The prison cells of the Department of Justice¹ .
Two filthy hands grasped the wooden jail bars . In a miserable manner, the owner of those hands looked at the guard outside and said, “Brother Guard, can you, can you give me a basin of water so that I can wipe my body . I already… already haven’t wiped my body for seven days . ”
This person had not taken a bath in many days . What was most horrifying was the presence of lice in this place, making it very itchy . When she slapped any area on her body, her palm would become incomparably sticky . One look, and there was black and red, the corpses of the lice mixed with her blood .
Linglong thought that before she could be executed, she would have grown insane .
“Water . Give me some water…” sobbed Linglong, head lowered .
Approaching from afar were rustles .
In the end, a pair of shoes stopped right outside Linglong’s cell, not a speck of dust upon them in sight . They were even cleaner than her own hands . Slowly, starting from those shoes, Linglong looked up . “…Wei Yingluo!”
Wei Yingluo stood outside the cell, staring at her with an insincere smile .
“You actually dare to come see me! You cheap person!” Linglong thrust her hands through the gaps in the bars, trying to grab Wei Yingluo at all costs, resembling an evil spirit looking for revenge .
Wei Yingluo nimbly stepped back, avoiding her filthy black fingers . “In order to see you, I spent no less than 100 grams of silver . ” She took her time crouching, staring at Linglong with a gleaming gaze . One that made her blood run cold . “I certainly must see, must properly see, must carefully see…”
A chill ran down Linglong’s spine . Lips trembling, she asked, “I’ve done nothing to you . Why did you harm me like this?”
“Done nothing to me?” Those words caused her to laugh . “What did you do to Jixiang? Linglong, you only have yourself to blame . Originally, I was pondering over how to get you to take the bait . Never had I imagined that before I could even mention it, you took the initiative to ask for a competition . Very good . Incredibly good… Linglong, I understand you to a great extent . You’re easily jealous yet don’t have the ability . In that competition, you would lose without a doubt . However, you would also not admit defeat . You would definitely steal my finished work in the end—”
Wei Yingluo did not have to mention the events after that . Linglong could guess them herself .
Wei Yingluo had hidden a silver needle at the collar of those clothes in secret . Such a thing was normally hard to notice, but as long as the emperor put on those clothes, the needle would pierce him once he moved .
Sooner or later, in his anger, the emperor would certainly dispatch people to find the culprit .
“…I know that you are good friends with Jixiang . But you can’t frame me, an innocent person, because of her!” Linglong could only sob, trying to use her tears to swindle the other party out of their sympathy . “General Manager Wu ordered her death because she stole things . What does that have to do with me?”
“Do you think I’m a fool?” Wei Yingluo smiled . “Why did Jixiang need to steal my things? And why did she have those things on her when General Manager Wu had come to investigate the matter? And why did you know those things were on her? That day… was her birthday . I think you definitely used the reason of celebrating her birthday to give her that spice bag full of stolen goods . You treated it as a birthday present, right?”
Frightened, Linglong looked at Wei Yingluo .
She guessed correctly . Every word, every step .
As if she had seen everything unfold before her eyes .
From the start, Linglong knew Wei Yingluo was extremely intelligent . However, she had never imagined her to be intelligent to this degree . She also knew that Wei Yingluo would take revenge for certain . But she did not foresee her revenge to come this fast, to be this ruthless .
“Yingluo…” Linglong crawled on the ground, sticking a hand through a gap in the bars, landing on Wei Yingluo’s leg . She resembled a kitten begging for food .
“Don’t waste your breath . This won’t work on me,” said Wei Yingluo, still smiling . Yet, not a trace of a smile existed in her gaze . “Even if you keep begging me like this, I won’t let you go . If you cry, it’ll only make me happier . Only if you bleed can you commemorate Jixiang’s spirit . ”
Linglong carefully sized her up for a good while, expression gradually changing . From the pitiful look at the start to a twisted crazy look . All of a sudden, she burst into loud laughter . She laughed so hard that she moved into a sitting position . As if she no longer feared anything . “Correct, I was the one who did it! I was the one who stole that peacock feather thread . I also caused Jixiang’s death! But so what? How big of a deal is it to have a needle left behind in the collar? At most, it’d be seen as a mistake, and I’ll just be paddled a few tens of times . ”
“Paddling a few tens of times and exile to Ningguta², never to return,” said Wei Yingluo in an unhurried pace .
As soon as Linglong had heard those words, she was shocked . “What did you say?””
“They have already judged your case . ” A smile still remained on Wei Yingluo’s face . “Eighty paddles and exile to Ningguta, never to return to the capital . ”
Bit by bit, Linglong’s face paled . In the end, there was not a hint of blood: she was as pale as a ghost .
“Perhaps you could still endure eighty paddles . However, Ningguta is where the Qing dynasty exiles criminals . The climate is extremely abnormal . In April, the winds are like blades, great and sharp . From May to July, the rain would be freezing . In August, snowstorms . September would see the entire place frozen over . It’s not a place for humans to live . Even if you somehow could endure the paddles, you would still be stuck in this purgatory for a lifetime doing forced labor . ” Wei Yingluo took her time rising to her feet . Turned around . Dragging out her words, she said, “Though one hopes for life, one cannot live . Though one prays to die, one cannot die . This is what you deserve . ”
“Come back! Come back, Wei Yingluo! You can’t leave! Someone quickly stop her! She’s the true perpetrator! I’ve been framed!” Linglong hated the fact that she couldn’t slip through the gaps in the bars . She thrust a hand through, the position very straight . But in the end, it could only drop in a helpless manner . From underneath her loose, long hair came sobs .
