Chapter 168 : An Ending
Trigger Warning: domestic violence, suicide, instigation to commit suicide, nonconsensual group sex.
Jiang Su Su’s unexplained disappearance was eventually revealed.
The entourage of more than a dozen guards who followed did not discover anything was amiss until daylight the next morning.
It was only when they had not received any response to their numerous calls did they discover the dead body of the maidservant inside the carriage with nary a sign of the young miss.
The guards returned panic-stricken to the Jiang fu to report to Jiang Quan what had happened.
Jiang Quan was so incensed that he was on the verge of collapse.
However, the guards’ report made it evident that Jiang Su Su had killed her maidservant and escaped while posing as her.
No one was to be blamed, since the people Jiang Quan had sent out confirmed that it was true.
Jiang Quan couldn’t say anything else besides cursing the damnable girl.
Nonetheless, the fact that the young miss of a grand fu fled with her whereabouts unknown was not a topic that could be discussed.
Therefore the guards could not be allowed to survive and so Jiang Quan commanded that these people be dealt with.
Perhaps those guards were aware of their future unjust treatment because they used unknown means to expose the matter before their deaths.
Consequently, in no time at all, the whole capital learned that Jiang Quan had lost the fu’s Second Miss.
The entire Jiang fu was on the cusp of a storm these days.
From every street and alleyway, the topic on everyone’s lips was somehow related to the Jiang family.
Jiang Quan was furious, but it was difficult to stop people from gossipping.
Xiao Shao had taken Jiang Ruan back to the Jinying Wangfu, otherwise she would have gone to the palace to keep Empress Dowager Yi De company.
Ultimately, the whole debacle made him feel as if the rug had been pulled out from under his feet and Jiang Quan had no control over the situation at all.
Thus, Jiang Quan doubled his rage at Hong Ying, who had just had a miscarriage.
Hong Ying was already in poor health, but Jiang Quan beat her up every day, intending to torture her to death.
Knowing there was no other way out, one night, Hong Ying took her own life by swallowing gold.
Thus a yiniang fell out of favour yet again and died just like that.
Jiang Quan didn’t even have a coffin arranged for her, but rather, he instructed an old female servant to roll her inside a worn-out mat and throw it into a mass grave.
It was the fall of yet another beautiful woman, however it was hard to say if it was something to sigh about or not.
 香消玉殞 (xiāng xiāo yù yǔn) – falling like jade or withering like a flower.
It is a metaphor for the death of a young woman.
Except for the reclusive Eldest Yiniang, there were no more concubines left in the huge Jiang fu.
Jiang Quan was in a state of shock and frequently stood in the yard in a daze.
The gentle voices of women chattering in the past stood in stark contrast to today’s cold and desolate atmosphere.
It was increasingly clear that the entire Jiang fu had gradually collapsed.
The people that were sent to look for Jiang Su Su had been gone for a long time without sending any news.
In the end, the one who was more anxious than Jiang Quan was Jiang Chao.
Jiang Chao and Jiang Su Su were born to the same mother after all.
Jiang Su Su had always been doted on since childhood, so it was only natural that Jiang Chao loved her dearly.
Despite his indignation at Jiang Su Su’s rash behaviour, he turned to Xuan Li for assistance who then dispatched a group of people to search for Jiang Su Su’s whereabouts.
He was now useful to Xuan Li especially since Xuan Li had always presented himself as a wise monarch who went out of his way to recruit talented men.
As such, he did everything in his power to help with the search.
Indeed, Xuan Li’s men were far more resourceful than the Jiang fu‘s servants.
At the very least, the people sent out by the Jiang fu had not yet discovered Jiang Su Su’s whereabouts, yet Xuan Li’s men had already informed Jiang Chao, “Young Master, we have discovered the location of Second Miss Jiang.”
Jiang Chao was practising calligraphy in his study at the time.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t calm down and his handwriting was crooked.
When he heard the report, his hand shook, and a large drop of ink fell on the snow-white xuan paper, causing large ink flowers to bloom.
“Where is she” he asked eagerly as he raised his head.
“This…” The guard appeared slightly embarrassed and hesitated to speak.
Suddenly, Jiang Chao’s heart was filled with a bad premonition, and he no longer cared about anything else.
