The Divorcee is a Wicked Black Belly Chapter 75: Blood and Gore
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When they reached the capital, it was to find the palace in total confusion and disarray.
Gu Sheng was facing a council of elders in the throne room who were demanding the release of vice general Sei Sei. This council was a remnant of the old emperor's court, made up of a bunch of doddering idiots who actually didn't hold that much power. The council's influence, however, was formidable, considering it has the ability to sway the emperor, who consider their input as a valuable check and balance countermeasure.
When An Ning entered the throne room, the council of elders led by a feeble Marquis threw her a glance of utter contempt.
An Ning took the seat next to the emperor and quietly surveyed the people in the room. Twelve old men from the council of elders, the Min brothers, and Du Lu, who refused to meet her eyes. An Ning smiled, nodding her head as if satisfied.
"What is this about?" she asked.
"Your majesty," the feeble Marquis rudely cut in. "I demand that the empress dowager explain herself about this matter. This is a disgrace to the honor of your majesty's late father. To execute the prime minister and the duke and now to imprison an innocent girl who've done more in the last five years to bring peace and honor to this nation, this is totally unacceptable behavior."
"Oh? So what are you going to do about it then?" An Ning mocked.
"Your majesty, it's been six days now since vice general Sei Sei was arrested. We still don't know what for. In fact, we don't know a damn thing about the charge or charges. Yet her majesty the empress dowager continues to insist that vice general is guilty. Of what? Yuqui is not at war. Yet the vice general continues to rot in prison because of some manufactured crime which we don't know anything about," Min Ling's voice was impassioned yet cold, his gaze shooting hatred as he looked daggers at An Ning. "We demand redress, your majesty. Tell us what crime vice general Sei Sei has committed and if she has not committed any then to let her go."
The emperor turned to An Ning, his face pale and questioning.
"Oh, didn't I tell you? I had the vice general executed before I left six days ago. As for her corpse, I don't know. I can draw you a map where we dumped pieces of it if you like."
Her words, spoken casually and with a twinge of boredom at the end, dropped like a bomb in the silence of the suddenly tense room.
"You're lying!" Min Song gritted out, eyes glittering as he stabbed An Ning with a fierce glare. "You don't have the guts to do something like that."
An Ning leisurely looked at Yi Hai who, without a word, took out something from a small leather bag he was carrying. He brought the thing out then strolled forward and laid it at the feet of the dais where the emperor and the empress dowager sat on the dragon throne.
Everyone followed his movements automatically, their eyes slowly widening in shock as the full implication of the empress dowager's words were finally revealed in its full sickening horror. The head was totally devoid of blood. The eyes were open and staring. The lips caught in an ugly grimace as if the person being beheaded was caught in the act of surprise and fear. The once lovely hair was shorn off, exposing the ears and neck. Except for its deathly pallor, the face was completely smooth and the skin clear. Vice general Sei Sei died under the axeman's blade looking as beautiful as an angel. She might as well be a statue, bronze, lovely and movingly dead as a door nail.
The clash of swords erupted as fast as a shot. Min Ling and Min Song attacked the empress dowager at the same time, their faces grim, the attacks synchronized and deadly. The empress dowager quickly flicked her riding whip. The ends wrapped around the beam of a ceiling and pulled the empress dowager mid-air. The empress dowager grabbed the emperor by his collar and catapulted both of them where Yi Hai and his men were waiting.
"Protect him," the empress dowager commanded then without looking back met the brothers' furious attacks with her sword.
"I'm going to kill you, you dirty whore," Min Ling gritted furiously.
"Less talk, more kill, you little punk," the empress dowager taunted with a laugh.
The two men circled her trim and tall figure like predators surrounding their prey. The brothers were master swordsmen who didn't give the empress dowager any room to dodge as they viciously pushed and hacked at her with their coordinated attacks. They were beyond demented with rage and anger. All reason and honor have left them. All they wanted at that very moment was to make An Ning bleed like a pig. Only with her dead body lying on the ground at their feet will their honor and reason return to them. But for now, revenge was the driving force that moved them and they will not be denied their prize.
As they thrust and parried and continued to attack, it dawned on them that although An Ning was weaker, her stamina was that of a warrior already seasoned in countless battles. Her steps never faltered, her breath never fogged, her grip on her sword remained steady and true. And her eyes, those deep black eyes, seemed to see through their defenses like she was already familiar with all their moves, like she was only waiting for an opening to deal the final blow.
That opening the empress dowager was waiting for happened when Min Song changed his sword hand from his left to his right. That small window of opportunity was enough and the empress dowager took it. Quick as a rattlesnake, she pulled the gun out from the copy cat ring and fired, straight at Min Ling's skull who gaped foolishly at her before falling to the ground dead and totally vanquished.