Strong winds like blades, freezing rain, snowstorms, the area all around frozen . Did she really have to endure all this?
Even if she could, other than natural disasters, there were still the other prisoners .
There would be criminals evil to the extreme everywhere . If a weak girl on her own went there, wouldn’t she become a plump sheep in their eyes? Whoever was hungry would take a bite out of her .
“I won’t go to Ningguta . ” Her voice sounded as if she were delirious . “Even in death I won’t go…”
In an instant, a scene flashed before her eyes .
In it, a bowl of piping hot longevity noodles . And a little and naive Jixiang .
“Fine . I’ll make a vow here . ” Linglong raised her hand, the three fingers pointing up to the sky . “If I have even a bit of ill intention toward Wei Yingluo and you, then I will commit su*cide by slamming my head into the wall . May I not have a peaceful death!”
Ha! Linglong laughed until she almost cried . This evil Heavens truly had eyes!
Smiling as if she had gone mad for a moment, Linglong suddenly turned to face the ash-gray wall next to her . On her face, an extremely strange smile . “Wei Yingluo, don’t think everything will always go as you plan . If I can’t choose how I was born, that doesn’t mean I can’t choose how I die, right?”
And she slammed her head against the wall, killing herself .
When the news entered the embroidery workshop, Wei Yingluo was in the process of embroidering a set of clothes .
It was satin of a sapphire-blue, many bats embroidered on it to represent good fortune . When young people wore clothes made of it, they would look old . But when worn by the elderly, it gave them a fortunate aura .
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“You’re all dismissed . ”
Numerous and disorderly footsteps . After the footsteps of the last palace maid disappeared, there were only two people left in the room: Granny Zhang and Wei Yingluo .
“…Originally, she didn’t have to die,” said Granny Zhang from above her . “After the emperor calmed down from his anger, he knew it was merely a mistake and didn’t deserve death . He obviously sent the decree that she would be paddled fifty times and transferred to the hard labor department . But Linglong took her own life! Before she died, people heard her keep shouting that she wouldn’t go to Ningguta . ”
“Granny, look,” said Wei Yingluo somewhat evasively, opening up her embroidery for Granny Zhang to see . With a gentle gaze, she smiled . “Jixiang’s grandmother is over seventy years old . She relies on Jixiang’s meager monthly salary to survive . She’s still enduring, hoping for, and waiting for her granddaughter to reach twenty-four so she could leave the palace . Jixiang often told me that when she returned home, she would bring back some clothes she embroidered herself . She would use satin the color of sapphire and embroider many bats on it, representing good fortune…”
“Now, Jixiang is gone, and that elderly person… I don’t know if she could continue living after she learns of this news . One life gone, or it could be two . ” Wei Yingluo slowly raised her head, looking at the other party . “Granny, do you think this person who did all those crimes only deserves a light punishment of fifty paddles?”
Her gaze spoke of simply no regrets .
She did not regret anything she had done!
They looked into each other’s eyes for a short while . Finally, Granny Zhang let out a light sigh . “Yingluo, your personality of loving and hating intensely, of seeking revenge for every grievance no matter the severity is truly unsuitable for living in the palace… After all, you are only a palace maid…”
If she were a master, to seek revenge for the smallest grievances wasn’t a bad thing . On the contrary, if a master had a tough and unyielding manner, they could suppress their subordinates .
But Wei Yingluo and herself were the same . They were merely servants…
“Very soon, you’ll be moving to Changchun Palace . Once you’re there, if you still have this kind of temperament, sooner or later you’ll meet disaster . ”
“Granny, what do you have to be afraid of?” After a moment of thought, Wei Yingluo knew what she was causing her fear . She reached out and pulled Granny Zhang to sit beside her . Like a granddaughter nestling against her grandmother, she rested her head against Granny Zhang’s shoulder in a light and lovable manner . Said in a gentle and very comforting voice, “For the time being, I won’t do anything to Fucha Fuheng . Even if I do do something, I’ll ask him for the truth first…”
But these words could not wash away Granny Zhang’s worries . Rather, it increased them . She stared at Wei Yingluo for a good while . All of a sudden, she probingly asked, “What if he truly was the one behind what had happened to your sister?”
Wei Yingluo smiled .
Such a smile was so beautiful, that it made people think they had suddenly seen those famous beauties from the ancient times .
Daji³, who brought about what happened at the Deer Terrace Pavilion⁴ and the demise of the Shang Dynasty . Baosi⁵, who laughed at the warning beacons⁷ of the Zhou Dynasty, leading to the dynasty’s downfall . Yang Yuhuan⁸, who brought about the swift end of the Tang Dynasty .
Beauties were like swords, capable of causing the fall of a country .
Come night, Wei Yingluo finished her last task in the embroidery workshop .
A set of clothes made from sapphire satin, countless bats embroidered on it .
She entrusted those clothes to Granny Zhang, to have Granny Zhang send someone to deliver the clothes and Jixiang’s belongings back to grandmother the next morning .
Wei Yingluo thought for a moment . Put on her sister’s jade medallion . Her fingers caressed the name engraved into it as she said softly, “Changchun Palace . Fucha Fuheng . I’m coming . ”