The Tyrant’s Cannon Fodder Male Empress Chapter 77

Chapter 77

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In the black-pitch room, Xue Yao struggled to see the expression on the man’s face. He could only vaguely catch a hint of hesitation in his slightly bright eyes, which swiftly vanished.

“Corrupt official!” The burly man’s thoughts turned, and the sickle in his hand pressed close to Xue Yao’s throat. In a moment of emotional turmoil, he hissed in a low voice, “Do you think you can deceive me? If I release you, won’t the officials capture me immediately?”

“I can write a written guarantee.” The iron blade pressing tighter against his neck made Xue Yao feel that things had spiraled out of control. He could only prepare himself for a desperate struggle.

However, this man clearly had a robust physique from daily labor. Even if Xue Yao could fend off the swinging sickle, he couldn’t overpower the man. Xue Yao could only entice him, “I can ensure you get a priority spot in this upcoming ritual. Out of the five available slots, I guarantee one will be yours.”

Xue Yao already regretted stopping this deadly gathering. Even if this man was now making demands, even if he wanted the entire county’s populace to participate in the ritual, Xue Yao wouldn’t obstruct it anymore.

But regret had already come too late.

The man raised his sickle and swung it down towards Xue Yao’s neck. The speed was so fast that he couldn’t even extend his hand from under the blanket to stop it.

With a muffled thud, the man exclaimed as a hidden weapon from outside the window pierced through his wrist, and the sickle fell onto Xue Yao’s blanket.

Xue Yao instantly sat up, grabbing the sickle.

The burly man, a step too slow, regained his senses and tried to snatch the blade, but he was pulled away by a dark figure who swiftly entered the room and gave a forceful kick.

The burly man crashed into the wooden table at the center of the room, clutching his chest, which had been injured from the kick, and writhed on the floor.

Xue Yao sat on the bed, as if waking from a dream, still trembling as he tightly held the sickle in his hand.

“You’re not hurt, are you?”

Fourth Zhang’s voice served as a soothing balm, allowing Xue Yao to release the breath he had been holding.

Lighting a match, Fourth Zhang ignited the lamp in the room. It was then that Xue Yao realized he hadn’t put on his outer clothing.

Fourth Zhang approached the burly man and asked, “Who sent you here?”

The burly man looked up at Fourth Zhang in astonishment, then quickly scuttled away into a corner.

“He wanted to take part in the ritual.” Xue Yao regained his composure and prepared to get out of bed.

“Wanted to partake in the ritual… Ha,” Fourth Zhang pressed his foot on the man’s chest. “The government won’t allow you folks to perform the ritual, yet you don’t dare to confront the officials. Instead, you seem to enjoy picking on honest people!”

With a slight force from Fourth Zhang’s foot, the man’s chest made a sound, and he violently coughed up a mouthful of blood.

“Wait!” Xue Yao hurriedly had Fourth Zhang halt.

Fourth Zhang turned to Xue Yao. “Master Xue, dealing with such people doesn’t call for kindness. If you let him go, more will think they can’t be killed, and they’ll scheme against you.”

“Keep your distance from him! Just knock him out,” Xue Yao warned, “His father already succumbed to the plague, and he might be in the incubation period. Don’t let his blood spatter touch you.”

Following Xue Yao’s orders, after Fourth Zhang knocked the man unconscious, he called over a young assistant, who dragged the man away. Then, they cleaned up the blood in the room using disinfectant Xue Yao had prepared and washed their hands with soap.

The two sat on the stone steps outside the door, with the moonlight illuminating the empty courtyard.

Seeing Xue Yao still looking pale, Fourth Zhang whispered, “It was my negligence. From now on, I’ll guard your room at night.”

Xue Yao regained his composure and said with a wry smile, “You’re not made of iron either. You need your sleep in the middle of the night. I never thought I’d be the target of an assassination, and even more so… the person trying to kill me would be someone I wanted to save.”

“You’re just too soft-hearted.” Fourth Zhang frowned. “Back when I stole your silver, you repaid my ill deeds with kindness, claiming it was for my skills that you saved me. So, what about these stubborn villagers? Why would you risk staying here to save people who want to kill you? Is this the result you wanted?”

Xue Yao laughed. “You’re giving me too much credit.”

Fourth Zhang didn’t understand.

