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Gu Jue was taken aback. “Brother, how did you get poisoned?” she asked in astonishment.
She looked very flustered, as if she had no idea what to do. Mo Qingfeng gently hugged her around the shoulders, quietly consoling her. “No need to worry. Let me take a look, first.”
Only then did she apparently remember that her husband was a doctor. She felt some shame towards her own panic and helplessness, quickly having Mo Qingfeng bring Zhao Jiangui into the room, check his pulse, and affirm that the poison wasn’t life-threatening, after which she gave a light sigh of relief.
“It’s not a big issue,” Mo Qingfeng said. “After taking the antidote, the drug’s effects will be cancelled at a max of five days.”
Zhao Jiangui nodded. “Thank you.”
“Family doesn’t need to be so polite. I just don’t understand one thing… with your martial arts, how could you get so easily poisoned?”
Zhao Jiangui knew that he probably thought that he had been hit by poison dabbed on a concealed weapon or another’s plain weapon. He had no idea how to explain, so he had to shut up and not say anything.
Yu Xian’r, who was sitting nearby drinking tea, started to laugh at that question.
The boyservant took Mo Qingfeng’s prescription and went off to decoct it, Xiao Lin following after to help. Now that Gu Jue had calmed down, she frowned for a long while, then finally couldn’t help but ask, “Brother, can you answer me honestly about something?”
“What is it?”
“Did you actually kill the Alliance Leader’s eldest disciple?”
Back when the Vast Alliance had found him for discussion, they had never informed his sect members. At this time, he didn’t know where to start; he really shouldn’t tell her that he had no choice but to fake killing that guy in order to seduce the Demonic Creed Lord.
Moreover, that seduction had failed from the get-go, and he himself was the one that had been lured into taking the bait. That would be much too humiliating to say out loud — details couldn’t be gotten into.
“I didn’t kill him at all,” he had to say. “That was nothing more than the Leader’s plan to let me infiltrate the Creed.”
“It was just a temporary plan to have the Hero of Mount Ba see you leave with that demon?”
“Yes,” he had to answer, steeling himself.
“That’s good.” She sighed in relief. “We never believed that you would do something like this, but Master has been worrying day and night.”
“You can relax.” He suddenly remembered what Yu Xian’r had brought up about Doctor Yan, then asked, “Qingfeng, does your Valley have a doctor with the surname Yan?”
Mo Qingfeng startled. “You’re speaking of Junior Yan?”
After what Yu Xian’r had said, Zhao Jiangui had been thinking that ‘Doctor Yan’ wasn’t even a real person, only for Mo Qingfeng to give an answer like that. He couldn’t help but hesitate a bit.
“You’ve seen Junior Yan?” Gu Jue asked, tone a little eager. “Where is he?”
Zhao Jiangui didn’t get to speak, as Yu Xian’r beat him to it. “In the Demonic Creed.”
“They captured him?!”
“They invited him to act as their doctor,” Zhao Jiangui answered.
“That’s impossible!” Mo Qingfeng was alarmed. “Junior Yan’s only daughter died by the hands of a Creed Elder! Shan’r was no older than sixteen. He would never treat those demons.”
Zhao Jiangui was startled.
Doctor Yan had looked to only be in his early twenties. How could he have a sixteen-year-old daughter?“How… old is he?”
“Junior Yan is over forty. He entered the Valley late, which is why I call him Junior.”
“Does he just look young?”
The other shook his head. “After Shan’r’s passing, he gained a head full of white hair overnight. Even though he’s in his forties, he looks like an elder in his sixties.”
Zhao Jiangui and Yu Xian’r met each other’s eyes. Both of them looked a bit solemn.
Gu Jue blinked, very perplexed. “Brother, what’s actually going on?”
Zhao Jiangui hesitated. “Jue’r… do you know where Doctor Yan is now?”
“Several months ago, someone asked him to treat his mother. Junior Yan dislikes leaving the Valley, so that man had to kneel outside the gate for a long time before he was moved by his filial piety and followed him out. However, he never came back. Everyone in the Valley has been worried, deeply fearing that something happened to him.”
“Was the man who asked him to leave young?”
“Around twenty,” Mo Qingfeng supplied.
“Did he have a haughty look?”
Mo Qingfeng thought about it. “He was a bit cheeky, and had a pretty ugly face towards everyone that wasn’t himself.”
Zhao Jiangui said nothing.
