Before the bloodshed
Suddenly, Inspector General – Xiao Long’s next step could very well decide everything.
Not because he held an important position: He was House ZiChuan’s seventh Commander, a position that was above the other six.
Not because he held great powers: He was in charge of the internal affairs, and was not under the direct command of the High Command led by the Supreme Commander – Yang Ming Hua.
And definitely not because he was fair, just, revered or respected by everyone in House ZiChuan.
The only reason was that, at the time, the four thousand constables in charge of the security were all under his direct command! Whichever party he chose would instantly have several thousand fully armed elite forces on their side. If a conflict did break out, there was no way anyone could withstand the onslaught even if they were the best fighters in the world.
Furthermore, the fact was that all the officers present were fully disarmed when they went through the security before the Conference. In other words, it gave them even less of a fighting chance against the well-armed, well-trained constables who, in the first place, held a significant advantage in numbers.
Every single pair of eyes was fixated on Xiao Long sitting in the front row, wondering how he would react to Bai Chuan’s accusations.
Stirling’s face turned pale; he already knew which side Xiao Long was on – How did Di Lin get inside with his blade?
Xiao Long’s solemn expression was like an iron mask. In the face of all expectations, he began slowly: “No murder has taken place; there is no need for an investigation. Case dismissed.”
The murder had taken place right in front of him; the blood hadn’t even dried. Yet he claimed there was no murder! He couldn’t have made it clearer; everyone knew which side he was on by now. So apparently, no one had been killed.
Yang Ming Hua was furious with Bai Chuan. He couldn’t care less about grace or manners at this point. Everyone else had clearly given up, except one stupid bitch who didn’t know her place. He gave Di Lin another look.
Di Lin replied with a grin and began pacing in Bai Chuan’s direction. The tragedy that befell Banner Master De Ke was about to repeat itself.
ZiChuan Xiu, Luo Jie and Chuang Chuan instantly rose to their feet and came to stand between Di Lin and his prey.
Seeing ZiChuan Xiu, Di Lin hesitated and halted in his steps, unsure of what to do next.
Stirling, on the other hand, focussed his attention entirely on Lei Xun, making sure that he wouldn’t be able to ambush his friends as he had done before.
A small distance away, Xiao Long shouted an order. A party of fully armed constables rushed into the Hall and surrounded ZiChuan Xiu, Stirling and their men, holding them at arrow-point.
Bows were drown; arrows were notched. The situation could turn violent at a moment’s notice!
Everything was going as planned, and Yang Ming Hua was appeased with the outcome. Yet, without warning, the usually quiet Far Eastern Army Commander – Ge Ying Xing had already appeared behind him. Ge Ying Xing’s hand lay gently on his shoulder; he could feel the powerful and icy-cold killing intent spreading through it, engulfing him, encaging him in a coffin of ice.
He instantly knew that even the slightest movement would invite a retaliation of the most terrifying nature! Disappointed with himself, he thought: “How could I have let my guard down against that sickly old fart?”
He spoke in a deeper voice: “How dare you?! I will have you killed!”
The only response was the sound of soft coughing, but the presence of killing intent enveloping him from behind had only increased in its intensity…
Yang Ming Hua was fully aware of the pointlessness of his words. How could a battle-hardened veteran like Ge Ying Xing be easily intimidated by a few menacing words? He took in the situation at a glance. ZiChuan Xiu and Stirling were having a stare-down with the constables below him. His own helper, Di Lin and Lei Xun were over there, too. The fact that he has been taken hostage had yet to be noticed by them; only the few commanders sitting on the podium knew the truth. Chief of Staff – Luo Ming Hai made a noise, trying to help by getting closer, but Border Army Commander – Ming Hui either purposely or unintentionally shifted his chair, blocking Luo Ming Hai’s path. Black Army Commander – Fang Jing’s face was a mask of solid indifference, showing neither joy nor anger. Even the old Pi Gu stared at him with anger in his eyes.
Yang Ming Hua’s mind twisted nervously: “Shit, I’m surrounded. Do I call out for help? But as the Supreme Commander, I let myself be taken hostage so easily, I will lost any respect I have. Besides, will they even be able to rescue me in time…?”
Unexpectedly, Ge Ying Xing’s gentle voice sounded from behind: “Inspector General – Xiao Long says that there is no need for an investigation – I disagree. In fact, I think we should get to the bottom of this! So I suggest we vote on it. Those who think we should start an investigation, please raise your hand!”
