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Ji Han looked at him coolly. “You’re saying nonsense again.”
“I know,” Zhao Jiangui went on, heedless. “In your heart, I—“
“This Lord would never risk my life to rescue a sword,” the other said, still completely unperturbed.
Zhao Jiangui was caught off guard for a minute. Before he had time to snap out of it, Ji Han appeared to be very anxious to move away from this topic. “Sometimes, I think that if my birth parents were still around, they wouldn’t want me to practice martial arts, either.”
“Who were they?”
“I don’t know. I only know that they were also Creed people, and that they were good friends with my father. As for the rest… he never brought much up to me.”
Zhao Jiangui understood; Ji Han’s parents had passed, and their friend had raised their child. That was a pretty common story in jianghu.
“I’ve never heard anyone in jianghu mention your parents,” Ji Han said. Someone becoming the number-one swordsman would be bound to have their parents get some fame in their wake.
“I don’t know who they were. Someone abandoned me before the sect’s mountain gate, where my Master picked me up and brought me back.”
As was so, they were two patients suffering from the same ailment. “Your Master must treat you well?” Ji Han asked.
He nodded slightly. “He treats me like he’s my father by blood.”
Ji Han said nothing.
Zhao Jiangui wasn’t sure what he had said wrong, only able to stare at the other tensely. Ji Han slightly frowned, then suddenly asked, “Do you have sect siblings?”
“You’re the eldest?”
Zhao Jiangui nodded. “I travel all year round. My second junior brother is a bailiff of the Six Doors, my third sister married off into Immortal Doctor Valley, and my youngest brother alone is still accompanying our Master.”
Ji Han looked to be quite interested. “It sounds like you all have a good relationship.”
“We entered the sect at around the same time. Since our ages were close, we always played well together when young. Only our youngest came later; he’s a stage younger than you, and right now, he still needs to be coaxed by our Master before he’s willing to… take his medicine.”
Right before he finished speaking, his lips couldn’t help but curve upwards slightly.
That arc was too shallow to be considered a smile, but compared to the ‘smile’ he had forcefully squeezed out before, it was really quite pleasing to the eye.
Ji Han wasn’t sure whether he was delighted at thinking back on his past at the sect, or was smiling at him being just like his youngest brother, where he feared bitterness and dared not take medicine.
That gave him some emotions he couldn’t explain the root of.
“You seem to be really interested in my sect.”
“I don’t have any sect siblings. It was no more than a moment of curiosity.”
Zhao Jiangui was startled. “Wasn’t that kid… around the same age as you?’
Children of similar ages would always find it very easy to become friends, to say nothing of the fact that with the connection between the two, they should have been like brothers.
Ji Han’s expression turned quite unsightly. “Ever since the age I was able to hold a sword, I stayed in my practice room the whole day, while he never practiced. I really didn’t have the free time to meet with him.”
Zhao Jiangui frowned. “You had time to play when not practicing, surely.”
“Father didn’t like for me to meet with him,” the other said lightly.
Zhao Jiangui didn’t know what to say to that; he even felt like his heart was suddenly getting squeezed by something, subconsciously sensing that the former Creed Lord might not have been as nice to Ji Han as he had been imagining.
“All I remember is that whenever I refused to practice as a kid, father would send someone down the mountain to buy me candy to coax me, given that I showed any progress in my arts.”
“Pine nut candy?” Zhao Jiangui subconsciously questioned.
“I was no more than seven at the time. I liked tanghulu the most, since they tasted and looked good. When I got a little older, though, my comprehension of the sword came, and I didn’t eat as much candy anymore, so that trick had less effect.”
Zhao Jiangui quietly wrote that down in his mind.
Hm. Ji Han likes tanghulu.
The Elder Maid gently knocked on the door.
Doctor Yan had come to change the Creed Lord’s bandages. He didn’t like it when others watched, so Zhao Jiangui had had no choice but to wait outside the door.
Xiao Lin and the maid were both standing by on the veranda. After thinking about it, Zhao Jiangui had to ask them, “Could I go down the mountain for a few days?”
The Elder Maid hesitated. “Um… you should ask the Lord, Don Zhao.”
He nodded. He wasn’t a member of the Creed, in the end; she was probably worried that he would run away, or send some information to the Vast Alliance.
“What would you go down there for, Hero Zhao?” Xiao Lin asked out of curiosity.
Zhao Jiangui slightly paused. “I’m… going shopping for things.”
