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They walked out of the memorial hall and went for the guest house that Wei Qi was staying in. Zhao Jiangui felt that Ji Han seemed pretty off, but he didn’t know what to say. When they had nearly arrived at the outside of the courtyard, he suddenly remembered something, and subconsciously grabbed Ji Han’s sleeve.
The other looked back at him, a little puzzled. “What’s up with you?”
“Did that count as you taking me to meet your parents?”
“…Where is your mind going off to?”
Zhao Jiangui was utterly touched. “Don’t worry. I will never let you down.”
“I know, I’m sick.”
“At least you kn—“
“Sick with love.” His voice was full of tenderness.
Ji Han glared coldly at him with a wooden face.
Zhao Jiangui felt like the unhappy mental knot he had had these past few days was now wiped out. He walked into the courtyard with quick steps, feeling quite nice for a minute, and upon seeing that the door inside was ajar, he hurriedly pushed it open.
The lighting in the room was dim. Right as he thought to call out to Wei Qi, he suddenly noticed that the other was pressing someone else against the desk, whose clothes and crown were messed up, revealing a pale and thin shoulder. One of his hands gripped the table’s edge while Wei Qi embraced him from behind, breathing urgently and chaotically, biting his ear as he said something to him.
Zhao Jiangui was struck stupid for a minute, after which he hastily shut the door, retreated a few steps back, and quickly turned around, where Ji Han happened to be staring coldly at him.
Having been teased by him earlier, the latter was holding in a stomach full of fire. “Why did you shut the door,” he asked, expressionless.
With a face full of embarrassment, Zhao Jiangui whispered, “Let’s leave for right now…”
Ji Han huffed coldly. “Is there anything in this place that this Lord wouldn’t able to see?”
“Then how could you stop me?”
With that, Ji Han kicked the door open.
The two inside the room appeared to be greatly frightened. Ji Han didn’t get a good look at what shady stuff they were doing with how dark the lights were, and harshly shouted out for Wei Qi. Then, he saw someone that he didn’t recognize busily pulling at his undone clothes, had a realization, viciously slammed the door shut, turned, and left.
Zhao Jiangui caught up to him, feeling quite awkward. “You—“
“You didn’t stop me!” Ji Han raged.
“I obviously tried to…” He felt a bit wronged.
“You did not! Not with any kind of sincerity!”
Zhao Jiangui felt even more wronged. “How would you have wanted me to stop you…?”
Once he said that, he suddenly noticed that despite Ji Han’s calm face, he appeared to be blushing a bit.
“You should have pulled me away and not let me in!”
They stood in the yard like so for a short time. Before Wei Qi came out, Ji Han suddenly asked, greatly curious, “Wei Qi said that he brought his beloved back that one day. Could this be him?”
“It’s very possible.”
“Did you get a good look at who that other person was?”
Zhao Jiangui shook his head; the room had been dark, and he had been in a rush to get away, so he had only seen that the man’s skin was pale. When he said as much to Ji Han, the other’s face suddenly got stern.
“What did you look so carefully for?!” he scolded. “Shameless!”
Zhao Jiangui, all of a sudden, didn’t want to talk anymore.
They waited there for a minute, until Wei Qi finally tidied up appropriately and walked out of the room with a gloomy face. No matter who got interrupted during such a thing, their mood would never be too great.
When he came to be in front of them, Ji Han and Zhao Jiangui both felt this scene to be very awkward. They had no idea what to say.
After the three stood there for a minute, Ji Han said, “The sun is really awful today.”
Zhao Jiangui nodded. “It’s too bright.”
Wei Qi: “…”
They stood there for another minute.
Someone else then walked out of the house. He wore blue robes, had a delicate, pretty face, and the tiny waist of a water snake that swung quite gracefully.
Presumably, this was Wei Qi’s little lover. Ji Han and Zhao Jiangui turned their attentions towards him almost immediately — and the latter frowned.
This man looked slightly familiar, as if he he had seen him somewhere before.
The other also saw him, delighted. “Hero Zhao. How unexpected that we would meet again here.”
Ji Han quickly turned to coldly stare at Zhao Jiangui, who was confused. “…And you are?”
“How could you have forgotten me, Hero Zhao?” the man asked coyly, covering his face.
Oh, he remembered. Wasn’t he the number-one gigolo that the Forest seniors had specifically invited over from Qinhuai Shores, in order to teach him how to seduce the Demonic Creed Lord? He was called Yu… Yu something?
The man was still gazing at him, mist pervading his eyes like he was utterly heartbroken.
“I remember you,” Zhao Jiangui said. “You’re named…”
“Hmph. You don’t even remember this one’s name, Hero Zhao,” the other said, aggrieved. “That makes me so sad.”
They had only met once. How was he supposed to have that clear of a memory?
Ji Han: “…”
“This one’s name is Yu Xian’r,” the man went on. “Please don’t forget it again.”
“Um…” Zhao Jiangui stuttered.
Ji Han sneered.
Wei Qi hurriedly stepped forth to smooth things over. “Xian’r, I need to talk with the Lord about some things. Go inside.”
Yu Xian’r looked at him affectionately, obediently nodded, then walked back into the room with a twist of his waist.
Zhao Jiangui was extremely worried. Thinking back to how Yu Xian’r had been invited over by the Forest seniors, the other inevitably knew something of the ins and outs of the seduction plan, and now he was roaming about the Creed, seemingly having become Wei Qi’s sweetheart. Had he revealed something to the Creed…?
“Creed Lord, about the assassins…” Wei Qi started, serious.
“He’s gone. You don’t have to keeping staring there like you’re entranced,” Ji Han suddenly said to Zhao Jiangui, somewhat indignant.
