Husband and Wife to Battle – The Scene Before Sunrise
General Manager Bai’s astute leadership led to Yang Lianhua’s successful arrest. Although he wasn’t the commander behind the scenes nor was he legally held responsible for operating the underground fighting syndicate, he illegally produced five stones powder, kidnapped villagers and forced said villagers into fighting for money. The former two crimes were serious offences on their own. Lord Zi’s supplementary testimony of him murdering Lu Xiazou, an official of the imperial court, was another nail in his coffin.
Yang Lianhua was special in the sense that he wasn’t from the Central Plain. With that said, the Ministry of Justice’s leader was Su Xiao’s teacher, Secretary Leng. Secretary Leng wouldn’t show mercy to Yang Lianhua even if the latter was an alien. Yang Lianhua was a cautious man, though.
Yang Lianhua resided at a place Lu Shangfei provided while at Wuhua County. As such, he took precautions. When Tang Ye charged into the courtyard and began his carnage, one of his men in hiding immediately fled the scene to call for reinforcements from Evil Spirits.
Owing to the distance, the sun already rose by the time said henchmen arrived at his destination. He hastily reported, “I couldn’t ride a horse here, as I was afraid of attracting attention and revealing my tracks. As a result, I was later than ideally. Is Commander safe? Please advise what I should do next, Vice-Commander!”
The vice-commander was a man roughly twenty-eight years old. He had a narrow head. In his hand was the mask of a rabbit fiend. Indeed, he was the one overwatching Earth Sector for Yang Lianhua, Rabbit Fiend. Rabbit Fiend’s real name was Yan Jingwang. As his Commander belonged to Feathered Serpent group, he and his subordinates were referred to as Feathered Serpent Order. When their commander was absent, the group’s vice-commander took control with the same degree of authority as the group’s commander.
As he lost the villagers, Rabbit Fiend didn’t risk having Yang Lianhua’s close aides search for them in case he was punished for his mistake. Hence, he headed to the rendezvous point to summon reinforcements. Before he could do anything, however, Yang Lianhua was captured. When he heard the enemy force’s numbers, he thundered, “Ridiculous! Commander was in danger against those meagre numbers? We all know how profound Commander’s skills are. The Central Plain’s weaklings are no match for him. Moreover, he had over twenty other members of the order with him. You’re clearly exaggerating!”
The informant responded, “I am telling the truth! He wore a stoic expression and dressed in a purple robe. He ruthlessly took out eight of our comrades as soon as he entered. He then took out everyone he came across. None of our brethren escaped.”
Yan Jingwang: “Hmph, if there really is someone so skilled in the Central Plain’s, I’d like to see what he’s made of for myself. Do you know who he is?”
“I got a clear visual on him. He was the Liu Shan Men constable who ate fifty steamers at Huangshang Restaurant. If my memory does me justice, his name was Tang Ye. I was there when he ate the fifty steamers. I am absolutely certain it was him.”
“Liu Shan Men’s constable?”
Serpent Feather Order was different to other teams in contact with various nations. The group chiefly provided Yang Lianhua with support from the North as opposed to from the Central Plain. As a consequence, they weren’t familiar with Liu Shan Men. Beijiang’s martial world and the Central Plain interacted a lot. That was why they knew about major sects and the Seven Champion White Princes. However, when it came to the three law enforcement offices, they weren’t familiar with them – barring the Qilin Guards. In terms of Liu Shan Men, they only knew of the forever-revered Yan Shisan and the leader before him.
“Liu Shan Men found out Commander’s identity within a matter of days? They certainly are a force to be reckoned with as we have heard. Remember to never make an enemy out of Liu Shan Men while in the Central Plain’s martial world. Based on what you said of Tang Ye, he should be the best fighter amongst them,” said Yan Jingwang, suddenly feeling eager for a fight. Still clinging to his view that the Central Plain’s martial artists were pushovers, he sternly asked, “Even if Liu Shan Men is formidable, however, you managed to escape, yet Commander was caught? Did you drop your guard?”
The informant replied, “It started in a rather strange way. I saw Lu Shangfei and his bodyguard enter Commander’s room.”
“Lu Shangfei?” remarked Yan Jingwang. Since being placed in charge of managing Earth Sector, he met Lu Shangfei more times than he met Yang Lianhua. He expressed, “What can he do? Liu Shan Men must’ve sent an elite bodyguard to trap Commander together with Lu Shangfei.”
The informant responded, “I disagree. Not long after the pair entered, I heard them get into a physical altercation. Lu Shangfei beat Commander the entire time. The bodyguard tried his best to break them apart; he never struck once.”
