I looked at Liang Wan. I had spent much time thinking of how to capture her and I had dispatched numerous operatives. Finally, I had found where she was planning on hiding the princess. After she entered the trap, I had surrounded and entrapped her using military formations before using superior martial arts and threats on the princess’s life to ultimately capture them. Although the entire process seemed simple and smooth, I had, in actuality, spent too much time thinking about this. In order to force Liang Wan to confess, the method I used was to have her feel like she was helpless. Only by having her lose her confidence, could I have her obediently confess. Otherwise, if she were to see that I was not willing to harm the princess, everything would be useless.
Gloomily, Liang Wan asked, “Who is she to you?”
“Piaoxiang and I had promised to wed,” I replied casually. “The night before she died, she was with me. Unfortunately, in order to finish her affairs, she agreed to the madam’s request and died an unnatural death.”
Liang Wan looked at the men before her, quickly searching through her memory, trying to think of everyone who had ties with Piaoxiang. Although there were many officials who visited Piaoxiang, none of them matched with the behavior of the man before her. She once again thought back to the scene right before Piaoxiang’s death. At the time, she had entered the room and found that Liu Piaoxiang was bathing. Piaoxiang’s beautiful appearance carried a burning anger. When she saw her, Piaoxiang coldly said, “To think that Princess Mingyue is only so-so. Surprisingly, you would deceive and humiliate a lowly lady like myself.”
Liang Wan remembered that she had tried to tactfully mollify Piaoxiang. Liu Piaoxiang replied in an icy voice, “There is nothing that I can say about those of you with prestige. It would be useless even if I were to file suit. You can be relieved. I have my own life that I will live.”
Piaoxiang was clearly expressed her forbearance, and yet in Liang Wan’s heart, she felt a chill. She did not believe that Liu Piaoxiang, who had previously insulted the Prince of Han, Zhao Delong, would let the matter go. If this matter was spread by Liu Piaoxiang, then her own reputation would become sullied, causing her to lose her ability to have standing in Southern Chu. To lose such standing would cause her to lose the enterprise that she had painstakingly built up to someone else. She had ultimately acted, killing Liu Piaoxiang before she could leave.
Seeing Liang Wan search her memories, a monstrous rage bubbled forth from within. If she had not killed Piaoxiang, then she would not think so much. I icily interrogated, “Have you remembered?”
Liang Wan looked at me, thinking in her mind, So the reason Liu Piaoxiang was willing to compromise and was willing to not retaliate was because she wished to reunite with her lover. It seemed like her lover’s status wasn’t too high. Otherwise, Liu Piaoxiang would not be willing to agree to not retaliate.
Just as Liang Wan was continuing to think, the black-clothed man with a frigid voice stepped forward and walked in front of her. In one move, he ripped apart her bodice. Liang Wan felt cold air against her chest, as half of it was revealed for all to see. Liang Wan cried out in shame. Understanding that this was a warning, she could only speak, “Since it has reached this point, I believe that sire has sufficient evidence. Correct, I killed Liu Piaoxiang.”
She admitted it. I ferociously looked at Liang Wan and continued questioning. “Good. Tell me who the bastard was who had you humiliate Liu Piaoxiang and then deal with the aftermath.”
Liang Wan only now understood why she was still alive. She was originally an extraordinarily intelligent woman. Now that she had an opportunity to take advantage, she smiled faintly and responded, “So sire wishes to know about this. I am the only one who know about this matter. May I ask sire, what price you are willing to pay for this information?”
“I knew long ago that you would make this a transaction,” I stated callously. “But why would I act if I did not have sufficient confidence? Lady Liang, regardless of how important or illustrious your status, you have fallen into my hands today. I can do as I please. If you are willing to reveal that person’s identity, I promise you that you will die peacefully. But if you are unwilling, I have a thousand ways of making you die with regrets.”
Liang Wan haughtily laughed and countered, “I know that against a woman there are many ways to harm her. You can allow every single man in this room to dishonor me. You can use all kinds of torture upon me. You can destroy my appearance. But you should know that I, Liang Wan, possess an iron state of mind. Regardless of how you harm me, as long as I refuse to speak, then the person who dies with regrets will be you. If you are willing to fairly negotiate, then I promise you that I will one day reveal that person’s identity.”