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
Wei Qi: “…”
“I didn’t expect that you would be so familiar with Qinhuai Shores’s most popular placard,” Ji Han coldly went on. “This Lord underestimated you.”
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
Wei Qi looked at Ji Han, then at Zhao Jiangui. “My Lord,” he said weakly, “you two can go ahead and chat. This subordinate will go wait inside the room…”
Thus, he hurriedly turned around and slipped away.
Zhao Jiangui was completely confused. “How did you know that he’s Qinhuai’s most popular?”
Ji Han was barely able to suppress the fury in his heart. “Yu Xian’r’s name is so prominent! How could I not know of him?!”
Caught off guard, Zhao Jiangui muttered quietly, “Seems like you’re… pretty familiar with Qinhuai’s placards…”
Not far away, Wei Qi tripped on the doorsill and nearly faceplanted.
Zhao Jiangui didn’t seem to think that there was anything wrong here, though. “It’s much more important to know what happened with the assassins, first. Let’s head in first.”
“…What’s with you?”
Ji Han huffed coldly, saying nothing.
“Come on, let’s go in.”
“I refuse,” Ji Han said icily.
Zhao Jiangui had an earnest think-through, then abruptly grabbed Ji Han’s hand.
Ji Han appeared to jump in fright, struggling a little bit, but ultimately let Zhao Jiangui hold it. He kept his sullen face, refusing to speak.
“Even though Yu Xian’r is involved in prostitution, that is not something within his control. If he had been born into a good family, he would have never degraded himself like this.”
The other stared at him coldly.
“Wei Qi liking him is a good thing.”
Ji Han now began to get the sense that something was off, here.
“He’s the same as you and I, a human born of the blood and flesh of his parents. You must not look down on him on account of him being a prostitute. That would be very low and wrong of you. No matter what, we should give him respect.” Zhao Jiangui looked completely serious. “Promise me that you’ll listen.”
Ji Han finally agreed to get in the room and talk to Wei Qi about the assassins. The two of them walked in, only to see Wei Qi and Yu Xian’r sitting together and whispering, the latter appearing to be overjoyed. Seeing them come in, he smiled at them, then withdrew on his own, allowing them to speak of proper business.
Wei Qi watched him go lovingly. Once he left, he turned back around.
Ji Han’s face was still frosty.
“This subordinate didn’t get any information out of them,” Wei Qi had to start.
“They’re that tight-lipped?”
“It isn’t that, actually.” Wei Qi sighed. “The Jackdaw Head gave them a list of names. They only had the responsibility of murdering people; they have no idea who Jackdaw contacts.”
“Who is Jackdaw’s Head?” Zhao Jiangui asked.
Wei Qi shook his head. “He has no solid name in jianghu. We don’t know who he is, either.”
“No clues at all?” Ji Han asked.
Ji Han had likely long anticipated this, not getting angry, just giving a slight nod. “Protector Hua and you have done well.”
There were no waves of surprise on his surface. Despite giving praise, it didn’t sound a bit like praise. Wei Qi dared not speak.
Ji Han stood up and claimed that he was tired after walking so much, so Zhao Jiangui had to send him back. Once the other was down for a rest, he found another gap to invite Xiao Lin to a place where no one else was around, then report all of his findings to him.
“This is great news, Hero Zhao!” Xiao Lin was wild with excitement. “I’ve already thought about this. Since the Creed wants to take the opportunity of us holding the Assembly to ambush us, we can take the same advantage of this ambush to counterstrike.”
Zhao Jiangui couldn’t help but be startled. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m thinking that if we set up a double bluff on them, we can ambush them from behind. They’ll certainly get into a panic then, and if we’re able to force them to the cliffs, we’ll doubtlessly win.” Xiao Lin was quite excited. “This will be a great chance to destroy the Creed!”
“Eliminate?” Zhao Jiangui was completely shocked. “Don’t we just need to avoid them?”
“With such a good opportunity set out in front of us, of course we can’t let it go easily! Ji Han’s suffered internal injury, so he shouldn’t be too difficult to deal with. At that time, you’ll be asked to subdue the experts of the Creed, working in tandem with us from within…” Xiao Lin’s tone suddenly changed. “It can’t be… that you won’t be able to do it, right, Hero Zhao?”
“I…” Zhao Jiangui creased his brow. “I naturally wouldn’t…”
…naturally wouldn’t let down the righteous path.
For some reason, he couldn’t say those words aloud.
“That’s good. I didn’t think that you would be the type, either.” Xiao Lin smiled. “I’ll go spread the news to the Alliance.”
Zhao Jiangui watched him leave, heart in a tangle.
Truly unable to sleep, he had to put on his clothes and go for a walk around the courtyard. The weather on this day was not great for it; after circling twice, the sky above was overcast to the point that it looked like it was about to rain.
He came across Yu Xian’r.
“Hero Zhao,” the other smiled at him. “You can’t sleep, either?”
Zhao Jiangui glanced to the right and left. “Where’s Wei Qi?” he couldn’t help but ask.
“Busy with work. He can’t keep me company at all times, anyways,” Yu Xian’r casually answered. “I don’t know what he does.”
Zhao Jiangui did, though.
The righteous faction had long figured out the roles of the Creed’s separate halls. Wei Qi’s Flying Hawk Hall specialized in intelligence-gathering; him being occupied right now meant that he was either investigating the assassins, or busy gathering intel for the day of the Assembly.
“Don’t worry, Hero Zhao. I didn’t tell him about it,” Yu Xian’r suddenly said.
