"In the northwest, I was known as the Blood Rakshasa. In the county of Yao, the commander known as Qi… sent people to erect a statue of me by the city gates, ordering everyone that entered the city to spit on my statue before being allowed to enter. This period, while I was on the run, I had to avoid not only the government troops but the civilians as well. Since escaping from Zhen Huang, I was injured once. I was saved by a benevolent and harmonious elderly couple over 80-years-old. They treated my injuries and killed their only hen to brew soup for me, not asking me about my background. They probably thought that I was robbed, and encouraged me to make a report to the authorities."
"However, on the second day, when the old man went to town to get me some medicine, his expression changed upon coming back. I didn't know what happened then. On the same night, they snuck into the room carrying knives and tried to hack at me. I knew that their son was enlisted into the Xia army which terrorized Yan Bei, dying in the highlands of Yan Bei in the end." Chu Qiao laughed, a cold look on her face. "I killed them as they were too agitated. I could not escape, hence I killed them."
"Hypocrite," an icy-cold voice said. Zhuge Yue sat in his position, saying with sarcasm, "Given your skills, it should have been easy to subdue two elderly folks. You would not have been scared if they reported it to the officials. You're just finding a disgusting excuse for yourself."
"I'm not finding excuses," Chu Qiao replied calmly. "I was heavily injured. An arrow pierced through my thigh. I was unable to walk. I had only two choices back then—to kill them, or let them kill me."
Zhuge Yue laughed in disapproval. "Xing'er, by doing this, how different are we?"
"You're right, I thought this way initially too," Chu Qiao replied in a low voice. "However, I don't think this way anymore. Back then, when General Meng waged war on Yan Bei, his purpose was to invade, to massacre, to trample on innocent people. Their son enlisted in the army to invade the hometown of other people. Are the victims not allowed to retaliate? In the battle that year, Yan Bei suffered numerous casualties. From the civilians to the armies, there was mass genocide everywhere. Yan Bei suffered heavier losses than the Xia Empire. As for me, I did not let them down. I stayed in their house to recuperate, but also offered remuneration to them. It was them who wanted to harm me because of the hate that had nothing to do with me. Was I supposed to just sit there and await death? I kill people, but not the innocent. I sympathize with the civilians, but I'm not a saint."
Chu Qiao's voice contained an element of conviction. Word by word, she said, "The war between Yan Bei and the Xia Empire is imminent, and will last for a long time. However, the lives lost in this battle will not be in vain. They will be sacrificing themselves for the sake of justice and freedom. There will be a day where the lands of Hongchuan will be run with a different ideology, one that has freedom and equality, one that has order and peace. It won't be like the barbaric past. For this day, what I'm doing now is worth it."
Zhuge Yue suddenly sneered. "Xing'er, I've always held you in high regard. I didn't expect you to say such absurd words. Freedom and equality? Order and peace? Have you become a follower of Da Tong? Have you started to fantasize together with the people there?"
"No, I'm not. I'm fully aware that true equality can never be achieved as long as self-interest exists. However, we can turn this situation for the better by advancing step by step." Chu Qiao stared at Zhuge Yue and said solemnly, "At the very least, there won't be anything like the killings, abuse, and torture in the Zhuge residence!"
"Do you really think that Yan Xun can achieve this?" Zhuge Yue raised his eyebrows in disdain. "Do you think that the old folks from Da Tong Guild will be so selfless as they claimed? Those that have tasted power will not let go of what they have so easily. Even if Yan Xun ascends the throne one day, it will be but another change in dynasty, not the end of an era. Xing'er, if you cannot accept the fact that Yan Xun is ambitious and power hungry, admit that he is merely seeking revenge. It sounds better. Don't make him out to be such a noble character. It disgusts me."
Chu Qiao's expression changed silently. After a long while, she maintained her tone of conviction. "I believe him."
Zhuge Yue frowned and stared at her.
"I believe that he will not let me down." Chu Qiao laughed softly. "I will be by his side to help him achieve this great mission. Zhuge Yue, watch and see."
At that instant, it was like a light had illuminated the darkness. Zhuge Yue suddenly felt that this woman in front of him was weak and silly, but he did not mock her stubbornness any further. He only wanted to ask one question. "If, one day, he really let you down, what would you do?" However, he did not. He felt that that was a little cruel… yes, very cruel.
