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Chapter 191 : The Cause and Effect of the Past Life

Trigger Warning: dismembered body, mention of the violation and death of a child.

It felt as though her head was hurting; Jiang Ruan’s whole body seemed to be as light as a feather without a trace of strength. She struggled to open her eyes, but did not see the bright sky. Instead, a strangely familiar, damp and somewhat sweet unctuous smell filled her nose. She forced herself to recall what it was and was stunned to realize that it was the scent of blood.

She moved her body and slowly got up from the ground.

It was a dark and damp place and there were black worms crawling all over the ground; they were rotten and disgusting. A thought seemed to flash across her mind but it was gone too fast for her to grasp hold of it. She touched what she thought was a hard object beside her, but it seemed to be covered in some sort of thick and sticky liquid. Then, as she tried hard to raise her head she suddenly heard a ‘squeak’, followed by a voice. Suddenly, an intense ray of sunlight came in and dazzled her eyes so much that she could hardly open them.

A woman’s voice rang out, “Hurry up, the Empress wants to see it with her own eyes. Move faster, must not let the Empress wait for you little wenches.”

Immediately, a few maids walked in, but from their expressions, one didn’t know whether they were afraid or disgusted. Oddly, they lit the oil lamps in their hands as they walked in, until they stopped at Jiang Ruan’s side. However, they seemed to be oblivious to her and instead proceeded to pick up something from the ground. Jiang Ruan frowned slowly, looking at them warily. Those people didn’t seem to notice her at all, as if she didn’t exist. Jiang Ruan stood up tentatively, but no one stopped her. After some consideration, she lowered her head and followed the maids out.

As soon as she stepped out of the room, she was bathed in dazzling sunlight. It seemed as though she hadn’t seen such sunlight for a long time. Turning around, her gaze directly landed on the object carried by one of the palace maids, and she was so startled that she instinctively took two steps back, and almost fell down.

The maid was holding a wooden basin in her hands, and a monster-like thing was lying on its back in it. All four limbs were missing from the body, and all that could be seen was a basin full of blood. By and large, there was hardly any resemblance to an actual human being. If it was placed in front of others, they would not be able to see what it was, but in Jiang Ruan’s eyes, it was something that totally unnerved her heart, sending it into a violent and tumultuous upheaval. That thing was not just anything but it was her from the previous life! She was made into a human swine and beaten to death in this very basin!

In the wooden basin right now, that “Jiang Ruan” was already dead, just a cold corpse with no dignity at all. Jiang Ruan stood aside, gritted her teeth and watched the maid carry the corpse. A head maid walked in front, and surprisingly that person was Hu Die.

Hadn’t Hu Die been expelled from the Jiang fu by Jiang Su Su long ago, and sold to a brothel- how did she become the current palace lady again? Jiang Ruan looked again and a thought flashed in her mind. In her previous life, she was killed with a stick, and she was reborn when she was in the rural residence. What happened after that remained unknown. Therefore, if her corpse was still here, then her enemies would still remain the same as before. Could it be that the heavens had given her this opportunity to see the final outcome of her previous life?

Hu Die led the maid who was holding the wooden basin all the way to a garden. Jiang Ruan could see clearly that it was the garden behind Kun Ning Palace. Kun Ning Palace, Jiang Ruan’s heart trembled, could it be... Sure enough, when they walked to the entrance of the garden, she heard a familiar voice saying, “Bengong is not bothered about anything as long as both of them are never able to be reborn in this world, forever and ever without a chance for reincarnation. What do you think?”

“This priest will certainly do his best as the Empress has commanded.”

Jiang Ruan laughed coldly. Since presently no one could see her, she walked right into the garden, and sure enough, the woman sitting on the high seat was wearing the Empress’ royal court robe looking grand and ceremonious. Her face bore a smile that rivaled flowers, and her complexion was as exquisite as an immortal, yet it carried a slight reserved sense of nobility. The nine-tailed phoenix hairpin on her head was glistening in the golden hue of the sunlight like wide spread wings about to take flight. Her every movement distinctly personified the virtuous aura of the Mother of Nation. This person was none other than Jiang Su Su.

At this moment, Jiang Su Su was reclining on a soft chair, and in this large garden, only she alone was seated while all the palace maids and eunuchs were standing in a row, their faces filled with terror. In addition, there was a man in a blue robe, dressed as a Taoist priest, standing before Jiang Su Su, and if he was not Xu Kong then who else could he be?

