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Wen Kexing’s gaze landed upon him. Slightly tilting his head, he sized Lao Meng up like an inquisitive child, as if he was seeing him for the first time. Lao Meng braced himself as he knelt there. After not too long of a time, he was already getting suspicious, unable to suppress his own shivering.
No… it wasn’t time yet. There was absolutely no way that he could prevail alone over this man. He needed help…
“Hm. Where’s Sun Ding?” Wen Kexing suddenly asked.
Lao Meng had known from the get-go that he would ask this question, so he didn’t panic, bringing up the answer he had pre-prepared: from the infighting between Gao Chong and Zhao Jing, to Xue Fang’s appearance, as well as Sun Ding’s impetuous advancement and presently-unknown status.
The other gave an ah. “In light of what you’ve said, Sun Ding has likely been lost within it?” he asked, mild.
Lao Meng lowered his head to admit his error. “It was this subordinate that had handled it poorly.”
Wen Kexing went quiet. There was extreme silence all around. Lao Meng couldn’t help but want to look up to see his reaction, yet rigidly controlled himself — for eight years, this man had been an existence to make one shudder, and when he was quiet, he could make their skin crawl all the more.
Yet, unexpectedly, after waiting a long time, he only heard Wen Kexing drop one airy phrase from his mouth. “Since guests are arriving, go make preparations. They are renowned jianghu names that cannot be slighted.”
Lao Meng could finally no longer control himself, raising his head to see him. He had been holding the notion that he would be losing a layer of skin, not expecting that the other would be so tolerant as to let him go.
“Is there anything else?” Wen Kexing asked, expressionless.
Lao Meng hurriedly shook his head. “No. This subordinate will withdraw.”
Bent over with his head lowered, he faced the man as he drew back to the entryway, after which he respectfully bowed again, then turned to leave. However, Wen Kexing seemed to have suddenly remembered something, calling out to him. “Hold on a second.”
Lao Meng’s cheek twitched a little. He didn’t dare to look up, pausing in his steps in accordance with his words.
“Ah-Xiang has freshly found a husband,” he heard the other say, slightly cheerfully. “I promised that I would give her an accompanying two-and-a-half streets of dowry. Go get that ready for me, and don’t be too stingy.”
“Understood,” Lao Meng answered, stooping over.
Upon withdrawal, he came to be under the sun, and gently wiped the cold sweat off his face, stoic as he walked away. An ominous premonition abruptly caged his heart, as he had the general feeling that the man appeared to have gleaned something… he had about eighty-percent certainty of the outcome right now, but there were still some variables, such as the missing Hanged Ghost, Xue Fang.
Lao Meng’s scheme was very simple; he knew that Xue Fang, that trash, would never be able to find any intermediaries from famed, upright sects. By happenstance, he had previously had contact with Zhao Jing, and used that opportunity to straight-up earn some power, make Zhao Jing mistakenly believe him to have the key, then initiate an alliance. Now, their enemies were all gone, and the Lapis Armor was complete, so that alliance had naturally fallen apart. Zhao Jing and he would stake their lives fighting, and whoever was the one that ultimately opened the arsenal… well, it was either live, or die.
He was shoving Wen Kexing out right now to have them fight without rest; could Xue Fang, hiding his head and showing his tail with the key, really be able to keep away the whole time? He had taken the thing in order to open the arsenal himself, and now that the Armor was complete, Lao Meng didn’t have faith that would be able to help himself.
Indeed, another aim of this war was to draw Xue Fang out. At that time, he would reap the profits of others’ fights, and still have the manpower of the Poisonous Scorpions available for use.
Following Lao Meng’s exit, Wen Kexing looked like he was playing with a tiny creature as he toyed with the leaves of a flower growing in a pot. The maid was carefully combing his hair, until she suddenly wasn’t careful and pulled a strand of his hair. The man slightly creased his brow, and she promptly thudded into a kneel; her entire body shook like a thin leaf in a huge storm, voice like spider silk. “Valley Master… I…”
He gently reached out to lift up her chin, only to see the maiden’s face turn white with fright. He thus sighed. “Why, was someone offended? Did another force you to attend to me as a scapegoat?”