“What are you lacking, Don Zhao?” the maid asked. “I’ll have someone else go buy it.”
He frowned. “…No thanks.”
Doctor Yan had finished the application. He said a scant few things to Ji Han, then walked out the door with a stinker face. Coldly sweeping a look at the Elder Maid, he told Xiao Lin and her to go clean up the thrown-out gauze and bloodied water.
As they did so, Zhao Jiangui went to follow them in, but as he walked by Doctor Yan, the other suddenly said something quietly to him.
“As I see it, you don’t like him at all.”
Zhao Jiangui stopped in his tracks.
“The way you treat him… stems from nothing more than guilt. And the way he treats you is only out of guilt and responsibility.”
“What are you trying to say?” Zhao Jiangui stared at him coldly.
The other smiled slightly. “You two are pretty interesting.”
Zhao Jiangui hadn’t liked this guy to begin with. Now, the loathing in his heart inexplicably increased a bit.
Xiao Lin ran out to beckon him over. “Hero Zhao, the Lord wants you in.”
Shooting a glance at Doctor Yan, Zhao Jiangui resolved not to pay any more attention to him, turned, and headed inside.
Once the Elder Maid and Xiao Lin withdrew, Ji Han suddenly told him, “I heard all that.”
Those with deep internal force would have senses that were much keener than those of ordinary people.
“He’s a weird man, but his medical skills are truly excellent.”
“He’s a member of your Creed, too?”
Ji Han shook his head. “He never entered the Creed. When father was gravely ill, we invited him over from Immortal Doctor Valley. Unfortunately, he said that he could treat the illness, but not his lifespan… in any case, he couldn’t save his life.”
“I shouldn’t have asked,” Zhao Jiangui quickly answered.
“I heard Xiao Lin say that you want to go downmountain for a stroll,” he said softly, sighing. “I won’t stop you, but the Elders might not be at ease. I might have to send a few people with.”
The other nodded.
“Actually, with your martial arts, sending people to follow you would be of no use. If you wanted to leave, no one would be able to stop you.”
Zhao Jiangui was speechless. He really only wanted to go shopping; why did it suddenly seem like he was going to leave forever?
Luckily, he had already mastered those two different scriptbooks.
Ji Han opened his mouth, seemingly wanting to say something else, but Zhao Jiangui grabbed his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll return on schedule.”
“I promised you that I would be with you in taking your medicine every day.”
“There’s no need for that—“
“I’ll never abandon you.”
Ji Han tried to pull his hand out, movements stiff. “You’re so corny…”
“They’re words from the bottom of my heart,” Zhao Jiangui said, clutching his hand even tighter.
The other kept on struggling hard. “I don’t want to hear you say bottom-of-the-heart stuff!”
“Maybe you’d like to hear some sweet nothings?”
“No, this Lord does not.”
Zhao Jiangui thought for a minute. “None of the people downmountain look as good as you.”
“Even if they gave me ten trunks full of gold, I would never run off.”
“I want only one person’s heart, to never separate even in old age,” he declared, with sudden adoration.
And yet, he allowed his hand to be held like so.
“And I’ve gotten him,” Zhao Jiangui finished.
At last, Zhao Jiangui exited the Creed and went down the mountain.
Alongside him were several guards from Ji Han’s side, as well as Protector Hua. Ji Han told him that they were all his close confidantes that would never make things hard for him, so he didn’t need to worry.
Down the Creed’s mountain was a small town, with most of the people living in it family members of the Creed. The place was prosperous; once they caught up with the market, the streets were filled with various stalls, the townspeople all bustling about.
Many seemed to recognize Protector Hua. When they greeted her, they would inevitably steal a few more glances in Zhao Jiangui’s direction. Seeing that the two were a perfect match of a talented man and a beautiful woman, a bold one smiled happily as they asked, “Have you finally landed a husband, Protector Hua?”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Wei Qi! Wei Third! Don’t talk crap, lest the Lord cuts your tongue out.”
Wei Qi was confused. “What does any of this have to do with him?”
She pointed at Zhao Jiangui, looking unfathomably serious. “He’s his man.”
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
Wei Qi saw the light.
When those surrounding heard this commotion, they all turned to stare right at Zhao Jiangui.
The latter’s face was cold, yet he was slightly unnerved by their staring. He then looked down and pretended to study whatever was on a streetside fruit stall.