Min Song watched his brother crumple to the ground. He didn't even feel the blade when it reached his own chest. All he felt was a tiny prick as he staggered to his knees totally drenched in his own blood. The blood gurgled like a tiny gasp on his open throat as his eyes dimmed and his body crumpled weightless to the ground. Min Song was near death when the empress dowager twisted her sword and the thin blade cleanly and accurately separated his head from his shoulders.
The severed head rolled and stopped at the feet of the doddering council member like a piece of mashed watermelon. The Marquis looked at it aghast, his sunken eyes meeting the empress dowager's sneer with fear and a hidden plea. The sword went down and hacked the Marquis' body into two.
An Ning stared at the cowering council members and gave her verdict:
"Take them out and execute them."
She then turned around and walked towards the silent and staring figure of Du Lu.
"Do you know where you made your mistake?" she asked leisurely, finally stopping in front of him.
"Where?" he asked, smiling.
"You lost your wits and ordered the witch found and executed. Of course, Min Song was forced to ignore it. Execute his own sister? That would be sororicide, right?"
"I wouldn't know. The word's too big for me to understand its meaning."
An Ning laughed.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm really sorry to have pulled you into this messy affair, Du Lu. It wasn't my fault but I still feel sorry about it."
"Who's fault was it then? Richard's?"
An Ning shrugged.
"Everything is Richard's fault. He played us like a god and this is the result."
"Are you going to kill me?"
"Kill you? Why?"
"Because I betrayed you. I betrayed your cause," Du Lu smiled charmingly.
"You didn't betray me. I always knew you were a rat and a coward. As I said, your only mistake was overplaying your hand which spooked your fellow co-conspirators. It wasn't time yet. And Sei Sei's arrest frightened them."
Du Lu didn't say anything. An Ning smiled.
"As I said, I always knew you were a rat so it didn't come as a surprise anymore. In fact, I understand where you're coming from."
"What do you mean?"
"You came to this place and your soul put into the body of a famous general who recently died in battle. You pretended to be him like you always did when you're playing a part in one of your movies. But the reality was too much. It was not make believe but the real shit. Worse, those two shit-faced brothers started to suspect you.
"You fought a battle that the real General Chen would have won even when he's asleep but you lost and lost badly at that. You showed your fear, probably behaved like your normal self and ran away to hide and when they confronted you, you caved."
"I didn't cave. I merely explained to them that I was an actor and I didn't know what happened but I seemed to have become this awesome General Chen they worshiped," Du Lu tried to explain.
"Min Ling and Min Song went there to assassinate you originally but when you confessed and explained what happened," An Ning smiled, "they changed their minds and decided to use you instead. Then that thing with the tank happened and you heard about it. Immediately, you thought of me. Who else can whip out a thing like that except dear old pal ex-wife of my best friend, An Ning?"
"It was an accident. They told me about it and my tongue slipped. Then I had no choice but to tell them about you."
"You told them about your past relationship to me and my ex-husband. Of course, they were delighted. Their sister just assassinated the emperor on his wedding night and now they get to do it again on his widow, who should have died when they pulled the same trick on her six months ago."
"I only have one question which has been bugging me and I need an answer now."
"Was there only brother-sister relationship between Song and Sei or was there more to it than meets the eye? From where I was standing while watching his face crumple in hate when he saw me bullying Sei Sei, I can definitely feel some incestuous vibe between them. Am I right? Come on, fess up."
Du Lu gaped at her like she had just lost her mind.
"Definitely incestuous vibe. And Min Song knew it, too. But he was too much of a prick to care. Maybe they had to lie and call her their cousin instead of their sister. I guess it was okay for Min Ling to hump a cousin. She could be a distant cousin or a cousin cousin, if you know what I mean. But to hump his own sister...it would draw too much attention living as closely as they did in the army."
"What are you planning to do to me?"
"Throw you in the dungeon, of course. Don't worry, I won't kill you. Moira will hate me and I like Moira. You really know what I think though? I think Moira's too classy for the likes of you but to each his own, right?"
Du Lu looked at her, eyes swimming with unshed tears.
"I'm sorry for betraying you, An Ning. I'm really sorry."
"Cowardly dogs can't change their spots, right? They had their chance to man up but still they chose to hide their heads under ground. I wouldn't expect anything less from you, Du Lu," An Ning said, then motioned to the guards.
She watched as Du Lu was led away, feeling nothing but relief that that ugly part of this battle was over.
Yi Hai quietly walked by her side without saying anything.
"Is dinner ready?" An Ning said after a while. "I'm hungry."