The way he said it was very clever. He only asked everyone to vote on whether they should “start an investigation” or not, and did not directly accuse Yang Ming Hua of “the murder”. This way he had given Yang Ming Hua a way out, instead of pressuring him to make a move.
Only then did the more observant ones amongst the Officers take notice of the strangeness on the podium. None of them could recall when the Far Eastern Commander – Ge Ying Xing had moved behind the Supreme Commander – Yang Ming Hua; even now half of his body was still shadowed by Yang Ming Hua’s.
Still sitting in his chair, Yang Ming Hua’s expressions remained the same, but he was silent. All the other Commanders seemed a bit agitated, nervous even… Nobody would have guessed that during all the chaos, Supreme Commander Yang Ming Hua was somehow taken hostage by Ge Ying Xing!
The officers from the Far Eastern Army instantly raised their hands in support. They had resented Yang Ming Hua for his actions for a long time. They didn’t come out and say it before because they lacked a voice that would bring them together, but now with Ge Ying Xing’s backing, there was nothing holding them back.
The Far Eastern Army was the biggest of armed forces of House ZiChuan, which meant a large portion of the officers instantly rose to their feet. Even Lei Xun and Xiao Long were caught off guard by the sheer volume of the resistance. Uncertain whether they should continue their current course, they sought for directions from Yang Ming Hua sitting on the podium, and were left disappointed and puzzled by his lack of response.
Border Army Commander Ming Hui sitting on the other side of the podium cracked a wry smile while looking at Yang Ming Hua: “I agree with Sir Ge Ying Xing’s opinion!”
Black Banner Army Commander Fang Jin stood up almost immediately without saying so much as a word. He was in a terrible mood. Then again, the ones killed had all been Black Banner Army officers; they were his men, so naturally he was furious.
Even Imperial Guard Army Commander Pi Gu, whom everyone thought of as dull-brained, got up on his trembling feet in protest!
Suddenly, noise erupted in the hall; almost everyone had stood up. Every single enraged pair of eyes was fixated on Yang Ming Hua sitting on top of the podium… His outrageous behaviour had angered the masses! Amongst all the officers standing up in protest, quite a few were even from Yang Ming Hua’s own force, the Central Army.
The only ones still sitting at this point were Yang Ming Hua’s close confidants: Lei Xun and Luo Ming Hai.
Facing them was a great ocean of fury.
At ZiChuan Xiu’s position, countless officers from the Far Eastern Army, Black Banner Army, Border Army, Imperial Guard Army and many more whom he knew or didn’t know had come to their aid. Even though they had no weapons, they stood fearlessly in the way of the constables, blocking their arrows with their bare chests. Out of nowhere, a multi-layered wall made of flesh and bone had surrounded Bai Chuan, separating her from the constables.
Facing the sudden outrage, even the usually disciplined elite forces, the constables of House ZiChuan, were forced back.
Stirling was moved to tears. He turned to ZiChuan Xiu: “Justice is in the heart of the people!”
ZiChuan Xiu replied sarcastically: “Right… Justice is like a scared little girl… It only appears when there are many of us. I have yet to see any Justice showing up all by its lonesome.”
Facing the ocean of fury, for the first time, Yang Ming Hua realized how insignificant he really was. He angrily signalled Xiao Long with a gesture of moving his wrist around the neck. His meaning was clear – Kill!
But Inspector General – Xiao Long had other things on his mind: This was no longer a small matter involving a few officers from the Far Eastern Army and the Imperial Guard Army. If he moved against a thousand high ranking officers from every regiment in the realm, who represented the entirety of the armed forces of House ZiChuan, the outcome would be unthinkable, and the inevitable reprisals would be even worse. Even though the world was a vast place, as the one solely responsible for all the bloodshed, there would be no place for him to hide. Besides, there were many capable fighters present amongst the thousand officers here. His constables might not necessarily win the bout… It was a lose-lose situation either way.
He sighed in defeat as he gave the order, telling every Constable to fall back and he himself left with them.
The hall exploded in a roar of joy and a voice shouted: “Yang Ming Hua – Be gone!”
Several hundred more voices instantly answered in unison: “Yang Ming Hua – Be gone!” Their outcries formed a river; rivers formed an ocean, seeking to engulf the entire podium.
