Su Xiao Prays for Ming Feizhen’s Return. A Friend From Afar Visits.
“Brother Tie, who is Yin Changmei?” grouched Bai Laimu, aggravated over the shout that startled him.
Long Zaitian, arms still crossed, ground his teeth: “You wouldn’t know the unorthodox and underground names since you’re one of the big clans in Jiangnan. Yin Changmei is an unorthodox sect member in Nanjiang. They also call him Weeping Night Ghost Widow Cleaver because he leads a group call Widow Broadsword Sect roaming at night. I knew someone would try to start fights from our first day in business.”
Ye Luo set down the dishes and brandished her shortsword at her waist: “What’s the plan?”
Long Zaitian answered, “Roll with the punches. Inform Dugu and the others upstairs. When it’s time to throw hands, throw them as hard as you can.”
“What about… Brother Tang?”
“Tang Ye… Forget about him. He’s not any help in this situation. Don’t disturb Master just yet. Leave Tang Ye to guard him; he’ll budge even if he doesn’t want to if Master’s life is threatened.”
While everyone was busy from renovations to operating the restaurant, there two people who didn’t contribute a lick. One was Emperor Yuansheng, who was out cold for two days straight after consuming Su Xiao’s cooking (read: black magic) but was still bed ridden and under Miss Lyu’s care. Not only was he incapacitated but also took up resources – bodyguards. The other useless one was Tang Ye, who refused to utter a word and sat with his arms around his legs, spacing out, not chewing food he was spoon fed and opting to eat half a mantou in the middle of the night.
Yin Changmei, a man with skin so white that he did the “ghost” part in his nickname justice, also had prominent eye corners, deep indents under his eyes with a dash of light purple, an eagle-like nose and long eyebrows that were dark purple.
“Young Master Zhong not around?” Yin Changmei spoke much softer compared to his shouting prior to entering, but he kept boosting it with his internal energy so that everyone would be exposed to his voice, rendering the musicians and dancers nauseous.
Long Zaitian belted, “Aha!” competing with Yin Changmei’s voice to relieve the performers of their nausea and affording them time to skedaddle. Long Zaitian then went on to say, “Haha, how can we help you, dear customers? This one is the one in charge. Please let him know if he can be of any help.”
“Hehehe, I don’t need help. I’m here to… kill,” Yin Changmei answered in his voice resembling friction metal grounding metal.
Long Zaitian smiled back: “We do not sell human flesh.”
“In that case, I’ll just have to butcher everyone in my way. Not hard, is it?”
Yin Changmei blasted a gale before his arm popped out from his sleeve, while Long Zaitian used offence as defence, blasting back with his own punch, ending in a draw.
“Patriarch Yin, nice Weeping Ghost Palm.”
Yin Changmei dispersed his true qi and fumed between his mouth, “If a mere manager is this competent, that means the others are also fighters. Men, kill them!”
“Wait!” Long Zaitian howled, tilting cups of wine sideways and surprising himself with his improvements.
“Any last words? Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m here for. If you treat me as a three year old, I promise to kill more painfully than I intended.”
Long Zaitian flashed some of his pearls: “This one had no intention of reasoning with you. He merely wanted to remind you that you might have to get in line.”
“What’s that mean?”
Long Zaitian climbed onto the counter: “It has been an honour to service everyone and see you fill our tables every day. We opened this inn to provide travellers, like yourselves, with dining and lodging, yet you visit every day without asking to stay. Instead, you occupy our tables from morning till night every day at the same time daily. Are you all here to see Su?
“In Patriarch Yin’s words, it is pointless to tell lies reserved for three year olds. Your stares are close to putting a hole in our ceiling. This one must ask: how deep does your hatred run? Why not take the opportunity Patriarch Yin has created to enlighten us?”
The imperial court’s escort moved into position while Long Zaitian addressed the customers, while Dugu regrouped with Tie Hanyi and company.
“Concierge Long, if you do not handle the situation well, we will have to fight, so we need to prepare.”
Dugu inwardly analysed, “Most of the hundred or so here are in groups and elites here on orders from different factions. There appear to be several leaders among them. Their upper hand is more than we can handle.”
“What? You want to fight?” Su Xia stood akimbo as he whipped his towel onto his shoulder: “I just finished cleaning! Who wants to start a fight?!”
“No, no one.”
Long Zaitian palmed his face: “I can’t believe you’re actually here to ogle Su Xiao…”
“Oi, get to the point,” demanded Yin Changmei.
“Ahem, everyone else is here for the same reason as you,” continued Long Zaitian. Switching to a stoic voice, he clarified, “Everyone here suspects us of stealing weapons.”