He grabbed him by the collar and yelled, “What’s going on”
“To answer Young Master,” the guard was taken aback by Jiang Chao’s attitude but could not keep the news a secret any longer, “the scouts returned to report that Second Miss Jiang was kidnapped by mountain bandits and is currently being held captive in their hideout.
It…has already been several days.”
Bang! The writing brush slipped out of Jiang Chao’s hand.
The top-quality writing brush made of white jade and weasel hair hit the floor, making a piercing and distinct sound that echoed in the quiet room.
The guard sensed the surrounding atmosphere had become stagnant and dreadful.
He lowered his head and stood frozen in place, afraid to look at Jiang Chao’s expression.
The terrible silence lasted for an unknown length of time before Jiang Chao gnashed his teeth and ordered, “Get the horse ready.”
“Young Master” The guard was stupefied.
When he caught a glimpse of Jiang Chao’s face, he couldn’t help but stare blankly for a moment.
There was so much hate and madness in those slightly gloomy eyes that it was almost certain he was set on destroying everything the next second.
But while his eyes looked terrifying, his face was very calm, almost to the point of madness.
Then, he said,”Come, follow me to save Second Miss.”
* * *
The sunlight seemed to be obscured by the thick shade of the trees deep in the mountains, leaving only a few slivers of sunlight to shine down.
The run-down hamlet resembled an abandoned pearl embedded in the mountain.
It was already worn and had turned black, but it clung to its position tenaciously.
The door opened with a creak and a woman emerged.
The woman was dressed in a man’s garment made of coarse sackcloth that had been altered to fit her.
Her trouser legs were still too long, exposing a pair of white calves, which were covered in purple marks.
The same was true for her arms and neck.
The clothing was so large that even if it were smaller, it would not fit.
Her appearance was exquisitely lovely, like that of a fairy, but at the same time she appeared aged because she was too haggard.
Her stunning looks were further diminished by the presence of thick bluish-black colour under her eyes.
She was naturally beautiful, with fair skin and a slender figure, and with a little effort, she could have outshone all the other beauties.
Unfortunately, this woman now resembled a drab peasant woman.
Carrying a basket in her hand she walked out the door, then walked to a small stream not far from the hamlet and squatted down.
There she took out the clothes which reeked of alcohol from inside the basket and began painstakingly scrubbing them.
Her tender and delicate hands were already rubbed raw from washing, and they had also become red and swollen from being immersed in the icy river.
She was clearly not used to doing these things.
Nevertheless, she kept scrubbing the clothes slowly.
This woman was none other than Jiang Su Su.
Around her, there were many women like her washing clothes by the river, all dressed in rags.
Some were attractive and others less so, but all wore an identical expression- a kind of ashen face and numbness, with blank eyes, as if they were accustomed to this kind of life.
The sun rose in the east but did not bring any warmth.
Jiang Su Su continued to wash the clothes.
Her eyes no longer reflected the disdain and mockery of the first few days she was here, but instead displayed a kind of numb obedience.
She had been living a hellish existence recently.
The women in this village were all men’s accessories and tools for venting.
They usually had to wash, cook, sew, and mend the men’s clothes.
They would be punched and kicked if they did not do a good job.
Mountain bandits would never be considerate and caring towards women.
The women would be beaten if they didn’t satisfy them, regardless of whether they were young misses from a prominent family or girls from modest households.
In this hamlet, every woman had suffered abuse.
However, this was not the most agonizing part.
The most tortuous part began when night fell.
It was then that they had to serve multiple men throughout the night, which was probably worse than being a prostitute in a brothel.
At least if one was a prostitute with a red card, she most likely still had rights.
But there was no dignity for the women here; in the evening, these beasts were only concerned with venting their beastly language. Here, women lived short lives; after all no one could withstand such prolonged torture.
 紅牌 (hóngpái) – red card; prostitute rank in the brothel, the most beautiful and popular among guests, usually with pretty good talent (selling both art and body).
It wasn’t as though he hadn’t considered escaping, but the bandits had a method for dealing with women who tried to flee.
They captured them and beat them, then locked them up and repeated their nightmarish experiences.
Thus, within a few days, nothing about Jiang Su Su remained intact.
In this group of women, she had the most attractive appearance, the softest skin, and was a newcomer; almost every man was attracted to her.
Consequently, her life was extremely miserable.
In such an environment, so-called seduction techniques were useless.
When dealing with young masters from noble and aristocratic families, those techniques proved useful.
