Where Should a Dislodged Head Go?
At the same time the sun erased the mirage, Seventeen Hidden Dragons’ third and fourth ranks showed up at a small forest outside the capital. They never arranged to meet up at the same time, but they both found the same lead.
As he went zooming through the forest, rustling the leaves, Dugu asked with a smile, “I never thought we’d be able to work together again. I believe it’s the first time we’ve been on a mission together since Ling Ling left?”
Though Yi Ya didn’t respond, Dugu didn’t lose spirit. “He really just got up and left. That being said, I was reassigned to guarding His Majesty in the palace after his departure, while you were barely in the capital. Every time you returned, we’d barely have any time to spend together.” In a serious tone, he then said, “This is a big matter. His Highness Red Prince and Li Cheng’s kidnappings have dealt a heavy blow to the imperial court. One misstep could result in nationwide panic. We need to be careful.”
“Let’s speed up,” Yi Ya finally replied.
Dugu smiled. “Sure.”
Originally, Dugu’s qinggong was a notch above Yi Ya’s, but he could no longer get in front even at maximum velocity. The Seventeen Hidden Dragons were ranked based on combat merits. During his time at the border, Wang Laimu racked up the most credit since hardly any of Yi Ya’s achievements were reported. In spite of that, Yi Ya remained in fourth place, and third place didn’t seem too far ahead of him. Nevertheless, Yi Ya didn’t care. Yi Ya’s only concern was fulfilling his duty. He never coveted credit, but his performances were impeccable, so he collected adulation without actively pursuing merits.
Yi Ya looked over his shoulder. “I’m happy.”
“Of course.” Dugu smiled again. He knew that, deep down, Yi Ya could be very competitive. “We’ve reached our destination.”
The lake was dead still. The two of them reverse engineered the mirage to deduce this was the location it was cast from, which they then made haste for. The scholar in black at the edge of the water and the lake were undoubtedly linked to the mirage.
Splash! Ten individuals vaulted out from below the water surface.
“Guards.” With a wave of his arm, Yi Ya sent five individuals back into the water. It wouldn’t have been farfetched to compare to an arrow that couldn’t be stopped as he charged toward the scholar sitting on the big rock.
“Stop him,” the scholar ordered.
Alas, Dugu was already in hot pursuit.
The scholar got flustered for a second when he espied the duo’s swift advance. Nonetheless, he quickly got up and thrust his sword with precise control. Regardless, his match against Yi Ya was a short one just as Yi Ya’s matches always had been.
Yi Ya had an innate talent for identifying his opponents’ weaknesses and using them to his advantage. That was how he built a resume of dominating foes who should’ve outclassed him. Yi Ya snapped his opponent’s sword and then used his bare hand to displace his opponent’s head from his shoulders. Meanwhile, Dugu was still fighting off the guards. Yet, Yi Ya showed signs of confusion instead of joy.
“… Something’s wrong.”
“It’s not him.”
Yi Ya looked up to see a man in a wheelchair exit the thatched cottage nearby.
When Dugu caught up and saw the man in the wheelchair, his spirits were lifted several folds. “Commander, you arrived before us?”
Ye Yun casually remarked, “The guy sitting on the rock didn’t even realise I entered the cottage. He doesn’t have what it takes to pull off the stunt.”
Dugu was so surprised to hear the scholar was but only an imposter that he nearly missed the stench of blood leaking from the cottage. When he looked inside, he discovered over ten corpses.
“They’re all dead and gone. The only explanation for why the image quality was so clear and placed so accurately is that it was conjured using a machine of some sort. Moreover, there was a delay between the mirage and what happened in real time. By the time we saw it, the hostages had already been relocated.”
“The copses…” Dugu stopped himself when he remembered that Ye Yun asked questions without doing any prior research themselves. It wasn’t hard to figure out they were part of the Seven Champion White Princes based on Ye Yun’s unwillingness to waste his breath.
“There’s not a single lead for us to find where the hostages have been taken. I’ve looked around, and it truly seems like they just evaporated. Nothing is out of place.” Ye Yun condescendingly scanned the head on the ground. “There’s no doubt we saw an execution. Jiang Chen has managed to blackmail the imperial court without even needing to show his face. Heh, now this is getting fun.”
“How long have they been dead for?”
“Yi Ya, you sure have climbed up in the world, huh? You’re even questioning me now.”