That was obvious to Yin Changmei as he had his own network of informants spread out across the town since his arrival. That being said, what Long Zaitian pointed out turned some cogs that weren’t spinning his head before, leading to him calming down to ponder, “If everyone here has been suspicious of Dragon Phoenix Inn, why hasn’t anyone done anything in days? I must admit I suspected them after coming to and came here on an emotional high. Let’s see if there’s more to this.” Yin Changmei then asserted, “You sound like you’re hinting you’re not the weapon hunter.”
“I believe they are not the culprit,” opined the leader of Qinling’s Deer Lion Gang, a group of unorthodox people from Shanxi. “Based on my observations, all of Dragon Phoenix Inn’s members are blessed with magnificent appearances, especially Susu. The dishes are wonderful, and there is plenty of entertainment. I’ve yet to see any inn that can hold a candle to Dragon Phoenix Inn. I believe they’re innocent.”
“What proof do you have?” Yin Changmei questioned.
“What other proof do you need besides my testimony? Besides, you have everyone else here as witnesses. We’re the kind who doesn’t trust anyone but ourselves. I’m genuinely convinced they aren’t behind it. You’re not going to believe proof that even Jade Emperor provides, are you?”
Deer Lion Gang laughed off Widow Broadsword Sect’s protests.
“It has been absolute chaos recently, with people and coming from every direction. I’ve heard nobody from Shaolin has come; they might be designing something. Some say Nanjiang’s Myriad Gu Poison King has arrived, so there should be poison involved. Some claim Luo Sword Manor is personally attacking people. Despite the many possibilities, I guarantee Dragon Phoenix Inn is innocent!”
Yin Changmei’s confidence started to sway. Long Zaitian immediately jumped onto the bandwagon: “Patriarch Yin, if you have evidence to incriminate us, you are free to attack us, and I will not retaliate. Until then, it is best you do not let impulse hurt friendlies and play into enemy hands.”
As Yin Changmei brooded, he heard, “It is best you do not let impulse hurt friendlies and play into enemy hands, you say? Fancy hearing that from Dragon Phoenix Inn.”
Yi Wangyou strolled in ahead of another chubby middle-aged man adorning a luxurious robe.
“Ah, crap, nobody here can beat the guy. Even the unorthodox sect people scooted back into their seats. And who’s the fatty? Is having someone tubby with him a lucky charm or something,” inwardly cussed Long Zaitian, maintaining a smile on the surface. “What brings you here today, Patriarch Yi?”
Yi Wangyou feigned deaf and said, “You are all in high spirits, I see. This place has changed drastically since New Year’s Eve. This one is here today to present a gift for your opening and to clear the air on some matters. Bring it in.”
Several men filed in and placed seven loaded stretchers on.
“What are you implying, Patriarch Yi?”
“These are the recent injured and… deceased.” Yi Wangyou swept his inquisitive gaze over Long Zaitian and company, expanding, “Among the seven, five of them suffered grave injuries, while two died on the spot. The culprit or culprits used different styles to attack each person. All of them are famous and wield weapons proportionately famous. Similarly to previous attacks, their weapons were missing when they were found.”
“You suspect us?”
“We are merely being fair and as objective as possible. This one wants to prove or disprove your connection to the incidents as you are present in Canhu Town and are all able to carry your own weight.” Sporting a sardonic smile, Yi Wangyou resumed, “Frankly, This one strongly suspects your group. It’s not wrong to assume this one is here to bring your group in.”
Dugu, without putting on the air of an imperial court warrior, ribbed, “There is still time until the thirteenth, you know?”
“Different circumstances call for different measures.”
“That’s horse feathers. Why are we the prime suspects?” growled Su Xiao. “Does knowing people had their weapons stolen position us as suspects? How?”
“I have my reasoning. Call your leader out; I will interrogate him personally.”
“He’s not here. He’s been out for days,” grouched Su Xiao, obviously referring to Ming Feizhen.
“What a coincidence. Of all days, he’s gone when this one comes by looking for him? Are you taking this one for a fool? If Young Master Zhong cannot clear his name, this one will apprehend all of you.”
“Damn it! We might have a chance of driving off Patriarch Yi if we all ganged up on him, but we’re heavily outnumbered. Scrapping is the worst option we have,” Long Zaitian lamented inwardly.
Yin Changmei hopped onto the bandwagon: “Either hand over Young Master Zhong, or I take him.”
Yi Wangyou belted, “Hand over Zhong Ming!” and pressed his free hand to his sword hilt, adding, “Or else this one w-”
“Coming, coming.” Ming Feizhen came in with his arm around a somewhat nefarious-looking maiden, jubilantly saluting the customers. As he fanned himself blithely, he rhetorically asked, “Welcome, welcome. Enjoy your food and stay. Patriarch Yi, why all the screaming and shouting? I just went for a stroll; you think I know how to vanish into another dimension or something? Concierge Long, business is booming, huh?”
