Dead End (Part 3)
Emperor Yuansheng’s gaze indicated he had moulded internal energy to prepare for a fight. His men were primed for combat after chasing River Monster around.
Long Zaitian hopped off the tree and saluted: “Master, although there are numerous suspicious things about him, he did just save you… That is a merit no matter how you bend it. It does not seem appropriate to interrogate him now.”
Su Xiao also jumped off the tree: “He is right, Master. There must be some misunderstanding. Big Brother Ming’s combat skills are famously bad. His skills are…” Su Xiao glanced over to the escort team.
The entire escort: “… crap!”
“See? There is no way he could be Night Fortress’ master. I have heard of Night Fortress’ master’s name. He is supposed to be formidable and operates alone despite having his own group, which one would seldom see in Jiangnan. Big Brother Ming is a money grubber. If he was Night Fortress’ master, what would he be wasting time with us for?”
“That’s exactly where the problem lies. I want to know what he’s doing with us. He rejected Qian Clan’s offer, a fortune enough to last him a lifetime, without batting an eye. Does that sound logical to you?”
Stumped, Su Xiao pulled Ming Feizhen over by the ear: “Big Brother Ming, what did you do this time? Why is Master trying to interrogate you?”
“Affronted Lady Luck, I suppose.”
“Why you of all people? You must have offended Master. I’ll speak up for you. He’ll only chew you out. Just put up with it.” Su Xiao booted Ming Feizhen over and forced the latter to fold forward: “Always causing trouble, moron, idiot, son of a b-”
“That’s overkill, no?!”
“Ahem, Master, he should have learnt his lesson now. He will apologise now.”
“I don’t need him to apologise. I want his explanation. Answer my question,” demanded Emperor Yuansheng.
Ming Feizhen assumed a hunched form: “I am not.”
Emperor Yuansheng curled up the corner of his lips: “Those who delivered the gifts today explicated the gifts were for Young Master Zhong Ming. Ming Feizhen, you only assumed the fake name days ago; how do they know about it? They might not have been aware, but I am no fool. If you aren’t Night Fortress’ master, there is no way they would have identified you as Zhong Ming.”
“Master, this one does not know how they identified him,” Ming Feizhen denied, hands in a cupped-fist salute. “This one was equally startled to receive the gifts. Indeed, he came up with the name only days ago, seldomed used it and mostly remained in the carriage. How would this one have had the chance to inform others and request gifts? This one was in the dark.”
Emperor Yuansheng wasn’t convinced just because Ming Feizhen dumped the blame on Night Fortress’ master. He questioned, “Your colleagues claim you are greedy, yet the money and valuables didn’t sway you. How do you explain that?”
“I do not like receiving that which I did not earn. When did that become a fault? I only want to spend money I earned through my efforts. I cannot sleep at night if I spend money people give me for free regardless of how much that may be. Is that a satisfactory answer?”
“I’m not done. How do you explain your connection to Night Fortress’ master? Why did they send it specifically to you, and why are you his representative all of a sudden?”
“This one once met whom you call Night Fortress’ master. He saved this one and left contact details. He has business to attend to; hence, he asked this one receive the gifts on his behalf.”
Unable to find anything substantial to indict Ming Feizhen on, Emperor Yuansheng tried broaching the interrogation with an alternative question.
“You claim to be a disciple of Mount Daluo, yet I have never seen you utilise their skills. Are you their disciple or not?”
Nothing could seem to rustle Ming Feizhen.
“Indeed, this one is. You sound unaware Mount Daluo is split into a direct and indirect system, direct meaning disciples of Patriarch, specifically Patriarch Ming in this case. The direct disciples are the ones who pursue martial arts. This one’s shifu is Daoist Wushan. Shifu has never been too interested in martial arts. As such, he did not teach this one much. By the same account, this one’s combat skills have always been lacklustre.”
“That is not entirely true,” interjected Dugu. “Daoist Wushan ranks high among today’s adepts. His disciple can’t be that weak.”
“That is not entirely true. Shifu may not be weak. Howbeit, he lacks interest. He prefers to study medicine and divination. This one focused on learning those subjects instead of martial art.”
“What, you’re an elite physician now?” scathingly interrogated Emperor Yuansheng.
If Ming Feizhen was well-versed in medicine at his age, he’d be a genius among geniuses. By that logic, Emperor Yuansheng deemed his claim unlikely.
“This one’s knowledge is only the tip of the iceberg.”
“Master, your subject can testify in his defence. He was the one who attended to Ol’ Tie’s grave wounds,” conveyed Long Zaitian.