Startled at first, Zhao Jiangui then realized that he was talking about the righteous faction asking him to teach him how to seduce the Creed Lord. He unavoidably felt rather embarrassed. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Yu Xian’r was still smiling. “There’s no need to be polite, Hero Zhao.”
The two were silent for a time, before the other spoke again. “You must be thinking about the Lord, to be unable to sleep now.”
Abruptly, Zhao Jiangui remembered that since Yu Xian’r had long been entrenched in prostitution, he ought to have a good understanding of all these emotional matters. At the very least, his understanding would be better than his. “If it was you…”
He then felt that this would be a bit inappropriate to ask, but Yu Xian’r was already giving him a response. “If I were you, I would never care about what anyone else thinks.”
“But, the righteousness of the world is placed right in front of you…”
“Me liking someone is my own business, which has nothing to do with the world’s righteousness. However…” Yu Xian’r sighed a bit. “This is probably why you’re a Great Hero, while I’m just a prostitute, hm?”
Zhao Jiangui didn’t say anything.
“Seems like being a Hero isn’t that great.” Yu Xian’r laughed quietly. “Thankfully, I didn’t yet like you back then.”
Thinking hard, Zhao Jiangui didn’t sleep the whole night.
The day after, Ji Han said that he wanted to walk around again, so he accompanied him, immensely nervous at heart. At several points, he almost couldn’t resist telling Ji Han the truth, only to end up bearing with it.
If Ji Han knew, what would happen to the Vast Alliance?
He couldn’t get a feel for everything, too afraid to tell the truth.
For the first time ever, he thought himself a coward.
After walking with him for a while, Ji Han brought him to the practice room.
“This is where I practice martial arts freely,” he said. “Speaking of which, I haven’t come here in many days… I’ve likely regressed in my sword arts.”
“You’re injured, so you should be resting properly.”
“If I said as much to my father, he would have been angry. Being injured doesn’t mean I’m exhausted; I should at least examine my techniques in swords and melee.”
Zhao Jiangui, obviously, did not agree with that statement. “If you’re injured, you should rest. Sword training can wait until after you’re better.”
Ji Han sighed. “If it falls, it’ll be hard to catch back up.”
“I can stay with you.”
The other startled, looking at him with slight incredulity.
Zhao Jiangui suddenly felt quite embarrassed.
Turning his head away, Ji Han very nervously kneaded the hems of his sleeves as he acted like he hadn’t heard that.
Then, he noticed that there were two guards on either side of the door. Even though they were entirely expressionless, he swore that he could hear them laughing.
He got the particular type of embarrassment that came from being witnessed, but for the sake of his face, he couldn’t express that emotion. Waving for the guards to withdraw, he peered at Zhao Jiangui once they were gone, then turned the subject around, looking grave. “Let’s speak of proper business, first.”
“Last night, I spoke with Protector Hua and Wei Qi about the assassins again… they still suspect that it was Elder Wen’s work.”
Thinking back to how Elder Wen was as a person, Zhao Jiangui highly agreed with their opinion. He had always felt that Elder Wen would be a detriment to Ji Han. Plus, he was in an important position in the Creed; if that really had been his doing, it was hard to say what riot would happen later on.
“They just have a suspicion, there’s no evidence. In other words, I still don’t know who wants to kill me,” Ji Han said blankly. “Everyone besides me could be it, but I can’t see through to their minds.”
Zhao Jiangui felt a chill in his heart. He wondered if he himself was considered someone… that wanted Ji Han dead?
“I only know right now that it can’t be you.”
“Why?” Zhao Jiangui asked, taken aback.
“If you wanted to kill me, you would have just properly drawn your sword and fought me.” Ji Han smiled a bit. “Hero Zhao would never use such an underhanded method.”
The other was speechless.
The method he was using nowadays was more than underhanded; to call it despicable would not even be an exaggeration.
Ji Han glanced at him. “Why are you always fretting these past couple of days? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Zhao Jiangui hurriedly denied. “Nothing’s happened.”
“If something does, remember to tell me,” Ji Han said softly. “Don’t hold it in your heart.”
Zhao Jiangui started to speak several times, only to ultimately swallow it all back down. Ji Han didn’t force him, simply looking down to fix his stare at the floor.
Only after finally struggling out of his extremely snagged emotions did Zhao Jiangui notice that something seemed to be wrong with Ji Han. After some hesitation, he gently asked, “What’s wrong?”
The other looked to be doing his best to calm himself down, which suddenly worried him. “What is it?” he gently grabbed Ji Han’s hand. “What happened? Tell me?”
Ji Han raised his head to look at him, clutching his hand back. “Zhao Jiangui… I’m actually really scared.”
Dumbstruck for a moment, Zhao Jiangui couldn’t help but hold the man’s hand even tighter after he returned to his senses. “You… don’t need to be scared.”
He had really wanted to tell Ji Han, ‘You still have me,’ but he dared not say that at all.
“I…” Ji Han grit his teeth. “If I wasn’t the Creed Lord, that would be nice.”
Zhao Jiangui took him into his arms, and he didn’t avoid him at all. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, soft. “You still have me.”
There was an expanse of chaos in his mind. He almost didn’t realize what he himself had said, merely thinking that if Ji Han wasn’t the Demonic Creed Lord, and he wasn’t a Hero of the righteous faction, that would be nice.
“Right.” Ji Han tightly clutched his lapels, tone flat. “I still have you.”
Zhao Jiangui kept Ji Han company as he finished his work; it was now nightfall.
Ever since they had gotten back from the practice room, neither of them had said a thing. Zhao Jiangui was constantly thinking about the Vast Alliance; he no longer knew what side he should be standing on, but he wanted to protect Ji Han, no matter what. After this all happened, no matter how the man would berate him, he would acknowledge his faults.