In these desolate mountains, however, it served no purpose other than to arouse the animal desires of more men.
These mountain bandits and robbers had never learned to treat women gently; they were born with a brutal and predatory nature.
In the short time since she had been there, Jiang Su Su had become a completely different person.
She had to return to the house after washing her clothes to collect wood and light a fire for cooking.
She was halfway there when she heard the loud sound of hooves.
The man in the lead stopped the horse in front of her, then called out, “Meimei!”
Jiang Su Su looked up slowly to see the person in front of her clearly.
She was stunned for a moment before exclaiming, “Elder Brother!”
Jiang Chao looked at Jiang Su Su in disbelief.
Jiang Su Su had always been flawless and beautiful in his heart, and her body had never been soiled.
Who was this unkempt, haggard, and smelly woman Was she still his meimei, the capital’s most alluring beauty among women
Jiang Su Su blinked as she looked at Jiang Chao.
Her eyes turned red all of a sudden and two streams of tears ran down her cheeks.
She cried, “Elder Brother, why did you only come here now” as she tightly hugged Jiang Chao, not caring about anything else.
As soon as Jiang Chao was embraced by Jiang Su Su, a nauseating stench filled the tip of his nose.
In the Jiang fu, the two siblings had always lived a life of luxury.
They despised the poor and thought themselves to be superior to them.
Jiang Chao was taken aback when he saw Jiang Su Su’s discomfiture.
At Jiang Su Su’s embrace, Jiang Chao subconsciously reached out his hand to push her away, but froze, staring at the red marks on Jiang Su Su’s neck.
When the scout returned to report, Jiang Su Su had already been held captive in the den of mountain bandits for several days, thus her body was certain to be tainted.
However, thinking in his heart was not the same as seeing it with his own eyes.
When Jiang Chao saw the marks on Jiang Su Su’s body, his last hope vanished without a trace.
His mind went blank, and he was unable to make a sound.
Jiang Su Su was completely unaware of this.
The moment she saw Jiang Chao, she began to gradually emerge from the numbness and abject despondency that she had begun to resign herself to.
Her heart was filled with nothing but hatred, and her voice became shrill and distorted.
“Elder Brother, you must avenge me.
Wipe out all the mountain bandits here! They are not human.
They beat me up…Elder Brother, kill them, kill them all!” Jiang Su Su wept and laughed, her voice quivering on the verge of total collapse, but the bitter resentment in her words had not faded.
Jiang Chao was her elder brother.
He must avenge her.
These filthy, stinking men would all turn into corpses.
Jiang Su Su was overjoyed when she thought of this.
She said, “Those women as well.
They’ve seen me.
None of them should be allowed to live!”
She only cared about venting the pain she had endured over the past few days, ignoring Jiang Chao’s stare.
Jiang Chao gazed intently at the red mark on Jiang Su Su’s neck, staring with a somewhat vacant expression.
Jiang Su Su had become this way.
Even if he were to take her back, her body was no longer pure.
At first, his younger sister, who was as beautiful as a fairy, would have likely paved his official career and brought prosperity to the Jiang family.
She could have even become the queen during the golden age of the kingdom.
But his plans had been ruined because Jiang Su Su no longer had a reputation and was no longer a virgin.
Furthermore, it would be impossible to secure a marriage favourable to the Jiang fu by virtue of her beauty.
If one day it was exposed that Jiang Su Su, the di daughter of a magnificent high official fu, had lost her innocence to a mob of ruffians and had become a plaything of mountain bandits, the reputation of the Jiang family would be unable to rise again.
In that case, Jiang Su Su’s existence would be the spark that would inevitably ignite a large fire someday.
There was a hidden danger in keeping her alive.
Jiang Chao’s eyes turned gloomy.
Now that he was under Xuan Li, he had gradually improved.
Xuan Li had also started to put him in an important position.
However, due to Xia Yan’s matter, he was subjected to censure from his colleagues.
If Jiang Su Su’s matter was added, it would be extremely unlikely for him to advance in his official career in the future.
Those colleagues who openly and secretly competed with him would not miss this opportunity. No, they might already be on the move.
The news of Jiang Su Su’s disappearance had now spread throughout the capital.
Since he was able to find Jiang Su Su, then others could as well.
He could not allow Jiang Su Su’s existence to become a hindrance to him.
The look in Jiang Chao’s eyes changed a few times.