I lightly clapped my hands, returning a smile. “Good. Truly deserving of being the leader of Great Yong’s intelligence network.” Turning to my subordinates, I asked, “Tell me, was my original caution correct?”
In an emotionless voice, Chen Zhen replied, “Young master indeed possesses extraordinary intelligence. This subordinate admiringly pays his respects.”
I walked to Liang Wan’s side and in an unsympathetic voice, said, “I knew long ago how you would react. You have the conviction and willingness to die. I also believe that you would endure all of the cruel tortures. This one is knowledgeable in medicine. I can allow you to experience life’s greatest suffering and humiliation. These people are all your subordinates. I can have them come satiate their lust upon you. When that time comes, what face do you have to be their superior?”
With difficulty, Liang Wan endured the dread she felt. She agreed, “I know that you can accomplish such a deed. I have heard that there are those who are skilled in the use of aphrodisiacs. Women who have taken these drugs suffer a fate too horrible to contemplate. But as long as I remember that I was drugged, then I would not have to lower my head in shame.”
I coolly remarked, “You can kill everyone to silence them anyways. After that, no one will know about this, right?”
Liang Wan neutrally denied, “How could I?” But from her eyes, one could see that that was her intention.
I smiled slightly and continued, “You are still a virgin, but I believe that you are not a woman who has avoided immorality.1 If that is the case, why do you not have any lovers? Is it that you view all men with contempt? Or is it that you already have a sweetheart? Or is it that to you, being a virgin is extremely important?”
Suddenly Xiaoshunzi interjected, “Young master, the martial art that she has trained in should not require her to be a virgin. I believe that she has a sweetheart or her purpose is to be a specific individual’s wife. As such, she must protect her virginity.”
Watching Liang Wan’s expression, I wondered, “Maybe that is the case. Come, bring the wine. Have her drink it.”
Carrying a jug of wine, Daoli and Baiyi stepped forward. Baiyi pinched Liang Wan’s nose, while Daoli poured the contents of the jug down her throat. Their movements were practiced, leaving Liang Wan no chance of resisting. But still, almost half of the wine poured out of her mouth onto her chest. Liang Wan waited for them to release their hands and then coughed several times. While her chest was freezing, her throat was scorching hot. Her face was red from almost suffocating from the wine. Liang Wan could feel everyone’s eyes fall upon her. Although she was ashamed, she understood that life or death, honor or disgrace all rested on this moment. As such, she persisted in staunchly raising her head to look at the black clothed scholar. In her mind, she thought that if she could not control herself, then she would swallow her tongue to commit suicide. Even if she was stopped, these people would know her resolve.
After not much time had passed, Liang Wan did not feel the effects of an aphrodisiac. Instead, Liang Wan felt her spirit bright and vivacious, as if she was in the realm of the immortals. Gradually, Liang Wan felt lazy, itching to lie down and sleep. But just as she moved, she could not do anything because of her bindings. At this time, a gentle voice whispered into her ear, “Lady Liang, do you wish to rest?”
Liang Wan moaned lightly and replied, “I wish to sleep.”
The voice continued to ask, “You have been in Southern Chu for so long. You must have bribed many high-ranking officials and have many spies under your command?”
Her expression misty, Liang Wan answered, “Indeed, the Prince of Yong sent me here to protect Her Imperial Highness, the Princess. Afterwards, he had me take command of the intelligence network in Jiangnan. It is a pity that I could only disappoint his deep favor. Master has said that the Crown Prince is the rightful Son of Heaven.”
“Who is your master?” the voice continued to ask.
Impatiently, Liang Wan responded, “My master is of course the Sect Master of the Fengyi Sect.”
“Oh! So who was it that had you invite Liu Piaoxiang to Bright Moon Pavilion?”
Liang Wan only said, “It was,” before she suddenly awoke. With a cold light in her eyes, she looked at me and coldly said, “What did I say?”
Just then, one of her subordinates callously commented, “You said that you betrayed the Prince of Yong and threw in your lot with the Crown Prince. Arrgh…” A black-clothed man punched the subordinate in the lower abdomen, silencing him.
I looked at the deathly pale face of Liang Wan and said, “You have even revealed your betrayal, what else is there that you can hide?”