The Elder Maid carried in food, and he stayed to eat with Ji Han. The latter’s diet was still limited due to his injury; he looked at the plain congee in silence for a long time, then suddenly set down his chopsticks with a pained face. “I don’t want to eat this.”
“How could that do?” Zhao Jiangui asked, picking up a pinch of veggies for him and placing them into his bowl. “You need to eat something.”
Ji Han looked pitiful. “I want to eat egg noodles.”
He really couldn’t understand Ji Han’s obsession with egg noodles. How could a Creed Lord, for no rhyme nor reason, not be fond of exotic delicacies, but instead be crazy about noodles?
“Just for today,” Ji Han went on, “I want to eat egg noodles.”
Zhao Jiangui was quiet for a moment, then called the Elder Maid in and had her go summon Doctor Yan first.
Doctor Yan’s residence was some distance away. “Do you like egg noodles that much?” Zhao Jiangui couldn’t resist asking.
“If I was ever worn out from practice as a child, my father would not allow me to eat, but I’d be so awfully hungry that my nanny would secretly cook me some noodles.”
Zhao Jiangui sighed. “Your father was much too harsh.”
“And yet, if it weren’t for him, I would have never gotten what I have today.”
The other expressed no opinion. After a short moment of silence, he asked another question. “Where is the nanny you mentioned?”
Ji Han tightly pressed his lips together, refusing to say more. Zhao Jiangui was obliged to shut his mouth, too.
The Elder Maid returned. Doctor Yan evidently didn’t think that eating one bowl of egg noodles would have any influence on the state of Ji Han’s condition. The maid was about to go find the chef, but Ji Han called out to stop her. “I’ll go myself.”
With that, he hauled Zhao Jiangui off with him to the kitchen, where the latter was genuinely surprised that he was cooking by his own hands.
He was very skilled as he made two bowls of noodles, after which he invited Zhao Jiangui to sit down and eat with him. Zhao Jiangui inevitably thought of that night he had witnessed Ji Han eating noodles in the kitchen, but wasn’t positive that he had made them; thus, he asked as much.
“This is all I can really cook. My nanny taught me,” Ji Han answered, then asked, “How about you accompany me for a few drinks?”
Zhao Jiangui had to think back to the last time they got drunk.
“We won’t drink much. Just a few cups,” Ji Han went on.
The other hesitated slightly. “Your injuries…”
Ji Han curled his lip. “Then you’ll drink wine, and I’ll drink tea.”
“You’ll drink water.”
A servant brought fine wine. Zhao Jiangui filled one cup with it, then poured Ji Han a cup of warm water. The latter took a sip of it. “Good wine,” he faked.
Zhao Jiangui was at a loss. “Why do you all like drinking so much? Wine clearly doesn’t taste good at all.”
“Wine can vanish worries. At the very least, it can make you forget them.”
Zhao Jiangui gazed at him, getting the general sense that he was referring to something else, but the man refused to say anything.
Perhaps those that had worries were easier to get drunk, as after only a few drinks downed, Zhao Jiangui felt slightly tipsy.
“Do you remember what day it is today?” Ji Han asked.
After thinking for a bit, Zhao Jiangui shook his head.
“It’s the Mid-Autumn Festival.”
He couldn’t help but be surprised. Even though he hadn’t remembered the day, someone around must have, and yet, for some reason, it was desolate within the Creed. It didn’t look like there was a festival happening at all.
He wanted to ask Ji Han about that, but the other was a step ahead of him. “I heard that there’ll be fireworks in town tonight.”
“You want to go see? I can go with—“
Ji Han suddenly glared at him. “I said that you’re not allowed off the mountain.”
“But the fireworks can be seen from the roof, too.”
The roof was not high up. For experts of the martial world like they were, climbing up on one such as this was an easy task.
They brought wine as they flipped onto the eaves. The clean breeze over the rooftops was gentle, and the moonlight was just right. They toasted and poured their drinks, a special sort of intrigue to it.
Ji Han looked at the water in his cup and lightly sighed. “If this was wine, it’d be great.”
“Once you get better, I’ll accompany you to drink again. There’s time.”
Right as Ji Han went to answer, fireworks suddenly rose up and blossomed in the sky, drawing both of their gazes to them.
Zhao Jiangui had never been fond of watching fireworks, as he thought them too fake. They were pretty when they bloomed, but ultimately fleeting, and of ominous portent. On top of that, he always believed that they were something young maidens were fond of, while he was great jianghu hero; if he said he liked fireworks, that would be kind of effeminate of him.
But now, sitting with Ji Han and viewing a sky full of them, he felt very happy.
He thought that, no matter what he was looking at, as long as he did it with the one he liked, it would turn into something extremely beautiful.
That included the someone in question, of course.
Ji Han was leaned against him, his face especially good-looking beneath the fireworks’ illumination; perhaps he sensed his gaze, because he turned to look at him. “What is it?”
Zhao Jiangui felt like he was a child caught doing something bad. Feeling quite a bit discomfited, he quickly turned his head away.
Zhao Jiangui nodded, then heard him lightly chuckle.
“Zhao Jiangui, turn around.”
He did; Ji Han was watching him.
Zhao Jiangui had never seen such a look on his face before, where he had a smile spread on his lips, gaze slightly burning. He grabbed Zhao Jiangui by the lapels, then slowly pulled him forwards.
“Zhao Jiangui,” he whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Mentally at a loss, Zhao Jiangui couldn’t comprehend the meaning of that sorry at all, but, without waiting for him to ask, Ji Han kissed him.