It turned out that Taoist priest Xu Kong had always had some connection with Jiang Su Su in her last life. It appeared that it wasn’t just when he had played his role to proclaim that she would be a curse to her husband and her mother back then at the Jiang fu. At the moment, it also looked like Jiang Su Su had promised him a lot of additional benefits. Otherwise, how could a wandering Taoist priest in the wild enter the palace? But what was he going to do now?

“Your Majesty, this servant has brought that thing,” Hu Die stepped forward and spoke cautiously.

Jiang Ruan stood to the side, watching with cold eyes Jiang Su Su smile slightly at the announcement. Her smile was extremely beautiful, as if it expressed heartfelt joy. She looked very happy, and her sweet laughter could be heard throughout the garden. She was born beautiful and her smile was extremely mesmerizing, but at this moment, no one present was fascinated by it, rather their expressions revealed a trace of fear. Just because the monster in the wooden basin looked too scary, ordinary people would feel fear if they continued to look at it but Jiang Su Su was staring at the thing with absolute pleasure, as if it couldn’t be more interesting.

Everyone was silent. After a while, Jiang Su Su seemed to have had enough of laughing and finally straightened up, lightly pointing to the side. “Bengong and her are good sisters in name anyway. Taking into account that we once lived under the same roof, bengong doesn’t want to be too ruthless. Bengong has always been soft-hearted, so bengong will bestow on them a mother and child reunion.”

Her words were spoken frivolously, as if what she said was of no consequences nor worth anything. Jiang Ruan’s heart was panic-stricken, and suddenly she felt her blood freeze as if an ominous chill seemed to have been poured on top of her head and it flowed down right into her heart, turning half of it cold. In a daze she looked in the direction that Jiang Su Su pointed and saw a small body lying on the ground. That body was so familiar that after merely a glance her tears welled up.

A wail escaped from Jiang Ruan’s throat with much difficulty and it was unlike that of a person- it was the sound of raw despair that arose from the depths of deep-seated hatred. She recalled the scene when she had to helplessly watch Pei’er being exploited while she was in the wooden basin. It was an extremely desperate moment for her. But now when she saw Pei’er’s corpse with her own eyes, only then did she realize how much her heart hurt. The images that had been sealed in her memory had come alive again, and it turned out that she hadn’t forgotten those heartaches and sorrow at all. Jiang Ruan threw herself beside Pei’er and burst into tears. However, her voice did not reach these people’s ears, and the ending of this life would not change in any way. She was dead, and so was Pei’er.

That little body lying on the ground was covered in multiple bruises, each of which was a spectacle too horrible to endure. It was too frightening to see how they had used such a ruthless hand to deal with a small innocent child. Jiang Ruan only felt as if a knife was twisting in her heart. Before Pei’er died, he must have been absolutely terror-stricken as he suffered.

“Your Majesty is merciful,” Xu Kong, the sanctimonious, fake Taoist priest said in a flattering manner. He walked quickly to Jiang Ruan’s side, and picked up Pei’er without any effort. His strength was obviously great, as Pei’er’s small body seemed to weigh nothing in his hands. Instinctively, Jiang Ruan lunged forward, but her hand just passed through Pei’er—she couldn’t touch him at all.

Xu Kong grabbed the bodies of Pei’er and Jiang Ruan together and put them in an agarwood box, and then closed the lid. Immediately after, a few strong guards came over and nailed the lid of the box with long nails. The lid was densely pasted with yellow talisman paper, and spells were written on it with blood-colored cinnabar, which made it difficult for people to see clearly. Xu Kong sat cross-legged in front of the box, closed his eyes and clasped his hands together, muttering something for a quarter of an hour before he suddenly opened his eyes. Next he reached out to pick up a bowl of chicken blood from a table, bowed his head to take a sip, and then sprayed blood all over the coffin-like box. Afterwards, he let out a long breath, and ordered someone to throw the box into a dry well in the southwest corner of the garden.

After finishing all this, Xu Kong walked up to Jiang Su Su, and said as if asking for credit, “Your Majesty, this priest has completed the ritual. The demoness and the evil star have been sealed in the nine-star formation. Their eternal life will be suppressed in this dry well, unable to reincarnate, unable to escape. This priest has made sure that it’s impossible for them to return and cause trouble to others.”

