Chapter 182: The Way Out

“How could that be possible?” Qiao Xueying was stunned. However, her face soon lit up in delight as she replied, “Isn’t that even better? You just have to speak the truth, and the villagers will all be cleared of suspicion!”

“How dumb do you have to be to actually say those words aloud?” Zu An looked at Qiao Xueying with scorn in his eyes. “Don’t you know what the implications of speaking the truth are? That’s basically affirming the fact that heaven has decreed the emperor’s death! There’s no way the emperor would let us off if we report it in such a manner!”

“What do we do then?” exclaimed Qiao Xueying. “We can’t say the truth, and the villagers here are innocent too. We can’t possibly force one of them to confess to it so as to be the scapegoat here, right?”

“It won’t be easy to pull that off even if we want to do so,” replied Zu An coldly. “The Qin Dynasty has extremely strict laws. Such grave disrespect to the emperor warrants nine familial exterminations! Who would possibly admit to such a grievous crime, not to mention that they are wronged here!”

“Doesn’t that mean that it’s impossible for us to find the murderer within the span of a single day?” Qiao Xueying felt her heart plummeting.

“There’s a way out of this.” Zu An turned his sight toward the villagers as his voice started turning chillingly cold.

“What way?” asked Qiao Xueying.

“If no one wishes to admit to it, we just have to kill all of the villagers living in the vicinity of the meteor. The culprit has to be one of these villagers anyway, and the emperor doesn’t care too much about the livelihood of his people. With that, we can successfully conclude this case without a hitch,” replied Zu An deeply.

This was how the ‘Antares Occupying the Heart’ incident in the 36th Year of Qin Shihuang’s rule unfolded in history. No one in the village admitted to inscribing those words, so the officials eventually had all of the villagers killed. They would rather exterminate everyone than let the murderer run free.

Zu An was glad that he knew about this piece of history, so he knew the way out of this paradox, allowing him to clear the Heaven Seal far easier than the earlier two trials.

However, Qiao Xueying immediately objected to it,” That won’t do! It’s too cruel. I won’t agree to it!”

Zu An frowned. “You should be aware that everything you see is just an illusion produced by the Heaven Seal. They aren’t real people at all, so what’s so cruel about this?”

Qiao Xueying shook her head vehemently and said, “But from our earlier encounter with them, they feel no different from living humans to us. Even if it’s just an illusion, I can’t bring myself to take the lives of so many innocent people for my own selfish goals. You can say that I’m naive and foolish, but this oversteps what my conscience allows.”

Zu An scoffed in response, “But you sure were decisive when you chose to take my life, huh?”

Qiao Xueying’s face immediately heated up. “That’s a different story! You were bound to be an enemy, not to mention that you’re very hateful too. You can’t possibly expect me to show mercy to you.”

Zu An touched his own face and remarked, “Such a handsome face, and you actually found me hateful? Looks like your eyes are nothing more than adornment on your face.”

“…” Qiao Xueying.

It was then that Lord Wang rushed over and whispered to Zu An in a suppressed voice, “Lord Censor, we’ve interrogated all of the villagers, but none of them admit to knowing how to write. I think we should just…”

He pulled his thumb over his neck, gesturing to kill off the villagers. “The murderer won’t be able to get away this way, and we’ll be able to remain accountable to His Majesty.”

Before Zu An could reply, Qiao Xueying had already interjected, “That won’t do!”

Lord Wang’s face darkened. “Young miss, if you have objections to how I do things, why don’t you propose another solution then? If we don’t kill these people, the ones to die would be us! Lord Censor, you must be decisive at times like this!”

Qiao Xueying tugged Zu An’s sleeves, seeking his support for this matter.

Zu An sighed deeply and said, “Lord Wang, interrogate them once more. If there are still no clues, we’ll figure out another solution.”

“I understand, Lord Censor,” replied Lord Wang with a nod.

Just as he was about to leave, a soldier suddenly rushed forward and reported, “Bad news, my lord! The village chief died in the midst of the interrogation, and his son is causing a ruckus right now. He turns out to be a fairly powerful cultivator, and he has already injured quite a few of our brothers!”