Xue Yao saved Fourth Zhang because he wanted him to teach martial arts to the Fifth Prince and reveal the whereabouts of the Sword Saint to the Seventh Prince.

Saving the common people was for the Crown Prince.

The starting point for everything was not the people being saved.

But Fourth Zhang had a point. Xue Yao was a soft-hearted person. Initially, for self-preservation, he tried to keep the Seventh Prince happy, and as a result, he ended up becoming like a father to him.

Later, for the Seventh Prince, he protected the Crown Prince and became a devoted admirer of the Crown Prince.

Then, to save Fourth Zhang for the sake of the imperial princes, he gradually began to see Fourth Zhang as a true friend.

Now, to prevent chaos during the reformation, Xue Yao came to Pingrong County to control the plague. He couldn’t bear to watch the people of three counties go through hell on earth.

It was like receiving the salary of a junior secretary but carrying the heart of a UN Secretary-General.

“Hahaha…” Xue Yao laughed at himself.

“You have the nerve to laugh?” Fourth Zhang frowned. “Thank goodness I got up to relieve myself. Otherwise, if I had fallen asleep and not heard any movement from your room, do you know how dangerous it was just now?”

Xue Yao gave him a sidelong glance and said irritably, “Don’t remind me. I finally managed to forget it. If you bring it up again, I won’t be able to sleep.”

Fourth Zhang chuckled at his words, then turned to look at the empty courtyard. He suppressed his smile and spoke earnestly, “You’re a true gentleman. No wonder the three young princes trust you so much. Sycophants and schemers will eventually be exposed. Someone like you is deserving of everyone’s trust.”

The next day at the government office, Xue Yao received a reply from the Crown Prince, but the military orders had not arrived yet.

In the letter, the Crown Prince mentioned that he had reported the matter to the Emperor, who showed a keen interest in it. Additional imperial physicians would arrive promptly.

The Emperor also issued a decree, instructing the local magistrate to cooperate with the imperial physicians in controlling the plague, but he did not approve the deployment of troops to assist in epidemic control.

Great Qi had faced epidemics before, but they were typically at the level of diseases like diphtheria.

The Emperor was unaware of how terrifying the transmission and fatality rate of the plague was.

Xue Yao put away the letter, feeling as if his entire body had turned cold.

“How did it go?” Fourth Zhang, noticing his pale expression, asked with frustration, “Did the Crown Prince not get the military authority?”

“It’s not the Crown Prince, it’s the Emperor,” Xue Yao’s voice was low, “The Crown Prince said he would try to persuade the Emperor within the next two weeks. The Crown Prince wants to lead the guard forces to support us.”

Xue Yao slowly closed his eyes. “Controlling it within two weeks won’t be easy.”

Just then, there was a commotion from the crowd outside the government office.

Xue Yao and Fourth Zhang went out to see that it was the villagers gathered at the government office, causing a disturbance and demanding to hold a ritual.

After tearing down the ritual altar, the number of villagers afflicted by the “plague spirits” noticeably increased. The common folk believed that dismantling the altar had offended the Plague Deity. They had grown so fearful that they no longer feared the government.

Many of those possessed by the plague spirits had seen their entire families perish. By opposing the authorities, they believed they might at least save their descendants. Many enraged villagers were prepared to confront the government with their lives.

“What can we do now?” The county magistrate paced anxiously in the courtyard, with a mournful expression. “Warding off the Plague Deity has been a custom in Pingrong County for centuries! Young Master, I really don’t understand why we should ban it. How can we win over the people!”

Xue Yao calmly told him, “Please find a set of Daoist robes for me. I will personally explain to the common folk.”

The county magistrate was utterly baffled, not understanding why this young man was causing a commotion at a time like this.

However, since the Emperor had ordered his cooperation, he had no choice but to swallow his complaints and instruct the county official to find a set of Daoist robes.

Three-quarters of an hour later, Xue Yao had changed into Daoist attire and borrowed the ceremonial sword that the county magistrate had in his possession. He walked out of the government office to face the infuriated crowd.

“Everyone, please remain calm. The matter of the ritual has been deliberated by the county magistrate.”

The villagers gradually quieted down, displaying a mix of resentment and restrained hope as they looked at the handsome young man dressed as a Daoist.

“Fellow villagers, I am Master Xuan Yi, sent by the Great Qi Emperor to drive away the Plague Deity from Pingrong and its people.” Xue Yao paused briefly, and since no one in the crowd spoke, he continued, “Preventing you from performing the ritual is my decision.”

