I drew a blade, thrust without hesitation and pulled out. Scarlet droplets shattered on the ground before Yan Jiangnan could grab his open chest and express shock. Meanwhile, I focused on listening to the sounds in the distance whilst analysing the battlefields.
I picked up the bloody sabre I threw to the ground and rested it on Yan Jiangnan’s shoulder. Even though I hadn’t used the Western-Regions-designed sabre in a long time, it was still quite comfortable to wield. “Yuan Kou’s competence was presumably developed in the line of duty. He can control his heart rate, breathing and hostile aura, lowering them to a point that’s hard to detect his presence. He has the ability to succeed as a scout and assassin. That was why I couldn’t predict when he’d make his move despite knowing he wasn’t trustworthy. Had I not used a snow silkworm before, I’d have likely died to the poison-laden needles. You, on the other hand, are different.”
I looked back at Yan Jiangnan, making him flinch with eye contact. “You haven’t developed the same skillset, and you’re too physically close to me. I know all about the times you contemplated assassinating me in my sleep and had to fight the urge. The majority of your skills come from me. Unfortunately for you, you did a poor job of absorbing the knowledge; you don’t even have the ability to alter the procedure.”
Yan Jiangnan clenched his teeth to stop them from chattering. “You’re the one who killed my brother, fooled me and used me! You told me you could revive the dead! You lied!”
Most of my stress evaporated when I heard Elise and the others escape. “I know that it’s a lie, and so did you. We just didn’t mention it. One, you feared I lied. Two, you feared I’d kill you if you revealed your hostile intents. That’s why you allied with Fiends’ Genesis’ group, correct?”
When I looked back at Yan Jiangnan a second time, his face had gone completely white. “The timing of their riot is perfect. You told them to start as soon as we failed?”
Yan Jiangnan smirked. “So? Is there a rule that you can fool me, but I can’t fool you? You… You…” Seemingly running out of gas, he dropped his head.
“It sounds like you’re awaiting a logical explanation from me. Funnily, you wouldn’t give me any chances if I was the one at your mercy, though, would you?”
“… I would,” Yan Jiangnan uttered from behind his clenched teeth. “… Despite knowing you used me… you taught me martial arts; I owe you for recreating me. Despite knowing the chance was slim, I still wanted to hear you personally assure you that you weren’t lying, that you truly could resurrect the dead.”
“I have nothing to say.” I pressed the blade up against Yan Jiangnan’s neck, making a small slit. “Everyone only has one chance at life. If you want it, you have to fight for it with your own hands. From the moment you, your brother and Wu Ping were on duty, our loyalties were clear. No matter who killed who, we all deserved it. Right now, you’re sort of an ally. Killing you would leave a bitter taste in my mouth. You have your justifications for hating me. I gave you a chance to kill me, but you made poor use of it. Neither of us owe each other anything any longer. We’re back to the same situation as that day. I could’ve killed you or spared you that day. I chose to spare you purely because the benefits of sparing you outweighed the cons. If I spare you again now, there will be more cons than pros. That being said, your value that day and meaningless value today cancel each other out. I’ll pretend this never happened. Continue working for me, and you won’t have to fear for your life. In contrast, you’ll have another chance to avenge yourself in the future.”
“Are you… serious?”
“You could die if you prefer. Just say the word.”
Yan Jiangnan had a long think prior to nodding. He didn’t have an alternative, really. If the standoff continued, he’d die from blood loss without me needing to lift another finger. I couldn’t care less what he did next, so I headed off to our agreed rendezvous point.
Everyone was present in the room Elder Lianhua recovered in while she was injured. I had two reasons for choosing this particular spot. First, it was secluded, making it tough to find. Second, if a group tried to attack us, there were only two long and narrow paths to reach the room. They would have to bypass my holes formation if they wanted to cross one of them. Hence, we would only need to focus our efforts on guarding the alternate route. No matter how many of them there were, the narrow path limited how many we’d have to fight simultaneously.
