The officer bowed and awaited his order. "Celestial Master Zuo, please select your desired prisoners."
Celestial Master Zuo observed the prisoners at the pillars. His eyes blazed like torches. The prisoners trembled when their eyes met his.
"This one. This one. That one." He pointed out ten people, including elders, children, and women.
They were all Gu family distant relatives. These people had lived their whole lives in the simplest and most peaceful ways. They were merely regular people, so none of them had seen or experienced horror like this. When they were being pointed out, their faces were immediately filled with despair. Some cried. Some screamed. Some begged for mercy. However, Celestial Master Zuo had voiced out his command. The executioners quickly tied these people to the pillars.
These executioners were not professional ones who worked for the government. They were Celestial Master Zuo's men. Nonetheless, they had obviously been trained, as their hands were quick. They tied the prisoners in specific positions to ease their execution. Then, they took off the prisoners' clothes and sprayed water on their bodies.
Anxious, the bystanders all clenched their fists and held their breaths.
Gu Xietian eyes were swollen with tears. "Try it on me first!"
Celestial Master Zuo responded, "What is the rush? It will be your turn sooner or later. You are the principal culprit, so you have to wait until the executioners become more experienced to carry out the sentence on you. No worries, we have to cut your flesh 2300 times. Every slice will be so equally executed. If you die before they even finish, these executioners will be considered as failures and will die along with you."
The executioners were nervous. They also knew that Gu Xietian had been falsely accused, but his sentence was out of their control. They did not want to die along with him. The officer gave his first order but before the execution began, someone finally spoke up for them.
Despite the circumstances, there would always be people with awe-inspiring honor and dignity to stand up for justice. Not all would surrender to power.
"Celestial Master Zuo, there is no doubt that Gu Xietian should be severely punished for treason. He surely deserves the physical torment to slice his flesh. However, all his life, he has served with distinction in numerous wars that must not be diminished simply by the crime that he has committed. Shall we execute the punishment on him and only him? As for the others, they will be beheaded. Not all of them should suffer the same punishment to be sliced and dismembered." The one who spoke up was the Grandee Secretary who had served the government along with Gu Xietian throughout the years. He was not exactly a strong, flinty man, but he could no longer hold back his fury.
He dared to stand up for justice in awful times, for he was a friend of the real Celestial Master Zuo. Certainly, he dared not beg to reverse the verdict for Gu Xeitian. All he asked was for less harsh punishments on the rest.
Celestial Master Zuo was unimpressed. "Do you think you are entitled to comment on the things I do? I command for your arrest! Take him down! Punish him with dismemberment as well!"
The bystanders were shocked. The man stood in uncontrolled anxiety. Celestial Master Zuo's men emerged and tied him down. The arrest had served his purpose by creating a state of widespread fear. The bystanders were petrified, but their fear fueled their fury even more.
After a momentary pause, the man finally reacted and cried out his grievances.He explained that he was an imperial officer that was officially appointed by the government. Only the king had the power to judge or even sentence him with the death penalty. He added that Celestial Master Zuo should not be the one to sentence him directly.
Unfortunately, Celestial Master Zuo disregarded his words at all cost. "You are equally guilty when you speak up for a betrayer! Why should we trouble the king with your conviction?"
Then, the man was taken to join the first batch of prisoners.
The bystanders were so frightened. If an imperial officer could be sentenced to death so easily, what about the lives of the common people?
In the eyes of Celestial Master Zuo, he certainly would not regard the common people's lives as a matter of any importance and would surely trample them like mud and ashes.
Like an active volcano that would erupt anytime, their towering fury was at the verge of massive outburst.