Chapter 165: Cruel torture, hanging by a hair
This was Han Yunxi's second time in jail, but the difference now was that she'd been confined into a small, dark room. Once the iron door was shut, the room became so dark that it was impossible to see her own fingers. She had no idea how big the room was, or whether it had any objects or people.
The darkness represented the unknown. Even the bravest person would dread it, and they'd be lying to themselves if they weren't scared. Han Yunxi managed to find a wall after groping about with difficulty and leaned against it to sit down, her body huddled up. It was close to getting light when they locked her up. What was the situation in the palace now? Had Grand Concubine Yi and Long Feiye found out what happened to her? What did they feel? What did Emperor Tianhui feel?
When would they put her on trial, and under whom?
Han Yunxi waited uneasily for three days and three nights. Within these three days, all she got was water from the prison guard at set times. There was no food and no visitors. No news was good news, but waiting without a conclusion was more terrifying than the darkness to Han Yunxi. The longer she waited, the more she grew uneasy. She didn't even have time to thoroughly examine Princess Changping's poison after her death, so there was no way for her to make conjectures.
The only thing she could ascertain was that this was no plot against her. Nobody in the palace had the guts to use Princess Changping's life to threaten her own. As a result, there was only two truths: either an assassin had poisoned her, or Princess Changping incurred some sort of injury that touched a poisonous object. To find out the answers, she had to start from the poison in the body. But right now she didn't even have that chance. If things dragged on, the poison in the body would start to change. If she couldn't find anything then, she'd have to shoulder the weight of this crime by merit of being the most suspicious party!
Thinking up to here, Han Yunxi immediately went to pound on the door. Bang, bang bang! It was a loud and sharp sound, but nobody answered her. By now, even the guard who sent her water had stopped coming.
Two more days and nights passed. Han Yunxi finally began to feel afraid. She curled up in a corner of the dark cell, thirsty and hungry, her entire body cold. Much of her heart, too, had frozen over in fear. What was the situation outside? Was there really nobody who cared about her? Han Yunxi knew that the only ones who could save her now were Grand Concubine Yi and Long Feiye. She didn't hold any hopes for Grand Concubine Yi, and as for Long Feiye...
Where was he now and what was he doing? Did he have no way to save her, either? Or...had he decided not to bother? On New Year's Eve, Long Feiye's words had stunned everyone at the banquet. She admitted that her own heart held some measure of expectations for him.
On the morning of the fifth day, someone finally opened the iron door!
When the rays of light shone inside, Han Yunxi immediately stood up. No matter how bright the light was, she didn't shut her eyes. Light brought hope, but who knew that she'd see the ferocious, savage, weeping face of the empress! Guards entered the cell and hung up lanterns, brightening the entire room. Only now did Han Yunxi see everything clearly.
There was nothing in this room except a large iron pot big enough to fit an adult. Faggots of firewood had been piled beneath the pot, which Han Yunxi glanced at before looking back at the empress. All the men she'd brought with her were imperial bodyguards, not prison guards. It looked like all of the justice court's people had been sent away. When the empress entered the room, she immediately ordered Han Yunxi to be taken into custody. A bitter smile rose on Han Yunxi's face, but she didn't struggle. After waiting five days only for the empress to show up, she knew there was no escape.
"Han Yunxi, Changping hasn't been encoffined yet," the empress's listless tone made a person feel very uncomfortable.
"The cause of death is still unclear. If you just bury Changping like this, she'll die with discontent," Han Yunxi's voice was flat as well. Five days without burying her, it probably means they still don't know who the true culprit is. In other words, she still had hope.
Unexpectedly, the empress suddenly lost her temper and rushed over, slapping Han Yunxi twice. "It's all because of you! Unless you die, Changping will be filled with grievances!"
Han Yunxi's hands were tied up, making it impossible to move. She turned aside her face, tasting blood in her mouth as she glared at the empress like knives. "I'll say it one last time, I didn't kill Changping!"
"You did too kill her! The poison was yours!" the empress denounced her bitterly as she backed away, ordering angrily, "Someone, light the fire. Today I'll make this slut confess!"
Light the fire?
Han Yunxi turned back to see the bodyguards lighting the wood beneath the pot before pouring oil into its depths. What...were they planning to do? If the empress wanted to extort a confession, shouldn't she take her to the torture chambers? Why was she heating up oil? The more she looked, the more uneasy she felt. She glanced at the empress, who was giving her a cold, sinister smile. Han Yunxi felt that something was very wrong with the empress's state of mind, almost as if she'd lost her mind.
"Just what you are planning to do?" Han Yunxi asked loudly.
The empress smiled coldly as she looked down as her without a word. Finally, the pot behind her began to boil, its heat filling the room as the smell of oil grew heavy and nauseating. As Han Yunxi stared, she suddenly realized something and paled, shaking her head.
"Someone, string her up!" the empress finally spoke.
Now Han Yunxi thoroughly understood. Although she'd never seen this torture method before, she was certain that it was one of the scariest!
"Let go! All of you, let go!"
"Empress, what's the point to confessing false charges under torture? If you can't find Changping's true killer, Changping won't be content even after you bury her!" Han Yunxi yelled, but the empress didn't react to her words. Instead, she grew even more agitated and wild.