“Very good.” Jiang Su Su smiled with satisfaction. “Since bengong is this Great Jin’s Empress, bengong must take on the responsibility of the Great Jin dynasty. Even familial ties cannot ruin the entire Great Jin for their own personal interests. Since they are the incarnations of a demoness and an evil star, bengong can’t let them live and rise in revolt. Xu Kong dao zhang has worked hard. Rest assured, bengong will report this matter to His Majesty later and give you credit for your merit.”

Xu Kong was overjoyed, and said, “Many thanks, Your Majesty.”

The people here were talking cheerfully, but Jiang Ruan’s whole body felt cold as she listened. Jiang Su Su actually hated her so much that she would not let her go even after death. Furthermore, she allowed Xu Kong to seal her soul so she would be trapped here and tortured forever! If it weren’t for Xu Kong, who was actually a fake[1] Taoist priest, wouldn’t everything have happened as she wished? People always say that the heart of a woman was the most poisonous, but Jiang Su Su’s heart took maliciousness to another level!

[1] 徒有虚名 (túyǒuxūmíng) – with an undeserved reputation (idiom); unwarranted fame / nowhere near as good as he’s made out to be.

Jiang Ruan looked at the pitch-dark dry well. As it turned out, this was their final resting place, this bottomless well in a godforsaken part of the palace, buried deep in its depths alongside rotting leaves. She wanted to cry, but in the end, could only manage a wry smile. As it turned out, in her previous life she had shamefully died like this, and even her final resting place was completely without any dignity.

Just then, her vision blurred and once more she found that she was unable to move as the scene in front of her changed. The gate in front of her was extremely familiar, so where else could it be if not the Jiang fu?

Jiang Quan was sitting in the study, and Jiang Su Su was dressed in magnificent clothes. Her expression faintly revealed arrogance. Jiang Quan, on the other hand, looked unhappy, and asked, “How could you act so arbitrary and cause trouble!! I told you earlier to not act rashly in this matter. Since she was already paving the way for you, there was no need to act. If your actions come to light, wouldn’t it render all my painstaking efforts useless?!”

Xia Yan had beautiful eyebrows and eyes, and her mannerism was dignified and gentle as she consoled him with a smile. “Laoye, don’t be angry. Be magnanimous and listen to what Su Su has to say. This child is not one to do things without knowing her limits and what’s appropriate. From childhood until now, do you still not know what kind of person she is?”

Jiang Su Su quickly hid the trace of impatience in her eyes, and said in a respectful and innocent tone, “Father, your daughter knows what she did wrong, and I will never make such a mistake again. Originally, I only wanted to scare her, but my subordinates acted on their own initiative and made her look like that. Father, don’t be angry with your daughter, it’s not worthwhile to ruin your health. Your daughter will never dare to do something like this again in the future.”

Her docile and submissive manner was acted to perfection and gradually the anger on Jiang Quan’s face dissipated. Then he released a long drawn out sigh and said, “My original plan was to use her to pave the way for you. If not for your reckless action, the Jiang family could later showcase how it places righteousness before family and can readily punish one’s own family if justice demanded it. In this way we could obtain a good reputation and your position as the Empress would be more stable, while also gaining the hearts of the nation. But now that you’ve privately done away with her, it’s a good thing that no one has discovered the truth. Therefore, we will say that she has committed suicide out of fear of retribution. Su Su, if you want to do things, you have to do them more cleanly; don’t leave anything that can be used against you.” His tone was completely fatherly, and every word and every sentence was laced with worry and concern for Jiang Su Su.

Jiang Su Su smiled slightly. “Father, don’t worry, Su Su does everything cleanly- everything has been already taken care of.”

“Very well, then.” Jiang Quan let out a sigh of relief as if a huge stone had been lifted from his heart. Jiang Ruan stood quietly and watched; there was no longer any trace of hatred in her eyes, only a bone piercing kind of coldness. It was a kind of cold that even ice found in the depths of winter was no match for. Her eyes were empty, and her crimson clothes were like a blazing fireball bursting out of her soul, seeking to consume and obliterate all who came close to her.

It turned out that the truth of the previous life was like this. After her father, Jiang Quan, learned of her death and the fact that she was executed privately by Jiang Su Su, he did not shed a tear and cry out for injustice on her behalf. Instead, all of their focus and concerns were for Jiang Su Su; he was afraid that Jiang Su Su would make a mistake and endanger her Empress position. As for his deceased daughter, he could only spare a comment along the lines of, “Make sure it was done cleanly without any loose ends.”