Emperor Yuansheng could discern the peril they were in upon inspecting Tie Hanyi’s injuries. For that reason, it was impressive for Ming Feizhen to supply herbs and bandage Tie Hanyi properly, which is to say that Ming Feizhen was legitimately educated in medicine.
“That drastically lowers the likelihood of him being Night Fortress’ master. Hmm, it doesn’t lend credibility to his story, but it doesn’t falsify it, either. Still, his composure makes it hard it to believe,” Emperor Yuansheng inwardly analysed. “You still have no evidence to prove you aren’t Night Fortress’ master. If you can prove it, do so right here and now.”
“Simple.” A cunning grin flitted across Emperor Yuan’s face: “Take a strike from one of the thirty pugilists present.”
“Take a strike?”
“If you don’t know martial arts, you won’t be able to withstand it. If you do possess fearsome skills… the strike will expose it.”
Ming Feizhen deliberated the feasibility.
“Master, that seems inappropriate. We are all pugilists. If he really cannot stand it, we will have committed murder… Considering he saved Tie Hanyi, we would have repaid his help with ingratitude,” objected Long Zaitian.
“Big Brother Ming deserves to be commended for driving off the black bears. Even if he does not deserve praise for it, he should not be condemned. Where is the justice in this?”
“Silly child, this is for Ming Feizhen’s sake. It’s the best way to clear his name. Ming Feizhen, will you accept?”
“No. He will not be able to withstand it,” Su Xiao remonstrated, jumping in front of Ming Feizhen. “I… I will take it for him!”
“What would he hit you for when we aren’t testing you? I don’t intend to hurt him. I want to test his power. Bring Ming Feizhen over.”
Su Xiao dawdled for a moment and then lashed his blade, forcing those approaching to retreat: “Back off!”
“Xiao Han, what are you doing?”
Su Xiao bit down on his lip: “You’ll have to get through me first if you want to hurt him.”
“This is not a personal vendetta. This concerns the safety of many. Xiao Han, I wish to see you promoted. Don’t ruin your future.”
“I will not stand by and watch you hurt Big Brother Ming. I would incinerate my future in a heartbeat if I must step over my brothers’ bodies!”
“What do you propose, then?”
“Let Tang Ye hit him.”
“You three are friends. How do we know if Tang Ye deliberately holds back? Dugu will carry out the attack.”
Ming Feizhen was moved after hearing Su Xiao. In the blink of an eye, he pulled his eyebrows together.
“How about I test him?”
The man’s voice walked a thin line between gentle and authoritative. He was far off in the distance, yet they heard his voice loud and clear. The sound of the black bears charging back through the woods closed in. Once they reached Ming Feizhen, they hastily halted. They turned around but stopped upon seeing the man coming from the other direction.
“Is he finally here?” wondered Ming Feizhen.
Ming Feizhen sensed the man’s presence from the moment they entered the manor’s vicinity. Divine Realm adepts could easily pick up on one another’s auras. The man didn’t bother hiding his presence whatsoever. That was the reason Ming Feizhen judged his persistence to enter the manor’s vicinity the biggest mistake he made. His judgement jeopardised everyone, including himself. He could’ve gotten Emperor Yuansheng off his case. Unfortunately, the enemy’s arrival changed the status on the board.
There was no doubt Ming Feizhen researched Evil Spirits’ cases and their previous modus operandi. He wouldn’t have designed the plan to capture Mountain Monster, otherwise. Even so, he misjudged this particular man. Ming Feizhen couldn’t offer an explanation for why the man changed his usual approach and chose to rock up at a previous crime scene he had a hand in. There was nothing of value left for a bandit at a place he was done plundering.
Although Ming Feizhen wanted to avoid a confrontation with the man, he was forced to make a decision in the end. There were two problems with his options. First, he would have to reveal his true abilities if he fought the man. Second, he had to tackle the man for the latter would slaughter the entire escort if he didn’t intervene.
Long Zaitian recalled Ming Feizhen stating Tie Hanyi was defeated within three exchanges. Long Zaitian was able to wipe the floor with River Monster’s puppetry, so she couldn’t have defeated Tie Hanyi so easily. The black bears could overwhelm Tie Hanyi but not in a meagre three exchanges.
River Monster dimpled and, voice stifled, mumbled, “I knew he was watching. I can’t believe he didn’t give me a hand.”
Dugu had an epiphany: “No wonder why River Monster surrendered without much resistance! I never expected him to join the frontlines!”
“I have heard of Night Fortress’ master’s accomplishments in Jiangnan. It is an honour to finally meet you.” The tall, fast and muscular man casually grinned: “This one comes from Beijiang. His name is Abels.”