While lips and teeth tangled, Zhao Jiangui embraced Ji Han, taking the initiative to kiss back. The inside of his head was a bit dizzied, yet he could think of why the scriptbooks hadn’t ever clearly written how to kiss; it was simply something best self-taught.
As soon as he had that thought, a dull ache was suddenly felt at his waist.
Ji Han gently pushed him away.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated.
Completely shocked, Zhao Jiangui’s limbs went sore and and lacking in strength, his inner qi seeming to stagnate within his dantian. He knew what the cause of this was, naturally — Ji Han had just sealed his acupoints whilst he was too engrossed in kissing him, and thus entirely unsuspecting.
Ji Han picked him up and deftly jumped down from the eaves, movements lithe. Clearly, he was not as gravely injured as Zhao Jiangui had imagined him to be.
Many people instantly showed up in the courtyard.
Elder Wen led high-ranking guards of the Demonic Creed in standing before Ji Han, then bowing respectfully to him. “Creed Lord,” the Elder said, “the traitor has since been detained in the underground prison.”
Ji Han’s smile had long vanished, his expression cold as he nodded.
Zhao Jiangui suddenly understood.
‘Traitor’ had to refer to Xiao Lin, and Ji Han appeared… to have long discovered their plot.
“Zhao Jiangui’s internal arts are extremely high,” Elder Wen went on. “Sealing his acupoints won’t hold him for long. He needs to be fed some Bone Weakener.”
Ji Han said nothing to prevent that.
A guard fetched some Bone Weakener, forced Zhao Jiangui to eat it, then grabbed his hands.
“Put him and the traitor together,” Ji Han said coldly.
Weak all over, Zhao Jiangui strenuously turned his head to look at him.
Ji Han looked back at him expressionlessly. The look in his eyes was just as icy as it had been at their first meeting, no billows within them.
The guards hauled him away.
Ji Han turned and slowly walked down the long veranda behind him. The Creed’s interior was very cold, not a trace of festivities around, and the lanterns below the veranda were not yet lit. Coming to its end, he gently pushed the door in front of him open.
A solitary lantern was lit within the room.
He walked in, over to the side of the lantern, and turned — there seemed to be someone sitting in the dim light.
It was an elder with grayed hair.
Ji Han paused slightly in his tracks, then knelt towards him, saying something in a very quiet voice.
The elder raised his head to look at him.
His age was slightly up there, but his eyes showed much power, and not a hint of a smile was seen on his stern face — this was the former Creed Lord, Yin Buhuo, who was supposed to be dead. As he stared dead at Ji Han, he slowly opened his mouth. “They’re caught already?”
“That traitor sent the information beforehand?”
A smile finally showed up on Yin Buhuo’s face. “You’ve done well.”
“Thank you for your praise, Father.”
Yin Buhuo stood up. “The Martial Forest Assembly is not too far off. Go to Baicang Mountain before us, arrange everything carefully, then immediately set out.”
Ji Han startled a bit, and couldn’t help but speak. “Father, my injuries…”
They weren’t as serious as Zhao Jiangui had thought they were, but they were still injuries. The doctor had said that he needed rest, and the long, difficult travel wouldn’t do them well.
“What about your injuries?” Yin Buhuo asked coldly.
“They… won’t be a big hindrance,” Ji Han said, voice suddenly getting quieter.
“They’re just some minor wounds. If you’re this delicate, how could I entrust the Holy Creed to you with peace of mind?”
“…I acknowledge my mistake.”
Yin Buhuo nodded with a dark face. “No need to worry. When you go on the before trip, I’ll have people head out to help you.”
“Where did you put that Zhao Jiangui?”
“With Xiao Lin in the underground prison.”
“He is not a simple character. Even if he’s already detained, you absolutely must not be careless when handling him.”
Ji Han nodded. “I will send people to keep strict watch on him.”
“Strict watch?” Yin Buhuo laughed chillingly. “Only the dead cannot ruin anything.”
Ji Han looked at him in shock.
“You will go over there now.”
“Do you understand?” the man asked harshly.
After a moment of being stunning, Ji Han lowered his head, his answer muffled. “Yes.”
Zhao Jiangui was towed the whole way by two Creed guards. He had no idea what Elder Wen had fed him, only knowing that his internal qi was in disarray, and he would feel a sharp pain in his dantian with the slightest movement of his power, leaving him without even a bit of strength.
They tossed him into the underground prison. Seemingly worried that the drug would lose effect, they also got a rope and tied him up before leaving.
Xiao Lin was already inside the cell. His condition was not much better than Zhao Jiangui’s; the latter could see bruising at the corner of his’s mouth, meaning that he had obviously been beaten. When Zhao Jiangui was thrown in, the other hurriedly ran over and helped him up, face full of sorrow. “I’ve dragged you down, Hero Zhao.”
Zhao Jiangui nearly didn’t have the strength to speak anymore.
Xiao Lin looked like he was about to cry. “Had I not been so careless, the Creed Lord would have never discovered the letter I sent to the Alliance.”
However, Zhao Jiangui felt that there was something amiss, getting the overall feeling that… Ji Han had long found them out, and had simply beaten them in their own game, making them be the ones exploited, instead.
With that thought, his heart suddenly felt empty, that pain unable to be controlled.
“What should we do now, Hero Zhao?”
Zhao Jiangui didn’t answer. His heart was a mess; there was naturally not a single thing they could do.
A short while later, there was another sound echoing outside. He looked up to glance out — Ji Han had arrived with Elder Wen and Wei Qi.
His heart jolted. He had no idea what sort of tone to use against Ji Han.