"I think dad's making up something to eat right about now. Why don't you take a shower and change your clothes first? Dinner will be ready when you come down."
Yi Hai watched her walk away. There was a strange sadness to her shoulders that bothered him. He hesitated but turned away to check up with his men about the prisoners.
It was nearly an hour when An Ning finally went down to have her dinner. As always, she went straight down to the kitchen, snagging a steaming cup of tea from Wife's hands before taking her place at the head of the table.
With the absence of the four members of their original team, dinner that night was quiet and seemed thick by an air of exhaustion. Suddenly, bustling noises were heard outside. Before Yi Hai could stand up to check, the door opened and the smiling, ruby-cheeked faces of Hu Xiu and Li Bing Bing skipped happily in.
An Ning had been very true to her promise to Li Bingbing and wasted no effort in starting to build her pastry shop as soon as the troubles with the duke and the prime minister were dealt with. The pastry shop, simply called Sweet Nothings by its owner, had become quite a sensation when it opened some weeks ago.
Not only were Li Bingbing and Hu Xiu well-known members of the late emperor's harem, but the fact that they also won the favors of the young empress dowager and the new emperor literally staggered the citizens of Yuqui. The main wife liking the consorts of her dead husband? It was probably a first time in history.
Added to that were the personal allure of the two young ladies themselves. Hu Xiu and Li Bingbing represent that secretive yet steamy side of royalty that ordinary citizens only get to talk about in the privacy of their boudoir. The ladies' ample figures were examined minutely for details of these past racy histories, their skin care products copied, as well as their dress, posture, and hairstyles.
Plus, there's the empress dowager who likes to swagger in dressed usually in long coats and those mind-boggling trousers of hers, her hair bound in a simple pony tail, with her face free of makeup. Gossip has it that she visits the shop twice a week, always choosing to buy those delicious macaroons that melt in the mouth once you bite your teeth into it. It was no wonder then that Sweet Nothings became a popular hangout for the Who's Who in Yuqui almost overnight in such a short period of time.
"What up, girls?" An Ning greeted with a smile. "Yi ying, add some plates, will you?"
"Yes, your grace," Yi Ying bowed.
Hu Xiu looked around the kitchen and sighed.
"This takes me back," she said, her eyes suspiciously bright.
An Ning, who was drinking from her cup, almost burned her tongue in surprise.
"What do you mean? You ate in the kitchen, too?"
Li Bingbing laughed and reached for the rice.
"If she did, Old Chef will definitely chase her off and tell Old Mother about it," she said, giggling.
"Old Mother is...?" An Ning asked, perplexed.
"The old empress dowager," Hu Xiu clarified. "She was very strict about not letting other people inside the kitchen."
"Afraid of being poisoned she was," Li Bingbing nodded.
"She was very fond of that spicy chicken Old Chef used to cook for her during the winter season. She would eat that almost everyday. Her maid said that it kept her warm because it helped to keep her blood hot."
"Old wives' tales," Li Bingbing mocked.
"No, really. I tried it about a month ago and she was right."
"I don't remember you cooking that in our place."
"Well, Old Mother's maid saw me walking in the snow about a month ago and she invited me to eat spicy chicken in her house. It was so hot it almost ripped my eyes out, I can tell you."
An Ning laughed.
"So, both of you share a house now? That should bring back precious memories," she teased.
"Well..." Hu Xiu said and released a guffaw of laughter when she met Li Bingbing's slightly embarrassed face.
"I heard one of the town millionaires is a frequent visitor?" An Ning steered the conversation to another topic when she noticed Li Bingbing's expression.
"That dope?" Hu Xiu scathingly said. "I don't like him. He has wet palms and he sneezes a lot."
"He probably has a cold. Just take care of him and show him your love," Yi Hai said, his face cracked in a smile.
An Ning rolled her eyes at him, which made them all laugh.
The two women stayed to gossip then left after promising to come back soon and after gifting An Ning with a bag of newly baked macaroons.
Their presence though seemed to swept away the cobwebs of depression that hang like a shadow of doom inside the room. Pretty soon, An Ning was sighing over her favorite treats, refusing to give Yi Hai a piece until he sing her a song, which so enraged Yi Hai he walked outside in a huff.
Gu Sheng laughed so hard at their antics he almost peed in his pants. Kang Jun sat with his head bowed, perfunctorily raising his head and smiling absent-mindedly when he heard his name called. He seemed unhappy and lost in his own thoughts but no one noticed because they were too caught up in the hysteria of their own little joy. It was nearly eleven when the party broke up. Kang Jun watched the emperor enter his bedchamber before going outside to his own courtyard. He stayed there the entire night thinking. Only when he heard his mother moving about in the kitchen did he finally stood up and entered the house.
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