Once Su Xiao finished packing, I went to call for a carriage to deliver our luggage to the assembly point.
Naively, Su Xiao asked, “That’s not a bad carriage. It must’ve cost a lot.”
“Of course!” I gave the coach a hold-fist salute: “The maiden will pay you.”
“Gotcha!” responded the coach, smacking the horse and setting off right away.
Su Xiao’s incomplete “Meow, meow, meow?” sentence tapered off in the wind.
I furtively used Senses Skill, enhancing the radius I could pick up on things over ten folds. At the end of the day, Su Xiao almost found out I was Lord San Shen because I was careless. To avoid making the same mistake again, I needed to be more cautious. I could hear everything around me within a one and a half kilometre radius as I walked along the streets. I could sense people’s heart beats and walking pace clearly. Once I confirmed there was nobody watching me, I hurried into an alley and took off using my qinggong.
There was still an hour before we were scheduled to depart. I headed to Old Huang’s place to pick up my order of hair dye (both colours), Bone Al-, Bone Reconfiguration and Appearance Alteration materials for disguising myself. Also, I planned to dye my celestial spider silk a different colour in the event it was necessary to use as a stealth robe under the cover of the night. I wrapped the vials up into a small bag that was perfect for keeping on me at all times…
Motherfucker! I spent two months of my salary on the junk for disguises. Two months of free labour for the imperial court. Not to mention I had to accompany the Emperor to Huzhou. I doubt anybody suffered losses as severe as I did throughout history. My old hooligan buddies would laugh at me for days if they found out!
Despite me cursing non-stop, I gradually picked up my pace. The scenery around me resembled flashes. It didn’t take long before I arrived at the small village Dark Wind Branch secluded them at.
After the Emperor mentioned the rescue mission in the morning, I had a pigeon deliver a mission to Dark Wind Branch. I asked them to collect information on Evil Spirits while I was packing and saying my goodbyes.
Given how brazen Evil Spirits was, I doubted they didn’t leave any clues behind. I assumed Dark Wind Branch had some information on them since Dark Wind Branch were still operating – not as villagers – when Evil Spirits infiltrated the Central Plain.
As soon as I arrived at the village, I saw Guardian Long flaunting his muscular physique. He wore the look of a soldier on the battlefield when he was just scarifying soil. Upon sighting me, he raised his pick-axe and wore on a stoic expression: “Your subordinate apologises for not welcoming you, Lord San Shen.”
“Don’t worry about. Do what you have to. I’ll leave once I pick up what I’m here for.”
One of the members of Dark Wind Branch handed me a letter. From behind, Guardian Long reported, “Lord San Shen, your subordinate personally wrote down the information you asked for.”
Instead of opening the letter, I queried, “When did Evil Spirits sneak into the Central Plain?”
Back facing me, since he was focused on his job, Guardian Long answered, “If we are not counting the people who came prior to the main force to set things up, it would be about five months ago.”
That explained why I had no clue Evil Spirits came to the Central Plain. Five months ago, I was still at Bamboo Forest reading p(orn)-, leading the life of a recluse. I followed up with another inquiry: “Do they usually record what they do?”
“Your subordinate found records of their seven hundred and seventeen theft cases in an edition of the Black and White Reflection. The time, location, motivation and process were recorded in explicit detail. They succeeded on every job. They have no fear and disregard the law. You could say… the things they did in Beijiang do not pale in comparison to what we did to the imperial court.”
“I’ve heard about that, as well… How about their leader, Abels? What do you know about him?”
“He is lauded as a force to be reckoned with. He specialises in fighting power with power and has skills to complement his brute strength. Your subject would agree he deserves to be part of the Supreme Ten Saints. Your subordinate is not trying to demoralise you… however, it is a fact they are a large group. You must be careful, Lord San Shen.”
“I will. Don’t worry.” I was already metres away when Guardian Long heard my voice.
The moon had yet to take centre stage, yet it was already chilly. With my speed and the wind blowing against me, frost condensed on my hair.
Tang Ye and Su Xiao happened to arrive at the assembly point the same time I did. There was a group of fake merchants at the spot. There were seven carriages packed to the brim with an assortment of things. They had the appearance of an escort down pact. There were roughly thirty people in total, consisting of males, females, elders and youths, so it looked natural. Everyone was geared up and ready to march. Everyone was positioned strategically to handle any ambushes.
If we were being conservative, I’d say there were twenty adepts among the group. I saw Long Zaitian, Bai laimu and more. There were even Jia Rank warriors, such as Tie Hanyi and Ye Luo, who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Three people stuck by the Emperor’s side; it wasn’t hard to discern they were adepts from his entourage. The other members were elites from different sectors. There were two chefs from the imperial kitchen, four imperial doctors, three coaches, two porters and more.
The Emperor positioned himself dead centre. He wore a pair of light boots, a black robe warrior robe and mantle. He dangled a nine-ring broadsword from his belt. He wore his hair in a bun martial artists in the Central Plains usually did and tied his ponytail with a red string. His appearance complemented his rectangular-shaped face. He deliberately exaggerated his physical mannerisms more to give off the vibe of a wandering hero in the pugilistic world. Back straight, he commanded, “Everyone is present! Assemble!”
‘… Is he going to save someone or trying to satisfy his addiction to playing hero he’s been deprived over for decades?’
