Different Year, Same Thing (Part 8)
Cha Hao took Jiu Shaozhang’s son with him, while Hangzhou’s Seven Heroes went their own way. Ming Feizhen dismissed everyone, staying on the couch with just Ming Suwen, who relished time alone with him. In saying that, she wanted him to be present in both body and mind.
Ming Suwen boldly rested her hands on Ming Feizhen’s chest and swivelled her legs around, mounting his waist. Unsurprisingly, that was all it took to snap him out of whatever thought he was engrossed in.
“It must’ve been tough to supress your bloodlust, huh?”
Ming Feizhen gratefully lifted the corner of his lips: “Was it that obvious?”
“You leaned back the entire time, refusing to spare them a look to resist the urge to kill them all on impulse.”
“I still don’t believe my anger isn’t justified.”
“You have my vote. Even so… Night Fortress is essentially a fortress of secrets. Therefore, you need to stay off the imperial court’s radar. I don’t think your decision to entrust the case to the imperial court is wrong. What I want to know is what you are thinking… Knowing you, you wouldn’t just leave it at that. What are you planning?”
“What are you asking for?”
“Because you’re forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to,” answered Ming Suwen, pinning her eyes into Ming Feizhen’s. “Whenever you force yourself to do things, you will adopt silence. Instead of putting yourself through that, how about… leaving it to me?”
Ming Suwen treated Ming Feizhen to a friendly smile and questioned, “Your woes are my woes. Moreover, if I don’t teach him a lesson, I’ll be doing myself a disservice, won’t I?”
Thankful, Ming Feizhen warmed up and argued, “I don’t want any harm to befall you.”
“None will.” Ming Suwen affectionately caressed Ming Suwen’s face and, like a wife instructing her husband, stated, “Be a good boy, and wait for my return, okay?”
“Five kilometres up ahead from here is a Qilin Guard office. Please leave them to us. We shall bid farewell here,” expressed Xie Duzhe, leading his group of twenty-plus Qilin Guards. “I believe nobody will impose on us at our office. Moreover, we have our brothers here to watch over them. You can trust them to us.”
After bidding farewell to Mount Night Net, Xie Duzhe quickly regrouped with other Qilin Guards in search of him based on the trails he deliberately left behind. Xie Duzhe was burning to implement a plan to shirk off responsibility on both sides without offending Night Fortress or Ling Qingshu. Hong Jiu, perplexed, suddenly halted, resulting in the six young masters behind him crashing into him and flooring themselves.
“Qilin Guard office? Why not the county magistrate’s office but your slipshod kennel?”
All of the Qilin Guards wrestled hard with themselves to not jump Hong Jiu for his choice of words.
“The county magistrate, Wu Daode, who looks after them was present during the incident, yet they still managed to go through with their crimes. If we take them to the county magistrate, you will not hear what you want to hear. The government has always avoided offending descendants of famous clans in Jiangnan’s martial world. As such, they will only be asked to pay a small compensatory sum even if you trial them – if even that. Jiu Shaozhang’s family has no use for that money now that they are no longer in this world. That being said, if that is your wish, I am willing to go ahead with it.”
Hong Jiu choked Xie Duzhe and raised his other hand, prompting the latter to shut his mouth instantly: “I couldn’t care less for your reasons and analyses. All I want to know is what you will do with them?”
“Do you know what happened to the scholar who reported them that night?”
“That night, Ling Qingshu told the scholar to tell the world what he did. Had the scholar left fast enough, he would’ve been fine. Sadly, fear led to hesitation. Ling Qingshu changed his mind on a whim and kept the scholar around to abuse,” recounted Xie Duzhe, shifting his gaze to the ground. “They ripped his nerves out and left them hanging. They pummelled him viciously, dug his eyes out and dislodged his teeth. Imagine a young man in his twenties as crippled as a ninety year old man.
“Tian Xiucai embodied intellect and passion; I evaluated him highly the one time we met in the capital. His teacher is my elder. By the time I arrived on the scene, he barely managed to enunciate, ‘Kill me… Kill me…’ Do you know that I still see that scene when I close my eyes now?”
“… Don’t tell me your first reaction was fear when you work in one of the law enforcement offices.”
“I wasn’t scared; I was helpless,” corrected Xie Duzhe, in a low voice. “Ling Qingshu is a direct descendent of one of the Seven Champion White Princes. Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s ambition is in plain sight. They are the only faction with the power to take over the former capital, where martial arts are flourishing most in Jiangnan, Hangzhou. As your third in command is also aware, they are already nearby. Ling Qingshu’s abhorrent actions are their way of staking their claim over Hangzhou. I came to Hangzhou with my superior to speak to Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary in hopes of reducing the havoc they will leave in their wake.”
“Hmph.” Hong Jiu threw an unconscious Ling Qingshu off his shoulder and into the ground, declaring, “They can bring it on. There’s no guarantee they can take over Hangzhou in one fell swoop.”
“What if I said, Wutong Jin Yuxuan’s Patriach Zi has assented to get involved? What if the leader of this conquest is Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s patriarch, Sword Scabbard Clear Sky, Ling Hanzhong?” Not receiving a response, Xie Duzhe continued, “My superior has managed to persuade Ling Hanzhong to create any more mayhem. If you kill his son, his grudge-bearing mind will lead him down the path of vengeance and deluge Hangzhou’s martial world in blood.”
