu, was a drum placed outside courts for commoners with grievances to pound on. From a Tang Dynasty poem 德the "De" in Prince De, means morality or virtue