Next thing I saw, my eyes almost popped out of their socket. Long Zaitian clung to the Emperor to brown nose him. He exclaimed, “How dare you not salute His Majesty?!”
“Brother Long,” called the Emperor, laughing. “It’s fine. I… I am a martial arts’ leader escorting these merchants to Huzhou. Call me… Teacher Li.”
‘Brother Long? Teacher Li? Martial arts’ leader? Oh, fuck, me. Please don’t tell me you intend to personally take to the battlefield, Your Majesty!’
With a smile, the Emperor said, “As the leader of the warriors, I shall not spare any enemies who dare to attack you. I shall stand at the forefront and raise our morale!”
‘Stand at the forefront, too?! I’ve never seen an Emperor so generous that he’d travel so far to deliver his head on a platter!’
Tang Ye and Su Xiao were equally blown away at the sight of the Emperor’s lame dress up.
Tang Ye: “Big Bro, is His Majesty going out to meet his mistress?”
Su Xiao: “Big Brother Ming, His Majesty is going out behind Her Majesty’s back, isn’t he?”
Me: “… Say no more. If enemies attack, run as fast as you can. You don’t want to trust your lives to His Majesty’s damaged brain.”
Ecstatic to return to the pugilistic world, the Emperor pointed at us and state, “You three are late. I’ve almost arranging everyone’s identity. Those who don’t have an identity yet, come over! Long Zaitian, you be my coach. You’re skilled enough to protect my carriage. I’m counting on you to have my back when I ride in it.”
That was an honour as high as being the Emperor’s personal coach. After Long Zaitian drowned the seven armies with a lethal blast from his hose, the Emperor was finally cordial with him again for the first time. Unsurprisingly grateful, Long Zaitian responded, “Your Sub-, I shall not let you down, Teacher Li.”
Teacher Li stroked his beard proudly: “Tie Hanyi, you’re composed and cautious. You be the escort’s Iron Team leader, Ol’ Tie. You’ll be responsible for coordinating everyone and human resources.”
Tie Hanyi: “Roger.”
Teacher Li kept stroking his beard and added, “You and I have also been friends for decades, and our favourite pastime is playing go.”
“Yes, Brother Li.”
Whatever criticism you might have, there was no denying the Emperor was meticulous with his setting.
“Tang Ye, you are a martial arts genius. You be my maternal nephew, Xiaotang, my only broadsword-wielding disciple. I’ll teach you my family’s broadsword style on the way so that you’re in role completely. As for Ye Luo, she’s your childhood friend. You two have a marriage arrangement in place, so you’re fiancé and fiancée.”
I bet lots of people were envious of Tang Ye. The Emperor’s skills weren’t some magnificent style, but he would be considered a disciple not within the family. That would be considered an honour among honours. Plus, having the beautiful Ye Luo for a wife was a dream come true.
Ye Luo proved herself the descendant of a venerated clan and veteran of the pugilistic world with a hearty laugh: “Brother Tang, I’ll be in your care.”
Tang Ye nodded: “As will I.”
“Perfect. You two go perfectly together,” remarked the Emperor, back to his beard stroking endeavour. “As for Ming Feizhen…”
I smiled: “I am at your service, Teacher.”
“I already have a role in mind for you. You’re a veteran of the pugilistic world, quick at adapting on the fly and quite astute. I shall assign you the escort’s most important role.”
“Oh? The food tester?”
“No.” The Emperor smiled: “The messenger and handler of miscellaneous chores.”
“You are the eldest son of my old wealthy friend, Ming Da. You’re foolish but rich. Your dad complained you were useless, so he sent you to me to handle miscellaneous chores. Cooking, making sure we have seats and rooms at restaurants, picking egg shells and so forth are in your hands. Henceforward, you are Young Ming, the important miscellaneous worker!”
‘Fuck you, Teacher Li! I’ve been running around all day long to prepare to rescue your adopted daughter, yet I’m the miscellaneous servant Ming?! Fuck you! And, fuck you! Hong Jiu, call the cavalry! We’re rebelling!’
While I was busy bristling with anger, the Emperor laughed and stated, “Su Xiao, you be Ol’ Tie’s younger sister who grew up with him as your only family…”
Su Xiao: “I am a boy!”
“Silence!” demanded the Emperor. “This is too important for you to be fooling around!”
The Emperor extinguished Su Xiao’s fire and confused him in the process.
The Emperor was addicted to his character creation game: “You grew up with Tie Hanyi as your only brother. You two supported each other, but your life is harsh, so you had to… busk for money. The sabre at your waist is used for your busking. Mm, let’s go with that. Because your family was poor, your parents decided to betroth you to…”
The Emperor was probably out of bullshit to spew, but, for whatever reason, when he saw me, he pointed at me: “… the foolish son over here as his mistress! Henceforth, you are Young Ming’s mistress!”
Su Xiao: “Huh?!”
Ye Luo: “Eeeeh?!”
Tang Ye: “This is going to be entertaining.”
Long Zaitian: “For real?!”
I was the only one who calmed down a little. I touched my chin: “Sounds… interesting…”
*“It’s fine. I… I am a martial arts leader escorting these merchants to Huzhou. Call me… Teacher Li.” – The Emperor made the mistake of referring to himself as an Emperor would, hence the self-correction.