A little darker, reflects my mood as the "finish the jobs before Chinese New Year" crunch time marches on... Thank you for the kind words from you readers, it really helps.

“Wicked tongues can be dangerous.”
--Helga Lindstrom the Countess, ‘Triple Cross’ (1966)

Chapter 189 – The surrender (6)

In another part of Beihai, Xilei held the hand of Quan Lu as they raced through the dark alleys. They had just began a meeting with the discontented fallen nobles and merchants of Beihai when the doors suddenly burst open with Wu soldiers coming to arrest them. In the chaos, Xilei’s first thought was to grab hold of Quan Lu and run, leaving behind everything else.

Even her colleague, the monk Elder Wu Zhi.

“Looks like we have lost them,” Xilei said as they stopped for a breather.

“Well, that was unexpected,” Quan Lu said, a wrinkle on his handsome brow.

Xilei was chagrined to have disappointed him. She had planned to propose the capture of Huang Ming and to prop Quan Lu as the figurehead of Beihai. He would then negotiate the surrender of the city to the army outside, after which he would follow her back to Jin. After scoring such merit and pleasing the Princess of Jin, they might even be rewarded with nobility, allowing them to retire in luxurious peace.

In just a few moments, her dreams were shattered. Now they were on the run, and she could only hope that none of the Wu soldiers recognized her or Quan Lu being present in the meeting.

“Do not worry, they have not seen us. We can still make this work,” Xilei soothed, even though her brows were lined with sweat, her bosom heaving laboriously.

“Perhaps we should turn ourselves in,” Quan Lu suggested.

“No! There is still a way,” Xilei said vehemently.

“How so? Your confederates have been arrested,” Quan Lu frowned.

Xilei shook her head. “Songdan may be a grouch, but he would not dare to fail the Princess of Jin. He will surely be able to seize Huang Ming. We can still use him to bargain for their freedom, or at the very least; buy our way out of the city.”

“I doubt it. That raid was all too sudden, it is almost as if someone had leaked about the meeting to them,” Quan Lu said.

“Impossible, we have vetted everyone!” Xilei insisted.

“What about Songdan? How convenient that he is absent during the raid,” Quan Lu wondered.

“Impossible,” Xilei interjected. “Though we have our personal disagreements, he would never betray the Princess of Jin.”

“Why not?”

“She had saved his life, and he owes everything to her,” Xilei explained.

“Well, not that it matters now. Huang Ming surely must be aware of what had happened, and Songdan would not be successful,” Quan Lu said.

Xilei bit her lips. “Perhaps if we act as if we have nothing to do with it? We can continue to hide in open sight.”

“What about those that were arrested?” Quan Lu reminded her.

Xilei turned pale, horrified that she had forgotten about them. “We must find a way to shut them all up, and quickly... Maybe I can visit the prison, and secretly feed them poison…” she muttered to herself, unaware that Quan Lu was looking at her with morbid fascination.

“You can’t possibly get rid of all of them. Do you plan to poison the entire prison?” Quan Lu asked.

“You’re right, that is too slow. We can set fire to the prison, and ensure that nobody escapes…” she said.

Quan Lu can almost see the mad panic in her eyes.

“What about Elder Wu Zhi? Will he expose us?” he asked slowly.

“Never. He is the first of the princess’s servants, he would rather die than to betray her,” Xilei replied. “It is regrettable, but sacrifices have to be made. He would understand. Besides, he is already old and feeble,” she added resolutely.

“There are ways of making people talk. Huang Ming has proven himself to be devilishly resourceful, even if the situation now is dire,” Quan Lu said.

“He has a clever tongue, but he is out of his depth. I have spent days studying him and he would make a competent civil officer or assistant to a military administrator; but he falls short when shouldering the responsibility himself. It would seem all those stories about him are exaggerated to distract the people of Wu of their military disasters,” Xilei said dismissively.

“But you said the Princess of Jin is interested in him,” Quan Lu pointed out.

“Her highness is interested in many things,” Xilei responded. “Whenever she discovers something curious, she would go all out to study it. She finds the disparity between Huang Ming’s frivolous history and his current rise to be such a puzzle.”

“Is that all? She has no plans for him?”

Xilei smiled at him. “Are you jealous? While he is somewhat handsome, he is but a glow worm to your radiant moon. The princess would forget all about him once she laid her eyes on you.”

Quan Lu’s own lips became crooked. “And are you not afraid that she would snatch me away?”

Xilei chuckled. “No, the royal couple is very much in love with each other. Her highness might be distracted by you for a little while, but she would never compromise her relationship with the Prince of Jin. Besides, she is far too busy with her experiments and development programs.”

“Such as those fire-breathing weapons you have mentioned,” Quan Lu said, and the Jin spy nodded.

“She promised to fulfil our wishes when we had decided to follow her; I plan to ask for you when we return,” she said with a blush.

“You have everything planned out, I see,” Quan Lu said.

“Do you think of me as a brazen woman?” Xilei asked shyly.

“If you were, I would not have such a difficult time getting to know you,” Quan Lu smirked as he pulled her close.

Xilei’s eyes turned watery as she embraced him. She looked up at his handsome face, her mouth parted to speak…

And then she suddenly feel a sharp blow to her neck, and darkness engulfed her.

‘Quan Lu’ sighed as he held the limp woman. Qiong Ying did not enjoy such subterfuge involving matters of the heart. While she had done so to squeeze the spy for information about the Princess of Jin, the romantic deception was still stomach-churning.

Qiong Ying was very shaken when she saw just how blinded Xilei had become. The Jin spy’s willingness to silence her own compatriots was chilling, and it reminded her of the coldness in her sister Qiong Hua, nay, the Princess of Jin.

“Maybe I should retire this disguise, it’s too dangerously effective. Curse myself for having a beautiful face and all the features of a heart-breaker,’ Qiong Ying mused to herself.

Handsome couple,
Both adept at hustle.​