“Though, it was precisely because he was haughty from head to toe, yet had been able to bow his head and kneel for his mother, that Junior Yan had been moved,” Gu Jue continued.
“I’m afraid that he wasn’t bowing his head for his mother,” Zhao Jiangui said sadly.
She didn’t understand him. “If not for his mother, then what?”
He had now come to understand what Wei Qi had said. In truth, Ji Han and Wei Qi had informed him of this long ago, but he hadn’t fully detected it then. Only now, did he realize.
If Wei Qi’s guess wasn’t wrong, ‘Doctor Yan’ wasn’t a doctor at all, yet Ji Han had taken it upon himself to cover for him, even tolerating his attitude.
Also, ‘Doctor Yan’ was a young man of Ji Han’s age, a purported Divine Doctor that had previously been found for the former Creed Lord’s illness, yet seemed to have no medical knowledge whatsoever.
Dragging Yu Xian’r, Zhao Jiangui went out the door, grave-looking as he lowered his voice. “The Creed’s Doctor Yan, is he…”
Yu Xian’r smiled bitterly. “As it seems, he must be.”
Zhao Jiangui pondered for a short moment. “We should leave.”
“Now?” the other asked, astonished.
“If that really is the case, Ji Han is likely going to be in danger.”
Yu Xian’r wasn’t quite sure how to react. “Hero Zhao, I think that the Lord had Xiao Wei get you off the mountain because he was worried that you would get dragged into this.”
“He’s in danger,” Zhao Jiangui simply emphasized.
“Even if he is, what can you do? There are many Creed people that only listen to the orders of the old Lord, and you are only one man, Hero Zhao.”
The other remained silent.
“I have no understanding of jianghu’s affairs, but I still know that murdering the Alliance Leader’s eldest disciple is a huge mistake. Without clarification, I’m afraid that you won’t be able to find any allies.”
“I have a way,” Zhao Jiangui finally answered.
“Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen my second junior brother in over a year.”
Over seven days had passed since they had reached Paleblue City.
The Creed had long set everything up. Even the old Lord, Yin Buhuo, had rushed here yesterday night with Creed reinforcements. All of the plans and preparations were nearly flawless, and yet, Wei Qi was even more uneasy than ever.
He had constantly been afraid that his guess would come true, and the old Lord bringing Doctor Yan with him had further backed up his idea. Ji Han was not a naive child by any means, so Wei Qi thought that he should have surmised everything way before, but for some reason, he was willing to tolerate all of this.
Worries were in Wei Qi’s heart. Something really seemed fishy with all of this. Every single day, he was baffled with furrowed brows, but on this particular day, he heard the servants mention that something was clearly very wrong with Ji Han’s condition.
The Elder Maid had remained in the Creed. The dozen or so fifteen-year-old-ish young maids that had come with were twittering about, saying that the Creed Lord had not eaten properly in a few days, as he was claiming that he had no appetite.
Wei Qi resolved to meet up with Ji Han.
The latter didn’t look too much different than he had in the past, but his complexion was slightly paler. It was unclear what he was thinking about; his brows were deeply knit, and he was clearly unhappy.
After considering for a long time, Wei Qi asked a blunt question at last. “Are you concerned about something, Lord?”
Ji Han stood at the window with his hands behind his back, silent.
Wei Qi understood, knowing that Ji Han was most likely worried about Zhao Jiangui. Yu Xian’r and him had been out for many days with not even half a letter declaring their safety having ever been sent over here. Moreover, when Yu Xian’r had taken Zhao Jiangui away, the latter had been poisoned. It was little wonder that Ji Han was fretting.
“He doesn’t have martial arts and isn’t of jianghu. It was much too reckless of you to have him do that,” Ji Han suddenly voiced.
Wei Qi was caught off guard. Right as he went to explain, Ji Han sighed deeply. “Do you miss him?”
“Of course I do.”
“And yet you don’t seem to be worried.”
“He has no illnesses nor injuries, and is in a safe place right now.” Wei Qi couldn’t help but laugh a bit. “Why would this subordinate be worried?”
Ji Han went quiet for a bit. “Right,” he said quietly, “there’s no need to be worried at all.”
His complexion finally looked a little better.
They chatted for a bit longer. Ji Han meticulously inquired about the Creed’s arrangements for the Martial Forest Assembly, after which Wei Qi took his leave. When he got to the door, he saw Yin Buhuo and Doctor Yan coming over. The latter walked at the former’s side, utterly respectful towards him, which inevitably brought a sense of closeness from within their mannerisms.
