Never Change (Part 2)
Song Ou shuddered upon seeing the green, slithering snake flicking its tongue. Its triangular-shaped head indicated it was venomous. His fear of rodents was just one of his irrational fears and abhorrence for dirty things. Though he wasn’t so afraid of snakes, his arms and legs were restrained, leaving him with only the option of waiting for it to leave.
“Move or I’ll miss,” hollered Hong Jiu.
Hong Jiu extended his right hand out from the chains and gently flicked a stone at the snake’s head, splattering it in one go.
“Brother Hong, nice going. How did you manage to flick it when your qihai is sealed, though?”
Hong Jiu smiled: “The main principle of Empty Palms lies in the word ‘empty’. Abels thought sealing my true qi meridian wasn’t enough, so he sealed another six meridian points when, in actual fact, it has nothing to do with my true qi. They’re merely correlated. Regardless of how much true qi you have, it’s not practical unless you can understand the idea behind the ‘empty’ word.”
Song Ou, knowing Hong Jiu wouldn’t teach him the secret of Empty Palms, inquired, “How long do you need this time?”
“Ten days,” answered Hong Jiu. “I tried again and again, but I’ve only recovered a small amount of energy. My right arm is the only limb I can move at the moment. At this rate, it would take me more than ten days to regain full control over my body.”
“What’s the rush?” Hong Jiu looked up at the ceiling and lied back in the hay. He chuckled: “If I can’t do it in one day, I’ll do it in ten days. If I can’t do it in ten days, I’ll do it in a year. As long as you’re not dead, you still have a chance. Just be patient.”
Song Ou wasn’t so stupid he couldn’t fathom the logic, and ten days wasn’t exactly a long time. His issue was his fear of rodents: “This is no place for humans to stay. Damn Evil Spirits, their rodents and snakes. I don’t even know where we are.”
Song Ou had no idea Hong Jiu would drink snake blood and eat their flesh but never harm rodents. Hong Jiu once had to compete with a rodent for snake meat, leading to him deciding, “Lady luck helps those who help themselves. Snakes are lazy, while rodents are diligent, yet the former is the latter’s natural enemy. There is no greater injustice than this, and I won’t stand for it.” Henceforward, he became the expert Snake Slayer Rodent Guardian.
After listening to Song Ou’s groaning, Hong Jiu opened his eyes inspected the snake’s corpse meticulously until an epiphany hit him. Hong Jiu studied every detail ever since being incarcerated, from the people who delivered their meals to Evil Spirits’ henchmen. He noticed a unique smell of metal on them, but he couldn’t identify the scent. After scrutinising the snake, however, he realised the snake was to blame.
It was easy for Hong Jiu to kill snakes. What he noticed, though, was the lazy snakes were supposed to be hibernating since it was winter. Therefore, it was abnormal for there to be an active snake in the prison. He could only conjure one reasonable explanation: they weren’t in a dungeon but a ginormous crypt. The only place they’d find active snakes in winter was deep underground, where it was cold, moist and warm. That led to the key question: why was this crypt an exception?
After Hong Jiu analysed the information further and quizzed Song Ou to comb through his thoughts, he declared, “I know where we are now!”
Hong Jiu then switched to a whisper.
Though people knew of Mount Daluo, they didn’t know why their disciples lived up on the mountain so far away from the rest of civilisation, what they ate, drank or their lifestyle. On Mount Daluo was an ancient forest, home to the most unique beasts. Accomplished disciples had to live in said forest and become one with nature. The other aim was to gain experience fighting against the wild beasts. Besides Ming Feizhen, who effortlessly scared off animals, the others were masterful beast tamers.
Another chubby rodent darted over to Hong Jiu. The two communicated somehow before the rodent left. Hong Jiu’s flame burnt again. He hadn’t given up on breaking out. No restraint could contain his desire to soar!