Facing the sudden turn of the tide, Yang Ming Hua had somehow regained his composure. He whispered calmly to his captor: “What do you want?”
The answer came accompanied with Ge Ying Xing’s soft laughter; he could tell he was making fun of him, but the killing intent detaining him did not weaken in the slightest: “That depends entirely on what you want, Supreme Commander.”
Yang Ming Hua retorted threateningly: “Don’t push your luck! I don’t care how many of them protested. I can turn this place into an ocean of blood with one word!”
“Well, guess who would be the first one to die?” Ge Ying Xing ignored Yang Ming Hua’s threat: “Besides, do you really think someone as underhanded as I am would come to this conference alone?” As if someone overheard what Ge Ying Xing just said, suddenly, massive movement(horses, soldiers, weapons) sounded from outside the Conference Hall.
“Well then, guess who would be the first one to die,” Ge Ying Xing ignored Yang Ming Hua’s threat: “Besides, do you really think someone as underhanded as I am would come to this conference alone?” As if someone overheard what Ge Ying Xing just said, suddenly, a massive movement (horses, soldiers, weapons) sounded from outside the Conference Hall.
One of the guards stumbled his way in, shouting in a panicked voice: “It’s the Far Eastern Army! They have surrounded the Conference Hall!”
The rowdy Conference Hall instantly quieted down. Every officer shifted their startled gaze towards Ge Ying Xing who stood like a statue on the podium. Before anyone had the chance to recover from the sudden development, the same shocking realization was already coursing through their minds: “It this a coup?” It was fun and all, shouting “Yang Ming Hua – Be Gone!” but to actually be involved in a bloody street fight inside the Capital City – Di Du was another matter entirely. No one was ready for something like that. So, Fight or Flight?
Yang Ming Hua’s face instantly paled: Ge Ying Xing’s personal guards had arrived. Even though he still had the control of the powerful Central Army, he was not prepared for this turn of events. No matter how great an army he commanded, it was not in a position to save him now. If a conflict broke out, he would be the first one to go down.
He whispered: “If you kill me, you won’t make it out of Di Du alive! My Central Army will wipe your forces out in under ten minutes!”
Ge Ying Xing sounded surprised: “Huh, you must have misunderstood me, Supreme Commander! I wouldn’t dream of commiting treason! Those are my men outside. They are just worried for my well-being, and have come here to escort me back.” He lowered his voice: “Besides, it wouldn’t be wise to spill blood on the red carpet!”
Yang Ming Hua immediately understood Ge Ying Xing’s words. It would serve no one to spill blood on the day of a big gathering of all the high ranking officers of House ZiChuan. Not only would it be bad for one’s reputation, it would also forever taint one’s name in the book of history.
Yang Ming Hua considered for a second; he only wanted to rally some support today, not kill everyone. Luckily, Xiao Long hadn’t listened to him when the situation got out of control and caused a big bloodbath, or else, he would have started an irreconcilable feud with every armed forces of House ZiChuan. Even if he was to become the Headmaster, he wouldn’t last.
Yang Ming Hua whispered back: “Very well. Then let me show you the way out, Commander – Ge Ying Xing!” With that, he stood up, face all smiles, albeit very slowly. The last thing he wanted was to cause an over-reaction from the one standing behind him and get himself killed.
“Hoho, Supreme Commander, you are too kind!” Stepping to his side, Ge Ying Xing appeared from behind Yang Ming Hua, face full of smiles as well and no one the wiser, except those few commanders sitting on the podium who had overheard every the entire exchange between Yang Ming Hua and Ge Ying Xing. Their palms were drenched in sweat, because one small misstep could have caused the situation to spin out of control. The Conference hall would have turned into a slaughter house, and the City of Di Du would have turned into Hell itself.
Fortunately, the two characters in question were both capable of weighing the pros and cons, allowing them to make calm and wise decisions. As a result, they had reached a non-agreeable agreement, prolonging the false peace for the time being.
Ge Ying Xing smiled to them: “I’m not feeling too well. May I excuse myself from the conference, Supreme Commander?”
Supreme Commander replied kindly: “Do as you may, Commander Ge. Please take good care of yourself!”
Ge Ying Xing smiled: “You have given much for the good of the House! Please take good care of yourself as well!”
The two smiled in turn, showing each other all kinds of courtesies. No one could tell they had been at each other’s throat just a minute ago.