The latter gazed at him with a frosty look. Elder Wen snatched the chance to speak first, side-eyeing Zhao Jiangui. “Creed Lord, it’s time.”
“Wait one minute.”
Ji Han had someone open the prison door, then stepped inside to stand before Zhao Jiangui, looking down at him from up on high.
“Zhao Jiangui, you believe that my skill is inferior to yours,” he said arrogantly. “You said that my style has no defensive moves in it. You didn’t know, though, that attacking is the best defense.”
Zhao Jiangui was startled, thinking back to what he had told Ji Han that day. Could it be that even back then, Ji Han had known that he was deceiving him?
Ji Han touched the hilt of the sword at his waist.
Elder Wen couldn’t resist showing a look of joy.
Yin Buhuo had worried that Ji Han wouldn’t set to task, hence why he had asked Elder Wen to keep an eye on him. He hadn’t thought that Ji Han would be so decisive, and that they had both overthought things.
Ji Han drew his sword. With a flash of swordlight, a strand of Zhao Jiangui’s bangs was cut off, floating down to the ground, and then the sword was returned to its sheath.
“My sword is definitely not any slower than yours,” he stated, voice light.
Zhao Jiangui stared straight at the ground, not saying a thing.
He couldn’t have dodged that strike, as his major acupoints were sealed and he had been fed poison, but… could he still have, if he had been like normal? When he thought about it, he felt that he only had about a thirty percent certainty. Furthermore, Ji Han’s injuries weren’t yet healed, so that strike hadn’t been at full power…
Since he had long known that he had been deceiving him, that meant that he had deliberately played this up in order to tempt him into taking the bait.
“You should get to it,” Elder Wen said.
Ji Han looked down to calmly stare at Zhao Jiangui for a long time, after which his brows furrowed in some disgust. “Killing him would sully this Lord’s hands.”
“If you don’t kill him, there will be no explanation to give the Master.”
“Wei Qi, you do it.”
That said, he turned and left like Zhao Jiangui was something disgusting enough to nauseate him, refusing to even turn his head to look at him.
Elder Wen frowned, unsure of whether he should stay or leave. Protector Hua then entered the cell block to speak to him. “Elder Wen, it’s time to go.”
He could only glance at Wei Qi, then follow Ji Han out.
Wei Qi gave the few bodyguards around a meaningful glance, and they all withdrew.
“The guards of this cell were all once my fellows from Flying Hawk Hall,” Wei Qi sighed. “I didn’t think that I would have to be the one to send you off on your final journey, Hero Zhao.”
Zhao Jiangui said not a thing.
“Seeing as you and I have something of a friendship, I won’t make things hard for you.” He drew a short dagger out of his sleeve. “I could leave you with a mostly-intact corpse…”
Xiao Lin went pale from fright, nearly about to throw himself over to wrangle with Wei Qi. His martial arts were not very high, however, resulting in him getting knocked out with one bump of the hilt. Zhao Jiangui knew that he was going to die, and simply closed his eyes, only hoping that Wei Qi would get it over with a little quicker.
Wei Qi raised his hand, and then the dagger fell, severing the rope binding Zhao Jiangui.
Startled, the latter turned to look at him.
Wei Qi smiled lightly at him. “…but the Creed Lord doesn’t want you dead.”
Struck dumb in place, Zhao Jiangui wasn’t sure what Wei Qi meant for a moment, but once he came back to his senses, he felt euphoria in his heart. As he feared that he might be wishfully thinking, he stared at Wei Qi with a face full of impatience, wanting to ask him for confirmation, yet having no idea how he ought to do that. There was no way he could say, ‘Does your Lord still like me?’, because that was way too unnatural, and not a bit like him.
Wei Qi looked to be restraining his laughter. “The Lord has ordered this subordinate to send you away ahead of time.”
Zhao Jiangui finally swallowed that one question down, pausing for just a bit. “Where has Ji Han gone?”
“The Forest Assembly will convene in half a month. Now’s about the time he needs to transfer over to Paleblue City.”
Zhao Jiangui’s heart abruptly sank again.
“The Lord hadn’t yet known about your plan at the beginning,” Wei Qi said. “At most, he thought that you were a little strange.”
“When did he find out?” Zhao Jiangui had to ask.
“The Vast Alliance was able to stick a spy into our Creed, so I was naturally able to think of a way to bribe Vast Alliance members back. When you showed up, Hero Zhao, my spy told me the news just in time, so I had to inform the Lord, of course.”
“When was that?”
“Before you two even returned to the Holy Creed.”
Zhao Jiangui’s emotions suddenly plummeted. He had never expected for Ji Han to have started plotting against him from that point. Now that he thought about it, it was likely that Ji Han had deliberately let him see that one paper so that the Vast Alliance would receive the information, then truly walk into the Creed’s trap.
He himself was this upset at learning this, but who knew what Ji Han had thought at that time? Zhao Jiangui was the one that had been wrong at the start, and Ji Han had simply beaten him at his ploy. There was no way that he could blame him.
“There is one thing that I don’t think you know, Hero Zhao.”
Wei Qi hesitated some, as if still wavering on whether he should tell him or not. He ultimately grit his teeth, made his decision, and hushed his voice. “The former Creed Lord is still alive.”
Zhao Jiangui was astonished.
“The hearts of the Creed’s people are all over the place. The former Lord has many malicious people subordinating him, and everyone wants to fight for the position of Lord. Someone attempted to assassinate the old Lord a few months back, gravely injuring him, and the lie that he had died of sudden illness was told to the outside world. He also ordered for Lord Ji to ascend, wanting him to investigate the matter.”
“Wasn’t that basically just… using Ji Han as bait?”
