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Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Someone stepped up to do the dirty work, and the Emperor was content with being a bystander. He originally wanted to reward only in title, but eventually, the reward was an official position in Xiangyang. Xiangyang was wealthy, but the land was vast. It was remote, and few people inhabited it.
In order to save himself from embarrassment, the Emperor specially rendered aid by dispatching 1,000 imperial guards and 500 deniers of rations. He ordered his close subordinate, Secretary Huang, to read the edict.
Huang Tan was Huang Song’s god-grandfather.
Huang Tan sat down. He massaged his cold feet and remarked, “I have to admit that I am old. The youngsters nowadays are so radical.”
After the earthquake, Shangjing was mostly a heap of ruins. The Emperor, in his anger, ordered the beheading of many highly ranked individuals.
No one in the court dared to take on such a difficult task. Jiang Pengji courageously recommended herself. Although it seemed like failure was imminent, it was truly a golden opportunity.
Huang Tang thought of his own grandson and reminded him, “Be careful young one. Don’t go around finding trouble.”
It was rare for Huang Song to catch a break. Unfortunately, he was told off by his god-grandfather. He wore a bitter face.
He was good at sweet-talking, and he did not fear Huang Tan. He immediately thought of how to divert Huang Tan’s attention.
Huang Song rose up to massage Huang Tan’s shoulders, and he smiled cheekily. “Based on my observations, grandfather isn’t old. Those young punks are impulsive and have no manners. How can they compare to grandfather? Grandfather’s contributions are incomparable to the country’s state of affairs.”
Despite the fact they were bootlicking, it was true that Huang Tan had protected many loyal officials over the years.
That did not mean he had a conscience; he did it for the better good and to please both sides.
Jiang Pengji’s luck was rather good. She came across Huang Tan, who was on the way to read the edict. If it were any other eunuch, things would have been more complicated because there were diverse routes within the palace.
The eunuch reading the edict could have seen Jiang Pengji as an eyesore or a greedy natured person and created an obstacle for her. He might choose the elderly, or the black-hearted ones would go even further and select the sickly and temperamental men. Those who were rebellious wanted to join the thousand imperial guards the Emperor generously provided.
Huang Tan loved to befriend young men from aristocratic families––as long as they had potential and would not create trouble for him.
“Your only strength lies in your glib tongue. You have not established your family or your career. It is of the least concern to you. When you marry Master Ji’s beloved daughter, it will be different.” Master Ji was Huang Song’s teacher. He was also an esteemed Confucius scholar in Dongqing.
“I understand. I will not disappoint you.”
After a while, Huang Tan straightened his clothing and prepared to read the edict.
It was evening.
As time passed, his night vision became increasingly blurry. He was unable to see anything.
The faint glint of twilight disappeared, and darkness clouded the city.
Lights were once commonly found throughout Shangjing City. Since the earthquake, however, it was pitch black, and everything was silent. The warm air carried with it the lingering, scorching heat, which passed through the walls and alleys. The rustling wind sounded like agonizing cries in the dark night.
After a day of search and rescue, the number of survivors reached 512, and the search team had expanded to 123 people. There were at least 3,000 corpses found in the ruins. They were piled high, and it was nerve-wracking.
The numbers were of no importance to the once bustling city of Shangjing; they were but a drop in the ocean.
The majority of the survivors were injured. Some had minor injuries, such as a scrape on their arms or legs. Others had more serious injuries, such as a fever that wouldn’t subside. They were delirious and lived on the edge between life and death. The maids from the mansions and both females and children stepped forward to volunteer to care for the wounded.
“Xiaoyu, since it’s nighttime, go with some men to collect the rations. Be discreet about it.” Jiang Pengji handed a map to Xu Ke. The matter should have been handled by her; however, she was the only person who could see well at night. She needed to conduct the search and rescue. The others were significantly less efficient. It was wise to send some troops to retrieve the rations and temporarily relieve the food shortage so the peoples’ anxiety would calm.
Feng Jin saw that Xu Ke was exhausted. His face was pale, and the dark circles under his eyes stood out. Feng Jin volunteered, “Please let me handle this matter.”
“No, stay here and hold down the fort, Huaiyu. I can manage.” Xu Ke braced himself. He knew that Feng Jin hadn’t been resting well. His wife’s delivery had taken a toll on him, then the earthquake happened. Thus, he hadn’t been sleeping well.
Xu Ke was presently alone. His wife, Xunmei, was far off in Hejian, while Feng Jin was in Shangjing because of his family. He could not leave his wife and child.
It is obvious Xu Ke was the most suitable candidate for the task.
The earthquake happened several hours ago. Jiang Pengji didn’t know how many survivors there were in Shangjing, nor how many were slowly awaiting their impending death. All she could do was search for the survivors amid the ruins and send them for treatment.
Jiang Pengji raised her makeshift torch. She wasn’t afraid of the dark roads, but the people behind her were.
“Is there anyone alive? If you are, please respond!” they shouted.
“Are there any survivors here—?”
“We are here to rescue you. Is there anyone alive?”
The servants behind her placed their hands on either side of their mouths. After shouting for a day, their voices were hoarse. Their eyes and throats hurt badly.
In order to hide her anomaly, Jiang Pengji did not stop them from shouting. She focused her attention on seeking traces of life.
Suddenly, she rolled on the ground and spoke with a hoarse voice, “Wait––keep quiet!” She raised her hands to signal for them to stop shouting.
As the day passed, the people saw her as a god. They worshipped her every action. Even when the governor’s office took no action, she stepped up and did not give up on any lives. Her actions moved even the strongest men to tears.
Jiang Pengji listened intently. She realized the source of the sound came from beneath a pile of ruins.
“A baby is crying…”
The people turned to listen. The intermittent cries were definitely from a baby.
Jiang Pengji stepped on broken stones. Her brain registered the pain she felt from stepping on the jagged rocks.
It was an arduous journey to walk through the ruins. Jiang Pengji’s shoes were damaged. If not for the audience in the live streaming room, she wouldn’t have realized the soles on her wooden clogs had completely worn out. Her bare feet were in contact with the sharp stone particles, and the friction formed a wound.
When they returned, she would get someone to fetch a rough cloth, fold it into layers, and wrap it around her leg so that it was easier for her to move about.
Unfortunately, if the injury on the sole of her foot was not treated promptly, the layer of skin would tear off and bleed profusely.
“Go and search. Move the rocks away…” Jiang Pengji formed different teams and assigned one person to hold the torch and the other to search the ruins. As the day passed, sweat flowed freely, and they lost count of how much water they drank.
The groups went their separate ways, and Jiang Pengji used her strength to move the fallen beam.
Her palms hurt. Her flesh and blood intermingled with the debris.
When Jiang Pengji removed the remainder of the beam, she grabbed a torch. Everyone looked on as a lady laid there on her back. The beam crushed her femur, and she faced the ground. In front of her bosom, her arms clutched something. Blood flowed freely from her body and stained her surroundings dark red. The distinctive smell of blood dissipated along with the evening wind.
That weak cries of a baby came from beneath the woman’s body.
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