Ge Ying Xing increased his pace as he walked towards the entrance, where a large detachment of his personal guards waited. The rest of the Officers from the Far Eastern Army quickly followed without saying so much as a word. ZiChuan Xiu and Stirling exchanged a look and each led his men outside as well.
Seeing Ge Ying Xing leaving, Border Army Commander – Ming Hui smiled to Yang Ming Hua, and requested: “Supreme Commander, my headache is acting up, may I excuse myself as well?” Even though it sounded like a request, he didn’t wait for Yang Ming Hua to answer before he began marching in the direction of the exit. Naturally, the Officers from the Border Army quickly followed their Commanding Officer and exited the hall as well.
Imperial Guard Commander – Pi Gu and Black Banner Commander – Fang Jing were the next ones to leave; they didn’t even so much look Yang Ming Hua’s way. Their men quickly followed suit.
In the short span of a few minutes, what was once a packed, rowdy conference hall, now only had a few hundred officers left from the Central Army, and every one of them were confused, wondering if they should leave or not.
Even though his life was no longer being threatened, glancing at the vacated Confering Hall, relief did not come to him, only senseless disappointment. Lei Xun came up to him and whispered: “Sir, We still have the Central Army! Should we close the gates, cut off their escape and kill them all?”
Yang Ming Hua scolded him angrily: “Idiot!” and spat on the exquisite red carpet.
Only until they came out of the Conference Hall, and saw the blue white sky, did Stirling and ZiChuan Xiu feel relieved and reassured. It had been a close call!
Under the protection of a large contingent of Personal Guards, Ge Ying Xing approached ZiChuan Xiu and Stirling: “Stirling, Xiu, I’m leaving for the Far East, Fort Warren tonight. Do you want to come with me? Any later Yang Ming Hua may have closed down the gates!”
ZiChuan Xiu and Stirling gave each other a look, and spoke with determination: “No Sir. We will stay.”
Ge Ying Xing wasn’t the least surprised. He had expected as much, extending his hand to the both of them: “Tonight, many heads will roll in the Capital. Take care of yourself!”
ZiChuan Xiu and Stirling held tightly onto Ge Ying Xing’s fragile but warm hands; they could feel the warmth spreading through them. Yes, it was Ge Ying Xing who saved their lives once again. That weak sickly little man was the real cornerstone holding the family together. He was irreplaceable! Now he had to return to the Far East, not for his fear of losing his own life, but to take control of his army so he could better oppose Yang Ming Hua’s forces. For the same reason, ZiChuan Xiu and Stirling chose to stay; they all did what they did out of loyalty for the House ZiChuan!
“Sir, you have a long and dangerous journey ahead of you. Take care!” ZiChuan Xiu spoke with all the sincerity in his heart.
Stirling wanted to express his gratitude as well: “Sir, I owe you my life. I have no way to repay the kindness you have shown. Please be safe!”
Ge Ying Xing smiled: “We will meet again. I’m sure of it!” His eyes turned to Bai Chuan standing beside them: “She has been incredibly brave… It’s your duty to keep her safe!”
Bai Chuan was already in tears, the sheer volume of emotions had overwhelmed her. She could only bow to Ge Ying Xing as deeply as she could, in order to show how grateful she was for what he had done.
Seeing Ge Ying Xing’s forces slowly leaving, ZiChuan Xiu asked Stirling: “Where are we going now?”
“Central Park, to see Di Lin,” Stirling answered, but his gloomy expression spoke volumes.
Along the road, numerous parties of soldiers roamed the street, fully armed, and all carrying the banner of the Central Army. The riders from the Civil Police could be seen everywhere, putting up posters: “The High Command has declared martial law! A curfew is now in effect until further notice. All citizens must remain indoors after eight o’clock. Any violators will be punished by death!”
Onlookers scattered left and right; the Capital was on the brink of war…
They looked at each other; their hearts felt incredibly heavy, being fully aware tonight was the night Yang Ming Hua would make a move. ZiChuan Xiu was even more worried for Ge Ying Xing, hoping he would leave the City swiftly and safely.
A moment later, they arrived at the Central Park. Di Lin had been waiting for them, seemingly losing his patience.
Sensing Stirling’s anger from miles away, Di Lin stole the initiative and spoke first: “Hey? What is with the attitude?”
“Di Lin, you were out of line! You killed an innocent young officer!”