A smile was put upon her face, uglier than crying, as she forced herself to talk. “Serving you, Valley Master, is… is this slave’s good fortune, is…”
Eyes cooling down, he let her go. “If you’re unhappy, say so. If I were you, I certainly wouldn’t be willing to come throw my life away in the presence of a great devil. And yet, you actually…”
He glanced at the girl who shook like a sieve, about to be scared to death, and suddenly stopped talking, losing interest in speaking with her. Standing up, he leaned over to pick up the comb that had fallen to the floor, then waved her off. “You can go.”
The maiden was startled at first, becoming overjoyed soon after. Looking up at him as if she had practically escaped catastrophe, she subsequently tamped down her expression with speed, too afraid to be too obvious in her actions. “Okay,” she whispered, then fled at flying speed, lest he change his mind.
Inside the massive Yama Hall, he was left by himself with a flowerpot. It really resembled the underworld, not one bit of a human air to it at all.
He felt like his mind had been thoroughly corrupted by these people. Once, he had been incomparably familiar with, incomparably accustomed to such environs, and when no one was around, he would feel secure, his heart at ease. After going out for a trip and then coming back, though, he found that this place he had lived in for a full eight years had gotten suffocating.
None of you have to worry, actually, he silently thought. Once I find a real road to the human world, I’ll turn back into a human, turn into the same as I had been ‘outside’ — laid-back and even-tempered, no longer temperamental, no longer insane, no longer living a life of casually killing people. There will… be someone beside me, too… he isn’t afraid of me, and I’m good to him. He’s someone I can be with for a lifetime…
He hooded his eyes, as if recalling something. A smile, neither sinister nor indifferent, appeared on his face, and he gently released the plant he was furling.
Living life… what a pretty phrase that was.
Zhou Zishu looked a bit tragic at the moment. Anybody that had followed a bunch of Scorpions for over half a month wouldn’t be too nice to look at, either, but in his opinion, this wasn’t anything too strenuous.
The Great Shaman’s medicine had been of great effect, nearly eliminating his ailment. It had been described as being able to suppress the Seven Acupunctures poison, and then it did. The pain that once inevitably broke out every midnight, reducing him to a half-alive state, was suddenly gone, which he was somewhat unaccustomed to. In any case, he wasn’t a finicky person; the assignments he had been required to go out and do himself in Tian Chuang had generally been a lot more difficult than this.
After this over-half-month, the Poisonous Scorpions stopped in a small town about thirty li away from Fengya Mountain. The Scorpion gave an order, and all the others, well-trained, switched into a black mass of clothes, dressing up as commoners of all trades. Like drops of water, they soon ‘vanished’ into the town’s populace.
Whilst Zhou Zishu was following by example, beneath the calm appearance of this unremarkable town, a dark undercurrent bubbled.
As if waiting for somebody, the Scorpion stopped here, and refused to budge.
In just a few days, word on the wind came in — Zhao Jing was leading the heroes of the realm, spreading out notices for heroism far and wide to crusade against the flock of evil Ghosts. What was most thought-provoking was that he only disseminated notices, not at all invoking the ‘Writ of the Land’.
Reverend Cimu truly was an old monk as cunning as a thousand-year tortoise. As soon as Gao Chong had died, he sniffed something off on the breeze, then immediately fell ‘horribly ill’. As if the Buddha had finally remember this faithful believer of his, he swiftly went to beckon him to Sukhavati.
Another holder of the Writ, the ‘descendant’ of the Ancient Monk, Ye Baiyi, was also somewhere unknown.
Meanwhile, Gu Xiang’s quartet bore a different mission. Undergoing a simple disguise dress-up, they then caught up with the murderous-looking people that had scrambled for the Mountain.
