Yan Liren frowned. “What are you up to this time?”
“What do you mean?” Ming Feizhen grinned. “I‘m a fish on a chopping board. All I can ask for is to be spared; nothing else matters. Besides, what use do I have for your family’s secret that’s for practitioners of internal disciplines? Isn’t it moronic to throw away your life for someone’s family’s secret manual?”
It all flowed reasonably, but Yan Liren still felt it was too easy to be true. A man as distrusting as him wouldn’t trust someone so easily.
“But I’m not giving it to you for free. You have to spare me if I write it out.”
Yan Liren smiled. “You’re a true cowardly scoundrel. Deal. I swear not to harm your life today if you write it out.”
Ming Feizhen shook his head. “There are three of you. What good is it if only you swear the oath?”
Cuo Xitong had a grudge she was hellbent on avenging, while Yan Jiangnan was against his father pardoning Ming Feizhen from the beginning, so Yan Liren glared at the two and asked, “Don’t worry. I’m here. I won’t let them harm you, either, good enough?”
“What if you don’t, and you don’t let them, but you control the mind of a guard to stick a spear in me?”
“Don’t push your luck. Killing you is as easy as killing a chicken right now. Don’t forget you still owe me a son. Don’t assume I have that much patience. If you think you can go on living without any qualms after giving me the manual, you’re dead wrong. I only promised to let you off the hook today. Keeping pushing it, and I’ll remove all your limbs before I interrogate it out of you.”
Ming Feizhen simpered. “The way you throw your weight around makes me want to puke. Can you drop the pretence? Remove my limbs? You won’t get half a word out of me if I’m so much as less one strand of hair. You want to interrogate me? Go for it. I’ll be happy to write you a manual to drive you mad.”
The reason Yan Liren was courteous initially was due to the points Ming Feizhen pointed out. The original plan was for him to play good guy after Cuo Xitong hurt Ming Feizhen. Despite his skills, Yan Liren had no answer for Ming Feizhen’s shamelessness.
“This isn’t going to go anywhere. It’s hard having a life as valuable as mine. Fine, we can forget the oath. Hero Yan, swear another oath to protect me, and I’ll believe you.”
Yan Liren went along with the demand since it was his only option.
“Okay, please release my right hand now.”
Yan Liren: “What for?”
Ming Feizhen narrowed his eyes and wrinkled his nose. “How else am I meant to write? Show me how you write with your foot. Even if I could, my feet are restrained.”
“That won’t be necessary,” replied Yan Liren, smiling. “You were able to turn the underground palace on its head despite having no internal energy, and you managed to fend off all the assassins last night. Giving you a free arm might be more than we can handle.”
Yan Liren actually had Cuo Xitong prepare Ming Feizhen’s foods every night at the behest of Yan Jiangnan, but he never expected tonight to be the night Ming Feizhen walked into the trap.
“How am I supposed to write, then? If I could use telekinesis, I wouldn’t be tied up here. I’d have used my mind to cut all of you up already.”
“You have a mouth. You recite it. I’ll write it.”
Yan Liren smirked. “Is there a problem? It sounds like you really like trying to play games.”
Ming Feizhen shook his head in disbelief. “Fine, but under one condition.”
“Knock the other two out.”
While the two were evidently enraged, Yan Liren questioned, “Why?”
“For your sakes. You can’t let outsiders hear the secret. Ms. Wu is a smart lady and has a good memory. What alternative do you have besides silencing her?”
“Why do I have to knock out my son, then?”
Ming Feizhen chortled, making the father-son duo feel uneasy. “I already imparted a portion of ‘Sinister Soul Breather Palms’ to Brother jIangnan, and he’s already progressed along quite a bit. Although he’s still inferior to you, his potential is limitless. You two have quite the rift between you right now. Are you sure you won’t betray each other down the road? If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t feel so safe.”
“You won’t sow discord between us! Dad, h-he is spewing nonsense.”
Yan Liren raised a hand for silence, got behind Cuo Xitong and knocked her out. “Jiangnan is my son. Just recite it.”
Yan Jiangnan, relieved, fetched writing instruments, then started recording.
“As long as you’re happy. All right, I’m starting.”
Yan Liren expected Ming Feizhen to continue stirring the pot as he recited the manual, but there was no foul play. In fact, Ming Feizhen occasionally provided extra notes for clarification.
Yan Liren went up to Yan Jiangnan’s back and queried, “Jiangnan, does that correspond to what you know?”
Whilst writing, Yan Jiangnan replied, “Yes. It is our fam-”
Yan Jiangnan felt a soft palm strike to his back prior to passing out.
Yan Liren pulled his son off the chair, picked up the brush and demanded, “Repeat the last four lines.”
“Tsk, tsk, that’s father and son for you.” Ming Feizhen subsequently resumed reciting the manual.
