String Puppet Show
“Ming Feizhen! Brother Ming! Pl-please take a look at Brother Tie!” pleaded Ye Luo.
Ming Feizhen wriggled ever so slightly, but his legs were in the same place. Instead, Master Ming made his way over as fast as a flash.
“Eclipse can hide the user’s presence from those who have yet to reach Divine Realm. Each person’s version of Eclipse differed according to their personality. For instance, Abels’ Eclipse granted him a presence similar to a burgeoning inferno. Master Ming’s Eclipse granted him a natural presence.” Dugu abruptly cut off his own analysis when he saw Master Ming glance over and smile. Dugu’s internal reaction was, “I better stop in case he has the Divine Interlinked Minds and reads my thoughts.”
Master Ming looked as though he complimented Dugu for being wise before turning back and broaching the topic naturally: “What happened to him?”
“H-he suddenly started vomiting blood. We do not know what happened.”
“Let me see.”
Given Master Ming’s competence and actions, he could be trusted. Even so, Ye Luo begged Emperor Yuansheng with her gaze. From afar, Emperor Yuansheng expressed, “If we could kindly trouble you, Master Ming, we would appreciate it.”
“He’s hurt quite serious.”
Master Ming covered Tie Hanyi’s chest wound with one hand and patted it gently a few times. Nobody understood what the patting was about. It stopped Tie Hanyi spitting blood, nonetheless. His hectic breathing subsided. Though he still was ghastly pale, his condition didn’t show signs of worsening.
“Master Ming, Brother Tie…”
“Thankfully, he practices Qi Hardening Skill. Abels wanted to show off, and that’s why he didn’t aim to destroy your friend’s dantian and qihai. Otherwise, he would no longer be able to practice martial arts even if we saved him.”
“Y-yet he is still in terrible condition?” Ye Luo’s favourite word in the explanation was “otherwise”. Else, her heart might’ve stopped.
“I’m not done. Abels could destroy his qihai. That said, he couldn’t do it easily. His aim was to beat your friend through sheer force as a means of proving his might. The three exchanges Abels offers is no joke. Your friend’s meridians suffered serious trauma, rendering him weak. He would already be dead if his will to live wasn’t so unwavering.”
“Master Ming, since you can diagnose him, does that you could als-“
“I blocked his meridians using my internal energy. It’s not as simple as improving blood circulation. If I could treat him with a click of my fingers, I’d be a god. Forcing true qi into him would be adding to his injuries.”
The imperial doctor accompanying the escort, a physician with decades of experience, inquired about Tie Hanyi’s condition and gave the latter a physical check-up, yet he was unable to identify Tie Hanyi’s issue. To redeem himself, he chimed in, sharing, “Damage to meridians cannot be treated aggressively. He requires slow recovery. This old one can treat him in a year or so using acupuncture and herbs.”
“That won’t be necessary,” stated Master Ming.
Master Ming, using a similar approach to before, tapped Tie Hanyi on his left and right. He circled two steps around to Tie Hanyi’s side and added another tap. The best way to describe the taps was the same motion as dusting. Each tap required him to transfer precise volumes of internal energy using Spring Wind Rainy Night Divine Art. The energy unclogged Tie Hanyi’s qihai, while the force from Spring Wind Rainy Night kickstarted the meridian repair process. Tie Hanyi’s face gradually showed tinges of pink. His blood from before had stained his clothing.
It’s said that one can harness Spring Winds Rainy Night Divine Art’s style to assassinate targets without forewarning or leaving traces behind. Few people looked beyond it to realise that it could be used as a medical skill in the same vain. Worth noting is that both extremes were only accessible to those who had mastered the style. To accomplish what Master Ming did, nevertheless, required combining Tai Chi and Night Net Celestial Silk with the art in order to thin out one’s true qi until it was as thin as a thread and control it.
Master Ming used the time it took for Tie Hanyi’s meridians to heal somewhat as an interval between pats. In doing so, he gradually reduced the damage and increased the true qi allowance over time. The process heated up Tie Hanyi’s body, white smoke whisking from him, as seen when one reaches a critical point during energy condensation.
Master Ming didn’t let the heat impact his work. Twenty-two pats later, Master Ming halted and waited. Breaking the abrupt and incomprehensible silence, Su Xiao queried, “Big Brother Ming, is Ol’ Tie fine now?”
Master Ming answered, “Not entirely. There’s a bit of an issue.”
The two of them had an awkward moment. Su Xiao bobbed his head and stuttered, “I… I… I… I have the wrong person. Sorry, Master Ming!”
Su Xiao took cover behind Ming Feizhen, who sighed as if Su Xiao embarrassed him.