Lord Wang huffed in anger. “Preposterous! How dare he mess around at a time like this? Anyone who tries to obstruct public order ought to pay with his life. Kill him!”

“Yes!” 

The soldier was just about to leave the area when Zu An suddenly stopped him. “Wait a moment! How did the village chief die?”

“Lord Censor, the village chief was already ailing in health and the earlier shock worsened his condition. Our brothers might have used a bit of torture on him during the interrogation, but we made sure not to go too far! All the other villagers were able to take it without any problems; the village chief was the only one who suddenly dropped dead!” the soldier hurriedly replied as he wiped off his cold sweat.

Zu An nodded in response. Considering that the village chief was already in poor condition earlier on, it wasn’t too surprising for him to die in the midst of interrogation. It was the standard practice in this era to torture the suspects in order to get them to confess, so the soldiers couldn’t really be blamed for this.

“For the time being, capture his son and lock him up. I’ll deal with him later on.”

“Yes!”

The soldier quickly left the area to carry out Zu An’s order, and soon, Chen Wei found himself surrounded by a platoon of soldiers. No matter how violently he struggled, it was hard for him to deal with so many enemies at once. Soon, his hands were shackled in chains, and he was locked up in a room.

“Are you really intending to kill them?” asked Qiao Xueying anxiously.

Zu An turned to look into her eyes for a moment before asking, “Do you really intend to save them?”

Qiao Xueying nodded right away.

He pondered for a moment before saying, “If you promise to call me ‘big brother’ from now onward, I’ll consider helping you.”

“I…” Qiao Xueying’s face reddened. She was only able to call him that back then because she thought that she was already on the verge of dying and didn’t want to die ignorant. There was no way she could bring herself to call him ‘big brother’ under normal circumstances.

Zu An sighed deeply and remarked, “Looks like you’re all talk. You spoke as if you really wanted to save all of these people, but in the end, you can’t even lower your pride to call me ‘big brother’ for their sake.”

Qiao Xueying huffed angrily. “You’re taking advantage of me!”

Zu An shrugged. “Have I ever claimed to be a saint before? Why would I bother helping a bunch of people unrelated to me if there are no benefits on the line for me? Not to mention, they even tried to backstab me earlier on.”

Qiao Xueying gritted her teeth. “Will you really save them if I call you big brother?”

“Just to be sure, I’m expecting you to continue calling me that in the future,” corrected Zu An. “Also, I’ll only be trying my best. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to save them.”

“You can’t even guarantee success, why should I continue calling you big brother? That’s ridiculous!” Qiao Xueying protested.

“Well, you can stop calling me big brother if I fail to save them, but you should at least call me that at the start, no?” asked Zu An with a smile.

“Alright then. I hope that you can hold to the end of your promise.” Qiao Xueying pursed her lips as her face blushed bright red. It took her a while before she finally murmured softly, “B-big brother.”

Zu An leaned a little closer as he asked, “What did you say? You were too soft that I can’t hear you clearly.”

“Don’t go too far!” Qiao Xueying glared at him angrily.

You have successfully trolled Qiao Xueying for +33 Rage!

“What can I do? Your voice was too soft.” 

Zu An was a little disappointed by how few Rage points Qiao Xueying was contributing now. She used to be like a barrel of gunpowder, providing an explosion of Rage points at the slightest jab. Yet, it felt like her gunpowder had started to run low, such that her contribution of Rage points was getting pathetically low.

“You’ll be dead meat if you dare to lie to me!” Left with no choice, Qiao Xueying could only call out once more with a reddened face, “Big brother!”

Zu An burst into laughter. “Yes, my good little sis. How obedient!”

After saying those words, he began making his way toward where Chen Wei was imprisoned.

On the other hand, Qiao Xueying remained rooted to the spot. She subconsciously touched her own cheeks and realized that it was burning hot. I must be going mad!