“So, what’s your end point?”
Speaking through his teeth, Xie Duzhe responded, “Send him to the ministry of justice in cuffs for the three law enforcement offices to interrogate. We have a witness testimony and evidence as well as the culprits. We cannot execute him, but we will make Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary pay for killing the innocent. That is the best I can do!”
If all went according to plan, the imperial court would revoke some of Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s privileges as a warning. Requesting them to pay money wouldn’t even rustle their feathers; not even beating sense into him would last. A loss of privileges, on the other hand, would be serious damage. Equally importantly, Xie Duzhe wouldn’t be promoted for cracking the case. Instead, he’d have more enemies and a harder time up the rungs. Thus, it was clear to see that he was a dutiful man.
“Three lives and all it takes is one word from them to… They’re getting a massive return on investment,” Hong Jiu processed all the information and bemoaned. He yanked the six over to Xie Duzhe, asserting, “You will regret this one day. What you are doing is not upholding justice. Let’s go.”
Xie Duzhe felt envious of Hong Jiu and company for the latter was able to exercise chivalry and adhere to his standards. As a Qilin Guard, Xie Duzhe was confined to the imperial court’s will.
Once Hong Jiu was out of sight, Xie Duzhe’s subordinate hauled the six off the ground and queried, “What should we do with them?”
“Didn’t you hear me? Lock them up in our prison for now. Send them to the ministry of justice in cuffs, and let the three law enforcement offices interrogate them.”
“Are… you sure? Does this not mean we are opposing the Seven Champion White Princes? I do not think Grand Commander will be pleased about this… He told us we could arrest anyone but the Seven Champion White Princes.”
“I know, but you can’t just let the family die without rhyme or reason, can you? You did not see how pitiful the family was, so it’s easy for you to say; anyone who sees their shape would speak out. This is the best option.”
“I have a better option.”
Xie Duzhe’s face turned ashen as soon as he heard the voice.
Ling Qingshu was somehow up and kicking – or rather, exuding danger and aggression.
“How about listening to my suggestion?”
Xie Duzhe churned qi to call back Hong Jiu, but…
Ling Qingshu simpered as he imbued his sword in qi and bound forward, leaving a green afterimage where he was a moment ago. Blood coursed out from seven holes in Xie Duzhe’s body before he could utilise Forbidden Lightning Wind.
An adept would be able to stop Ling Qingshu after two swings from him despite him being adept at Yunsong’s eighteen combos, Jinfu Divine Swordplay and Flying Thrust Style. Hence, he hastily released the other six young masters and unsealed their meridians.
Though Ming Feizhen placed a tough meridian seal on Ling Qingshu, the latter easily unsealed them using three different Aerial Meridian Thrusts to undo them and prevent himself from losing conscious, albeit not regaining full body functioning immediately. He didn’t jump back up to fight because Ming Feizhen only needed one punch to put him away and intended to bide his time for an assassination. He bore with the humiliation afterwards after hearing Night Fortress would deliver him to the county magistrate until he saw the opportunity to bear his fangs.
With only two Qilin Guards who’d barely qualify as adepts, the group of young masters swiftly disposed of the Qilin Guards.
Ling Qingshu wore a warped smile of an emotionless killer and aimed the tip of his sword at Xie Duzhe’s throat: “That wasn’t wise of you.”
“… What are you trying to say?”
“Well, like I said, I also have an idea to deal with us. My idea is to save you the trouble, and I’ll go find some scapegoats for us.” Ling Qingshu licked his lips just as he did on the night he showed Hangzhou his villainy: “If Master Ming and Cha Hao were charged with killing government officials, nobody would believe their stories, huh? If a Qilin Guard vice-captain and over twenty more died together near the foot of Mount Night Net. If we supplemented with our testimonies… You reckon it’ll be more trustworthy than the truth? Thank you in advance for your sacrifice.”
“Not only am I a Qilin Guard but also a member of Dark Robe Brotherhood!”
Ling Qingshu waited for fear to sink in for Xie Duzhe and then guffawed: “You hear him? He’s a descendant of one of the Seven Champion White princes.”
“I’ve killed plenty of orthodox sects’ heroes and banged plenty of descendants from prestigious clans, but I’ve never killed a White Prince.”
“I wonder how it’d feel.”
“Isn’t their style some Forbidden Wind Lightning technique? Why don’t we dig his body out to see where he stores the lightning?”
They’re nuts! They have no concept of fear! They’re human bloodsuckers living among humans!
“If you want to see where the lightning is hidden, watch closely,” taunted Ling Qingshu, cackling in his deep voice.
Ling Qingshu flowered, while Xie Duzhe shut his eyes in defeat.
Clang! Clang! Clang! The sounds of metal clanging came from numerous directions. The armed maiden with beauty that gods perfectly weaved together appeared abruptly. Ling Qingshu demonstrated he had more than an insatiable lust, guarding against her heavy swing that saw both of them use retreat as a means of stabilisation.
“We meet again, Miss. Have you fallen for me?”
“You know I’m not here to spill drivel,” replied the maiden, dimpling. “I want to offer you a deal.”