On the sixth year of SkyFore, the Tang Empire and the Yan Empire had a war. General Xia Hou’s right wing troop did not arrive to the battlefield on time. He was harshly rebuked by the government. Xia Hou explained that he was ambushed by a unit of Yan Empire’s army at Yellow Wind Hill. His right wing troop defeated the ambushers and chased on. Because of this, they arrived late.
The people in Chang An did not know that the Yan ambushers killed by Xia Hou’s right wing troop were actually Tang’s frontier residents. Several villages were slaughtered. Xia Hou used the adult men’s heads as evidence to deceive the public and he later put all the responsibility on the Yan Empire.
Independent of the place, the slaughter of an entire village was a big issue. The court did not believe Xia Hou’s explanation. The court sent experienced officials to investigate but the villages were already destroyed. There was no testimony and there were also problems with the investigating officials so the court had no choice but to concluded that Xia Hou’s report was true.
Because of the slaughter, Yan paid a huge part of the fertile land in He Xi. The empire also sent their prince to Tang as a hostage who eventually calmed Tang’s anger. Yet, not many knew of the grievances of the villagers whose heads were chopped off and whose bodies were burned. And no one knew that there was a dark and skinny youngster who escaped from the village.
That dark and skinny youngster was Zhuo Er.
He met Ning Que at the edge of Mian Mountain. A Xiu Xingist took Zhuo Er away until
“Hey, what stage are you in? Doubtless or Seethrough?”
“Yo, how can you, a Xiu Xing idiot, actually know about stages?”
“Of course I know of the stupid stages of Xiu Xing.”
Actually, Ning Que just wanted to brag to his friend about the things he had learned.
“Seethrough your mom! My poor and respectable teacher just stepped into doubtless, and poor me…. I am still in the primary stage. Why else would even I become a spy!”
Ning Que scoffed, “I don’t understand why that old man picked you. I begged him so hard that I would die for him and yet he still didn’t allow me to follow.”
Surprisingly, Zhuo Er didn’t argue back. He remained silent for a really long time and then finally said, “Little Ning, actually I have always thought that despite following the teacher, I have not learned anything. You are so smart, so it may be better if you had followed my teacher. At least you wouldn’t be like me now. I spent so many years in the army and yet I still didn’t get a position close to Xia Hou. No matter how hard I try, I can’t acquire any secret information from the top.”
Ning Que looked quietly at him, suddenly laughed and said, “Who said that you haven’t found anything? At least now we know how many times Xia Hou went to restroom, right?”
“Those things are not useful.”
“They are helpful.” Ning Que looked at straight into Zhuo Er’s eyes and said, “On my way to Chang An, I killed one assassin group from Xia Hou entirely depending on the information you provided me over these years.”
Zhuo Er understood how strong Xia Hou’s assassin groups were. He was dumbfounded. He could not understand that in seven years, this kid was able to do such a thing. But he did not speak out his confusion. Instead, he simply laughed and asked, “How do you feel killing Xia Hou’s people for the first time?”
“It feels decent.” Ning Que recalled. He was referring to the feeling he got when he slashed out at one of the members of the assassin group three times. But his mood quickly changed, he frowned. Very seriously, Ning Que stared at Zhuo Er and said “If they find out the relationship between us, you’ll get in trouble.”
“Chang An is really big and it’s not like enemies are everywhere. Moreover, you should understand one thing: To the big figures, the people who had lived in the general’s mansion are all died. Everyone in my village was also slaughtered. So you and I are actually nonexistent people. No one suspects anything about us.”
“So… how did you, a confidential soldier of Xia Hou, suddenly become what you call a ….golden fish gang’s golden hatchet man?”
“I followed my boss back to the capital. Unexpectedly, the military called me over to become a spy. Also, our gang is not called “golden fish gang,” it’s called “fish dragon gang.” My boss wants me to keep an eye on my gang leader because he is suspected to be related to the Yue Lun kingdom. You know, many nobles’ businesses and even the transportation of Tang’s military supplies sometimes need the help from gangs to maintain order. If they were to collude with an opponent nation, there will be lots of problems.”
“‘My gang leader?’” Ning Que frowned and looked at him. He then said, “these three words show that you really respect this leader. You even consider yourself as the hatchet man of the gang. Little black, you have to keep your mind clear. Even though I never spied before, I have seen many spies in action. I know that spies should not have have true feelings. Once they do, it all ends tragically.”
“My gang leader is a good person.” Zhuo Er looked down. He remained silent for a long while and then looked up at Ning Que and said with a serious tone, “Actually….he has probably found out about my identity already, but even so, he has never done anything to me.”
Ning Que had more to say something, but Zhuo Er raised his right hand to indicate his stubborn denial of the situation. Zhuo Er declared, “He is my big brother, my respectable big brother. You can’t persuade me to think otherwise. However, I do have a request for you: if in the future something happens to me, I hope you can help me pay back my debt to my leader.”
Ning Que remained silent and studied Zhuo Er. He did not know what actually happens in the biggest gang of Chang An, but he saw that Zhuo Er was serious. Naturally, he felt curious about the gang leader. What kind of person was this leader? How could he earn so much respect from Zhuo Er that Zhuo Er was worried about not being able to pay back the kindness after his death?
In the end of their first conversation in seven years, Ning Que and Zhuo Er talked about the recent happenings.
Zhuo Er heard about the assassin event on the way to the North Mountain. Surprised, he asked, “It was such a good opportunity. Why didn’t you make a good relationship with the princess? Although she is a royalty and we are commoners, if you begged her to the best of your ability like what you did to my teacher, who in the world could possibly refuse you?”
Ning Que shook his head and said firmly, “No, although that princess looks smart, she is actually naive and stupid. If I follow her, I may lose my life any moment.”
The two separated from the little restaurant. Ning Que and Sang Sang left first. They asked for directions again. As they approached the location of the inn, it started to rain.
The big black umbrella flapped open like a black lotus blocking all the raindrops. Sang Sang’s two hands tightly grabbed the handle. She turned her small face and asked, “Why do you always say the princess is an idiot? She is actually a good person.”
“Actually a good person? …..” Ning Que looked at the road at the front and slowly shook his head.
The Phoenix Street to the North Palace was originally gray but after being soaked by the rain, it became black. Ning Que and Sang Sang stood on the sidewalk and looked to the front. They thought that the street was like a black, long and straight ribbon adorning the chest of the great Chang An which was beautiful and solemn but ominous. Especially the phoenix sculpture in the middle of road. The phoenix stared at them fiercely as if it was going fly out of the stone exterior and ambush them.
The master and maid who were under the black umbrella sensed the murderous will from the ancient sculpture. Fear arose from the deepest part of their bodies and their hands which were held together suddenly turned icy cold. They froze and couldn’t move an inch.
They just stood beside the sculpture while holding the big black umbrella. A long time had passed before the rain stopped and the sun once again shined its light upon the long street. Only until people started to walk on the street did Ning Que and Sang Sang come out of their daydream.