“What do you take a liking to, Sir?” its vendor asked.
He didn’t respond.
“He’s just taking a casual look,” Protector Hua answered from behind him.
The vendor grabbed a basket of fruit, then forcefully stuffed it into Zhao Jiangui’s arms. The other was startled. “You—“
“You don’t need to be polite, Sir! This lowly one is gifting that to you!”
“Whatever else you like, you can just take!”
“I… shouldn’t get rewards I didn’t earn—“
“Sir!” someone else suddenly called for him.
He turned to see another person carrying a tightly-wrapped reedflower chicken, which was tossed into his arms.
“I heard that the Creed Lord was injured recently,” the other said. “Please bring that back to aid his diet, Sir!”
“No need for thanks! Your happiness is enough!”
Now getting surrounded by a crowd of people, Zhao Jiangui no longer wanted to say a thing.
Protector Hua couldn’t help but laugh.
Wei Qi sized Zhao Jiangui up for a long time, then said to her, “Not bad. The Lord’s got good eyesight, with that figure.”
She nodded. “It truly isn’t bad, for him to have snatched the number-one swordsman.”
“…What did you say?”
She pointed at Zhao Jiangui, smiling. “Don’t you think he’s rather familiar-looking?”
“He’s Zhao—“ he choked. “The Lord’s appetite… is something we mortals really can’t comprehend.”
On the mountain road back to the Demonic Creed, Zhao Jiangui was thinking that it was fortunate that Ji Han had sent bodyguards with him, else he really wouldn’t have known how to ferry this massive pile of stuff back.
“This outing really reaped a lot of rewards,” Protector Hua remarked from his side.
He said nothing. In his hands was one stick of tanghulu, and one rattle-drum the neighboring vendor had insistently foisted onto him.
The Creed’s families had been… way too enthusiastic.
He really had no idea where to put any of this stuff. The guards sent the reedflower chicken over to the kitchen, then brought the rest of it over to the room where Ji Han was staying.
Zhao Jiangui hadn’t expected that Ji Han would be able to get out of bed and walk around at this point; Xiao Lin was lending him an arm as he took a walk in the courtyard.
Ji Han watched the guards bring in bags of stuff of all sizes, dumbstruck for a short moment. “You bought all of this?” he asked in shock.
“These are all gifts from the townsfolk down the mountain,” Protector Hua said.
Ji Han was puzzled. “Why would they give all this?”
“Oh, they heard that Don Zhao is your man, so they inevitably got a little excited and—“
“He’s yours, naturally—“
“Don’t talk crap!”
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
Protector Hua: “But that one day—“
He glared furiously at her. “Keep talking, and this Lord will pull your tongue out!”
She covered her mouth, looking like she was smiling.
He then looked at all of the stuff on the ground. “Out! Throw all of it out!”
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
The guards were forced to move it all back out again.
Ji Han pointed at Zhao Jiangui. “You’re not allowed to go down the mountain anymore!”
The latter didn’t understand what he was so mad about. Protector Hua laughed aloud.
Ji Han stared coldly at her. “What are you laughing at?! Get out of here!”
She winked at Zhao Jiangui, concealing her grin as she pulled Xiao Lin out.
Zhao Jiangui looked down at the tanghulu and rattle-drum in his hands, then silently hid them both behind him.
Ji Han’s emotions seemed to be a bit too riled up, as he had to cough a few times. Upon glimpsing that the other appeared to be hiding something, he got angry again. “What do you have in your hands?! I order you to throw all of it out!”
Zhao Jiangui felt aggrieved. “But I spent money on it.”
Even though the peddler had refused to accept coin, he had stubbornly passed him a few coppers anyways.
Ji Han frowned as he looked at him. “You did? What did you buy?”
The man said nothing.
“Show it,” Ji Han said, relaxing his tone.
Zhao Jiangui reluctantly extended his right hand; he was holding a stick of tanghulu.
Ji Han was slightly caught off guard. “You went downmountain to buy this?”
Zhao Jiangui remained silent.
Sighing, Ji Han looked a bit helpless. “I liked that stuff back when I was a kid, but I’m long past that age.”
With as much said, Zhao Jiangui went to retract his hand.
“Hold it,” Ji Han said. “Since it was out of your kind regard, you going out just to buy it for me makes me happy.”
“Give me the tanghulu… what else are you hiding?”
Zhao Jiangui had to take out his other hand.
Zhao Jiangui nodded.