It appeared that he had come to a decision.
He looked at Jiang Su Su, who threw herself into his arms, and said, “Alright, I’ll kill them for you.
Your elder brother will avenge you.
These women, along with the mountain bandits, will not be able to escape.
I’ll make them all meet the King of Hell.”
“And that slut, Jiang Ruan.” Jiang Su Su said, clinging to Jiang Chao’s clothes, “If she hadn’t plotted against me, Elder Brother, how could I end up here I got to where I am now because of that slut.
And Xiao Shao.
The two of them joined forces to harm me.
I solemnly swear that I will not stop until this hatred is avenged!”
“Alright,” Jiang Chao’s voice was so gentle that water could have dripped from it.
He patted Jiang Su Su on the shoulder tenderly as if he were her genuinely kind elder brother and comforted, “Jiang Ruan, Jiang Xin Zhi and the General fu, the Jinying Wangfu, all of them.
Elder Brother will avenge you.
Those who have wronged you will all be buried with you!”
Jiang Su Su cuddled up in Jiang Chao’s arms, feeling extremely content, but ignoring Jiang Chao’s bizarre gaze.
She asked, “Elder Brother, when are we returning to the fu”
“Returning to the fu” Jiang Chao said apologetically, “Meimei, you cannot return to the fu.”
“What” Before Jiang Su Su understood, she felt a chill in her chest.
When she looked down, she noticed the tip of a snow-white sword piercing her chest.
Jiang Chao was holding the hilt on the other end.
When Jiang Chao pulled the sword out, Jiang Su Su spat out a mouthful of blood before collapsing softly.
Everything happened so quickly that she couldn’t even ask why.
She just looked at Jiang Chao with eyes filled with resentment.
Jiang Su Su never thought she’d die.
She did everything in her power to stay alive while she waited for the rescue, but in the end, she was killed by her own brother.
“I’m sorry, Su Su,” Jiang Chao looked away, not daring to look at Jiang Su Su’s dead body.
“I can’t let you get in my way.
Besides, I’m freeing you early from worldly worries.” He sighed.
Mother will soon come down to accompany you.
You won’t feel lonely.
Since I promised to avenge you, I will not let even a single thing go unfulfilled.”
* * *
At night, in a dilapidated and dark house in a rural residence hundreds of miles from the capital, a figure sat quietly.
The oil lamp had long since burned out.
It was obvious that for a long time no one had been here to refill the lamp with oil.
The air reeked of death and decay.
The woman was very old.
The grey hair on her temples was caked with oil and grime, and the hair behind her head was a tangled mess.
Her body also seemed to have not been washed in a long time; the filth seemed to have encased her body like armour.
Only from her pair of large eyes could one see her former splendour, but that was already in the past.
Xia Yan had no idea how long she had been here.
There was no one to talk to, no fresh fruit or vegetables; it was just stale food, a filthy blanket, and a leaky roof.
As a consequence, she alternated between a manic and sane state.
Even though most of the time she was insane, she was sober now.
She had no idea why, but today she felt a strange unease in her heart that she couldn’t quite explain.
Unexplainable despair filled her heart, as though something big was about to happen.
Her hands scratched the ground futilely with their mud-covered nails.
She heard the door creak open.
Abruptly, Xia Yan raised her head and then observed a man enter the room while holding a lighter before closing the door gently behind him.
She had not seen such a brilliant light for quite some time and so she became temporarily blinded by it and was unable to see the person’s appearance.
 火摺子 (huǒkuàizi) – not sure what to call it, so I just put it as a lighter.
It’s made of flammable material such as rosin, nitrate, or paper money and inserted into a bamboo tube and lit.
The man sat down and set the torch aside.
The flame gradually settled.
Xia Yan began to adjust to the new light and heard a familiar voice.
Xia Yan trembled as her eyes welled up with tears.
She lived in this place day after day, being bullied and beaten, as if she had been forgotten by everyone.
She had no idea her son would appear in front of her now.
She opened her mouth, but her throat only made a dry sound as she had not spoken for a long time.
Jiang Chao looked stunned when he saw Xia Yan’s appearance.
Then a flash of rage flashed across his face.
“How could they treat you like this!”
At first, Xia Yan had been waiting for a visit from Jiang Chao but upon recalling Chen Fang’s prediction that a nobleman would kill her sooner or later to silence her, she had also felt a sense of animosity towards him.