Yan Liren didn’t believe there were any false parts in the recital he heard; if there were, then he could only blame his own incompetence for not picking up on it. It wasn’t a long manual, and Ming Feizhen went rather quickly, so it only took just over an hour to recite the entire thing.
“Man, my mouth is dry. Elder Yan, if you have any good in you, can you get me a drink?”
Yan Liren exhaled after spending a decent while revising the manual. “Finally. My family’s secret manual has finally returned to its rightful owner,” he remarked prior to fetching Ming Feizhen a bowl of water and feeding him.
Ming Feizhen chugged the entire bowl of water. “You’re a pretty good guy, Ol’ Yan.”
Yan Liren snickered. “You’ve worked hard to recite it, and the journey will be tiring. Wouldn’t it be too miserable if you had to go without any water?”
“Oh?” Ming Feizhen formed a small smile. “Where am I journeying to? I don’t work without pay.”
“The netherworld. You’ll have to go without water or food.”
“I thought there were people among the unorthodox factions who kept their word. Guess I was wrong?”
“I do honour my word. I always uphold my oaths.”
“What do you mean, then?”
“I sword to not harm you if you gave me the manual. Did you write it? My son and I wrote it. What part did you have in it?”
“Ah, gotcha. No wonder why you said all that hala bala about not harming today to distract me from the key to your oath. Scum. True scum.”
Yan Liren wiped away his smirk. “Hmph, I’ve had it with you. You killed my eldest son and turned my sons against each other. I can’t pardon you.”
“Yeah, yeah, you can make another son. You only care about the manual. As for the brothers fighting, didn’t you deliberately force Yan Jiangnan to break up with his lover? You’re the one who incited it, aren’t you?”
“You sure you want to spend your last moments worrying about someone else’s family problems?”
“Are you sure? Hey, hey, help me out here!”
“Hahaha, you think I wasn’t aware you recited the manual to buy time? Aren’t you puzzled as to why nobody is here after so long? I already took control of the two examiners guarding the door. Nobody else will come here tonight.”
“I’m seriously going to die if you keep chilling!”
“What an embarrassment. Die!”
A strong breeze spawned from behind Yan Liren’s head as he raised his hand.
“I thought you’re the Grand Examiner. Aren’t you supposed to be a hot shot?” Unlike the breeze, the speaker’s voice was soft.
Yan Liren spun around and uncorked his palm strike behind him instead of at Ming Feizhen, but blood poured from his left shoulder. Although the blade didn’t shine, there was no doubt that it was a broadsword that nearly cleaved his shoulder off. While Yan Liren was strong enough to fight an armed opponent without a weapon himself, the fact that he was injured first put him at a disadvantage.
The broadsword user was around, yet Yan Liren couldn’t spot him. Every time Yan Liren did catch a glimpse, his opponent came at him from unthinkable angles.
“Childish!” Yan Liren used his hands as if they were yin and yang, ensuring he could fend off any attack regardless of where it came off.
Upon blocking his opponent’s attack, Yan Liren heard, “Bitter Meeting” enunciated.
As the blade emerged from behind black garments, fragmented fabric rained down. At the same time, the blade went spinning towards Yan Liren at high velocity. Even though Yan Liren managed to block the slashes, he gradually collected increasingly more cuts on his hands; it was as if he was up against someone with a grudge that wouldn’t be settled until he was totally shredded. His opponent was one of the very few broadsword users who prioritised the intent behind strikes rather than its form. Twenty-plus slashes later of gradually increasing speed, the broadsword user suddenly stopped in front of Ming Feizhen.
“Aren’t you supposed to be tough? How did you end up as a prisoner in a chair?” the broadsword wielder queried.
“I was out of my element. I was waiting for you to come to my rescue, but damn were you slow. Any later and I wouldn’t be trash talking with you.”
Yan Liren: What… is he doing? Why did he disengage?
The broadsword wielder smirked. “How did you know I was here?”
“I started figuring out who helped me on the first night by process of elimination. You were the only likely person. By the way, how did you sneak in?”
When the broadsword wielder removed his black cloak, Ming Feizhen gasped in surprise.
Yan Liren: What are you two… do… ing…?
Yan Liren’s vision suddenly went dark. A head rolled off the shoulder supporting it. The rest of his body fell apart, literally.
Ming Feizhen smiled. “I thought it was weird when I couldn’t find anyone who fit the bill among the imperial guards. Disguising yourself as an examinee – clever. How did you do it? Are the examiners so darn useless?”
“They’re not useless. At least, they’re as adept at fooling people as I remember. I had to put in some work to make it in again. Don’t celebrate just yet. Though I’m wearing this disgusting attire, I can still kill you.”
The familiar face belonged to none other than the unquestionably loyal man to Shang Bieshi, the guard dog – Tiangou.