Liang Wan flashed a cold smile and proclaimed, “Although I indiscreetly revealed that matter, at most all I need to do is overtly serve the crown prince. My only bargaining chip is the identity of that person. So if you are not willing to pay the price, I will absolutely not reveal that man’s identity. In fact, why are you wasting so much effort on a mere prostitute? There are innumerable beautiful women in this world. My Fengyi Sect has many beautiful, extraordinary senior and junior apprentice sisters. If sire is willing, Liang Wan is willing to play matchmaker.”
I disinterestedly uttered, “Although Piaoxiang had the misfortune of falling into prostitution, her heart was like the brightest moon of the highest Heavens. Although Lady Liang has usurped the title of Bright Moon, your very actions cannot even compare to that of a prostitute.”
Liang Wan was so angry her complexion became ashen. I sighed lightly. Liang Wan was indeed difficult to deal with. I had deliberately mentioned aphrodisiacs. As a result, everyone believed that we had forced her to drink an aphrodisiac. In reality, the wine was laced with a hallucinogen. This kind of hallucinogen’s greatest weakness was that if the user were prepared then it would be useless. I had previously allowed captured Great Yong spies take this hallucinogen, but even without any preparation, they did not utter a single word. Therefore, I first misled Liang Wan as to my motives to reduce her vigilance. Subsequently, while she was defending against an aphrodisiac, I had fed her a hallucinogen and had her answer several questions. Unfortunately, Liang Wan strictly guarded against matters of life and death. Ultimately, I was unsuccessful. But I was not discouraged. This was only one step in my original plans. To this point, Liang Wan had already understood my interest in the matter. Thus when I revealed my trump card, she would agree to change conditions.
I laughed lightly and said, “It looks like Lady Liang is unwilling to speak. If that is the case, I can only offend you.”
“I want to see what other methods you have,” spoke Liang Wan arrogantly.
I quietly mentioned, “I want to invite my ladyship to listen to a good performance.” Thus speaking, I signaled with my hand. Chiji bowed before turning and opening the stone door behind my chair. Behind the door, everyone could see a copper mirror placed on one side. From the flickering light reflected in the mirror, one could see a large bed with tasseled bead curtains. On the bed sat a young lady in white. It was the Princess Changle. From the angles, Princess Changle must be in the room behind the stone door. Chiji walked into the room and closed the stone door behind him. All of the Great Yong spies looked at me with hideous expressions on their faces. It seemed like they understood what I was planning to do. With a gesture, a hidden copper tube on the stone door was revealed. At this moment, everyone could hear the voices being transmitted through the copper tube.
“Who are you? What are you trying to do to Us … me?”
“No, don’t come over here … don’t come over here.”
After that, everyone could hear the sound of silk ripping followed by the weeping and struggling sounds of a young lady.
“Stop! Stop!” cried all of the Yong spies. Only Liang Wan did not say a word, her face hideous.
I gestured towards the copper tube. Although no more sounds could be heard, everyone became even more anxious. They all struggled mightily. Some even began to curse.
I coldly expressed, “Lady Liang, if you do continue to refuse to reveal what I want you to say, then you must know what Princess Changle will suffer. You must know that if His Imperial Majesty, the Great Yong Emperor, learned that his beloved daughter experienced such torment because of you, how he would treat you, how the Crown Prince would treat you, and how the Prince of Yong would treat you.”
Liang Wan raised her head in despair. She knew that she had fallen into a deep trap. This person was as terrifying as a devil. From the methods he employed against her, Liang Wan could conclude that he was a fiend with deep and profound thoughts. He was absolutely capable of performing such a terrible deed. There was only one thing he would not do—harm her life—as he dared not bear the consequences of her remaining silent.
In an agonized voice, she spoke, “Have your subordinates stop. If the Princess has not been harmed and you promise to not harm me, I will tell you everything you wish to know.”
I casually conveyed, “Speak quickly. My subordinate’s temperament isn’t hurried. As long as you speak now, then there’s still time. As for your life, I promise that I will not take your life today and will not harm you.”
Distressed, Liang Wan said, “I can only believe you. That person was the Crown Prince, Li An.”
My brow furrowed and I icily retorted, “What are you bullshitting about? When did the Crown Prince of Great Yong come to Southern Chu?”