Yan Jingwang was totally befuddled at first. Upon deeper deliberation, he wore on a scornful expression: “I get it now! They must’ve used poison! Lu Shangfei wouldn’t stand a chance against Commander by himself unless Commander was poisoned. Poor Commander fell for the scum’s trap. Hang on…
Lu Shangfei is a businessman. There’s no way he’d dare to attack our commander. The poison must be something beyond imagination if he could poison Commander with it. How did Lu Shangfei poison Commander? This is a conspiracy… a big conspiracy.”
The members of Feathered Serpent Order in the courtyard responded, “What is the conspiracy? Please enlighten us, Vice-Commander.”
“Of course,” said Yan Jingwang, stroking his non-existent beard. “Liu Shan Men must’ve given Lu Shangfei the poison.”
Everyone else: “Oh!!”
“There’s no need for you to be in such a rush to lick my boots,” said Yan Jingwang, waving his hand. “That’s not all there is to it. Something bothers me: why was someone trying to help them reconcile when Liu Shan Men sent their constables to arrest Commander? I couldn’t find an explanation for it.”
“I do now know. There’s only one way to explain why he gave up his stance as a constable to help our commander. The problem was he couldn’t outright assist Commander.”
“What would that be?”
Yan Jingwang took in a deep breath. He bluntly answered, “His conscience told him to.”
The conversation resembled a drama skit. The informant was baffled. If Yang Lianhua, the man called the brains of the group, was there, his intelligence would dip after listening to them. Fortunately for him, he was busy trying to stay alive instead of listening to the nimrods.
Yan Jingwang’s excellent deduction show went on: “Liu Shan Men is a symbol of justice. His conscience told him the mission was unjust. Thus, he wanted to stop Lu Shangfei but couldn’t be forthright. That proves he’s afraid of Lu Shangfei or the person backing Lu Shangfei.”
“Kong Duan!” proclaimed Yan Jingwang, switching to a vindictive look. “Lu Shangfei wouldn’t ever concoct such a large-scale plan and be bold enough to harm our commander. It must be that old bastard Kong Dua’s idea. He must’ve asked Commander for something, and then deliberately leaked intelligence to Liu Shan Men when Commander refused to obey him. How else would you explain Lu Shangfei and Liu Shan Men being together? How else would you explain Liu Shan Men’s constable trying to talk Lu Shangfei out of it?”
“And Commander treated the traitor sincerely as an ally!”
Beijiang’s men held promises in the same regard as life itself; it wasn’t above them to sacrifice their lives to uphold a promise. They always detested cowards who betrayed others. For that reason, Kong Duan’s betrayal infuriated them.
“Motherfucker!” cursed Yan Jingwang, shattering a timber table with his hand as if it was a hammer smashing an egg.
The spy shuddered: “Th-That was sensational, Vice-Commander.”
Yang Lianhua slacked off on martial arts training, for he believed he could outsmart any other soul. In terms of martial prowess, Yan Jingwang was more qualified than he was to be the order’s leader. He merely schemed his way up the ladder.
Flared up, Yan Jingwang commanded, “Old Kong, let’s find out what gave you the gall to offend Evil Spirits! Erlangs, grab our weapons! Go and slaughter the old fool!”
At Feiyun Hall’s Heaven Sector.
Heaven Sector was different to Earth Sector in so many ways that it’d be normal to question if they were in the same area. The biggest difference was the wealth of the officials. Those who were permitted into Heaven Sector’s stadium weren’t wealthy, famous or held power. If they wanted to enter it, their only option would be to test their luck in a gambling den first.
Bai Lian won dozens of matches in Heaven Sector, yet she never learnt any of its secrets. Dozens of adepts concealed themselves in the vicinity; they were Kong Duan’s secret weapons. They mingled below the ring and pretended they didn’t know each other. Kong Duan just needed to give the order, and they’d abandon their identities to disguise themselves as the Ministry of Rites’ warriors. Alternatively, they’d assume the roles of assassins in the pugilistic world working for him. When they weren’t required for any missions, they were his splendid money-making tools.
Kong Duan had dozens, if not a hundred or so, men working for him, and they all assembled at Heaven Sector. Four of them monitored the ring. They worked together to ensure they always won against outside challengers. In other words, Kong Duan always controlled the outcomes, empowering him to operate the underground fighting syndicate without qualms and earn an endless flow income. In addition, it was his best place to hide his army of adepts.