“The Lord has been abnormally gifted since childhood, his sword arts having long surpassed the old Lord’s. Those assassins would never be able to hurt him easily, but they would have a much better time killing the old man.” Wei Qi paused for a moment. “That day of the Jackdaw assassination, the Lord… the Lord got injured on purpose in order to gain your trust. He simply avoided any vitals, making the wounds not as serious as you thought they were.”
“He wouldn’t have been hurt at all, normally,” Zhao Jiangui picked up, disappointed.
“Doctor Yan wanted to prevent me from finding that out, so he had deliberately made up an excuse that he didn’t like onlookers while he was treating someone.”
With that brought up, Wei Qi’s expression went a bit bizarre, but he didn’t say much, merely summoning a guard with a clap.
“There is a secret tunnel inside this prison, Hero Zhao. Take Xiao Lin with you and follow the guard. Only Elder Wen has the antidote to your poison, but I left someone outside of the tunnel to receive you. He’ll think of a way.”
The other grunted a response.
Wei Qi hesitated again. “Hero Zhao… all of this was incited by the former Lord. If the current Lord had his way, he would have refused to do any of this.”
Zhao Jiangui thought that over. “Ji Han told you to say all of this to me?”
“He really only wanted me to send you away from the Creed, not say anything at all. If he knew that I said so much to you, he’d likely make me go to the punishment hall for penance,” Wei Qi said, smiling painfully.
Zhao Jiangui couldn’t help but crease his brow. “Why did you tell me this much?”
“Do you remember what happened that day you went down the mountain and into town? They treated you well only because the Creed Lord always treats us well.” Wei Qi looked down, voice soft. “I just don’t want to see him help other people, yet get no rewards himself.”
Blank in his mind, Zhao Jiangui didn’t know what he was getting at, but the other was already urging him to leave soon.
Carrying the out-cold Xiao Lin on his back, the guard led Zhao Jiangui through the secret tunnel and out of the Creed. The passage’s exit, which they had drilled out sometime before, appeared to be at the base of the Creed’s mountain; Zhao Jiangui saw wild forests outside.
Within the trees, a carriage was already waiting. They walked over to it. Another was seated beside the driver, and upon seeing them arrive, he turned his head and smiled at them. “I’ve been waiting for you two for a long time, Hero Zhao.”
Zhao Jiangui frowned as he stared at him. The other pouted. “Hero Zhao, I’m seriously not a member of the Creed. It’s just that Xiao Wei said that his face is too known down the mountain, so if he was the one to send you away, the former Lord would definitely notice.”
“You know everything?”
“Xiao Wei rarely hides anything from me.”
“That one day, you clearly said that there’s a lot of things he doesn’t tell you.”
“Your Creed Lord made me say that.”
Zhao Jiangui’s expression became sullen. Even all of what Yu Xian’r had said were what Ji Han had made up to deceive him.
He had only just been thinking that he could never blame Ji Han for any of this, but now, he was starting to get a little angry.
The guard went back along the road he had come. Yu Xian’r, meanwhile, kept talking. “Only Elder Wen has your antidote, Hero Zhao. Fortunately, we’ve long made preparations. A day’s travel from here after leaving this town, there’s a Divine Doctor coincidentally practicing abroad.”
Seeing that Zhao Jiangui wasn’t saying anything, he prompted, “Are you angry at the Creed Lord?”
Zhao Jiangui, wooden-faced, didn’t say a word.
Yu Xian’r couldn’t resist laughing. “If he knew that you were this angry over him, he would probably be delighted.
Right as Zhao Jiangui thought to answer, Xiao Lin stirred awake.
Wei Qi had been too brutal in his hit, making the back of Xiao Lin’s neck faintly ache. He rubbed it as he looked at the clear sky in a daze, believing himself to be in a dream.
“Are you okay?” Zhao Jiangui asked.
Xiao Lin was astonished. “Hero Zhao? Wh… why are we here?”
The other told him the details of what had just happened. Xiao Lin looked confused, as if he hadn’t yet returned to his senses. There was long pause before he finally muttered, “The Creed Lord really treats you well, Hero Zhao.”
“…Don’t speak nonsense.”
Yu Xian’r had to cover his face as he laughed again.
“If he didn’t treat you well, how could you be so easily forgiven and let loose?” Xiao Lin asked, still distracted.
Yu Xian’r laughed louder.
Zhao Jiangui: “…”
“Okay, we should go,” Yu Xian’r said with a grin. “The Divine Doctor won’t be staying in town for long.”
“Divine Doctor?” Xiao Lin had to ask, slightly suspect. “Wasn’t Doctor Yan a Divine Doctor? Since he helped the Creed Lord with lying over and over again, isn’t he on your side?”
At the mention of Doctor Yan, Yu Xian’r’s expression went somewhat troubled. “Doctor Yan… is a bit strange,” he said, furrowing his brow. “Xiao Wei and I both have doubts about his identity. Xiao Wei even thinks that he doesn’t practice medicine at all.”
“How could that be? He was obviously very proficient in changing the Creed Lord’s dressings.”
“Did you witness him doing so yourself?”
Xiao Lin shut his mouth. Doctor Yan had never liked for others to watch from the side; he had only recalled that at each change of dressings, the Doctor would never take more than a cup of tea’s worth of time before he came out, so he had inferred that the Doctor was skilled.
After thinking some more, Xiao Lin asked, “If he doesn’t have medical skills… how could the Creed Lord have tolerated him being at his side?”
Yu Xian’r stopped and started, pondering for a short moment, then said, “That’s why Xiao Wei has always thought that he was overthinking it.”