But now that she had seen Jiang Chao, she no longer resented him.
After all, this was her son so she figured he’d come around to her side.
All of the mistreatment was due to the initiative taken by wicked servants because at the end of the day, Jiang Chao would always acknowledge his mother.
But Xia Yan didn’t realise; if he truly cared about his mother, how could he have waited for so long without even asking after her Even if Jiang Chao was busy during the week, it was not a big ask to send a servant to inquire about her situation.
These people dared to act outrageously because Jiang Chao did not pay much attention to Xia Yan, just like when Jiang Ruan was sent to the rural residence to be bullied.
Jiang Chao was not stupid; he knew that sending Xia Yan to the rural residence would almost certainly result in bullying, but he was unconcerned; this person’s inner selfishness had reached an extreme.
Despite her viciousness, Xia Yan was competent as a mother- everything she did was to pave the way for Jiang Chao and Jiang Su Su.
Unfortunately, both siblings were self-centred and did not care about their mother in the same way.
Jiang Chao looked at Xia Yan and said, “Mother, Meimei is dead.”
Xia Yan was stunned and looked at Jiang Chao in disbelief.
However, Jiang Chao went on.
“She fell into the trap set by others and enraged Father.
Father wanted to send her to the ancestral temple to be a nun.
She flatly refused.
She took advantage of the situation by fleeing during the night and was caught and taken to the mountain bandits’ den.
There, she was insulted and thus, she killed herself.”
He said everything calmly, but every word pierced Xia Yan’s heart.
Xia Yan let out a scream, but she was unable to say anything else.
Only two lines of tears continued to fall.
“Why did you… not protect her” She asked with great effort.
“I, protect her” Jiang Chao let out a sneer.
“Shouldn’t Mother, the mother of my sister and me, protect us Do you know how Meimei got caught in someone’s trap Meimei wanted to seduce Jinying Wang into becoming her concubine.
Does Mother understand why Meimei, a di daughter, wanted to be a concubine Because of Mother’s bad reputation, no one had proposed to marry Meimei! This marriage between that slut Jiang Ruan and Jinying Wang was granted by the Empress Dowager. Meimei, however, was neglected because of Mother’s corrupt morals.
Mother is responsible for her death today.”
Xia Yan was stunned and stared in disbelief at Jiang Chao.
With regards to the matter back then clearly she had been set up by others, but while others might doubt her morals, Jiang Chao was her own son.
How could he say such a thing
She had no idea that Jiang Chao couldn’t raise his head in front of his colleagues because of her ruined reputation, which was constantly used to vilify him.
Jiang Chao accused Jiang Su Su of dying because of her today.
He was, in fact, venting his rage! He blamed Xia Yan!
“No, it’s not because of me…” Xia Yan said.
Jiang Chao shook his head.
“That’s not important now, Mother.
I have promised Meimei that I will avenge her.
Now that Jinying Wang and Jiang Ruan have a higher rank than me, I can only avenge Meimei if I advance in my official career.” When he looked at Xia Yan, a strange light flashed in his eyes.
“And, Mother, as long as you exist, I will always have a reason to be criticised, and I will never be promoted any higher.”
It took Xia Yan a long time to grasp the meaning of Jiang Chao’s words.
She looked at her son as if she did not recognise him and asked, “You… You want me to die “
“Mother loves us siblings so much and I want to grant Meimei her heart’s desire.
As such I can’t think of any other way to make it happen at this point.” Jiang Chao spoke in a muffled voice but without remorse.
“Mother is smart and wouldn’t want that slut, Jiang Ruan, to trample all over your son.”
“Unfilial son…” Xia Yan took long rattling gasps.
Jiang Chao shook his head.
“The only reason I came this time is because blood is thicker than water andI wish to make Mother more comfortable butI have to give up because Mother does not appreciate my kindness.
It’s just that…in some cases, the process is unimportant, but the result is, isn’t it”
“Are you going to kill me” Xia Yan’s eyes widened in surprise.
“No, Mother will figure it out, I’m sure.” He smiled slowly, revealing his white teeth but it wasn’t his usual bright and cheerful demeanour.
Under the spotlights, he looked like a crazed beast.
“The beam in this room is high enough, Mother.
One life in exchange for an innocent reputation.
Mother knows which one is the most worthwhile to choose” he continued.
Then, he simply left the building.