6: The Fox's Intentions
Black material covered the assassin's skin. The only vibrant colour came from a stiff fabric half-mask. The threads were dyed in shades of cream, black and orange, woven together in particular areas to match a real fox. Two small ears formed at the top of the mask while the bottom came to a blunt point, representing the nose. The harsh contours of the mask hid the wearer's true features.
The Fox swiftly entered Cheng’s room through an open window. Inside was spacious and hideously decorative; blankets and embroiled cushions were everywhere. Trinkets from across the kingdom littered the walls, each telling a magnificent lie. The assassin studied these carefully, trying to find any insightful information. They needed something useful to blackmail Cheng. The plan was simple: get the imperial advisor to influence the emperor. Then, Shanhe would be under the Fox’s control.
In the study desk at the far left, the answer appeared: a beaded necklace made from jade and wood. Once, it belonged to Bai Juan’s mother. The Fox’s rage grew over the dust on the jewellery. The necklace did not deserve such neglect, just like Juan did not deserve this life. Did her songs die by Cheng's abusive fists? Did she fight back? How much did she endure? So many questions filled the Fox’s mind and added fuel to the fire burning within them.
Did she die in this room?
Filled with anger, the Fox withdrew something from their clothes. The fox, carved from a hundred-year-old peach tree, seemed small in their palm. A small dagger inscribed a message for the nobleman on the fox’s back.
A life for a life. Bai Juan for Zhao Cheng.
All the Fox had to do was wait and see how Cheng reacted. If he showed the emperor the token, it proved his innocence in the girl's death but if he kept it hidden, he had guilt regarding Juan's death. After this verdict, the next move to manipulate Cheng could be planned.
The Fox startled at the creak of the steps. Cheng stumbled inside his room, tightly holding onto a beautiful lady. They slurred songs of Shanhe and fell onto the floor. The woman acted shameless, using bare skin on her shoulders to tease. Cheng couldn’t resist and kissed his drinking partner sloppily. Too enraptured with each other, they didn't glance up.
Perched in several overlaying, wooden beams and hidden by drapes, the Fox waited. Their hands stung. Climbing up the hanging fabric in a rush caused a harsh burn. Yet, they remained frozen. Each desperate pant was restrained to a slow inhale. The slightest noise or movement could cause attention. The Fox refused to be captured.
Suddenly, the disgusting groans and moans ceased as the door creaked open. A eunuch messenger entered. “Master Zhao. The emperor requests your presence.”
“I am a little busy,” Cheng replied and brushed a hair from the woman's face.
The messenger insisted. “It’s urgent.”
“Does he want to meet in the strategy room?” Cheng asked with a sigh.
Sluggishly and almost reluctantly, Cheng stood. He readjusted himself and his robes, giving his companion a final kiss on the cheek. “Another time, my dear.”
Cheng left but the woman remained in the chambers. She glanced around the room, marvelling over the details and extravagance. Minutes ticked by. The fox remained trapped. Their strained hands shook. A single drop of sweat escaped under their mask. It slowly fell near the woman, who pretended to be Cheng’s concubine. The Fox had to act.
They leapt down from the roof, using the hanging fabric to guide their escape. By the time the women gasped in shock, the Fox held a blade to her throat. She trembled.
“Scream and I will kill you,” they seethed in a raspy voice. Carefully, they took the carving from their robes and placed it into the maiden’s hands. “Give this to Zhao Cheng.”
Like a ghost, the Fox disappeared into the darkness.