Martial King’s Retired Life – Vol. 13 Ch. 52

Elaborate Assassination Plan (Part 2)

Tiangou was the farthest away from “normal” among the Seven Stars. He wasn’t an oddball mentally or in appearance. Those “uncommon” traits would only be enough to scare ordinary folks. Those who knew him well knew that he wasn’t as ruthless as Kuanggu Sheng, not as mighty as Drought Demon and not as calculative as Hai Yecha. What made him far from “normal” was his unfathomable knowledge underneath his occasional silly smile. Very few members of Fiends’ Genesis were aware that he excelled as a scholar prior to becoming a criminal.

Not only was he one of the rare scholars of his village, but he also passed the exams at sixteen years of age. It went without saying that he was the pride of the village since their village was impoverished. When it was time for him to head out for the imperial exams, there was a line all the way to the village entrance. Sadly, that was his final moment of glory.

Tiangou participated twice in the exams that came once every three years, but he could never replicate his success prior. He wasn’t incompetent. He merely refused to observe the unwritten rule and purchase his success. They didn’t demand an enormous sum since plenty of examinees didn’t come from wealthy families, and demanding too much was just being ridiculous. Howbeit, his refusal to comply was tantamount to slapping the examiners who held out their hands for money.

Tiangou proved with his brush that he was good enough to be ranked amongst the best, which only peeved the examiner even more. The examiner thought, if Tiangou was already so arrogant just because he had a good head on his shoulders, how would he be treated once Tiangou climbed up in the world? In reality, Tiangou wasn’t stuck up or tough. His reason for refusing was simple: his travel expenses came from his father’s hard-earned savings. Forty kilometres wasn’t a long distance – enough for him to get by with a few mantous. Demanding more money from him, however, was asking him for something he didn’t have.

The failures didn’t wither away Tiangou’s determination. He wanted to become an official so that he could improve his hometown’s living conditions. When the sun was up, he’d be out in the fields. When the stars came out, he borrowed candles from the rich family in his village to study. His taciturn father would silently work in the fields and eat just enough to survive, pretending there was an abundance of food for his son.

Before his son’s third attempt at the imperial exams, Tiangou’s father knelt outside the examination venue for two full days. The unhealthy elder was unable to live out his last moments in his hometown. At the time of his passing, Tiangou’s father was only sixty-five. His most precious assets were his field and his son.

When it was time for the exams, the examiner finally spared Tiangou a glance, though a contemptuous one, and righteously said, “Your dad is dead. He knows the world better than you do. Not only did he kneel at my front door for two days, but he also gave me your worthless tiny field. I told him that, as long as I was overseeing the exams, you would never pass, so he decided to play dead at my door. In the end, he killed himself. He spoiled my mood. He had to leave me with bad luck, damn it. I accept your field. Come try again in three years’ time. I may just be in the mood, recall your old man and let you pass.”

Tiangou formerly believed that it took mountains to crush people. In reality, the blink of an eye was all it took for someone to be crushed. Unfortunately, it took his father’s death for him to realise it.

Tiangou’s memory of life after that was fuzzy. All he remembered was collecting his father’s corpse, cooping up at home for ten days, then laughing hysterically as he left home for good.

A year later, the examiner and his family were found dead, kneeling atop charcoal. At the same time, the name Tiangou was added to the pugilistic world.

It had been years since Tiangou thought back on those events. He opened his eyes, keeping his hands on his weapon. In a deep voice, he asked of his uninvited guest in front of him, “Kuanggu, what do you want?”

***

“Brother Wu, the dungeon’s opening time is right around the corner, yet you don’t seem to care,” Ouyang Xiucai uttered, watching me and Yan Jiangnan drink whilst enjoying some juicy chicken.

I shook my head and indifferently replied, “Why should I care? The compound is in frenzy at the moment. Rather than worrying about what we should worry about, we’re making wild guesses about things we don’t know the first thing about. Who has bothered with the intruder even though it has been two days? If the intruder strikes again, hmph, we’ll probably lose a few more people.”