Wei Qi’s heart started thumping wildly.
He knew that his guess had at least hit half-right.
He retreated to the wall, watching them walk into Ji Han’s room.
Ji Han had always had much respect for the old Lord. Upon seeing Yin Buhuo enter, he stood up, bowed towards him deferentially, and called out ‘father’. He paid no attention to Doctor Yan, however.
Yin Buhuo’s face slightly sank. He walked to the seat of honor and sat down. “Han’r, this is your elder brother.”
That was in reference to Doctor Yan, of course.
Ji Han frowned slightly, but still didn’t open his mouth. Yin Buhuo was slightly irritated.
“Ever since that day those assassins heavily injured me, I felt that sending your brother away was a mistake,” Yin Buhuo said. “I thought of what would happen when I ought to retire, so I brought him back. Since you are now the Creed Lord, you can be a bit more relaxed with your brother helping by your side.”
Ji Han remained quiet.
“I know that you’re disgruntled about me not letting you play together when you were young, but I hope that you can focus on your goals. If you don’t, how will you have success today?”
He looked down at Ji Han like he was looking at an ignorant child, the expression on his face very amiable.
Ji Han was forced to swallow down his unhappiness, bow his head slightly towards Doctor Yan, and call him ‘brother’.
Yin Buhuo was very satisfied. He then questioned in detail about the Creed’s Martial Forest Assembly plans and set-up, very concerned about Ji Han.
After Zhao Jiangui had passed information back to the Vast Alliance, they had scouted out that the Alliance was going to go up the mountain via that secret road, in order to cut off the Creed’s path and eliminate them in one swoop.
That information had been what he had deliberately revealed to Zhao Jiangui, purely for the sake of counter-plotting against them. When all the Alliance’s members entered that narrow road, the Creed would ambush in a pincer attack, and they would have no way to escape.
There were not many aces like Zhao Jiangui in the Alliance, but there were not few people of high martial arts, either. Ji Han worried a lot and refused to act too rashly, but Yin Buhuo said that he would follow after him with the rest of the Creed’s trusted aides. As the current Creed Lord, Ji Han would be taking people in first to act as bait and lure the enemy in deep, then Yin Buhuo would outflank them from behind. In all likelihood, those righteous experts would not be able to flee even if they had immense abilities. The Alliance would fall by this catastrophe.
Ji Han had been watching Yin Buhuo all this time.
He saw that when Yin Buhuo was saying such things, his expression was obviously quite concerned; he repeatedly urged him to have the utmost of caution, and that whatever the outcome would be, he must not be careless and risk his life. Meanwhile, at Yin Buhuo’s side, his ‘brother’ had a dark face from beginning to end, nearly not wanting to look straight at him, as if Ji Han owed him a couple millions taels.
Oh, right. He suddenly remembered that he did owe him a Creed Lord position.
Having made the plan’s details clear, Yin Buhuo went to leave with Doctor Yan. Before his departure, he instructed Ji Han to rest properly, saying that he was still injured and could not come down with something.
That attitude was a complete change from these previous days.
When they left, Wei Qi felt his way inside from outside the door.
As it was, he had just been standing there this whole time without leaving. Yin Buhuo had clearly noticed, yet had never made him leave, presumably not going to hide this anymore.
“You heard all of that?” Ji Han asked.
Wei Qi nodded.
The two fell into silence.
“I can tell that you have a good relationship with Yu Xian’r, but I don’t know how you two met,” Ji Han said.
That statement had nothing to do with what they had just talked about. Despite his slight surprise, Wei Qi blushed a little and awkwardly gave an answer. “One day, I went for a stroll in Qinhuai with brothers from our Hall. There was a pleasure boat on the river. He… he was on it…”
“He really likes you.”
Wei Qi scratched his head in embarrassment.
“You don’t need to come with for the Assembly,” Ji Han suddenly said.
The other man was stunned.
Ji Han turned away with his hands behind his back. “If there’s nothing else, you may return.”
Wei Qi furrowed his brows, seemingly pondering his wording before he spoke. “Hero Zhao likes you a lot, too.”
“Regardless, this subordinate must go to the Assembly.”
Ji Han was quiet for a very long time. He felt like he was pressured to the point of suffocation by all these messes, not wanting things to be like this, yet also not knowing what he should do.
“Do as you will,” Ji Han could only say.