“I would never,” replied Yi Ya, still visually auditing the state of the corpses to deduce when they were killed.
Since the time he was a kid, Yi Ya had always prioritised his duties over all else. He was the type who lived on extremes. The thought of being rude never crossed his mind; he simply deemed it a more economical use of time to visit the scene of a crime rather than on formalities and pleasantries.
Yi Ya had discerned that the dead died around the same time and most probably to the black-attired scholar. Sadly, that was all he could work out.
“If only Liu Shan Men was still in capable hands,” Dugu lamented.
Yi Ya didn’t comment because hypothetical situations weren’t going to crack the case for them. Instead, he looked to the one person who might’ve held answers for them.
“It’s not my speciality,” stated Ye Yun.
Similarly to Yi Ya, Ye Yun was all about completing tasks as fast as possible, which was why he actually liked Yi Ya in some ways.
Subsequent to his own inspection, Dugu asked, “Kidnapping members of the imperial family and Seven Champion White Princes to force His Majesty to abdicate makes him a one of a kind rebel. Surely his tactics won’t end here, though. Otherwise, how is it any different to waiting to be killed? It’s a matter of time before we find him. If he harms His Highness, not only will he sabotage his own goal, but he’ll also put his own life in jeopardy. Is he not stupid for trying this?”
To be clear, Dugu wasn’t suggesting Jiang Chen was a fool. To the contrary, he was confused why someone who could blackmail a monarch with a mere mirage would do something that hadn’t been thought out.
“You don’t understand Jiang Chen because you weren’t part of the campaign against Fiends’ Genesis back then.” Ye Yun rested his chin on his fist. “He’s even harder to track than Shang Bieshi; it’s as if he knows every route on this land. He’d even use a rat hole to hide. Lai Jingzhen was the one who solved their contraptions back then, but not even he could locate Jiang Chen.
“It wasn’t a coincidence that we didn’t have a lick of news on him before he launched this operation. He knows exactly how to evade Emperor’s Entourage and even the imperial court. I always knew of his existence, but I could never find his traces because of that. He’s got a good head, a scarily good one.
“He knows how many his enemy’s numbers and what sort of counter will be coming his way. He has a clear pulse on everything that’s happening on the board. We can’t catch him even if we can beat him in a single blow.
“He has ambition, guts and strategy. He’s a dangerous old maniac. Why would he give us time to rejuvenate when he has every advantage? How much can be achieved in five days?”
Ye Yun stopped to think for a while, looking more perplexed than usual, and then shook his head. “Slow. Ignorant.” He subsequently gave Yi Ya a smirk. “Qilin Guard, go collect your reward for beheading the enemy leader.”
After he did his own thinking, Yi Ya queried, “Where is Tianhu?”
“Don’t know. He’s not under my jurisdiction. What he wants to do is his business.”
If Jiang Chen knew the three offices’ modus operandi, then perhaps the only person who could find him was Tianhu. After all, Tianhu didn’t abide by the imperial court’s system.
“It’s time for him to do something.” Yi Ya saluted Ye Yun, patted Dugu on the shoulder, and then off he went.
Ye Yun chuckled as he watched Yi Ya take off. “Now we have Wang Muren 2.0.”
Dudu smiled. “Still, he is different to their grand commander.”
“Both are going to die at the border. What’s the difference?” Ye Yun turned his attention to Dugu. “Fetch Navagraha Star Summoner.”
“Are we really summoning Commander Tianhu back to tackle this?”
“Huang Yuzao failed. Gongsun Chu is no ordinary man. Considering he had the guts to take on the imperial court, the mirage can’t be the only trick he has prepared. The death of an aristocrat’s family member is none of my business. The Seven Champion White Princes going into frenzy isn’t my problem, either. Since he decided to go after the Emperor, though, he’s going to have to pay with his life. Do you still remember who we are?”
Dugu bowed. “We are Emperor’s Entourage, the only and strongest shield of our monarch.”
“Go.” Once Dugu left, Ye Yun gazed up at the bright sky. “… As long as I’m around, Emperor’s Entourage will never collapse. Rest assured. Qilin Guards are akin to this sun in the sky; they’re the sharpest spear, and the next Qilin has matured. Liu Shan Men’s final fate… rides on this. Yiren, you’re going to have to watch out.”