“Good to see everyone safe and sound. I can’t be bothered with pleasantries. Yuan Kou’s death has cost us considerable strength. Elise, Su Qi, you two lead a team to guard the chokepoint. Teng, Yan Jiangnan, subdue anyone who manages to cross the holes formation using qinggong. Ouyang, Elder Lianhua and I shall strategize from back here. Brother Gu, Mrs. Gu and Yan Jiangnan shall be in charge of delivering messages and resources. Lang Qing, come with me; I have a task for you.”
Everyone who needed to move set off to their stations.
Ouyang Xiucai expressed, “Brother Wu, you remain calm in the face of danger and lead logically. Please forgive me for ever underestimating you.”
I cracked a smile. I kept Elder Lianhua and Ouyang Xiucai here with me as the two of them were far better at using their heads compared to the others.
“Elder, what wisdom can you share with me?”
Ever since she mentioned “Autumn Lock”, Elder Lianhua’s brows had been glued together. More than likely, she had some new hints on the way over.
“Hero Ming, this old one has thought of something she needs to urgently check out, so she shall take her leave for a while.”
“But Fiends’ Genesis is now trying to eliminate us. Perhaps…”
“It’s precisely because they have yet to finish congregating that this old lady needs to go now. Otherwise, it might not be possible later. She shall explain later. Please rest assured. This old lady has her own ways of defending herself.”
I didn’t bother stopping Elder Lianhua since she had made up her mind. As anybody would’ve expected, Fiends’ Genesis’ group encroached upon us not long after she left.
Fiends’ Genesis’ forces numbered over a hundred of varying threats. The toughest opponents were those hiding in wait at the exit. Since their task was to stop the strongest fighters on base, they had to be capable combatants and trained in formations. To complicate matters further, I didn’t know how many of them there were.
There weren’t even twenty assaulting our new fortress. While Elise’s small team was strong in their own right, a number of them had been taken captive and others injured when Fiends’ Genesis caught them by surprise before. Teng was fatigued from opening the doors three times, so there was no way he could endure for long. If it wasn’t for Elise and Su Qi, we’d have been at a huge disadvantage. Still, they had limited energy.
“Brother Ouyang, I need to do some thinking so, so please don’t speak to me until I’m done.”
Ouyang Xiucai watched me take out a stack of paper from my shirt and set out the drawings in a specific order. I drew this map of the base according to what I picked up aurally and where I had explored in person. The base resembled a formation my shifu once arranged. From what I was told, Shifu referenced Luoshu Diagram (Inscription of the River Luo), one of the two cosmological diagrams. I didn’t understand a lick about it and still don’t. I had a feeling that the base was arranged in a certain system.
Following a lot of contemplation, I drew a circle on the edge of the papers.
“Brother Wu, that is the location of Heaven and Earth Doors, correct?”
I subsequently drew another circle at another edge – the location of one mechanism I heard. Of course, it was only a rough guess since I couldn’t hear it too clearly.
“And that is…?”
I focused on studying the map instead of answering. Every contraption had to abide by a certain system, operated out of sight and have a catalyst. Its operations provided information.
I drew a line based on the sounds I heard when the Heaven and Earth Locked operated the first time. Then, I drew another line based on the second sound I heard not long ago.
Elder Lianhua said “Autumn Lock” consists of two locks – namely Speechless and Pain of Parting. If the one we just went to was “Pain of Parting”, then “Speechless” is where the other circle is. The two contraptions follow the same direction to send signals to each other. This is the place that the two locks are meant to lock down.
I honed in on where the two tracks met, stopped to think and then took out a golden ornament to place on the intersection. It was obvious at a glance that the ornament was from a dynasty long, long ago.
The intersection point was none other than the room we were in.
Luoshu Diagram – Better known as the Hetu and Luoshu Diagrams. As I slipped into the chapter, the two were cosmological diagrams used in ancient China. Daoists and Confucians used them to explain the correlation of the hexagrams in Yijing Jing. They’re also employed in geomancy.