Tone listless, Song Ou asked, “You starved?”
“Of course! Is that a trick question?!” exclaimed Hong Jiu, nostrils flared. “When I worked as security at a brothel in Beiping, I accidentally hit somebody I shouldn’t have. I beat up an old noble. Man, shit got brutal…”
Hong Jiu gazed up and heaved a long breath. Song Ou asked, “Beiping’s noble? There aren’t many in Beiping. Was it Lord Zhao, the man who took out six generals alone on the battlefield using his signature Coiling Dragon Staff?”
“That’s the one! I’m surprised you know him,” enthused Hong Jiu, smacking his thigh. “That was when I still sucked. The old bugger was a pretty badass fighter. His staff’s style’s combination of soft and rigid elements almost overwhelmed me. Sucks to be him, though, because his lower back holds him back despite his skills. After a dozen or so exchanges, he started grimacing and revealed a flaw for me to exploit.”
“I was about to say you couldn’t have defeated a war hero so easily in a fair fight. What happened after? Did you use the opening to seal his meridians and subdue him?”
“Yeah right. Since he couldn’t rotate his hips, I floored him with a palm strike!”
“Old bugger tried to dine and dash on the poor girl. Accomplished hero my foot. He’s a lout.” Hong Jiu gnashed his teeth, still angry about what transpired in spite of how long it had been. Signalling to forget it with a hand wave, he resumed, “His men than chased me through nine counties before I finally shook them off. When I reached the tenth county, I was stripped. I sped into the city without realising it and had to run into the county magistrate and his wife, who were on holiday together. They cried, ‘There’s a creep.’ Thus, the city’s constables chased me. I still don’t understand how I got poorer and poorer as I ran. I don’t understand why more and more people chased me every time I ran, either. Anyway, I was forced to get by as a beggar in the end. Starving was a daily part of life those days.”
“That’s harsh. Also, that’s some seriously scary story. How did you end up running into such helpless situations every time?”
“Right? My grandmaster read my fortune for me back when I was on the mountain.”
“If I remember correctly, you are on of Mount Daluo’s senior disciples. Your grandmaster must be Hero Shenzhou. What did he say?”
“He said I’d be unlucky for ten lifetimes and that I had another nine lifetimes to go.”
Song Ou subconsciously dropped his lower jaw and shifted away from Hong Jiu in case the latter’s bad luck rubbed off on him.
“What?” Hong Jiu shifted closer to Song Ou: “I think I’m quite lucky if you ask me. I’m only a tad unlucky every now and then. Oh, also, wherever I go, it’ll rain a bit harder…”
“So we were caught because of your bad luck?! Now I know why it rained tirelessly when it’s winter. The rain never let up the moment you joined the escort!” Song Ou complained to himself. Helpless, he sighed: “We’ve completed our job, but I wonder how Yiren is doing. I’m stuck here in this prison, and it, it, Brother Hong, where are you going?”
Hong Jiu grinned: “Aren’t you weeping? Keep weeping. I’m going to bounce now.”
“You’re leaving? Your cuffs ar-, what happened to your cuffs?”
On top of cuffing the duo’s hands and legs, Abels personally sealed their main meridians, restricting them from moulding energy within seven days. That didn’t go according to plan because Hong Jiu managed to remove his cuffs already.
“H-How did you remove them?”
“Abels packs a monstrous punch, but that’s all he has. It’s gone to his head, and now he thinks he’s invincible. He knows less than my bum knows about sealing meridians. All he did was an amateur job of sealing our meridians and cuffing us after. Mount Daluo’s Empty Palms was designed specifically to undo meridian sealing techniques of all styles. Abels meridian seals are basically non-existent against Empty Palms.”
While Hong Jiu spoke highly of Empty Palms ability to defuse sealed meridians, the sealer was an important variable to account for. Hong Jiu required two days to undo the seals despite Abels’ lack of skill solely due to the latter’s sheer might.
“How did you remove the cuffs, though?”
“Captain Song, can we skip the stupid questions? Fine, have it your way. You know there are eight realms in internal styles, right?”
“The eight shapes of internal energies, also called Internal Baji, right? What about them?”
“You do know something, after all, huh? Quiz time: among the eight, which is the sharpest?”
Song Ou, who obviously knew that basic knowledge, blurted, “Edge’s Edge Realm is sharpest and fastest. My clan’s Sundering the Nine Heavens Palm Style is a palm style that incorporates Edge Realm’s internal energy, allowing us to shave gold and rend jade.”
“Exactly. Your clan’s Sundering the Nine Heavens Palm Style is among the best advanced skills out there. I don’t know it, unfortunately, but I can still break the cuffs using Empty Hands Slash. It’s not as formidable as your Sundering the Nine Heavens, but it’s good enough for the job.”