This girl was barely 17-years-old. What were her sisters doing at home? What were the princesses of Zhen Huang City doing? Putting on their makeup, enjoying their lives, discussing the opposite gender, or fooling around with another man behind everyone's backs? As for her, she had weathered so many storms over the years just for this belief that she held close to her heart. She had no power, no influence, neither kith nor kin… This was probably the only reason that she continued to live on.
Alright then, Xing'er. I'll see. I'll see if that man lives up to your expectations. If there is such a day, I, Zhuge Yue, am willing to spend my entire family's fortune on fireworks, to celebrate your success!
"Yan Bei…" Zhuge Yue looked up and swallowed a cup of wine, causing a burning sensation to trickle down his throat. Plainly, he said, "I'm looking at you."
On the morning of the second day, Zhuge Yue woke up early to scout the city streets for a horse and a carriage. Although he had plenty of money, he was unable to purchase anything. The entire marketplace, even the benches belonging to the horse sellers, had disappeared overnight. In a fit of rage, Zhuge Yue inquired about the availability of other substitutes like donkeys or mules, even going beneath his status to ask about cows. However, it was the same.
Simultaneously, Chu Qiao was sitting in her room on the second floor of the inn. Looking at the armed bodyguards and their horses passing by, she frowned slightly, sensing that something was amiss. When Zhuge Yue got back to their room, they looked at each other in the eye, remaining silent.
When the entourage left the city, they were no longer the initial army of four to five hundred people. When the people stationed at the front had stepped out of the city, the people behind had not mounted their horses. There were easily 2000 people. Big amounts of baggage, rations, gold, jewelry and other valuables were stowed in over 300 carriages. There were many women following behind, all of them dressed flamboyantly. The sight of carriage after carriage passing by was spectacular.
Chu Qiao and Zhuge Yue were assigned to a rundown carriage at the back of the crowd. Although the carriage had just been purchased, there was a foul odor inside.
Their worries were unfounded. Given their current status, they had no chance of approaching the Liu family. In the morning, Chu Qiao followed behind a few servants who were in charge of moving the baggage, seeing a man in a blue robe boarding a carriage in front, assisted by a servant. Although it was hot in An Bai, the man had a cloak draped over him. He was skinny, and a hat covered up his face. However, the semi-visible shadow in the morning fog caused Chu Qiao to be visibly shocked. She stopped in her tracks subconsciously, looking at the shadow fade away in the distance before boarding a majestically decorated carriage.
Chu Qiao stood rooted to the spot for a long time.
"What's wrong?" Zhuge Yue walked in front of her, turning back to ask.
"Oh, it's nothing." Chu Qiao laughed at herself and shook her head, trying to empty her head of unrealistic thoughts. "Let's go."
The horse carriage slowly made its way out of An Bai City. Chu Qiao lay by the window, opening the curtains and staring outside through the translucent veil on her face.
"Oh, right," Chu Qiao remembered, taking out a small bag and handing it over to Zhuge Yue, saying calmly, "I told the waiter to get this in the morning when he went out."
Zhuge Yue took the bag and opened it, seeing a hat inside. Although it was not the right time to wear it, the hat was exquisitely woven. The material was thin, which meant that wearing the hat would not cause anyone to feel too hot.
"It's good to be careful," Chu Qiao added gently, and laughed. "Although there might not be a chance to use it."
The entourage of over 2000 people and a few hundred carriages streamlined across the passageway. The front of the pack could not be seen from where they were.
Zhuge Yue placed the hat on the side but did not retract his hand. Pressing on the hat, he remarked, "The merchants in Xianyang are about to escape."
Chu Qiao smiled and turned around. "You saw it too."
"The war between Yan Bei and the Xia Empire is imminent. These wily old foxes are about to retreat into Tang territory. They do not dare to leave Xianyang so openly in big groups. They can only assemble at An Bai, then head to Tang Jing together. Their life savings are stowed in those carriages."
Chu Qiao nodded in agreement, replying softly, "Yes, they want to absolve themselves of any responsibility."
Unlike Zhuge Yue, Chu Qiao suddenly felt a sense of panic in her heart. She was aware of the identities of the merchants of Xianyang, and even more so on how they had distributed their wealth all these years. However, today, they were about to make their escape.
Thinking of the shadow she saw earlier on, Chu Qiao suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to see what was going on in front of her. However, in a split second, she changed her mind, shaking her head helplessly and slumping onto the walls of the shaking horse carriage.
Chu Qiao, are you too tired? Since the rebellion at Zhen Huang, you have been hanging on by a thread. Is this why you have developed such unrealistic thoughts?
Yan Xun, they are about to escape under my eyes. What should I do to stop this? What should I do?