“Ming Feizhen!” roared Long Zaitian’s eyes. In a stifled voice, Long Zaitian erupted, “Where the hell have you been the last three days?”
“Big Brother Ming!” Su Xiao yanked Ming Feizhen over by the arm and then seized an ear, fuming, “Where have you been causing a mess at?”
Ming Feizhen whispered, “I went to search for clues and find helpers for the tournament.”
“Helpers?” Doubtful, Long Zaitian leaned in to query, “You been to Wutong Jin Yuxuan?”
“Of course I have.”
“They agree to help?”
“Well… They weren’t they when I visited, so no.”
“Serious? I also visited. Unfortunately, they told me Interim Patriarch Yu wasn’t present and that they couldn’t receive outsiders, so I was sent off.”
Why did you even bother? She was chasing me!
Ming Feizhen and Mountain Monster ran into Yu Feiyuan not long after leaving the cavern. Fortunately, the veteran liars convinced Yu Feiyuan they were a father and daughter pair who were on their way home after failing to find firewood to chop. The unfortunate part was that Yu Feiyuan’s sense of justice was overbearing, resulting in them yielding and letting her escort them safely back to Canhu Town.
In a way, the disguise strategy didn’t work out as well as Ming Feizhen thought it would for Yu Feiyuan pried into his background and all else on the way to Canhu Town. He told her his name was Zhong Ning, alias Lumberjack Handlover Flower, descendent of the biggest firewood chopper clan in Jiangnan. He claimed, “The hatchet I swing is not a hatchet but a bean paste bun Jade Emperor has taken a bite off. Why did I come all the way out here? That’s because… I climbed the mountain because the moon is out. I wanted to sing when I reached the peak…” They call it the art of talking so much nonsense that people pretend to have understood.
As a testament of Yu Feiyuan’s fame, Mountain Monster recognised the name and epics associated. Having said that, it didn’t stop Mountain Monster from adding Yu Feiyuan as the 109th damned woman she was going to murder.
They exchanged contact details at Canhu Town’s entrance, agreeing to share a midnight snack together the next day before they parted. Ming Feizhen and Mountain Monster then had to spend a day hastily collecting information prior to returning to the inn.
Finally noticing the maiden beside Ming Feizhen, in a dangerous voice, Su Xiao questioned, “Who is she? You found yourself a woman, have you?”
“She… She’s my distant relative. We bumped into each other. She’s travelling now. She spent several years learning martial arts and isn’t too bad. She’s smart and a decent fighter, which is perfect considering our situation. That’s why I brought her back,” Ming Feizhen explained.
“What sort of distant relative?”
“Uh… My Niece.”
Spotting an opportunity to screw with Ming Feizhen, Mountain Monster immediately grabbed him by the arm, squealing, “Uncle!”
Ming Feizhen bit back, introducing, “This is my niece, Wawa.”
“My name is Laimeng!”
Feeling uncomfortable with Mountain Monster and Ming Feizhen’s intimacy, Su Xiao pulled the latter over: “I’m not done scolding you.”
“You all done yet?” Yi Wangyou aggressed in a low voice. “Young Master Zhong, this one is waiting to speak to you.”
“I apologise for keeping you. Let me finish business first, and then you can reprimand me.”
Convinced and docile thanks to the head pat, Su Xiao responded, “Hurry up, then. I will reprove you… Be careful.”
Ming Feizhen focused on studying those on the stretchers while inquiring, “What do you think, Patriarch Yi?”
“It is a surprise to see you are erudite on Chinese herbal medicine.”
“I have learnt a little. Excuse me, Brother, was your weapon iron rings? A swordsman inflicted your arm injuries, correct?”
The injured man murmured, “Yes… Yes, that’s right.”
Ming Feizhen glanced Yi Wangyou’s way with the corners of lips elevated: “His arms are tough, yet his fingers are thin, which are indications that his style focuses on using the arms as opposed to his hands. Judging from the wounds on his upper arm, the attacker must’ve thrust their sword into the iron rings on an angle and slipped them off in one motion. Only a sword would allow the wielder to perform the feat.”
“I didn’t ask for a summary,” stated Yi Wangyou.”
“Neither was I answering you. Relax.”
Ming Feizhen didn’t laugh along with those around, focusing on checking the injured and sending enquiries. Besides learning the seven seemingly dealt with seven different assailants and weapons, the only other piece of information was their attacker was a stocky individual – virtually useless information given the number of people with physiques that fit the description.
The leader of Deer-Lion Gang voiced, “In other words, it’s a coordinated group attack, and they only go after one weapon a day? Pieces of crap are organised.”
“Not necessarily,” debated Ming Feizhen, having won credibility with the detailed accounts he provided based on the information gathered.
“Could you explain your reasoning?”