“What is the meaning of this?”
Ji Han swiftly turned hostile again, face overcast. “Get out. This Lord is not three years old!”
This man… was really hot-and-cold. He hung his head and left, crestfallen.
“Get back here!”
Zhao Jiangui turned around, feeling wronged.
Staring expressionlessly at him, Ji Han extended a hand towards him in a stiff motion. “You go, but the tanghulu stays.”
He just could not understand where he had gone wrong. He had never said at all that Ji Han was only three years old, so why had he thought that?
He genuinely couldn’t fathom it.
As he walked outside, he saw Protector Hua standing under a tree, smiling right at him.
“Where is Xiao Lin?” he asked her. He practically had a bellyful of issues; he needed Xiao Lin to tell him solutions to them.
“How is the Lord doing?” she just asked back.
He sighed. “…I don’t get him.”
“What don’t you get?”
“Your Lord is rather too hot-and-cold.”
She bust out laughing,
He furrowed his brow as he looked at her. “What are you laughing at?”
“At two little idiots.”
“Not only is the Lord not angry, he’s very happy. Extremely happy.”
He couldn’t help but be taken aback. What did she mean?
“Don Zhao, there is something that I need to ask you to talk to the Lord about.”
“What is it?”
“Flying Hawk Hallmaster Wei has arrived at the foot of the mountain, and is awaiting the Lord’s summons.”
“That’s the man from just recently… Wei Third?”
Protector Hua lightly smiled. “I didn’t expect you to remember. His name is Wei Qi, and he’s third-ranked in the Creed’s seventy-two halls.”
“So that’s why you call him that.”
“Ji Han is inside. Why don’t you just go talk to him?”
“The Lord’s anger has rushed to his head. I don’t dare to.”
Zhao Jiangui was even more puzzled. “But you just said…”
“That’s only for you, not for us.” She winked. “I don’t want to go in and get yelled at for no reason.”
Zhao Jiangui had to go back in.
Ji Han was already back in his room and seated at the table, in the middle of dazedly staring at the stick of tanghulu he held.
“Aren’t you going to eat it?” Zhao Jiangui asked aloud.
Unexpectedly, he just frightened the other into a jump. “When did you get in here? How come I never heard you?!”
Zhao Jiangui slightly creased his brows. “What are you thinking about? Why can’t you even hear footsteps?”
When it came to martial arts practitioners, this was highly unusual.
“I…” Ji Han lowered his head, seemingly unwilling to talk.
Afraid that he would ineffably get fired up again, Zhao Jiangui stood far away, by the door. “Protector Hua told me to tell you something. She said that Hallmaster Wei is at the base of the mountain, and is waiting for you to summon him.”
“Why didn’t she come in and tell me that herself?”
“She fears your anger.”
“Are… are you actually angry?” he cautiously asked.
Ji Han was quiet for a time, then suddenly started fuming. “You’ve thrown all of this Lord’s dignity away!”
“Those peoples’ mouths are too big! If this spreads throughout jianghu…”
“…” He quickly remembered the tale he had fabricated about the Hero of Mount Ba and Twin Elites of the Desert’s North.
“I’m just afraid that in a few days’ time, everyone is going to know that you and I…”
He couldn’t go on.
Zhao Jiangui thought carefully about this. He recalled that those people had appeared to have no idea who he was, as he had never heard any of them call his name. He hurriedly tried to comfort him. “Don’t worry. They didn’t recognize me at all.”
Ji Han’s expression just seemed to get even worse. “That’s all the more awful. It won’t even take a few days for jianghu to circulate the news.”
Zhao Jiangui did not understand. “What news?”
“That the new Lord of the Demonic Creed is young…” Ji Han grit his teeth. “And has been keeping a male lover.”
He still did not understand. Those two things didn’t appear to be that different, so why was Ji Han’s reaction so massive?
He couldn’t help but ask as much.
“Of course they aren’t the same,” Ji Han answered.
“…They’re just not,” the other answered evasively, then raised his volume all of a sudden. “Who… who did you just say was at the base of the mountain?”
“Your Hallmaster Wei, I heard.”
Ji Han summoned guards from outside the door, then dispatched them to go fetch Wei Qi. Following that, the two men sat there mutely, which was rather awkward.
Thankfully, Wei Qi arrived at rapid speed.
He had been waiting for a long time, running over rather impatiently, and upon seeing Ji Han, he examined him finely before speaking to him, voice profound-sounding. “So, this is the kind of Creed Lord that you are.”