“Even though Hero Zhao was putting on an act at the very beginning, he has long become the mask,” Wei Qi stated, hesitant. “If anything happens to you, he’ll be just as upset.”
“I know.” Ji Han’s tone was stiff.
He still didn’t like to openly discuss his relationship with Zhao Jiangui like this. He wasn’t sure what kind of emotion he was feeling — perhaps he was sort of angry at Zhao Jiangui’s deception, or maybe he was just purely ashamed.
Never had he resented the other party, thankfully. The righteous and chaotic were just like this. They bore their respective identities, and had to do things that went against their hearts. Under those circumstances, he could understand the burden pressing down on Zhao Jiangui’s shoulders.
Wei Qi’s expression was complex. He wanted to say something, yet stopped himself, ultimately just bowing towards him and withdrawing.
Ji Han wound back around his desk. There was a map spread out on it that a scout had sent back. He had already looked it over hundreds of thousands of times, nearly carving all of Paleblue Mountain’s terrain and angles into his heart.
The light on the desk barely twinkled, and he suddenly thought of how the Assembly… was tomorrow.
Following the day the Vast Alliance had received the information from their Creed spy, it had begun to carefully make arrangements.
They had believed that, at the very most, the Creed would send Hallmaster Wei of Flying Hawk Hall ahead with people, as catching a Creed Hallmaster would be a tremendous feat. On the day of the Assembly, they lied in wait for a long time in the narrow pass beneath Paleblue’s cliffs, then saw the Creed’s people quietly walking down the path at last. The Alliance Leader, from the portraits the spy had sent back, recognized Wei Qi.
However, at this point, Hallmaster Wei was closely trailing behind another man, as was a woman in a brawler’s outfit.
The man looked to be only in his early twenties, and was donned in black. The Leader felt that he was a little familiar, but couldn’t really make out the other’s face in the dim lighting. Seeing that Hallmaster Wei was being so deferential to him, he knew that the man’s status within the Creed could not be low.
Someone suddenly made a low gasp behind him.
The one next to that person went to cover up his mouth so that the Creed villains wouldn’t discover them. The Leader turned his head to see that it was Jin Beiguo, the Hero of Mount Ba, that had said something, and couldn’t help but frown.
Jin Beiguo broke free of the one that was trying to cover his mouth, then whispered, “Leader, that’s Ji Han.”
The Leader was astonished. “You’re certain?”
“I can’t see his face clearly, but I recognize his sword.” Jin Beiguo’s expression darkened slightly. “I saw Brother Zhao leave with this demon myself, that day.”
The Leader was startled a bit, then only felt a burst of elation.
They had caught a huge fish.
Not long after Ji Han and the Creed people had followed along the narrow path, Ji Han whispered to Wei Qi, “Are they following?”
Protector Hua silently glanced behind them from where she was. “They’re baited,” she said to Ji Han.
He said nothing much else, continuing forward as had been planned.
He had already been well aware that Yin Buhuo was likely trailing him right now. All he needed to do was walk for a stretch, turn around when they heard the signal, then create a pincer attack with Yin Buhuo’s group.
They kept going for a short while, until they at last heard the bugle for arrow fire behind them. The Creed followers had received instructions long ago, and once they heard that sound, they drew their weapons and rushed up together while the Alliance crowd was still confused.
The Leader knew at once that they had been ambushed, and thought to retreat for the time being. Just as he turned around, though, he heard someone shouting behind him. “We’re being folded in like dumplings!”
He then became panicked. Right when he was wanting to call everyone to drum up enough force to charge through the enclosure, several arrows shot through the air and landed in the wildgrass piles beside them, wooshing into a flame.
No rain had fallen on Paleblue Mountain in over a month, the wildgrass on its grounds dry. The fire spread violently in the blink of an eye — they had no choice but to draw back again.
Yet, the fire arrows kept coming, nearly erecting a wall of flames on the road. The path of retreat was also cut off for Ji Han’s group.
Several Creed followers had rushed too far forwards and been fatally shot by arrows, collapsing to the ground and infecting the grass bits that filled the dirt, burning into effigies in an instant. Still, the arrow rain never stopped. Pale with fright, Protector Hua circulated her inner strength to shout at the faraway archers. “Stop! We’re your people!”
Right after she said that, she narrowly got shot. Wei Qi blocked the mess of arrows for her, then pulled her into a retreat with Ji Han.
