I Never Lose Bets
Long Zatian was forced to retreat because he had stalled for long enough and couldn’t defeat three bears at once. Long Zaitian hadn’t forgotten what Emperor Yuansheng told him, but he chose to prioritise their safety and belted, “Ming Feizhen, you Night Fortress spy, we’re going to be reporting to the king of hell instead of His Majesty if you don’t do something!”
Su Xiao and Ye Luo looked at each other, hoping for an explanation. Seeing Ming Feizhen’s fearless expression had Long Zaitian thinking, “His brain is either upside down, or he’s stupidly strong!”
Cornered and out of ideas, Long Zaitian yelled, “Master Ming, Big Brother Ming, Uncle Ming, I don’t care if you’re a spy or not anymore. If you can beat them, help me kill a few before we’re trapped and bodied!”
Ming Feizhen brushed off the accusation and replied, “If you can’t win, hide, idiot.”
“Oh, thanks a lot, genius! Didn’t I say to run from the get go, moron?! Can’t you see them blocking the way?!”
“I said hide. I didn’t tell you to run.”
“How is that any different?”
“There are trees you can climb, imbecile.”
“Why didn’t I think of that? Jump up to the trees!”
Long Zaitian leapt up a big tree and had to sloppily climb the rest of the way up because of his abysmal qinggong skills. He then transferred to another tree to hide, confusing the bear below.
Su Xiao wasn’t known for his qinggong. Therefore, when he jumped over seven centimetres higher than Ye Luo, even she was surprised. As for him, he almost startled himself off the tree due to the high velocity. Luckily, Ye Luo caught him in time, pulling him in really close reactively and then wondered why she did so.
The bear was exasperated, but it couldn’t do much other than slowly wade through the darkness in search of its prey.
“Ming Feizhen, hurry and climb up!” instructed Ye Luo.
“Big Brother Ming, why are you just standing there?”
Carrying Tie Hanyi on his shoulder, Ming Feizhen shrugged his other shoulder: “How? My qinggong is non-existent.”
“He can’t use qinggong after coming up with the idea? We were wrong about him? Did we think too much just because he’s witty? No, I’m the one jumping to conclusions here. He has to reveal his skills now that his life is on the line. Hmph, you’re not fooling Ol’ Long anytime soon, buddy,” thought Long Zaitian. As he watched the black bear close in on Ming Feizhen, he told himself, “Don’t be soft, Ol’ Long. Don’t be soft. He’s trying to force your hand to abscond suspicion. Don’t be soft.”
“Big Brother Ming, come up… Actually, I’ll come down to help you. Sister Ye, don’t stop me!”
“You can’t control your output; how do you expect to carry two men at once? Don’t just charge to your death!”
Teary-eyed, Su Xiao snapped, “I don’t care!”
Ye Luo, knowing words wouldn’t get through to Su Xiao, just held him back. Tie Hanyi was down there; of course she wanted to save them. Wanting to didn’t mean able to, though. She suggested, “Vice-Captain Long, you help them, while I support you from here.”
“Take my weapon. Please save Big Brother Ming.”
“Ah, man. He’s annoying, ugly and keeps hanging around Miss Shen, but we have known each other for a while. I can always look into him later. I can’t let Ol’ Tie die for nothing, either,” Long Zaitian reasoned.
“Hmph, I’d like to see you try.”
The female speaker arrived on the battlefield, black bears docilely approaching her.
“Yes! Help has arrived!” effused Long Zaitian, recognising the hasty footsteps trailing behind her.
“River Monster, we outnumber you. You won’t abscond today!” blustered Emperor Yuansheng, catching up.
“She’s the leader of the four sub-leaders?! Should I be so surprised when she raises bears?” mused Long Zaitian.
“This is it for you, you witch!”
“Be careful, Master. There are black bears spread out around here. Ming Feizhen is trapped. Do not come in!” warned Long Zaitian.
“He’s as cool as a cucumber despite his mire. Does he have some ace up his sleeve? He’s Night Fortress’ envoy… Or is he Night Fortress’ master himself?” contemplated the Emperor, sighting Ming Feizhen.
“Ignorant fools, you didn’t even realised you had entered enemy territory. Black Bear King, heed my command. Black Bear King, heed my command… Where is he?” Unable to find her black bear king anywhere that usually came running as soon as it smelt her scent, River Monster glided over to her puppet and slapped the latter to the ground: “Useless tool. Where’s my black bear king?”
The puppet looked poignant, leading to River Monster braying, “Just seeing how useless you are annoys me!”
