One, two, three, four, countless ripples stirred in the once peaceful lake. The rain’s veil covered part of the dark blanket. The dark clouds blocked out the moon. The city outskirt was considerably quieter compared to in the city. Lights and shadows intertwined. Still, not even the adepts could see clearly in the dark surroundings.
Thankfully, the darkness didn’t hamper my vision excessively. I adapted to spending nights in the forest, as I often spent nights in the forests back on Mount Daluo. I spotted freckles of light in the distance, suggesting there was a civilisation there. Judging from the size and light count, it was likely a town.
I reported, “Your Majesty, there is an inn up ahead. Shall your servant go on ahead to inquire with Su Xiao?”
Emperor: “Perfect! Hurry on.”
Su Xiao blushed: “C-Can I pass…?”
“Of course not,” I responded with a laugh. “You’re my mistress. Is it right for a mistress to not join her husband?”
“Buzz off with your mistress rubbish! I’m a man!”
Bang! I wore on my straw raincoat and pulled the defiant beauty in. Then, off we went, into the inn. I flicked my sleeve and domineeringly called, “Waiter!”
The waiter swiftly ran over with a smile: “Coming. Where did you come from, Sir? Where are you heading?”
I cackled and posed. Sounding as if I was reciting opera lines, I replied, “I hail from Apricot Village. Which road do I traverse to reach Huzhou?”
The waiter froze for a second. Deciding to go along with my opera performance, he put on the shoes of the correspondent role: “The road to the West shall eventually lead you to the scenery of lotuses.”
“Farewell. This shall be a journey of no return.”
Startled, the waiter expressed, “The downpour is merciless. How about a cup tea before venturing on your journey?”
I waved and pointed to Su Xiao: “My wife is ugly. I don’t want to scare the customers.”
Su Xiao went red in the face: “You’re ugly! You’re so ugly nobody wants to be your friend.”
The waiter glanced at Su Xiao and spaced out for a second before asking, “Ma’am, you are gorgeous. Would you like some wine?”
“One pot will do. If possible, I’d like some pork shoulders braised in soy sauce.”
“I’m sure there is some in the kitchen. Please wait a moment. Judging by how hard it is raining, I think it will be hard to travel in it. How about spending a night here? It’ll make things more convenient for you.”
“Oh? How so?”
The waiter flipped his towel onto his shoulder and switched to a high-pitched voice: “Our humble inn provides escort services to the North and South. May I ask if you intend to stop for a meal or sojourn?”
I flicked my sleeve and long hair. I looked over my shoulder and replied, “Noodles are what I yearn.”
From outside, the Emperor thundered, “I’ll have you on a chopping board! It’s belting down outside! You done singing and rhyming?! Hurry and let us in.”
“Ahem, we have a lot of people, so give us a discount. We’ll stop here and continue on once the rain stops.”
The waiter smiled: “Understood, understood, please come in.”
We already spent six hours going full pelt on the road. Though the Emperor was a headache, he truly did care for Boss Shen. Hence, despite the hysterics before we set out, he was well-behaved on the journey and never spouted any drivel.
The Emperor thought things through meticulously. The chests in the goods carriages weren’t empty; he stored clothing, ropes and weapons in there. If the chests were empty, the wheels would leave suspicious clues behind. By saying we were transporting combat equipment, nobody could call us out on it, and it saved us space.
The inn we stopped at was the largest one in the town. With that said, the town was just one small town within Jiangnan, so it couldn’t hold a candle to big cities. The first floor was packed with people seeking shelter from the rain. Most of them didn’t look friendly, looked intimidating and were armed. As the year was coming to an end, most ordinary folks already arrived home. That was why most of the people still wandering at night were people involved with the pugilistic world. The Emperor wasn’t used to sharing a room with them; not to mention we were hiding numerous secrets. As such, the Emperor asked for a room on the second floor.
Tie Hanyi scanned the customers on the first floor and quietly told me me, “There aren’t many friendlies here. Brother Ming, you and I need to be more alert.”
“You’re putting me on a pedestal, Brother Tie. You should be saying that to Tang Ye. Don’t you think? I don’t think I’m up to the task.”
Tie Hanyi raised the corner of his lips: “You’re being too modest, Brother Ming. Though Brother Tang is a skilled fighter, he lacks experience in the pugilistic world. You are resourceful and decisive. You have more experience to make better judgement; in fact, I can’t name another person who could match you in those departments. Forgive my arrogance, but I would go as far as to say there is nobody more observant than Long Zaitian, you and I.”
Tie Hanyi was right. In a one-on-one fight, Tang Ye had an eighty percent chance of defeating either of them. However, Long Zaitian was observant of even minute details, while Tie Hanyi was one of the Emperor’s Entourage’s secret agents. Su Xiao… he should just stick to being cute.
“Who do you think is suspicious, Brother Tie?”
Voice stifled, Tie Hanyi answered, “There are many people involved with the pugilistic world in here. I won’t rule out the possibility of Evil Spirits sneaking into the crowd. As citizens of Beijiang, they presumably share the same tastes, enjoying spicy food, strong alcohol and wielding nine-ring broadswords. They are physically muscular compared to men from the Central Plain. They often have fierce gazes, too. There are, at least, four people who tick all the boxes here. If Evil Spirits have allied with unorthodox sects from the Central Plain, not even I might be able to identify them.”
“You’re overthinking, Leader Tie,” I said, stretching my neck. “The first thing you should be looking for is their combat competence. I’m willing to bet Tang Ye and you could easily wipe the floor with all of them at once. For that reason, they won’t try anything. Whoever tries to report during the night will be the spy we need to worry about.”
Tie Hanyi looked enlightened: “That makes sense. Brother Ming, you really do possess vast knowledge without having to learn.”
“You call that praise…?”
“I was joking. I don’t think the rain will stop until late at night. I’m off to set up traps to see if we can catch any of Evil Spirits’ members. If we can, we’ll be one step closer to rescuing Vice-Captain Shen.”
Su Xiao and the others followed the Emperor into his room to avoid the people on the first floor. With my listening enhancement skill, I could hear the conversation in the room. The Emperor said, “Why has the pugilistic world become a den for thieves and villains? Back in my day, wandering heroes brandishing long swords and white horses were ubiquitous.”
Long Zaitian: “You are a refined Gentleman. There is no need to stoop down to their level…”
I switched to a universal level of listening and sneaked into the kitchen. Since nobody noticed me, I stole a pork shoulder. It tasted so-so…
“Sir, let’s speak somewhere else,” I heard the waiter say. The waiter led me to a dark spot at the back of the kitchen and, in a muffled voice, stated, “I am Ling Xuan from the League of Assassins. It is my honour to offer you my services, Master Ming.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I leaned back onto the wall and folded my arms: “Your boss well?”
That was why I just couldn’t fathom why there was any reason to worry about the unfriendly people on the first floor. I mean, the big-bad boss, me, was travelling with them.