Jiang Quan took her as a stepping stone for Jiang Su Su’s Empress seat as a matter of course, as if it should be like this. But they forgot that she was also the eldest di daughter of the Jiang fu, one who was discarded like a worn shoe, while the other was held like a pearl. At this moment, Jiang Ruan did not have an ounce of affection for Jiang Quan and truly regarded him as an enemy, and if she could, she was willing to use every vile and despicable method to torture him.

Jiang Su Su suddenly seemed to recall something, and said, “Jiang Dan is becoming more and more imprudent. Her husband used to handle matters for His Majesty outside, but nowadays he holds a formidable reputation that is on par with a first-rank official. They don’t take me seriously either.”

Jiang Ruan was taken aback, Jiang Dan’s husband actually worked for Xuan Li? Jiang Dan had also been promoted to a rank?

Jiang Quan shook his head, “No matter how powerful she is, can she surpass you? Su Su, you have to remember that she cannot compare with you either in the Jiang fu or in the imperial palace, or even under the Great Jin dynasty. The only daughter of Jiang fu has always been you. Her husband is now relied upon by His Majesty, and he is also a great help to you in the palace. You must not display such childish tendencies, and remember to get along with her well.”

“I understand,” Jiang Su Su pouted in dissatisfaction. Jiang Ruan, who was standing aside suddenly realized that what she didn’t understand in the previous life, and the present life became clear at this moment. With her temperament, how could Jiang Dan be willing to pave the way for Jiang Su Su as a pawn of the Jiang family? It turned out that her merchant husband had been working for Xuan Li from the beginning. Jiang Dan really had means, so after her(JR) death, she got an imperial order promoting her by virtue of that husband. In the end, Jiang Ruan was the only one who was sacrificed in the previous life.

Looking at the ironic scene in front of her, she only felt a salty taste filling her mouth. Immediately afterwards, the scene in front of her changed yet again, and this time, it was a magnificent palace but a place she was not familiar with. And yet, the person sitting on the edge of the bed, the man in bright yellow clothes, she knew all too well.

It was her beloved in the previous life, and her nemesis in this life, Xuan Li.

His once gentle and jade-like appearance had already been eclipsed by the distinctive calm and reticent traits of a monarch. Dressed in his Dragon robes, he was completely unlike the Xuan Li Jiang Ruan’s memory. He used to always smile, which made others feel warm and comfortable much like a soothing spring breeze, and even though it was just a fake mask, it was still pleasing to the eye[2]. But at present, Xuan Li’s brows were tightly knotted up in a frown, and his expression was haggard, so much so that she couldn’t find even a trace of his proud appearance of the past.

[2] 赏心悦目 (shǎngxīnyuèmù) – warms the heart and delights the eye (idiom) / pleasing / delightful.

“Eunuch Chen,” Xuan Li said to the young eunuch in front of him, “I can’t sleep again today.”

“Does Your Majesty want to go to the Empress’s palace? Her gentle and soft voice may sooth Your Majesty’s mood,” Eunuch Chen said.

“No need.” Xuan Li waved his hand. “It’s the same everywhere. I have nightmares every day to the point that I can’t sleep peacefully, and when I wake up from them, I always feel... I always feel that someone is watching me.”

Standing beside the dragon bed, Jiang Ruan looked at Xuan Li who looked visibly pale, and sneered silently. So there were times when he too couldn’t sleep well? He slyly planned everything and sent her to the palace as an excellent pawn. His plan was eventually accomplished and he occupied the lofty Emperor’s seat. But now he couldn’t sleep at night? So in the end, what was all of it for? Was it true that people would receive retribution after doing bad deeds? In his nightmare, did she turn into a ghost and come to claim his life?

“Your Majesty has been working hard on state affairs,” Eunuch Chen suggested.

“I only began to feel tired after sitting in this position, just like I think the women in the harem are tedious! They are not even as good as Jiang Ruan back then...” He seemed to have thought of something, and a trace of regret appeared on his face. “It’s just a pity, if only she didn’t have that identity I would have treated her well. After all, I did have some affection for her back then.”