“Haha, don’t worry about it. My surname is also Ming. I’m only a few years older, so I have nothing to lose if you call me Big Brother Ming.”
“Hehe, that was what I thought.” Su Xiao poked his head out behind Min Feizhen: “But why is Ol’ Tie still in trouble?”
Ye Luo questioned, “Is it because he lost too much blood? The blood of warriors flows within all of us. We are more than happy to supply him with blood.”
Following voices of agreement, the escort pulled out blades to cut themselves, only for Master Ming to stop them: “Stop. I said there’s an issue, but I never said it’s something that can’t be fixed. If I needed blood, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask. Cutting yourself for no rhyme or reason is just inanity. While others may not be able to bear losing so much blood, your friend is tough. Consider it a detox. His meridians will heal in ten days’ time. It will only take him three days before he can walk again.”
Dugu: “May I ask if there will be any aftereffects?”
“Mm… His internal injuries just need time to heal. The biggest problem is… him vomiting blood.”
Ye Luo: “Is that not attributed to his internal injury?”
“No. The internal injury is triggering the violent puking; however, he still would’ve puked blood even if he didn’t suffer an internal injury. Take a look at his blood. It is a winter night, yet his blood on the ground was visible. Since Abels rocked his insides, his blood should be between dark red to black, yet it’s a bright red. What’s more, there’s a pungent smell oozing from the blood on the ground. There is only one feasible explanation for those features.”
“The poison… is strong!” commented Ye Luo.
“The poison begins its sabotage once it enters one’s meridians, but you’ll be fine if it just touches your skin. You don’t need to fear it will do more damage deeper in anymore. According to my knowledge, River Monster is the biggest fan of poison among Evil Spirits. This poison passed down in Nanjiang sabotages the body from within. She’s a big fan of the style,” informed Master Ming.
Though Master Ming was correct, there was an odd factor. River Monster didn’t have time to poison them and even lost an arm. She was still at the manor when Abels bludgeoned Tie Hanyi. Both of them raided the escort with confident mindsets. Therefore, it stood to reason that they wouldn’t need poison. Furthermore, why poison Tie Hanyi when he was already incapacitated? If River Monster wasn’t the culprit, there was only one suspect. Howbeit, that begged the question, why would they need to resort to poison?”
“I believe your guesses align with mine. River Monster can’t be the culprit. The culprit, therefore, must be the one who fought your friend.”
“Hmm, why would Abels need poison to help?” inquired Emperor Yuansheng.
Master Ming crossed his arms: “Combining poison with one’s attacks is frowned upon among martial artists regardless of how exceptional they may be with it. Abels skills are decidedly honed legitimately. He could’ve defeated your friend in one punch. Adding poison would be unnecessary.”
Master Ming finished his response as he strode over to Long Zaitian. He lifted Long Zaitian by his collar and hurled him with a rotational force added on. The escort misunderstood Long Zaitian did something to anger Master Ming enough to be thrown into the ether. As Long Zaitian spun in the air, they could hear true qi hissing out from his body. His cheeks were pink after three spins. After the fifth spin, he regained awareness of his surroundings. He opened his eyes when he was close to the ground again. He regained full functioning of his body and was able to spin out to land on his legs.
“Although Abels also hit this gentleman, he only suffered an internal injury. From this, we can hypothesise that Abels did not mean to leak poison into his punch. I would assume he is unable to control its flow. I can’t say I’m surprised after all the miraculous things I’ve heard and seen in my life.”
Master Ming sauntered back to Tie Hanyi’s side and murmured, “It’s time.”
Master Ming palmed Tie Hanyi on the top of his skull.
“Argh!” grunted Tie Hanyi. The poison Master Ming drew to Tie Hanyi’s chest burst out of his mouth in one go, leaving a trail of green smoke.
Master Ming used his sleeve to direct the green smoke away before it could harm anyone else.
“A style originating in Nanjiang employs poison as a weapon and to develop their strength. It replenishes a large volume of true energy in a short time frame. In essence, it’s similar to the strength internal style practitioners learn. As long as one can withstand the poison, they will gain decades of strength in a fraction of the time.
“Theorising from what I have heard, I suppose Abels took the risk of learning it to recover faster. I am never wrong when it comes to internal styles, and I am certain I have the right poison.”
Long Zaitian didn’t have the faintest idea who he was looking at; all he knew was the man was a heavyweight and supposedly saved his life. Upon hearing the man addressed as “Master Ming”, Long Zaitian’s eyes asked Ming Feizhen, “Aren’t you Night Fortress’ master?!”
Ming Feizhen shook his head.