“If you were in my position, what would you have done?”
Both Stirling and ZiChuan Xiu froze; they had no answers.
“My only way out at the time was to kill that noisy Banner Master, or Yang Ming Hua would instantly suspect me, and all our efforts would have been for naught.”
“We were standing right there in the middle of it, between you and Bai Chuan. Why didn’t you kill us as well? That way you could have further proven your loyalty to Yang Ming Hua!” Stirling taunted him.
Di Lin sighed: “So is a young Banner Master’s life more important than ours, more important than the future of House ZiChuan? For my safety and for everyone else’s safety… He simply had to die!”
Stirling refuted sarcastically: “That is purely conjecture on your part. In the name of your own personal gain… you could kill just about anyone, even the ones loyal to the Family!”
Di Lin replied without hesitation: “As long as my life is at stake, I would kill the whole world!”
Neither of them could bear to look each other in the eye, both turning away in anger: “Tch!”
Even ZiChuan Xiu was at a loss, unsure which one to side with. His rational mind told him that Di Lin did what he had to, but all his emotions were telling him otherwise; it was simply hard to accept the nonchalant way Di Lin acted after killing an innocent officer in cold blood.
He could only try to downplay the situation: “Enough, this is not the time to fight amongst ourselves. Stirling, there is nothing you can say right now to bring him back. But if you insist, we can bring flowers to his grave and honor his sacrifice every year.”
ZiChuan Xiu then turned to Di Lin: “It is entirely your fault. Yang Ming Hua told you to teach De Ke a lesson. You could have stabbed his legs or even his butt you know, why the hell do you have to stab him in the chest?!”
Stirling and Di Lin began to laugh uncontrollably.
Di Lin sighed in defeat: “I could kill the whole world… except you two.” For someone as arrogant as Di Lin, that was his way of saying sorry. In fact, the three of them had often fought over matters in the past, it had always been Stirling who won the argument while the other two surrendered, because Stirling was always standing on the side of justice and truth.
Stirling sighed. Deep inside he knew, if he had been in his shoes, he probably would have done the same.
Knowing the pain and difficulties Di Lin had to face as an undercover agent, he relented: “So what is the situation?”
Di Lin immediately responded: “I brought fifty thousand soldiers from the Far Eastern Army with me. They will only answer to me. If I tell them to kill, even if it was the god himself, they would not hesitate. They are currently stationed outside the walls!”
“Is your army allowed inside?”
“Nope! Lei Xun’s Central Army is in charge of City’s defence. He won’t let us in without a valid reason. In fact, Yang Ming Hua has already ordered me to chase after Ge Ying Xing and his guards! So technically, I should be on my way to the Far East right now.”
Stirling seemed disappointed: “If they can’t get in… then they are of no use to us. Or can they force their way in?”
Di Lin lost his patience: “You want to try fight your way into a heavily fortified Capital City with only fifty thousand men?! The Central Army alone is hundred seventy thousand strong!”
“Wrong, they can be of use to us!” ZiChuan Xiu revealed a mysterious smile: “I have an idea, what do you think?”
“No wonder everyone says Xiu is the biggest pain in the ass!” Di Lin nodded satisfyingly: “As expected from the most cunning bastard of House ZiChuan!”
Stirling hesitated: “But this plan clashes with His Excellency, ZiChuan Shen Xing’s Lancer plan, and it is very risky; the chance of success isn’t very high either…”
“F*ck that! What is the point of holding onto a plan that won’t work? We are all going to die tonight. A shred of hope is better than none at all!”
“Fine.” Stirling had made up his mind: “Then let’s f*ck them up!” Stirling rarely resorted to vulgarity, but today he would make an exception.
Di Lin continued “The moment the last light of the sun dims, when the Central Army locks down the city gates… That will be the moment of truth!”
Everyone instinctively turned towards the sun; the reddish glow of the sunset had engulfed the entire City in a shade of bloody crimson…
Stirling declared resolutely: “It is a good omen… The righteous shall prevail!”
Di Lin smiled coldly: “Whose blood, I wonder, will paint the street of Di Du in red tonight?”
ZiChuan Xiu murmured: “I don’t know whose blood it will be, but it won’t be mine. I’ve anaemia; I don’t have enough blood for them to paint the street with! Though I did hear Yang Ming Hua suffers from high blood pressure…”