“The Prince of Qi promised the King of Southern Chu that he could ascend to the Imperial Throne upon the successful conclusion of the campaign against Shu,” explained Liang Wan, unperturbed. “But he went back on his word.2 If a suitable person of high status had not come to placate the Southern Chu, if this matter were made public, it would have harmed Great Yong’s prestige. As a result, His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, secretly came to Southern Chu. Outside of Zhao Jia, he did not meet with anyone else. Before he left, the Crown Prince heard the Prince of Qi mention that he must see Liu Piaoxiang. I originally thought that Liu Piaoxiang was only a prostitute, who would willingly attend the Crown Prince upon meeting him. Who could guess that after Liu Piaoxiang arrived, she only sang one song before wanting to depart. His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, was furious and raped her. Afterwards, he had me take care of the aftermath. I only killed Liu Piaoxiang.” Liang Wan told a small lie. Although Li An had told her to take care of things, he had not told her to kill Liu Piaoxiang. He only believed that it would be sufficient to pay additional money. It was just Liang Wan who feared that Liu Piaoxiang would spread the news about what had happened, destroying her reputation and resulting in the crown prince receiving blame. As a result, Liang Wan had killed Liu Piaoxiang to silence her forever. To Liang Wan, Liu Piaoxiang’s death was nothing.
I looked at Liang Wan. Having finally learned the reality of what had happened, I was practically completely disheartened.3 How was I to take vengeance upon the Crown Prince of Great Yong? Liang Wan could see the change in my demeanor and said, “If sire is willing to allow bygones to be bygones, Liang Wan can promise that you will rise in rank meteorically.”
I frostily questioned, “You speak the truth?”
“You can only believe me,” answered Liang Wan coldly. “If you do not believe me, then you can go against your word and have me killed.”
I didn’t make a sound. Before determining the veracity of her words, I would not kill her. Liang Wan understood this point, thus dared to say so.
Suddenly one of the Yong spies piped up. “Sire, you have not yet let off the Princess.”
I didn’t say a word. Chen Zhen opened the stone door. In the copper mirror, everyone saw the princess still sitting there. The only difference was in her posture. Chiji exited the room and closed the door.
I looked at the spies and explained, “Everyone be at ease. Her Imperial Highness, the Princess, has had much adversity in her life. How could this one harm her? This subordinate of mine is skilled in vocal mimicry and has incurred everyone’s ridicule.”
The spies all relaxed. That the princess had not been harmed left them extremely gratified. On the other hand, Liang Wan looked at me venomously and said, “So it is you! I know who you are! Jiang Zhe, you are Jiang Zhe!”
Her words were like a cold wind blowing, quieting everyone. My subordinates were quiet because my identity had been revealed, while the Yong spies were astonished as they all knew about me, the talented zhuangyuan.
I emotionlessly asked, “How did Lady Liang identify me?”
Arrogantly, Liang Wan answered, “From your voice. I finally remembered where I had heard your voice before. In addition, when you were speaking of the Princess, your eyes were tender, filled with sympathy and pity. Back then, when you met with the Princess, you had the same look.”
Admiringly, I looked at Liang Wan and responded, “Formidable, indeed. Lady Liang is a worthy representative of Great Yong’s intelligence network to unexpectedly see through me, a person you have not had much contact with.”
Liang Wan’s expression was strange. She callously declared, “Jiang Zhe, you have seized the Princess, committing a grave crime. Someday, if you are willing, I will recommend you to the Imperial Court of Great Yong. At that point, your future career prospects will be boundless. There is no point in harming your future prospects for the sake of a woman.”
I humorlessly smiled, opining, “Lady Liang, you are truly too terrifying. It is said that ‘The fangs of a green bamboo snake, / The sting on a wasp’s hind part— / Neither will such venom make / As a ruthless woman’s heart.’4 I only truly believed this verse today. Not bad. I won’t kill you and I won’t harm you. I will only take your memory and your intellect.”
Xiaoshunzi walked over and forced a pill the size of a longan fruit into Liang Wan’s mouth. Although Liang Wan wanted to resist, Xiaoshunzi’s ice-cold hands caused her to lose the courage to struggle. I apathetically looked at her terrified eyes and said, “I did not kill you, nor did I harm a hair on your body. After taking this pill, you will forget everything. Although I cannot guarantee how much you will forget, I can promise you that you will never remember what has happened today.”