“You had affection for me?” After hearing this Jiang Ruan couldn’t help laughing, however that smile didn’t reach her eyes. Despite knowing that Xuan Li couldn’t hear her, she still said coldly, “The person who you loved was just a fool who regarded you as a god. I was just an idiot who was always obedient to you and asked for nothing in return. Before, I was too ignorant and too stupid and so I believed in your nonsense. And now you say this- are you lying to me or yourself? Xuan Li, you only love all the victims in this world because they gave themselves up for your ambition. You readily sacrificed them, yet you still pretend to comfort them, how hypocritical.”

The scene in Ming Huang Long’s palace gradually faded away. The scene in front of her became a blur again. Jiang Ruan walked in the white mist, and felt as if she was walking in a huge maze. She could only hear the sound of thousands of troops fighting in her ears, with the loud bang of the city gate being knocked open. The sound of swords clashing was everywhere, and someone shouted loudly, “It’s not good, it’s not good! The Jinyi Guards have entered the main gate—”

Jinyi Guards? The name was so familiar, as if she had heard it somewhere before, Jiang Ruan walked forward in a daze. She saw that the Golden Throne Hall was in complete chaos, with blood flowing like rivers. From time to time, guards in black armor with swords walked past; the imperial guards outside were either dead or wounded. While inside the hall, a man and a woman in bright yellow clothes fell under the throne, exactly in the same manner as she had died before, except that she was able to return back alive while they were dead.

A young man in black stood quietly in front of the dragon throne. His face was exquisitely beautiful, his eyebrows were as cold as ice. Although there was elegance and nobility engraved in his bone marrow, it was suppressed by his cold detachment. The guard on the side said, “An illegitimately conferred dog thief, how dare you talk nonsense? Don’t you know best who the real traitor is? Hasn’t General Guan also sent that old thief Jiang Quan to his death, Master...? “

The young man turned around and said calmly, “Let’s go.”

Xuan Li and Jiang Su Su. From the beginning, one of them had plotted to obtain the most supreme power in the world, while the other coveted the position of the mother of the world. And yet they were killed just like this after their great cause was accomplished. Even Jiang Quan himself was decapitated. It was obvious that this young man was the future emperor who had intercepted their plans to take the throne for himself. This pleased Jiang Ruan very much. Looking at the young man again, she felt her heart beating extremely fast, as if she had met this young man somewhere before, but she really couldn’t remember. She wanted to find out what was going on, so she followed him and walked forward.

Once she followed him to the imperial garden, a middle-aged man with gray hair came forward and said, “Young Master, Imperial Grand Tutor Liu found something in the dry well, and took out a box from the well. There were two corpses in it. After investigating, we found out that one of them was the eldest di daughter of the Jiang fu. She was the one who was slandered by her own father as a demoness who brought calamity to the nation—” He shook his head and said, “Ah, how can there be such a cruel father in the world.”

The young man and Jiang Ruan looked at the ground together. The two corpses, one big and one small, had decayed, looking gray and black. However, it could be seen that the adult’s limbs had been removed, and it was quite evident that she had been greatly wronged before she died.

Jiang Ruan looked at her dead body indifferently. A young man in purple came over; he was born handsome, with a mustache around his lips that made him look quite comical. Looking at the corpse, he sighed and said, “They are from the same root, so why treat each other differently? This woman was originally a beauty in the palace, and this child, Thirteenth Prince, was raised under her knees. It’s a shame that mother and child have ended up like this together. It’s really regrettable.” He bent down, took off his clothes and covered the corpse, then looked at the young man in black and said, “Third Brother, what should you do with the corpse?”

“As an imperial consort, she should truly enter the imperial tomb. Find a good time and bury them properly.” The young man lowered his eyes and said calmly, “By the way, let the world know the truth about the so-called demoness who brought calamity to the nation.”

Upon hearing these words Jiang Ruan felt like she was struck by lightning, and stared fixedly at the cold and handsome young man. She originally thought that she would have to silently bear the injustice until eternity, but at her darkest hour, the words of this young man were the last trace of warmth[3] she received in her cruel life. Yet, just when everything was coming to an end in this life, a sliver of yearning appeared.

[3] 柳暗花明 (liǔ’ànhuāmíng) – lit. the willow trees make the shade, the flowers give the light (idiom); at one’s darkest hour, a glimmer of hope / light at the end of the tunnel.

She suddenly opened her eyes and called out, “Xiao Shao!”

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