Ji Han stared at him a bit. “…What?”
“I didn’t expect you be into men.” The other looked depressed. “You should have considered me, before anyone else!”
Ji Han: “…”
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
“You and I have been pals for so many years, yet that cannot compare to one who you’ve seen for just a few days…”
Before he could finish, Ji Han cut him off. “Hallmaster Wei. Don’t forget your proper business.”
“As it turns out, you like the strong and silent type,” Wei Qi kept saying, ever wronged.
“Wei Qi!” Ji Han raged.
The other hurriedly smiled. “Be at ease, Creed Lord. This subordinate brought back my beloved this time.”
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
Ji Han still watched him coldly.
“Come, Creed Lord. Let us speak proper business.”
Ji Han coldly huffed. The two talked on and on about some trivial Creed affairs, which Zhao Jiangui found quite boring to listen to.
“I should be taking my medicine,” Ji Han suddenly said to him.
He was slightly caught off guard, but soon got his implication: he wanted to divert him.
In the end, he was not a Creed-goer; there was no way he would be allowed to listen in on them discussing confidential matters. He nodded in agreement. “I’ll help you get it.”
He went out, but some machinations remained in his heart.
The majority of the Creed’s secrets pertained to the righteous faction. He was concerned that something had happened in the Vast Alliance, or that the Creed wanted to harm it. After walking out of the room, he quietly turned back and hid in the canopy of a big tree outside.
Ji Han’s martial arts were slightly inferior to his own, after all. If he carefully concealed his breath, the other definitely would not be able to discover him.
As expected, he heard the two bring up the Alliance, with Wei Qi as the speaker.
“The Martial Forest Assembly will be convened in two months. Paleblue City.”
Ji Han didn’t answer.
“At the scheduled time, where all the important figures of the righteous path’s Forest will be, the Paleblue subdivision’s leader will be prepared. They’ll gather on the Paleblue Cliffs. There’s a secret path in back of the mountains that leads directly to the top.”
“I know this,” Ji Han replied indifferently.
“When they hold the Assembly, we’ll set a trap down in the mountains…”
The sound of footsteps suddenly came from the path outside the door.
Someone was coming.
Zhao Jiangui had to quickly suspend his breathing, zip through the courtyard, and come outside of it. Upon looking back, it turned out to just be the Elder Maid bringing tea.
He thought about how Ji Han had asked him to bring back the medicine, so if he left for too long without returning, the other might get suspicious. He left in a rush, but his heart had long descended into chaos.
The Creed had actually begun to move against the Alliance.
Regardless of how good Ji Han was to him, he was still the Creed Lord.
Even though he had known that things would progress to this point, when the time actually came, he inexplicably felt disappointed.
Doctor Yan was in the middle of decocting medicine.
He didn’t like others watching him treat patients, nor did he like others helping him decoct, fanning up a fire by himself this early in the morning. Upon hearing Zhao Jiangui enter, he only looked up slightly, as if he was too lazy to even say hi to him.
“I’m here to fetch the medicine,” Zhao Jiangui said.
“It’s not ready.”
“How long will it be?”
He had no choice but to wait. He wanted to inform Xiao Lin of this as soon as possible, then get him to send word back to the Vast Alliance. The Creed’s plan could not come to fruition.
The medicine still wasn’t done.
He was jittery, really wanting to talk to someone else. Recalling that Ji Han had said that Doctor Yan was from Immortal Doctor Valley, and thus had to be brothers with his junior sister’s husband, he asked, ”You’re from Immortal Doctor Valley, Doctor Yan?”
The other glanced at him, not answering.
“Which teacher did you learn from?”
Doctor Yan only ladled the brew.
“Do you know the Divine Doctor, Mo Qingfeng?”
Lifting his head to coldly look at him, Doctor Yan’s expression was harsh. “My business is none of your concern.”
Doctor Yan suddenly took a step back, looked down again, and lightly said, “The medicine’s done.”
Zhao Jiangui was forced to leave with the brew. He walked back down along the road; Wei Qi had since gone, and Xiao Lin was standing by the door with the Elder Maid. He dared not converse with Xiao Lin so openly, so he had to walk inside, where Ji Han asked him with furrowed brows, sitting at the table, why he had been so slow with getting back.