Over this mere moment, eight of them had been injured. The Vast Alliance was doing a little worse than them. The arrow rain paused for a short bit, giving them only enough time to draw away from the fringe of the fire before they were suppressed by the arrows again.
Still rattled and uncomprehending, Protector Hua tugged at Ji Han’s sleeve. “Lord, they…”
Ji Han had a flat expression. “Let’s leave, now.”
They no longer cared about the Alliance crowd’s side. To evacuate, they would need to head up the cliff, but if they did, they really wouldn’t have any escape route. Ji Han still had that map memorized in his head — there were several hidden mountain caverns in the vicinity, so they could hide away for the time being.
The uninjured Creed followers assisted the injured ones in fleeing into a cave. Wei Qi lit a torch, but when he counted their numbers up, he discovered a few missing.
Fortunately, they had brought medicine with them, and wounds were now being tended to. Everyone’s emotions were still in a state of bewilderment; they really had no idea as to why their own people had attacked them.
Protector Hua had suffered some light injuries, as well, creasing her brow as she muttered, “Did they not recognize us?”
Silence was all around. No one answered her.
She was even more confounded. “They had never said that they were going to use fire to attack. Was there some sort of information slip-up?”
After another moment of silence, Ji Han started to speak, voice light.
“Do you still not understand, Protector Hua? We are now abandoned children.”
With him saying that, she was stunned for a moment, only managing to snap out of it after sufficient time had passed. “Abandoned?”
She still could not really believe this. “How could the old Lord do such a thing?”
Wei Qi bitterly laughed nearby. “Did you know that that Yan punk is the old Lord’s son?”
“I… vaguely heard something of it.”
“They started making plans ages ago.”
She couldn’t resist furrowing her brow, upon seeing Ji Han’s placid expression. “You knew beforehand that he would…?”
He looked somewhat sad. “I guessed most of it.”
“Since you had, why did you still go along with the plot he set?” she asked, astonished.
He lowered his eyes, silent.
She thought to ask again, but suddenly had an epiphany.
He had said that he had mostly guessed it, but had never been certain that Yin Buhuo actually wanted him dead. That was his adoptive father, after all; he had likely still held a sliver of hope within himself.
As she looked at him, she no longer knew what to say.
In light of jianghu folks’ consistent reasoning, since Yin Buhuo had raised Ji Han to adulthood, if he wanted Ji Han to compensate him for that with his life, that was his right.
But… she didn’t believe that Ji Han would actually pay with his life so stupidly.
The majority of the wounded had been treated properly, and after a moment of rest, Wei Qi brought some people into the cave’s depths. Protector Hua was slightly confused, questioning Ji Han quietly about it.
“When Wei Qi’s subordinates were exploring the road earlier, I had them leave some things inside this cave,” he gently explained.
“Them setting a fire outside was not to burn us to death, but to trap us. Some provisions are hidden in the cave so that we can hold out for a few days.”
She had believed that he had stored away some kind of method that could change the course of the Universe, and couldn’t help but be disappointed. “What can we even accomplish by holding out here?”
No matter how one looked at this situation, they were going to die.
“Wait for what?”
“Wait for somebody to come.”
Protector Hua just sighed, despairing on the inside.
Ji Han’s time as the succeeding Creed Lord had not been long, and he hadn’t had time to train up many confidantes; practically all of them were here right now. She really couldn’t think of anyone else that could possibly come. Even if they took advantage of the chaos of the righteous faction’s rescue time to slip away, that had no great possibility of happening at all — the righteous faction’s talents were dried up, with almost all of their better ones already trapped here. No matter how she thought this over, she couldn’t imagine that anyone could save them.
Sighing, she mumbled to herself quietly. “Who would come to save us? I’m afraid that our deaths are set in stone.”
“Someone will, of course.” Ji Han was still as calm-sounding as ever.
She was a bit shocked. “Who?”
They didn’t end up waiting for Zhao Jiangui, as the Alliance crowd came while they were.
Yin Buhuo obviously wanted to trap them here for a few days beforehand, and then, when they were physically and mentally spent, defeat them in one swoop. This cave was also quite high up, and rather concealed, so Ji Han had thought that it wouldn’t be that easy for the Alliance to find it. They had been recuperating here for a day; the moods of most of them were very low, and they were crouching in the corners dejectedly, not making a peep.
Wei Qi, on his end, was lying on his stomach as he baked provisions; in an instant, an aroma permeated throughout, making several people quietly look over to him.