“Even so, there are people who can use multiple styles on their own,” contested Yi Wangyou, prompting grim reactions from Long Zaitian and company, who knew what the former was implying.
Someone disputed, “Patriarch Yi, you should not make bold claims without proof given your status. One person capable of utilising seven styles? Is that even human?”
“This one seldom came across anyone who could. He has witnessed one of the inn’s members perform ten styles, though. Honestly, it was an eye opener.”
Ming Feizhen crossed his arms across his chest: “I understand where Patriarch Yi is coming from, and I think it’s a justified speculation. The fatal injury of this dead victim doesn’t appear clear, but I can tell the culprit finger jabbed a fatal accupoint using a rarely seen internal strength mental cultivation style that allows the user to add a heat element to the jab. One such style is… Kunlun Sect’s Yang Blood True Qi.”
“You agree it was him, then?”
“No, it wouldn’t be him. I can swear on my life. To be candid, I have not worked out the details.” An epiphany hit Ming Feizhen while his eyes did laps, searching for evidence to support his oath, and it came from Yin Zhengmei. “Would you happen to be Widow Broadsword Sect’s Patriarch Yin?”
“You know me?”
Combining what he heard at Luo Clan’s place and his own brain concoction, Ming Feizhen squinted: “If I am correct, have you always had your Widow Broadsword stolen? You do not intend to tell me you sent it back for maintenance, do you?”
“Wh-wh-what nonsense is this?!”
How the heck does he know my weapon was stolen?!
“Relax, Patriarch Yin. While everyone attacked thus far has ended up in this state” – Ming Feizhen pointed to the stretchers – “you do not have as much as scratch on you. That goes to show how incredible you are, does it not?”
Ming Feizhen waited for Yin Changmei’s rage – a product of public disgrace – to turn to a smug grin at his flattery before continuing, “I never mentioned it with the intent of disparaging you. I merely wanted to inquire how the fight went.”
“They sneaked up on me and knocked me out in one strike.”
“What are you trying to say, Young Master Zhong, that Tang Ye would not jump Patriarch Yi?” questioned Yi Wangyou.
“Not at all. I would like to ask you, however, could you defeat Patriarch Yin in one strike?”
Yi Wangyou caught on to what Ming Feizhen was insinuating promptly and replied, “Unprepared, I am ninety percent confident I could.” Yin Changmei, though boastful, couldn’t deny that was a rather accurate conjecture.
“As you have crossed swords with Tang Ye, what do you think his chances are?”
Yi Wangyou furrowed his eyebrows: “Tang Ye’s skills aren’t polished enough and lacks an ultimate attack move. He would have less than a thirty percent chance.”
Ming Feizhen whipped open his fan: “Who in their right mind would gamble on a thirty percent chance? For the record, Tang Ye does not have any loose screws. I assume you can see why we could not be the ones responsible for the attacks?”
The unorthodox sects showed their admiration with their applause, especially because it was Yi Wangyou who took the loss.
“This one admits he does not have a counterargument and sees a very logical conclusion,” responded Yi Wangyou, lifting a weight off Ming Feizhen’s shoulders.
Man, it sounds like we might have to find the culprit on top of locating Boss at this rate if we want to clear our name.
“Young Master Zhong, this one has something else he would like to speak to you about,” Yi Wangyou suddenly asserted, appearing to relish the situation. “On Young Master Luo’s orders, I have brought someone with me. Brother Qian, please come over.”
The puffy man who accompanied Yi Wanyou came forward, confusion bewilderment written across his face.
Is this the person Luo Siming referred to when he mentioned he’d send someone to test us? I don’t sense any internal energy from him. His legs are barely keeping him upright, let alone allowing him to fight. He sounds as though he has a kidney deficiency from the way he’s breathing. This man… I’ll bet my head he was at a brothel last night. His eyes tell me he’s out of sorts. Is Luo Siming underestimating me?
Yi Wangyou verbalised, “This one’s young master thought you might be lonely in Huzhou. As such, he invited an old friend here to keep you company. It took him three days to find Mr. Qian here. Do you not recognise him? He is from Luoyang.”
Luoyang? So? … Oh, crud…
“Mr. Qian here is a wealthy businessman in Luoyang. He is also in the same line of work as you.”
“S-same line of work?”
“Yes, a brothel proprietor.”
Please stop. Please.
“Also, he is friends with Elder Zhong Hualiu. You two should get to know each other.
Please no. Please flipping no!
The chubby man studied Ming Feizhen then shook his head: “Different.”
“What’s different?” questioned Ming Feizhen, sticking to his guns to the very end.
“You look different to Elder Zhong. Plus, I’ve never heard him mention he had a second son in all the years I’ve known him.” Mr. Qian leaned in closer and added, “You are not an imposter, are you?”