Emperor Yuansheng thought River Monster was admonishing her subordinate. Upon closer inspection, his nostrils flared: “How dare you hurt my daughter?!”
Emperor Yuansheng vaulted over to where the black bears were gathered and uncoiled a vengeful palm strike. Unfortunately, “Shen Yiren” stepped in between. Dugu made it in the nick of time to stop the sword that almost lopped Emperor Yuansheng’s head off with a finger and cautioned, “Master, she probably is not Vice-Captain Shen!”
“Master, she is a puppet! We have verified it. She managed to confuse us at first, as well!” expounded Long Zaitian.
Furious, Emperor Yuansheng erupted, “What do you intend to do with my daughter’s copy?!”
Though puzzled to hear Shen Yiren was the daughter of someone in the imperial court, River Monster refused to back down, questioning, “I can do whatever I desire. What’s it to you? Mr. Fangzhang, what is your relationship with her? Why are you standing up for her?”
Emperor Yuansheng ran his finger across the puppet’s face even though he knew it wasn’t Shen Yiren: “It’s none of your business. Your business is receiving your punishment.”
“Wow, that’s cute,” jibed River Monster.
Suddenly, Ming Feizhen remarked, “Turns out you don’t like bears at all.”
“What was that?” asked River Monster, taking her first look at the trapped young man. “What do you mean?”
“Exactly what you heard. You don’t appear to care about the black bear king.”
“Black bear king? You know where he is?!”
“Relax. Isn’t that him over there?” responded Ming Feizhen, lazily pointing to the bear lying still on the ground.
“Who hurt him?!”
Ming Feizhen answered, “You should probably ask me.”
No matter how much one craved credit, there was a time and place for it. Unsurprisingly, even River Monster was amused: “You hurt him? At least you’re man enough to own up to it. Why not experience my Black Bear Formation since you lot came all the way here today.”
River Monster clapped her hands. The bears belted. The entire forest quaked. Black bears charged into the battlefield.
“When we entered the border, my black bear cavalry was the vanguard. Let’s see how you compare to the northern border’s elites.”
The only way they could stop the rampage of forty dauntless bears was if they captured River Monster. If she fled again, they would be chasing her whilst trying to fight off bears. If they tried to slay the bears, they were privy many of them would have to lay down their lives. River Monster loved the dilemma she created. She was confident in her win, but even she thought it was a pity to sacrifice so many precious bears.
“How about we have a bet?” Ming Feizhen suddenly suggested.
“Now what? What do you want to bet?”
Ming Feizhen cracked a grin: “Simple. Since I’m in the formation, let the bears at me. You win if I die, and Master won’t give you any further trouble. If I survive, you lose and must surrender.”
The provocation lit up a fire under River Monster for the formation was her proudest creation.
“I never lose bets,” Ming Feizhen added confidently.
“This is hardly a bet!” Emperor Yuansheng thought, not liking the proposal.
Confidence rattled, River Monster reconfirmed, “You sure? I’m warning you they didn’t eat anything yesterday. I don’t know how you intend to subdue them, but one bear and a bear formation are worlds apart. Surely you can distinguish that.”
Ming Feizhen smiled back.
“You scared now?”
Ming Feizhen didn’t budge, challenging River Monster’s pride once again. She exclaimed, “You asked for it!”
River Monster delivered a command to her bears with a hand gesture, mobilising them toward Ming Feizhen. The seething bears encircled him and awaited their next order.
Emperor Yuansheng told himself, “Unless he is Night Fortress’ master, there’s no way he can overcome the formation… There has to be another way to test him. We can’t just throw a life away.”
River Monster used scents to deliver her directions. The hand wave before entailed her final order, which was to rip Ming Feizhen apart. She believed they’d make quick work of him, yet, for some reason, the stalemate continued. Emperor Yuansheng even had time to prepare reinforcements to rescue Ming Feizhen the moment the bears struck. Nobody knew what the other was playing at.
“You asked how I’d defeat the bears, didn’t you? The black bear king was nothing…”
River Monster wanted to tear Ming Feizhen’s mouth off his face. Frustratingly, the bears wouldn’t commence the attack despite her using ten times more powder than usual.
Roar! River Monster celebrated inside the moment one of the bears belted. Strangely, the bears all fled into the forest all of a sudden as fast as they could go.
The imperial court team had their eyes as wide as they’d stretch. River Monster gripped her chest. Ming Feizhen scratched his head and, in a casual tone, stated, “Animals never liked me.”