“Decocting was a little slow,” he answered. Right as he heard those words, though, his heart went mostly cold — he had no idea what to say to Ji Han right now, so he just quietly passed over the medicine bowl, sat down, and watched Ji Han drink.
The other took a small sip, and then his brows knit into a ball at once, lips pressing tightly together for a long time. “It’s really bitter,” he mumbled to himself miserably.
Zhao Jiangui sighed, face impassive. “You still need to drink it. You’re not allowed to throw it out.”
Ji Han lightly huffed, then took another sip. “I’m not afraid of bitterness, and I’m not thinking of dumping it out.”
The other sighed again. “After you finish it, I’ll go buy you tanghulu.”
Ji Han nearly choked into tears on a mouthful of medicine. Following a long period of coughing, he shot out angrily, “You’re not allowed to go down the mountain again!”
Appearing to realize something amiss, Ji Han quickly added, “I’m not afraid of bitterness!”
“Just drink it.”
Ji Han quieted down, stared at the bowl, grit his teeth, and downed it all in one go.
Zhao Jiangui couldn’t resist showing a light smile, whispering out a praise. “You really aren’t, little he… little demon.”
The Elder Maid and Xiao Lin’s hushed laughter came from outside the door.
“What’s so funny?!” Ji Han asked, supremely angry. “Laugh again, and I’ll send you to the punishment hall to get your tongues yanked out!”
No sound came from outside at once.
Turning his head, Ji Han saw that Zhao Jiangui also seemed to be smiling; faint, and almost difficult to detect. Ji Han was slightly taken aback, after which he glared angrily at him. “Are you wanting to go to the punishment hall, too?!”
Zhao Jiangui quit smiling, a bit excited.
It was here! It was here again! How many days had it been where there hadn’t been any words that matched up with the scriptbook?!
Xiao Lin was being too slow with giving him the new book the seniors had written! He had already started to worry that he wouldn’t be able to keep going!
“There’s no need to go to the Creed’s punishment hall,” he said, relaxed. “I only want to go to your ‘punishment hall’, Creed Lord.”
At first, Ji Han didn’t understand what Zhao Jiangui meant, merely frowning as he looked at him. Once he snapped out of it, he had to glare at him in rage. “You’re talking crap again!”
In his head, Zhao Jiangui wondered how he was ‘talking crap’ — it was clearly the scriptbook that had talked crap. Who the hell even knew what those Forest seniors had had to experience in order to write up such things? Still, he didn’t dare to reveal too much on his face, obliged to force this corniness into being deep feelings, and proceeding to put on a cherishing look as he stared at Ji Han.
He had long felt out Ji Han’s temperament, and knew that the young man was quite thin-skinned; there was no way he would be able to answer such shamelessness.
Ji Han tilted his head back to meet his gaze, indeed rendered mute. He sat there dumbly for a minute; the more he thought, the more things felt amiss, and his face couldn’t help but flush. “Get out,” he quickly said, stern-faced and grave. “I need to rest.”
Zhao Jiangui really wanted to bring out another phrase to tease him with, but he worried that it would provoke him into anger, so he could only stand up and leave without a word.
The other suddenly called out to stop him. “Doctor Yan said that I should be moving about more these days.”
Zhao Jiangui stopped in his tracks, turning to look at him. He didn’t understand the medical field, so he merely waited for Ji Han to go on.
The other did not, however, say anything else. The two stared blankly at each other like this for a very long time, after which Ji Han suddenly got mad. “You’re a moron.”
Cold-faced, Ji Han drove him out.
Zhao Jiangui had a head full of perplexion. Upon walking out, Ji Han called for the Elder Maid to come in, and when she passed by him, she turned and gave Zhao Jiangui a ‘I’m so disappointed in you’ look.
He was even more confused.
Watching as she entered the room, he shot Xiao Lin a meaningful look, who understood at once. “Hero Zhao, this lowly one will take you back,” he said aloud.
Within the room, Ji Han could clearly hear that as well, yet didn’t prevent it.
Once the two returned to Zhao Jiangui’s room, the latter made sure that no one was following them around, then quickly told Xiao Lin what he had just heard in detail.
The other paled in fright. “I will report this to the Alliance immediately!”
Zhao Jiangui’s heart was all the more in a knot. He didn’t say anything else.
“Don’t worry, Hero Zhao. I will pay extra attention to the Creed’s contact documents.”
Zhao Jiangui nodded.