Yes, Sundering the Nine Heavens would be able to break the cuffs, but that’d take, at least, four hours. Plus, Hong Jiu amazingly defused the meridian seal without being detected.
“Half a darn day has gone by. It took me six hours to remove the cuffs.”
“Why did you wait until now to remove them, then?”
“Think, will you? I don’t know where we are or how many men are outside. I wouldn’t dare to break out until I had something to eat and drink,” chided Hong Jiu. He hit Song Ou on the back using Empty Palms, unsealing Song Ou’s meridians and grinned: “If we’re eating, they’re also eating. That’s the window of opportunity we need to escape.”
Blood circulated to Song Ou’s arms and legs after Hong Jiu unblocked his meridians. However, he was still cuffed: “I need another four hours to remove my cuffs, though.”
“We don’t have time!” Hong Jiu used Subduing Dragon Palms to rip the chains in two then stated, “I need to use my palm skills and, therefore, can’t wear cuffs. Take the chains off and put up with it for now. You can remove the cuffs once we get outside.”
“All right. But we don’t have the key to the door.”
“Don’t worry about that,” replied Hong Jiu.
Hong Jiu initiated a ruse, groaning and griping the food was dirty. He claimed he puked and had the runs. Puking was bad but not the end of the world. Defecating in the cell was unacceptable, however. He then started hurling insults at every generation of Abels’ family and even his maids.
The low-ranking henchman in Evil Spirits was told to “take good care” of their captives’ meals and to look after them. He brushed off the “good” part of the command, treating it as if it was a sarcastic addition. He fed them boring and stale food while saving the nice dishes for himself. If the higher ups heard the prisoners suffered food poisoning, he’d have to pay. Hence, he rushed to the prison.
The henchman had his guard down since the two were supposed to have their fighting abilities inhibited. As soon as he opened the door, though, he heard, “Surprise, motherfucker!” Next thing he knew, he saw stars and heard buzzing sounds. He spun nine hundred degrees before he flopped onto the floor.
Hong Jiu: “That’s payback for stealing my food. I’m weaker because of meat deprivation, asshole.”
Song Ou grinned: “Strong enough, I reckon. A one hit knockout is decent power if you ask me. Let’s get going before they find out, Brother Hong.”
Hong Jiu stomped on the henchman twice before catching up to Song Ou. Equipped with skills and wits, the duo stealthily incapacitated all those on patrol. Among Evil Spirits, only Ox Demon, Mountain Monster and River Monster could give them a run for their money.
The discovered they were inside an enormous prison based off the time of length they travelled since escaping their cell; the exit was nowhere in sight. Torches provided the sole source of dim lighting there. There wasn’t so much as a window, let alone natural light.
Hong Jiu fumed, “We could escape if there was a window but no. Bloody hell.”
“Most prisons are situated underground. If I’m correct, we’re in a dungeon.”
“A dungeon with a window would be nice. You have a point, nonetheless. I agree it’s a dungeon judging from the structure. It would cost an exorbitant sum to construct a dungeon, though. Think about it: Evil Spirits are a group that hides in the shadows. How much space would they need to conceal their entire group? We’re talking about a dungeon that can fit hundreds of bandits. When I find out who it belongs to, I’ll be first to report him!”
Song Ou smiled helplessly: “Am I not a government official? Once I get out, I’ll make sure he’s canned three hundred times.”
The duo soon reached a fork in the road. There were seven paths to choose from, each marked with a stone pillar. On the furthest left pillar, there was a flying bird painted on. The pillar in the centre was comprised of an assortment of images. A bloodthirsty sword was painted onto the far right pillar. All of the artwork was painted meticulously.
Hong Jiu grumbled, “Hell as if I know where to go now. How do we choose?”
Song Ou scrutinised the bird and suggested, “Let’s go with this path. A bird out of its cage is an auspicious symbol.”
“How is a captured bird an auspicious symbol? Plus, you’re a man, yet you chose a bird?! Real men choose swords.”
“Swords are a symbol of violence. I would say it’s an ill omen.”
“Keep up with the times, and stop being so superstitious! There’s no time to waste. Let’s get moving!”
Hong Jiu dragged Song Ou down the path with the sword. When they reached a folding door, Hong Jiu booted the door open! The individual on the other side of the door was startled, albeit barely for a second. The tall man still had the faint blue qi layer on his face as per the same time Hong Jiu met him.
“You escaped? You undid the seal yourself? I must applaud your skill.” The man folded his arms: “I had no idea you had escaped, but why did you come looking for me? Did you want to challenge me again?”
Hong Jiu took a long time to snap out of it. He exclaimed, “Abels! What the fook is you doing here?!”