The county magistrate, who had been shouldering the blame for the past few days, suddenly breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t expected this young man to have some sense of responsibility.

The common people, upon hearing these words, clearly displayed anger in their expressions. They likely hesitated to express their dissatisfaction due to Xue Yao’s identity as “Master Xuan Yi,” but their resentment-filled eyes were coldly fixed on Xue Yao.

Xue Yao continued, “This time, the Plague Deity is unlike before. Traditional rituals not only won’t help to remove him but will strengthen his power, driving more plague spirits. When the time comes, even if the opportune moment for exorcism arrives, I won’t be able to banish the Plague Deity for all of you.”

“Warding off the Plague Deity has always been done this way throughout history!” a young man, unable to contain his frustration, retorted, “You people in the capital have your own customs. Our Plague Deity here is different from yours!”

Xue Yao raised his hand, signaling him to hold off, and continued patiently, “I know you won’t believe my words easily. To prove my sincerity, I have decided not to obstruct your ritual, but it must be divided into two parts.”

“What do you mean by two parts?” a villager asked impatiently.

Xue Yao explained, “According to the village customs, anyone who participates in the ritual and ultimately drinks the holy water will be protected from being possessed by plague spirits. Considering the severity of the current Plague Deity, I understand everyone wishes to partake in the ritual. My requirement is to split the ritual into two sessions. The first one must be a small-scale ritual, limited to no more than ten participants.”

“How can ten people be enough?” Someone immediately protested.

“Let me finish,” Xue Yao waited for the crowd to quiet down before continuing, “By tradition, on the day of the ritual, unrelated individuals are not allowed to linger in the marketplace. As soon as the ritual concludes, everyone must disperse and return home. Within six days, I guarantee that more than five individuals will fall victim to the newly summoned plague spirits!

“You can check if my divination proves accurate. After eight days, you can hold the second part of the ritual, with no restrictions on the number of participants. Anyone who wishes to invite the possession of plague spirits and go to their doom, I will not hinder.”

As the words fell, the faces of the group of villagers turned somewhat pale. After a moment, they began to discuss among themselves.

Soon, a representative of the villagers stepped forward and said with a courteous gesture, “We will follow the Daoist’s instructions!”

Xue Yao breathed a sigh of relief. With this arrangement, setting up the ritual altar and preparing for the ritual would take at least three days, which added up to another eleven days. After the first ritual, the Crown Prince’s people might arrive.

If this still couldn’t prevent a large-scale ritual, Xue Yao would completely wash his hands of the matter.

Continuing to confront them head-on might even put Fourth Zhang at risk, and the villagers would still clash with the authorities, potentially causing a widespread outbreak.

Four days later, the first small-scale ritual concluded.

The villagers began happily preparing for the second large-scale ritual.

Two days later, among the ten participants from the first ritual, four displayed symptoms of pulmonary plague.

Four days later, one person succumbed to the illness.

Five days later, two more individuals succumbed to the illness.

Seven days later, all four afflicted individuals had succumbed to the disease.

The villagers preparing for the second ritual came to a halt.

Villagers began discussing Xue Yao’s earlier divination.

The rumors of a living deity sent from the capital quickly spread throughout the village.

Two days later, some villagers came to the government office, seeking Daoist Xue Yao’s help to exorcise evil spirits.

Three days later, a large number of villagers chose to forgo participating in the second ritual.

Some elderly villagers who steadfastly believed in the ritual tradition, railed against Xue Yao with walking sticks, accusing him of making false predictions. He had foretold that over five people would die, but the result was only four.

Another two days later, among the families of the four deceased participants in the ritual, three more individuals fell ill and passed away.

At this point, no one mentioned the second ritual anymore. The partially constructed new ritual altar remained untouched.

Many villagers knelt at the government office’s entrance daily, pleading for the intervention of the living deity to exorcise evil spirits.

Xue Yao felt that the second phase of his plan, which had been brewing for a few days, could now be announced — exterminating rats and fleas, isolating the afflicted, and prohibiting relatives from mourning the deceased.

In reality, he wanted to request the cremation of the bodies of those who died from the disease, but in ancient times, this might lead to deadly vendettas with the families of the deceased. It was better to wait for the Crown Prince to arrive before enforcing it.

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