Xiao Lin thought for a bit, then had a somewhat troubled look. “But… this is a confidential matter. The Lord has certainly hid those documents. If the Alliance is met with disaster…”
“…I’ll keep an eye out.”
Xiao Lin tightly grabbed his hand. “Hero Zhao! The Alliance is depending wholly upon you!”
The other was silent. He comforted himself on the inside that the Creed was going to hurt the Alliance, and if he could learn the path that the Creed had secretly found, he would save hundreds of Alliance lives.
He wasn’t turning his back on chivalry. This was what he was supposed do.
But, since they knew the Creed’s plot, wouldn’t the Alliance carefully make arrangements to counterattack?
When that time came, who was going to be accountable for those hundreds of Creed lives?
He didn’t know what to choose.
Now that this matter had been fully discussed, Xiao Lin was ready to leave. He walked out the door, but suddenly turned back.
“There is something else, Hero Zhao… something I need to talk to you about,” he said evasively.
“What is it?”
“The implication of what the Creed Lord just said… is probably that he wants you to accompany him in his walks every day.”
Zhao Jiangui saw the light.
“You must seize this chance, Hero Zhao!”
“…Mn. I’ll do my best.”
“There are some secret areas in the Creed that even I can’t get into. Its terrain is complex. If you could plead with him to lead you all around, you could draw out a map. When the day comes that the Alliance attacks the Creed and wipes out these villains, it will definitely be of great help.”
Zhao Jiangui was unable to say anything.
Xiao Lin appeared to detect that something was off, putting on a strong face. “You mustn’t forget your status, Hero Zhao.”
“You don’t need to say more.” Zhao Jiangui’s face cooled down. “I remember all that needs to be remembered.”
Xiao Lin nodded and confirmed, then hurried off, leaving Zhao Jiangui alone in the room.
The Alliance and Xiao Lin… had indeed taken great pains to make him deceive Ji Han.
He felt a spot in his heart tighten.
How could he forget? He was a famed warrior of the Martial Forest. All of this had already been plotted out by them.
All of a sudden, he heard someone arrive outside the door. “Don Zhao, the Creed Lord has something to say to you.”
That was the Elder Maid’s voice. He walked to the door, pulled it open, and saw her smiling at him.
“He requests that you come over every morning to keep him company for a stroll around the Creed,” she said, smiling lightly.
Young people really were thin-skinned. Why had he refused to just say it outright, instead making someone pass the message on for him?
The Maid concealed her smile as she winked at him. “The Lord really likes you, Don Zhao.”
Zhao Jiangui’s brows faintly creased. “I know,” he whispered. “Tell him I’ll be over.”
When he went looking for Ji Han in the early morning of the next day, the latter was in the middle of dealing with Creed communications and official business in the study. The Elder Maid was waiting outside, and upon seeing him, she gave him a light smile. “The Lord is inside, Don Zhao.”
He nodded, pushing the door open.
Ji Han appeared to be stuffing something underneath the table. The documents in front of him were piled as high as a mountain; that had obviously been caused by his recent injury leave.
He looked up at him, expression quite placid and natural. “You’re here.”
Zhao Jiangui acted like he hadn’t seen anything, smiling a bit. “You’re going to switch out your bandages today?”
The other nodded. “Yes. I already had Xiao Lin invite Doctor Yan over. Go ahead and sit down.”
Zhao Jiangui sat in front of him. Not long after, Xiao Lin came in with Doctor Yan.
The study was ultimately not the place to change dressings, and Ji Han’s room was close by. The Elder Maid accompanied Doctor Yan and Ji Han over, with Xiao Lin falling behind; he didn’t forget to give Zhao Jiangui a look.
The latter understood, of course.
He stayed in the study, never going after them, and no one drove him away, perhaps considering him to be someone close to the Lord. When no one else was inside, he quickly walked to the side of Ji Han’s desk, where he had just seen the other hiding something.
He had been famed since his youth, having walked jianghu for over ten years, and had thoroughly studied the art of secret mechanisms. After carefully examining the table, he discovered that there was a hidden compartment in a leg with a paper scroll stuffed into it — it looked to have recently been extracted from the bamboo tube on a passenger pigeon’s foot.
Written on the paper was the location of the secret path the Creed had discovered. He hurriedly looked over it several times, committing it to memory.
Worried that Ji Han or someone else would come back early, he quickly returned everything to its rightful place and sat back in his original seat, though he was horribly nervous.