Ye Luo and Su Xiao examined Tie Hanyi’s condition. He looked as good as new despite the amount of blood lost. Tie Hanyi’s strength would improve upon waking up thanks to Master Ming. They never saw it, but Master Ming popped Tie Hanyi’s dislocated joints back in place already. From what they gathered, Tie Hanyi would be back to one hundred percent in less than an hour after he woke up.
Emperor Yuansheng: “You mean Abels is learning another style on top of Evil Eminence Scripture? Hmph, now I wonder what designs he has here in the Central Plain. Now that we are aware he is plotting something, we cannot let him go.”
“May I voice my opinion?”
Master Ming carried himself as he pleased, but there was an authoritative undertone in his speech. That being said, he wasn’t commanding them, yet the listeners would feel obligated to respond.
“Please feel free to speak.”
“Perhaps… I should not be the one to say this. I would like to ask you and the three military offices to punish Evil Spirits leniently. At the very least, I hope you will think twice before you act.”
“Why is that?”
It was obvious Master Ming wasn’t scared of Evil Spirits when he could beat Abels, adding to the bewilderment.
“From my investigations, I was unable to find many cases of their evil deeds. They rob affluent clans and families in Beijiang to give back to the poor. There is no arguing that they break the law, but they have their own code of honour. In Beijiang they are called philanthropic bandits.
“Evil Spirits does commit murder; however, if you look into their victims, most are bandits or villains. Their subordinates don’t carry themselves well. Despite keeping slaves, they are known for treating their slaves particularly well. It would be unreasonable for them to abandon the slave practice when it is part of the culture in Beijiang. If you scrutinise their actions on a larger scale, you could argue that they purged the evil in Tiezhen Kingdom when they usurped the throne. Before they assassinated the sovereign at the time, human life was treated no different to insects.
“You might not like hearing this, but both the Qilin Guards and the Seven Champion White Princes kill hundreds of times more people annually than Evil Spirits does. To claim they are evil and label you are just is not fair judgement.”
The last statement wasn’t welcomed as expected.
“… Perhaps you are right,” agreed Emperor Yuansheng, firm and still not having accepted Master Ming’s opinion. “Nonetheless, he has snooped around since arriving in the Central Plain and ambushed the imperial court’s escort. Is he intending to repeat what he did in Beijiang? He almost killed everyone here tonight. Is that what a philanthropic bandit does? I heard he is River Monster’s husband. Is that what a man does? Evil and justice are not judged based on actions, not lip service.”
“Speaking of which, I noticed he is behaving unusually ever since arriving here. He is behaving incomprehensibly wild. For instance, I didn’t expect him to use Young Ming as bait to lure me out. Had I not coincidentally been passing by, I would have implicated all of you. I cannot tell what happened since I do not know him. Nonetheless, I wish to remind you: you all wield unrivalled power. Do not let people exploit you to do something you will regret.”
As Master Ming looked his way when he gave the reminder, it prompted Emperor Yuansheng into suspecting, “Does… he know who I am…?”
Master Ming then offered the escort a palm and fist salute: “If fate allows, I will meet you all in the pugilistic world again.”
Long Zaitian heard about Master Ming’s match with Abels after Master Ming left. Combining it with the speed at which Master Ming departed, Long Zaitian shivered.
Dugu: “To step in and help us when we were in a pinch, he can be considered a man of honour.”
Emperor Yuansheng inwardly said, “Today wasn’t the right time, but if Night Fortress needs my support in the future… I could lend a helping hand. Perhaps they can help me tackle the seven.”
The escort was exhausted physically and mentally. There was a team assigned to patrol duty in the wild, while another team stayed in the manor. Alas, they were barely able to stay awake. They didn’t suffer external or internal injuries. Still, the despair that hit them over and over, the toll of rising again and again, and mustering courage to confront death multiple times whipped them. When the adrenaline wore off, the fatigue bombed them. The one night was more tiring than travelling in the rain; not even Emperor Yuansheng had energy to spare on the patrol team.
Tang Ye, who held onto his iron spear and sunk into deep thought, was one of the few who didn’t sleep. The match between the two Divine Realm adepts sparked more than just inspiration for him.
Dugu was Emperor Yuansheng’s bodyguard while the latter caught some shuteye. Ye Luo was a girl, while Tie Hanyi was injured, hence why Dugu took on the duty.
The last awake individual was Ming Feizhen, who was assigned to patrolling the wild. Ming Feizhen was the only one plodding along in the mountain as if he had to heave his legs; his expression didn’t match his sluggish movements. There were no signs deep in the woods unlike other woods.
“You kept me waiting.”