"You shut up! You're the one who killed Changping, it has to be you! As long as you die, she'll be at peace!"
If Han Yunxi was paying more attention, she definitely would have noticed that the empress was behaving very abnormally. Unfortunately, she didn't have any more time to notice such details. Rope was looped around her neck to tie her hands behind her back before she was pulled up to dangle above the pot of boiling oil. Her two legs were less than half a chi above the liquid's surface, forcing her to draw up her legs to avoid getting burned by the steam.
There was only a single rope holding her up from the back, held in place by a guard on the side. As soon as this rope was loosened, her entire body would fall into the pot of oil. Temperatures like that should cook her in an instant, right? There was enough oil in the pot to submerge her entire body. She had no way to imagine what it'd feel like if she fell in. She clenched her jaw but couldn't stop herself from shaking.
Who could save her?!
Seeing Han Yunxi trembling above the pot of oil, the empress's feelings finally calmed down. "Han Yunxi, did you kill Princess Changping?" she asked loudly.
Han Yunxi kept trembling without looking at the empress. Instead, she stared at the hot, rolling oil without speaking a word.
"Answer the question!" the empress's voice rose. But Han Yunxi still didn't speak. She'd already bitten her lip hard enough to draw blood.
"Very good. You won't confess, is that it?" the empress took a deep breath and walked over, snatching the rope from the bodyguard's hands. Her forceful wresting immediately caused the rope to slacken a notch.
"Ahhh...! Help!" Han Yunxi cried out, her heart tearing to bits! Her knees were drawn up against her chest, but her shins were right above the oil's surface. Only a little bit more, a teeny bit further, and they'd touch the oil. Her heart pounded rapidly, and even breathing had gotten difficult. She didn't dare to look down anymore and tightly shut her eyes, thinking of only one thing.
Who could save her?!
The empress held onto the rope with a twisted sense of happiness, looking with interest at Han Yunxi as she spoke. "Han Yunxi, I'll give you a final chance. Will you...or won't you...confess?"
Confess, or not confess?
Live, or die?
How could she confess to something she'd never done? Once she did, she was dead for certain! The only difference was that not confessing would make her death infinitely more painful!
Suddenly, the empress's voice grew stern. "Han Yunxi, answer my question!"
Unexpectedly, Han Yunxi suddenly opened her eyes and glared at the empress. "I don't confess! I didn't do it! You've treated me unjustly with illegal punishment to extort a false confession! You're the one that's making Changping die without answers in discontent! You'll never find peace for the rest of your life!"
"Han Yunxi, you're courting death!" the empress was angry. Slowly, the rope in her hand was raised bit by bit, but Han Yunxi didn't struggle or curl her her body this time.
No matter what big things she did, she'd admit to all of them! But as for things she'd never done, she wouldn't admit them even if she was beaten to death! She silently observed the trundling waves of oil as her lips set in a determined line. It was a beautiful, heroic expression in the face of death. Whether or not she confessed, she'd die anyways. Why compromise with concessions that'd break her own backbone? Why not die with magnanimity, natural and unrestrained?
There were some principles and self-respect that you had to hold onto no matter what happened.
The rope lowered gradually by degrees. The edges of her dress began to grow heavy, having sank into the hot oil first. Very soon, her shins would be next. She told herself, Han Yunxi, you're brave!
"Han Yunxi, what a showing! I'll let you taste the feeling of frying your lower legs first!" the empress raged, before slackening on the rope!
She fell down directly!
And yet it was right at this second that a figure suddenly flew in like an arrow.
Han Yunxi's fall was abruptly halted before her entire person was pulled upwards. She immediately opened her eyes, only to see...only to see Long Feiye standing on the edge of the pot, one hand pulling up the rope above her head, the other holding the back of her body. He was dressed all in white, his stance tall and straight like a vigorous pine. Still, he appeared as light as an immortal. As always, his face was calm and undisturbed, but those dark, fathomless eyes burned with heinous rage that reached to the skies!
Long Feiye, you have to be my guardian angel, right?
Long Feiye, it's been five days...but I've finally waited until you came.
Han Yunxi was completely frightened, but she inexplicably smiled without even noticing her eyes had grown wet. Nobody had expected Long Feiye would appear now of all times. The empress was the one most amazed. She'd released the rope entirely and backed into a wall.
How did Long Feiye get in?
The empress dowager had already issued a prohibition on all visitors. Today she'd came down only after telling both the empress dowager and the emperor! Although there was no conclusive proof that Han Yunxi was the murderer, the emperor had dropped hints that she had the greatest suspicions. If they couldn't find any evidence, then the only way left was to interrogate Han Yunxi. Thanks to Madame Li's words before her death, the emperor had long considered Han Yunxi and the Duke of Qin as thorns in his eyes. If he couldn't get rid of the Duke of Qin, he could at least try to kill Han Yunxi first.
After calming herself, the empress asked, "Duke of Qin, who allowed you in without the empress dowager's decree?"
Long Feiye coldly replied, "And just who allowed you to perform illegal punishment to extort a false confession from torture, Empress?" As he spoke, he pulled Han Yunxi over and took her away from the pot of oil...
 chi () - Chinese unit of measurement from about the tip of the thumb to the tip of the forefinger.