Feiyun Hall was essentially Kong Duan’s army barracks, one that made him money. The approach benefited him in a multitude of ways. First, his adepts were always busy, thereby ensuring they wouldn’t suffer ring rust. Second, it covered his expenses. Third, he could profit. He always was a fan of killing multiple birds with a single stone. To be frank, his business acumen would’ve made him a fine businessman if he wasn’t a government official.
The reason Bai Lian never met Kong Duan’s secret soldiers was they concealed themselves during the day and were active at night, reason being the audience fondest of blood, brutality, slashing and gashing visited at night. The night is a veil capable of cleansing sins and finding ways to hide all of the other possibilities.
Another night, another fight. The enthusiastic crowd’s cheers stirred the warriors’ thirst for blood. As a result, fights intensified. Shockwaves travelled over three metres. Needless to say, the four were skilled. Three of the four were Kong Duan’s subordinates; the fourth warrior was an outside challenger. It was obviously a three-on-one match. Kong Duan’s team consisted of a broadsword wielder, a swordsman and a warrior dual wielding a pair of five kilogram copper hammers. The dual wielder smacked the blood out of the challenger; the challenger hung on sheerly based on willpower after being beaten inside and out.
Despite the crowd crying “shameless,” there was no angry undertone to speak off. That was perfectly normal at Feiyun Hall. There was always more jeering and goading than unfair-play calls.
The man with the hammer laughed hysterically: “Hu whatever your name was, you have balls to last until now, but your brain must be dead, or did you just have a death wish?”
Hu Wangxing, the man Ming Feizhen assumed the identity of, was the one taking the beating. When the couple regained their conscious and entered the stadium, his wife was sent to Heaven Sector, as she was mistaken for Bai Lian. Unlike Bai Lian, she was no match for the adepts. Then, it was his turn. He mustered up all of his strength to stay standing: “We agreed… you’d allow my wife and me to leave once we won three rounds… You can’t go back on your word.”
The broadsword wielder laughed: “That was what the host promised you, not me.”
Hu Wangxing spat out blood and smiled condescendingly: “Heh, what’s the difference.”
The man with the hammers: “Witty but foolish unfortunately. You think your beautiful wife would still be ‘remaining’ after we got our hands on her?”
Hu Wangxing began to worry for his wife: “You animals!”
Hu Wangxing charged in and swung down, playing right into his opponents’ hands. The man with the hammers laughed as he effortlessly deflected Hu Wangxing’s blade with one hammer and pummelled Hu Wangxing with his other hammer.
Crack! Hu Wangxing sprayed blood and collapsed backwards on the ground, barely able to breathe. The audiences’ voices seemed to go further and further away. His conscious gradually faded. Suddenly, he heard a relaxing song.
“Buy a cow, and learn to farm…” The singer casually walked to the ring with a gourd of beer in hand: “Build a toilet facing the forest’s spring. Who has a long life in old age? Spend a few years in the mountains.”
The tall singer wore a demonic mask. His leisurely demeanour seemingly painted a smile on the mask. He sounded young, yet he vocalised an elder’s sentiments. He figuratively emerged when it was bright. However, at some point, he grew accustomed to being in the shadows, becoming a spectre. Night and day are opposites. Who could say for certain it wasn’t him? Once the singer reached the bottom of the ring, he said to Hu Wangxing, “You taking to the ring as a couple, too, are you? I know how it feels. It’s a tough hurdle to get over.”
Hu Wangxing was barely able to keep his eyes open, let alone speak.
The man with the copper mask smiled: “I shall take over for him.”
The man with the hammer blustered, “Announce yourself, arrogant fool!”
The man with the mask generated a gale when he moved, knocking the three off balance. After stumbling back several steps, there was still enough residue pressure to cause their knees to buckle. They only stayed on their feet thanks to their strength. The host was thrilled, while the three were alarmed.
Someone: “Feiyun Hall welcomes all challengers! May I ask for your name?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve used my name,” was all the masked man replied with.
The masked man crouched down to run his hands over the ring’s mat and sliced it, revealing the stone ring. The stone wasn’t anything special; the materials were old unlike the decorations around. Perhaps the ring was used for something else in the past. He then ran his fingers over the text carved onto it as if he was sharing a nostalgic moment with an old friend.
Hesitating at first, the host eventually requested, “Sir, may I ask for your name?”
“Sure,” replied the masked man, looking up after. His gaze suddenly turned unfathomably diabolic as if his blood was roiling: “This old one’s name is Zhong Ning. I shall appreciate all pointers.”