Ouyang Xiucai bobbed his head to show he could see where I was coming from. As victims of the first attack, Yan Jiangnan and I were rightfully afraid of a second attack, especially when we were still “badly hurt”, given we couldn’t win the first time when we were in our best shape. Considering our qualms, it only made sense to stick to someone strong. Hence, Ouyang Xiucai didn’t question he was said strong ally.

I selected Tiangou as my target based on a process of elimination. I ruled out Ouyang Xiucai and Lang Qing in the first round for they were too challenging to kill.

“The only thing they care about is suspecting us. Inspecting the dungeon is just nonsense; they just don’t trust us. Heh, as if I’d want to waste my breath lying to them.”

Ouyang Xiucai smiled. “Brother Wu, you sure still are hard to appease. Are you still hung up over Mr. Zero and Granny Lianhua’s accusations?”

“Brother Ouyang, if you just had a brush with death and then were physically interrogated by your own side, how would you feel? Besides, heh, am I their friend?”

Ouyang Xiucai just smiled because, from his perspective, I was purely venting at the only place I could vent. Deep down, though, his trust in me was building.

I told a lackey to fetch us more wine once we finished what I brought.

Ouyang Xiucai didn’t mind drinking with us since he knew what I visited him for. Plus, he owed me a drink, so he might as well have honoured his promise. He passed me a bowl he filled up and queried, “Seeing as you are here, can we talk about the lotus?”

“Brother Ouyang, you’re a slippery one, hey? You said you were drinking with me, yet you are only drinking with me to fulfil your personal agenda.”

“At the drinking table, work affairs are personal affairs. Moreover, I joined Fiends’ Genesis to avenge my friend. I can’t leave without anything to show for it. I apologise for imposing on you.”

To be fair, Ouyang Xiucai was quite the gentleman to not have pressed me once since I promised to answer him.

“I’ve seen the projectile before. They’re a tough one to defend against due to their attack range and unpredictability. My answer remains the same. Tang Clan manufactures them.”

“Are you sure it is Tang Clan’s product?”

“When it comes to hidden projectiles, if Tang Clan claims second best, nobody is qualified to consider themselves as the best. It’s not impossible for artisans outside of Tang Clan to manufacture them. Producing them and then throwing them without collecting them, though, is something only their clan can afford. On top of that, I have personally witnessed a Tang Clan member use them before. Don’t forget, Granny Lianhua…”

I didn’t need to say “… hails from Tang Clan,” as Ouyang Xiucai was there when I pointed it out.

“You don’t believe me?”

“I do believe you.” Ouyang Xiucai bitterly smiled, then added, “That is the exact problem. I have been thinking long and hard since that day. According to my knowledge, my friend never crossed paths with Tang Clan, so how did he incur their wrath?”

“That is impossible to answer. Tang Clan has been very active as of late. For all we know, they might be trying to rule the martial world for entertainment. Perhaps your friend came across their secret operation and had to be silenced.”

Following a hard think, Ouyang Xiucai shook his head. “Tang Clan’s leader, Tang Suchen, is the leader of the Six Gods of the south and is without equal in the southwest. He has every qualification to compete against the patriarchs of the most prestigious orthodox sects. He is known to be wise and affable, so he would not do such a thing.”

“They say you can’t know a book by its cover. Have you met Tang Suchen? If you haven’t, how can you speak so conclusively?”

“It’s true that I haven’t…” Ouyang Xiucai knitted his brows together as he mused. Anyone would frown if their target for revenge was Tang Clan.

From what I heard, Tang Suchen was actually a nice guy, and I would trust that evaluation given it came from Daoist Jinguan’s table.

Ouyang Xiucai knocked back a mouthful of wine. “Whatever the case, I am grateful you would share what you know with me, Brother Wu.”

“I respect you for doing all you can for your friends, Brother Ouyang. Why not have three hundred toasts for your loyalty? What do you say, Brother Yan?”

As soon as he met eyes with me, Yan Jiangnan yelled, “Bring us wine!”

While we were merrily drinking away and filling the floor with empty wine jugs, the water in the dungeon receded. We were out of it for hours. Rather, we were groggy until we received the signal to assemble in the main hall.

 

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