Liang Wan looked at me with dread. She knew that I would not easily let her off, but she would never have thought that I would use such a method. She cried out, “I have lied to you! What I told you isn’t true!”
I coldly stated, “Lady Liang, if you were really concealing another person’s identity, then would it be necessary to use the Crown Prince’s name to fob someone off?”
Liang Wan only felt that she recalling everything that had happened to her—the joy of her childhood, the bitter training of her youth, the surprise and feeling she felt when she first met the Prince of Yong, the scheming in Southern Chu, and lastly the look of regret in Liu Piaoxiang’s eyes before she died. After that, everything gradually disappeared. At the end, Liang Wan’s face revealed a smile like that of a child, filled with innocence.
I indifferently said, “You have killed my wife. I have destroyed your entire life. Although this does not balance things out, you have been punished for your crime. Lady Liang, if we are not to meet again, then I hope that you will live a good life. But if you are unlucky and we meet again, I can only take your life to comfort my departed wife’s soul in heaven.”
I raised my eyes. Aside from Xiaoshunzi, everyone had looks of dread in their eyes. Even though Chen Zhen, Chiji, Daoli, and the other operatives had all seen me use this kind of pill to wipe the memories of the youngsters that did not meet the standards, I had only used a small dose in those cases. As a result, those youngsters had only lost two to three years of their memory. They had not seen such a case such as this where Liang Wan had her entire memory erased. I smiled slightly; it was good they feared. I glanced at the Yong spies and indifferently said, “You know my identity. I’m sorry, but I cannot allow you to leave.”
One spy asked, “Will you feed us such a drug?“
I shook my head and answered, “This kind of drug is worth more than its weight in gold. I am not willing to randomly use it. I must take your lives. In any case, you have spent years in Southern Chu. For me to kill you does not cross the line.”
Looks of solemnity and tragedy flickered across the eyes of these spies. One of them stated, “Sire is a ranking official of Southern Chu and possesses animosity because of national and personal reasons. Originally it is nothing for you to kill us. But since sire pities Her Imperial Highness, the Princess, we ask that sire not hand over the Princess to Southern Chu and allow us to bring Her Imperial Highness to the Prince of Yong. We will die without any resentment.”
I looked at the man and replied, “Today’s matter must not be revealed to anyone, be it the Heavens or your parents. For you to know these secrets, even if I spare you, the Crown Prince will not spare you. If you are capable of keeping your promises, I can return your weapons to you and allow you to escort Her Highness, the Princess, to the Prince of Yong. When that mission is completed, you must commit suicide to keep this secret.”
The man’s eyes revealed pleasant surprise, as he asked, “Sire is willing to trust us?”
In a proper tone, I explained, “I believe that a warrior of Great Yong will follow through on his promises. Breaking the promise will cause me to look down upon the Prince of Yong. You have all seen my methods. You must know that it isn’t difficult for me to assassinate someone. The Prince of Yong will be the price of you breaking faith.”
Thinking it over, the man said, “Sire’s methods are grim and ferocious, and your plans are meticulous. If you wished to assassinate the Prince of Yong, you would probably have at least a fifty percent chance of being successful. Fine, our worthless lives aren’t insignificant. Completing the mission is of utmost importance. We only ask that sire allow us to report to the Prince of Yong the relationship between the Crown Prince and Liang Wan.”
I indifferently replied, “That is fine. However, you may not reveal anything about my subordinates, my wife, or me.”
The man agreed. I smiled faintly and turned to leave. The following matters would be handled by Chen Zhen. Xiaoshunzi followed me out and asked, “Will they fulfill their promise?”
I nodded my head and responded, “I have never misjudged anyone. They are all firm and unswerving warriors.”
洁身自好, jieshenzihao – idiom, lit. clean-living and honest; to avoid immorality, to shun evil influence
出尔反尔, chu’erfan’er – idiom, by Mencius, former definition: to reap the consequences of one’s word; modern: to go back on one’s word, to contradict oneself, inconsistent
万念俱灰, wannianjuhui – idiom, lit. every hope turns to dust; completely disheartened
This is a line from 封神演义, Fengshen Yanyi, aka Investiture of the Gods.