Emperor Yuansheng delightfully discussed Boss Shen’s whereabouts in the carriage with Dugu, Ye Luo and so forth merrily. I took the role of a coach, while Long Zaitian went to shoulder the miscellaneous tasks. My question was, “What happened to the part about me being the young master?!” Unfortunately, hardly any of the imperial court’s warriors dared to order the Qilin Guard’s vice-captain around. It was sad, but life for the Seventeen Hidden Dragons was different. When I was on the job, they heartlessly ordered me around!
Emperor Yuansheng deemed it appropriate to resume the journey once the rain ceased and sky cleared in the middle of the night. We travelled through the night, so it was another day and night of being on the go.
Tie Hanyi and I took turns as the coach. Whenever I didn’t have to take the reins at dusk or dawn, I’d stealthily sift through the reports Ling Xuan and Long Cheng gave me. The information I asked for related to Evil Spirits, when they appeared, where they appeared and where the attack happened; it was mountain of information. The best part was nobody provided me their analysis because that allowed me to judge for myself what was most important and made the information as reliable as could be. After all, I wouldn’t lie to myself.
I spent the entire day reading up on Abels. Truth be told, it was as if I was getting to know him again. The two things he did since coming to the Central Plain illustrated his character accurately.
There were many ways of crossing the border. Those in the underground world would likely opt for disguises as businessmen or enter as smaller groups under numerous disguises. The latter worked as long as they were patient enough. Abels, instead, chose to flip the bird at Qilin Guards’ grand commander. He charged across the border with all of his five hundred men in the middle of the night. Abels’ subordinates leveraged their fast horses and equestrian skills to cross without sustaining any damage. Abels, who brought up the rear, engaged the grand commander. Before they could surround him, he broke out of the incomplete encirclement.
The first thing Abels did upon crossing the border was challenging Shaolin’s thirty-eight adepts, forcing the abbot to intervene. The two exchanged a single palm strike to a draw. If Abels laid low, he laid low. When he decided to do something, he took it straight from zero to one hundred. Maybe it was in his blood.
Abels wasn’t the type to beat around the bush and was straightforward. Even so, he demonstrated astounding shrewdness when he concocted the plan to capture Boss Shen. The part where they disguised themselves as the owner of Yan Manor won my admiration. I didn’t expect someone so rash to be able to design plans as convoluted as strategists. Well, he might’ve had a strategist or someone who preferred to scheme. Part of it didn’t sit well with me, however, because I didn’t believe someone who’d charge across the border without much of a strategy to agree to the plan. I wasn’t sure if I underestimated Abels or if something about him changed.
Upon looking up, the golden medallion was already overhead. The three goods carriages led the vanguard. Three more carriages brought up the rear. Emperor Yuansheng’s carriage stayed in the centre. Coaches rotated every eight hours to keep us moving. As warriors, they could go without sleep, let alone sleeping on a carriage. That wasn’t applicable to the horses, nevertheless. Our horses continued to slow down over the course of the journey. They might’ve frothed and died in another few kilometres.
“Teacher Li, there is a town we can rest at up ahead. The only rest stop we will have after this town is Canhu Town. The horses will delay our progress if they do not rest. How about buying horses from the town to save our energy?”
“All right,” agreed Emperor Yuansheng.
We rode into the town and asked around if there were horses for sale. Similarly to the previous town, various vigilant sects were in the town. The dreaded tension permeated in the town. Fortunately, nobody gave us any grief. I supposed the favour I asked for had worked its magic.
Relieved, I continued my search for horses until I suddenly heard thirty riders race up to our escort. I thought we were about to be robbed. The leader tugged on his reins and hostilely questioned, “Do you have a Young Master Zhong Ming with you?”
‘Young Master Zhong Ming? Come on, man, what did you broadcast?!’
Noticing the bow on his back, I wondered if overdid it.
*Qihai – one of your acupuncture points similar to your dantian. It’s located below your belly button.