Meanwhile, Zu An stopped outside the room where Chen Wei was locked in as he fell into deep contemplation. It should go without saying that he didn’t choose to save the villagers just because Qiao Xueying called him big brother. He was someone who had come from the modern world after all. His values didn’t allow him to let so many innocent people die for his own selfishness.

His logical mind told him that these villagers were just illusions created by the Heaven Seal, but his senses were telling him a different story. All of these felt far too real to him, and he couldn’t differentiate the villagers from anyone else he had met before. He wasn’t willing to take this gamble, and he didn’t want this to become a trauma that would haunt him for life.

As such, he had been racking his brain to figure a way out of this quandary ever since he saw those words on the meteor. Even if Qiao Xueying hadn’t called him ‘big brother’, he would have still tried his best to save them.

If Qiao Xueying knows about this, she would probably provide an explosion of Rage points, right?

However, Zu An still decided against telling her. As compared to several thousand Rage points, he thought that it was much more worth it to have that lass call him ‘big brother’ in the future. The knowledge that she used to be an enemy who made an attempt on his life made the entire thing even more so exhilarating. 

He quickly adjusted his mood before pushing the door open to enter the room. Inside, Chen Wei was tied tightly to a pillar.

“Scum of an official, I knew that you looked suspicious from the very start! This must be your scheme!” Chen Wei’s eyes immediately reddened upon seeing Zu An, and he struggled to free himself from his rope to pounce at the latter, only to no avail.

You have successfully trolled Chen Wei for +444 Rage!

“Hold still!” One of the guards swung his pole down on Chen Wei to silence him before glancing at Zu An fawningly. “Don’t you dare disrespect Lord Censor!”

Zu An nodded in response before saying, “I have questions to ask him. Wait outside.”

“Yes, of course!” 

The guards quickly made their way out of the room.

By then, Qiao Xueying had finally caught up with him, and she closed the door behind her before keeping a wary watch outside so as to ensure that no one came close.

Only then did Zu An finally start speaking, “I know that you have been framed.”

“You scumbag, it was indeed you!” Chen Wei’s eyes gleamed in hatred. Just thinking about his father’s death and the hardships the other villagers were going through made his anger flurry.

You have successfully trolled Chen Wei for +999 Rage!

“There’s no need to get so agitated. I’m here to save you,” replied Zu An.

“Save me?” Chen Wei sneered with a frown. “Should I thank you for that then?”

“Chen Wei, my… my big brother is really here to save you!” persuaded Qiao Xueying.

Hearing those words, Chen Wei shot a deep look at Zu An before finally falling silent.

“I know that you have been framed because I ran over the moment the meteor fell. The words were already inscribed on its surface by then,” said Zu An.

Chen Wei’s body jolted in horror upon hearing those words. “Doomed. Our entire village is doomed!”

Zu An was surprised to hear those words from the other party. “What makes you say that?”

The horrified Chen Wei stared blankly in front of him as he murmured, “I thought that we might just be able to survive this ordeal if we find the culprit who inscribed those words, but if those words are really a decree from heaven… There’s no way the emperor would stand for something like this! He’ll surely push the blame to us so as to put down the unease stirred by this matter!”

Qiao Xueying couldn’t help but glance at Zu An. Those words were surprisingly similar to what she had heard from him earlier.

Zu An also didn’t expect this brawny man to be so sharp-witted as to figure out the implications right away. “It seems like you’re quite a smart man. I do know of a way for you to get out of this, but I’m not sure if you’ll have the guts to carry out.”

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Pika's Thoughts

In the historical record ‘Annals of Qin Shihuang’, it’s said that the phenomenon of 'Antares Occupying the Heart' occurred, a foreboding omen that something is going to happen to the emperor. A meteor fell on the Dong Commandery and turned into a stone. Carved on it were the following words ‘Upon the death of the Founding Sovereign Emperor, his land shall be divided’. 

When Qin Shihuang heard about it, he ordered an investigation to find out who was the culprit who carved those words out, but no one admitted to it. As a result, he had everyone living in the vicinity of where the stone was found and slaughtered them all before destroying the meteor.