Xiao Lin nodded. “He definitely was.”
He turned his head to look around, only to see Zhao Jiangui and Yu Xian’r both looking grave. “What’s the matter with you two?” he asked, bewildered. “Did I say something wrong?”
Zhao Jiangui slowly shook his head. “Let’s just go.”
By the time they arrived at the small town via Yu Xian’r’s instruction, two days had passed. Over those days, Zhao Jiangui had constantly been poring over everything in his mind, as well as worrying about how Ji Han’s wounds weren’t healed yet, and whether he might come across some mishaps on his journey. These two, brief days seemed to drag on like several years to him. What was more was that he couldn’t feel the efficacy of the poison decrease the slightest bit; on the contrary, it became all the more terrible over time, and as long as he tried to circulate his qi the tiniest bit, his dantian would have endless stabbing pains, his internal strength restricted to the point of uselessness by the drug.
Their carriage was still outside the city, yet they had already seen many righteous jianghu people.
Zhao Jiangui still bore the charge of murdering the Alliance Leader’s eldest disciple, so he dared not show his face right now, forced to hide away inside the cabin while Yu Xian’r was to come out to get in touch with the Divine Doctor. They asked around, then learned that the Doctor was currently staying at a small inn in town, the tiny, run-down old place long teeming with people requesting treatment. Xiao Lin lifted the carriage’s curtain and looked out, unable to keep from clucking his tongue. “What kind of doctor would stay here?”
“Famed jianghu doctors are few,” Zhao Jiangui answered.
“With how late we are, I’m afraid we won’t be able to get high in the queue.”
Yu Xian’r sent the coach driver over to ask for information, thereupon learning that the Doctor had shut his door to customers, saying that he would not be seeing anyone.
Xiao Lin sighed. “That’s even worse. He’s not seeing anyone, so how will we be able to cure Hero Zhao?”
“I have a way, of course,” Yu Xian’r said with a smile, removing an object from a secret compartment inside the carriage.
The object was about three chi long, wrapped entirely in gray cloth. Zhao Jiangui intuitively felt that it ought to be a sword. Yu Xian’r carried it off of the carriage, stopped the boyservant watching the door for the Doctor, and requested that he bring the item inside.
The boy was obviously a bit impatient. “Our Mister isn’t seeing customers and doesn’t accept gifts,” he grumbled, “I’ve told you all this hundreds of times.”
“This isn’t a gift, nor is it for your doctor.”
The boy lifted his head to look at him.
Yu Xian’r smiled. “I’ll bother you with bringing it to the Madam.”
Clearly startled, the boy didn’t immediately reach out to take it. Yu Xian’r continued on. “If you refuse, we have another way of getting this inside, but when that time comes, she will likely reproach you.”
The boy curled his lip, took the object, turned around, and went inside the room.
Yu Xian’r returned to the interior of the carriage. “That was a sword?” Zhao Jiangui asked him.
“Yes. Yours,” the other replied, smiling lightly. “I never expected that you would be so worried over the Creed Lord that you would even forget about your own sword, Hero Zhao.”
Zhao Jiangui couldn’t resist frowning. When he had been detained, the guards had confiscated his sword, and when Wei Qi had sent him off on his escape, he still hadn’t returned it to him. His heart had been filled with worries these few days, so he had momentarily overlooked this.
“Why did you send his sword inside?” Xiao Lin piped up from the side.
“The doctor’s surname is Mo?” asked Zhao Jiangui.
“Mo Qingfeng?” Xiao Lin added.
Yu Xian’r nodded with a smile.
Xiao Lin still didn’t get it. “But… why did you send his sword inside?”
The boyservant came out from the building, gave the sword back to them, and quietly said a few things to Yu Xian’r.
Zhao Jiangui could not get out of the carriage out in the open, so they had to sneak around to the inn’s back entrance, quietly disembark, and follow the boy’s lead into the rear courtyard, where two people were waiting.
They appeared to be a young married couple. The instant Zhao Jiangui walked in, the woman took a few steps forwards and grabbed his sleeve. “Eldest.”
Zhao Jiangui lightly held her hand. “Jue’r.”
The man behind her stepped up and clasped his hands towards him, smiling. “Eldest.”
Zhao Jiangui nodded slightly. “I trust you’ve been well, Qingfeng.”
“Divine Doctor Mo is your junior brother, Hero Zhao?” Xiao Lin asked, amazed.
Mo Qingfeng laughed out loud.
“He’s my brother-in-law,” Zhao Jiangui had to explain.
Xiao Lin’s gaze went to the woman. “Brother-in-law? Then… could this be Heroine Gu?”
Gu Jue chuckled. “I dare not claim the word ‘Heroine’.”
Xiao Lin quickly waved his hand. “There’s no need to be so modest, Heroine Gu.”
“If the Madam dares not call herself a Heroine, then I’m afraid very few in jianghu can claim the title,” Mo Qingfeng said.
She gently glared at him. “Spouting rubbish before the eldest?”
“All I’ve said is the truth. I’ve never spouted rubbish. I would say the same even before your Master.”
Seeing the couple be so affectionate, Zhao Jiangui couldn’t help but feel very unreasonably sad. He had never been like this before, and it wasn’t like he hated them out of jealousy or something. It was just that their deep love was… really enviable.
Gu Jue tugged on Zhao Jiangui’s arm. “Are you here to see me?”
“A quarter of an hour ago, I was thinking that you two were still in the Valley.”
“Why did you come here, then?”
Before Zhao Jiangui could answer, Mo Qingfeng, who had been observing him for a short time with his expression getting more and more serious, beat him to it. “I’m afraid he’s been poisoned.”