At this moment, it seemed like two people were arguing in his head. One believed that he had done something massively wrong, while the other felt that this action was not a violation of chivalry, and was what he should have done.
While he was still tangled up at heart, Ji Han returned.
“I troubled you with sitting for a minute,” the other teased. “When I finish reading these documents, please deign to accompany me with going to relieve boredom.”
Ji Han appeared to be in a good mood today, unable to even keep the joy out of the voice that he spoke to him with.
Zhao Jiangui nodded, only feeling even more guilt.
By the time Ji Han finished reading and taking his medicine, it was already the afternoon.
They had eaten together, but since Ji Han’s internal injuries weren’t yet better, he couldn’t walk too far. They were only able to stroll around the Creed’s garden.
Prior to coming here, Zhao Jiangui had always believed that the Demonic Creed would be a sinister and terrifying place, but as of right now, its garden was better-cultivated than the Vast Alliance’s.
They walked in silence for a minute, until Ji Han finally couldn’t help but ask him a question. “What’s been with you these past few days?”
Ji Han frowned. “If someone in the Creed is speaking poorly to you, tell me, by all means.”
He knew that the other had misunderstood, but he didn’t know how to explain. He could never tell the truth, in any case, so he was forced to change the subject. “How are those assassins being dealt with? Did you ever find out who sent them?”
Ji Han’s expression grew even more grave. “Elder Wen stubbornly wanted to interrogate them himself. I couldn’t refuse him.”
Zhao Jiangui still had some suspicions towards Elder Wen, so hearing this made him a bit anxious. “You let him interrogate? But… he isn’t one of your confidantes, is he?”
“Relax. I had Protector Hua follow up on it, and now Wei Qi has returned. The two of them will surely be able to get something out of them.” He thought about this, then gave further explanation. “She and him are ones I trust.”
“Still, the sooner this is uncovered, the better.”
“I already gave the orders yesterday. We’ll ask Wei Qi what progress has been made later.”
Zhao Jiangui had to nod.
Ji Han contemplated for a time. “Let’s go,” he then said. “I’ll take you to go see something.”
Zhao Jiangui had not expected that he would bring him to a place like this.
Before him were several shelves arranged full of the memorial tablets of Creed Lords past. A censer was placed in the middle. The inside of the room was dimly lit, smoke lingering about it.
He wasn’t sure what to say right now, so he stayed quiet and waited for Ji Han to speak.
The other looked up at the shelves. “My father is up there, too,” he suddenly said.
“Why did you bring me here?”
“No reason. I just remembered that I haven’t been here to present incense in a few days.”
Sure enough, he lit a stick of incense, walked over to the tablets, then respectfully kowtowed three times.
Zhao Jiangui felt that this present scene was a quite a bit awkward. Even though the dead were to be respected, these people were all demons of the Creed, and he would never bow his head to them. Earlier Lords had not been as compassionate and light-handed as Ji Han, who was like a tiny kitten hissing and randomly yowling.
Thankfully, Ji Han had no intention of making him do that. He stood there in silence for a short time, then suddenly began to speak. “Half of these elders died at the hands of the righteous faction.”
He then appeared to worry about Zhao Jiangui misunderstanding, so he added something on. “I’m not someone unreasonable. I know that many of the righteous faction have been killed by our Creed, too.”
The righteous and the chaotic had not coexisted since antiquity. That was a principle that had gone unchanged for millennia.
“When I was little, my father taught me a phrase.”
“What was it?”
“‘People of jianghu cannot act on their own will.’”
Zhao Jiangui had heard that before, of course. To be honest, he couldn’t clearly recall exactly how many people he had heard say it.
Jianghu of the present was not at all free.
He thought about how Ji Han’s purpose in saying this was probably in the hopes that Zhao Jiangui would later be able to understand. His plot against the Vast Alliance was only because he was encumbered by his status as the Creed Lord, not because he wanted to do anything like this.
He felt that anything he could say would be too insipid. All that he had done and was doing himself had never been able to break free of the restraints of that phrase, leaving him with no idea how to respond to this. After a long time of thought, he could only squeeze out one bland sentence: “Your life should be grasped in your own hands.”
“Has there not been something in your life that you were unwilling to do?” Ji Han simply countered.
Zhao Jiangui didn’t answer.
“If so, I really envy you. My life has never been my own.”
“Why do you say that?”
Ji Han just turned his head away. “Come on. We’re going to see Wei Qi.”