Raising the Flag
With the corners of his lips tugged up, Ming Feizhen said something that prompted Emperor Yuansheng to move his ears closer to the door.
Although I know he’s capable of sensing His Majesty’s presence, he’s also careless. I can’t tell if he notices His Majesty or not.
Thus, Shen Yiren drew in a big breath of air and began, “Pull up the curtain. The water out the front is playing with the light. Who’s the blushing maiden hiding by the koi lotus pond…”
Emperor Yuansheng shivered. “… What is that voice? Is there a ghost here? I recognise this voice…” He looked over in the direction of the voice to see Shen Yiren’s face looking as though it was bleeding and her eyes shut. “… Yiren, snap out of it!”
Shen Yiren opened her eyes. “Huh? Y-yes, Your Majesty?”
“Wh-what were you doing?”
“I… am practicing. Recently, Liu Shan Men has had nothing to do in our free time, so we decided to come up with a program for fun.”
“A program? For fun?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Why did you choose singing?”
In a tiny voice, Shen Yiren answered, “… Because someone said my singing sounds nice.”
“What a liar. Stay away from him. He’s a liar. Yiren, I’ll discuss that with you later. This is important.” Emperor Yuansheng’s face went back to the door.
Shen Yiren lied to His Majesty for the first time ever that day. Plus, the embarrassment of her singing completely robbed her of any strength to continue covering for Ming Feizhen. All she could do was pray her singing cued him in on Emperor Yuansheng’s eavesdropping. Fortunately for her, the two conversing inside spoke too softly, were too far away and had the thick door covering them.
I could hear them before. Why can’t I hear them now?
Emperor Yuansheng softly called, “State Preceptor.”
Lai Jingzhen showed up beside Emperor Yuansheng out of thin air and raised both arms overhead, “Your subject! Gr-”
Emperor Yuansheng rammed his fist into Lai Jingzhen’s gut.
“Your Majesty, why would you do that? Does your hand not hurt?”
Cupping his fist, Emperor Yuansheng snapped, “You tell me!”
What could be worse than wanting to hit someone out of anger, yet not being able to because it’d cost you broken bones?
“Skip the rubbish, and tell me what they’re saying.”
Lai Jingzhen thumped his chest, asserting, “Your subject shall go to hell for you!” and then leaned onto the door. “And back.”
“You can go to hell after you tell me what they’re saying.”
Lai Jingzhen bobbed his head and then tuned in to the conversation inside. “… Mama, oh my!”
“What? What’d they say? Is Luo Ming starting again?”
“Mr. Ming” – Lai Jingzhen looked over his shoulder – “is reciting a scripture.”
“Read his lips. Heart Sutra: when the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara had deeply understood the Supreme Wisdom, he realized that the five aggregates making up a person were but an illusion, and with this, he was delivered from all sorrow and suffering…”
“Enough of that! What does that even mean?!”
Needless to say, Ming Feizhen wasn’t reciting a sutra, and he didn’t have the skill to fool Lai Jingzhen. The deceit was courtesy of Luo Ming.
“Thank you.” Ming Feizhen leaned his head back on his clasped hands and, hanging a straw from his mouth, cracked a smile. “That’s a handy skill to have. We should collaborate to open a gambling shop. Man, we’d have infinite pork shoulders to eat.”
Still facing the wall, Luo Ming stated, “Lai Jingzhen is better than me. If he wants to, he’d easily see through my technique.”
“You implying he’s deliberately withholding it from His Majesty.”
“… When he’s not having a lapse of madness, he can get a glimpse into the future. When he is having a lapse, nothing he says or does contains the slightest ounce of logic; even a ten year old kid could harm him. When he’s feeling murderous, nobody can stop him going on a spree.”
“I see. I see. Daoism is lucky to have him as its forerunner. Else, the world would be in chaos. His Majesty chose the right man.”
“… I lost to you. Purple Forbidden Enclosure Dragon Slayer lost to Forgiveness. There’s no room for debating the results. I am still alive because you spared me. I will take my loss as a man. If you want my head, it is yours to take.”
“My shifu told me that, besides the three most famous swordplays, Repository Sword Theory deserves a place for its infinite variations and the profoundness it encompasses.”
“… Why are you bringing this up all of a sudden?”
“I just wanted to ask,” Ming Feizhen sat up in a prim posture, “this swordplay or whatever of yours worth a lot of money?”
“How much do you want it to be worth?”
“… Three hundred thousand taels.”
“… What did you steal?”
“I didn’t steal anything. I was just asking. Don’t worry if it’s not worth much.”
“… If you’re referring to Repository Sword Theory, a million would be too little for it.”
Luo Ming: “???”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“If you’re here for trivial chatter, th-”
“My shifu didn’t mention you… My shifu only praised Repository Sword Theory. You never got a mention. Reflect on yourself.” Ming Feizhen then went to the neighbouring cell. “Tang Ye.”
Tang Ye refused to budge.
“Until when are you going to hole up in there?”
“Until I have repaid what I owe.”
“You’re pretty serious.”
“I always am.”
“What do you want for dinner?”
“Mantou and salted vegetables.”
“Consider it done.”
“By the way” – Ming Feizhen stopped at the door on his way out – “His Majesty wants to go to Nanjiang and to bring you along.”
“That wasn’t a request.” Ming Feizhen looked back and grinned. “There’s something cool you have to see.”