Cao Weining quickly noticed that this time around, not only had his shishu, Mo Huaikong, come in person from Qingfeng Sword Sect, but even his Sect Leader shifu, Mo Huaiyang, had as well.
He was a bit unclear on the situation. He and his shifu had initially been sent down the mountain because his shifu had been in seclusion — had he come out of it, now? The two primary figures of the Sect were mingling here with Zhao Jing — did his shifu know the true face of that Zhao hypocrite, or no?
Mo Huaikong had always been a prick, but Mo Huaiyang seemed a bit like an immortal. He was quite a bit skilled in talking with people, was pleasant to all, wasn’t arrogant or ill-tempered, and could win over peoples’ hearts. It wasn’t strange at all that back when he and Mo Huaikong were of equal excellence, the position of Sect Leader had landed upon him.
The quartet rented a carriage, pretending to be the younger generations of average peasants. Smeared on their faces was some alleged ‘face-changing’ stuff that Gu Xiang had made up; in reality, it was just some yellow that made them hard to notice, totally not on the same level as Zhou Zishu’s massive overhaul.
Knowing that Cao Weining’s shifu was present, Gu Xiang got slightly more nervous. The exact circumstances were currently fuzzy, Zhao Jing was dominating the situation at large, Cao Weining was wavering, and Zhang Chengling plus Gao Xiaolian were all of a sudden seeing their father-murdering enemy, eyes nearly red, only barely consolable.
Of the four of them, Gu Xiang alone was still capable of thinking things over with a cool head, so no one else had any ideas. Now, it was the female Zhuge, Ah-Xiang, that had the prerogative.
“This is an extremely pressing matter,” she said. “Think about it, Brother Cao. If you rashly go up to your shifu and tell him, will he believe you, or that ‘Hero’ Zhao?”
Cao Weining pondered this for a minute, then didn’t have much of a retort, feeling that she had made sense. “Alright. I’ll listen to you,” he said with a nod, like a husband at his wife’s beck and call.
Seeing that he was this okay with talking it over, she sighed in relief. In truth, she had brought another type of scenario to mind: Mo Huaikong would be easy to deal with, but Mo Huaiyang, who was downmountain all of a sudden, was with Zhao Jing like this. Had he really been hoodwinked by him, or did he have some other plan? There had been several days where she had braved the danger, nearly getting discovered several times, in order to observe him, and she believed that the old man was not so simple a character.
“How should we do this, then, Miss Gu?” Gao Xiaolian asked.
“We wait,” she stated without hesitation. “We haven’t yet found Ye Baiyi. With so few of us, we can’t do any big, sky-overturning tricks, let alone with this many people. Even Zhao Jing by himself would be enough for us to eat dirt. Since they’ve all rushed to Ghost Valley, which isn’t an easy-to-pick persimmon, there’s going to be a huge fight…”
She paused, brows creasing as she suddenly thought: Why did her Master tell her to go find Ye Baiyi right now? Weren’t Lord Seventh and the Great Shaman similarly idle? Their methods were far-reaching, so wouldn’t having them go be half the work with twice the effect? She remembered Wen Kexing’s words, where he said that a woman marrying off was like spilled water, and that she would have no connection to the Valley from then on out. Did he think… that the Valley had no chance of victory in this war?
What was he… actually planning?
Cao Weining patted her on the shoulder, and only then did she snap out of it. “We can’t do anything for right now,” she continued. “Just follow after them, quietly watch for changes, and take note of Ye Baiyi’s movements.”
On the surface, she was nonchalant, but her mind was being cautious. Even having Wen Kexing’s protection, living in the Valley for so many years had been enough for her to have more survival skills than typical girls. In this instant, she became the linchpin amongst the four; with her statement issued, no one refuted it.
They then went on like so without mishap, until a few days later, when an incident occurred.
Ye Baiyi… had shown up.