Being injured, Ji Han had already been resting with his eyes closed, and smelled the fragrance in his half-asleep state. He couldn’t resist opening his eyes and looking over there, too.
Everyone that had previously had faces full of despair were now seated in a heap around the fire, wide-eyed and pitiful as they waited for Wei Qi to give them steamed buns.
…Ji Han suddenly felt a bit hungry.
All of a sudden, footsteps were heard outside the cave.
The crowd successively covered the steamed buns stuck in their mouths. Saying nothing, Ji Han held his breath and listened after he dashed over to a rock wall.
Someone was whispering outside. His voice sounded quite young, but his accent was prominent, and his Han was not that great. Ji Han could sense the auras of three people, but only one’s voice was heard.
The person pretty much popped out some simple words. “Here. Cave.”
Their footsteps got closer.
The one man sniffed. “Good smell. Hungry.”
Ji Han coldly shot a glance at Protector Hua and Wei Qi, who had buns stuffed in their mouths. Protector Hua got scared out of her mind and went to hide hers, while Wei Qi just looked back at him with eyes full of innocence.
The sounds outside stopped briefly, and then another voice spoke up. “Friends inside, you don’t need to hide anymore. Can you come out and talk?”
That one was probably from the Central Plains; at the very least, he spoke Han well, and had a very steady voice. Ji Han felt that he sounded somewhat familiar, so he stuck his head out slightly for a look.
The newcomer was Jin Beiguo, the Hero of Mount Ba, and behind him was the awe-inspiring pair of brothers, the Twin Elites of the Desert’s North.
Ji Han’s expression quickly turned complicated as he recalled the shocking tale Zhao Jiangui had told him.
Even though he knew that the man had lied to him about very many things, he still inevitably felt something towards that story. Jin Beiguo would always show up together with these two, every time. The relationship between them was really… thought-provoking.
Moreover, he had heard that Zhao Jiangui and Jin Beiguo were friends that had been through life and death together. It was highly unlikely that he would deliberately set up a lie that would snare his good brother into such awkwardness.
The Twin Elites were twin brothers, and had very similar vocal timbres. Without looking at them, Ji Han had honest difficulty in discerning which one was speaking — on top of that, for some reason, his head was filled with the words ‘the joys of polyamory’ floating around, and now he was no longer interested (at all) in carefully listening to them anymore. However, after the three softly chattered out there, he detected others approaching the cave.
This time, even more people were coming. Ji Han guessed that these were Alliance members that had escaped from the cliffs and circled back, wanting to find somewhere to stay, and discovering this cave by coincidence.
They had smelled the aroma of Wei Qi’s cooking food, so they already knew that people were hiding in the cave, but since they didn’t know if they were friend or foe, they never dared to come in. If the Creed came to fight against the Vast Alliance right now, they would absolutely be at a complete disadvantage. Unsure of what to do, Ji Han stalled in exposing their whereabouts.
Those outside stood there for a while, then quickly came into the cave to hide. They didn’t go in as deep as the Creed people were. Despite the two groups not running into each other, Ji Han felt slightly alarmed, not knowing what was happening. Once he listened harder, he suddenly detected a noise outside, as if yet another group was approaching.
His heart sank.
Yin Buhuo must have arrived.
The surroundings returned to calmness. Only the sound of footsteps growing all the closer could be heard.
“People are inside,” someone outside the cave said quietly.
Another laughed. “There’s many, likely.”
The speakers were clearly Yin Buhuo and Doctor Yan.
Upon hearing the former’s voice, Ji Han couldn’t help but straighten his back out slightly, the hand holding his sword clenching tightly.
He knew that since Yin Buhuo had caused him to be in this plight, him moving to kill the elder would not be excessive. Yin Buhuo’s martial arts were far inferior to his, as well. Even with his injuries, it wouldn’t be hard for him to kill him.
But he couldn’t bear to do so.
He had grown up following him. The man had taught him literature, martial arts, how to handle things, how to behave. Though he had been a little cold, no matter what, he was still his father.
Had he ever actually had the idea to kill Yin Buhuo, he would have done sp back when he had discovered the other’s plan.
Ji Han slowly let go of his sword again.
He recalled that Yin Buhuo had once said that as the Holy Creed Lord, the most important things to have were a cruel heart and ruthless hands. There were very few people that didn’t fear death, after all, and with those few killed, there would be no opposition afterwards.
In the end, he was too soft-hearted, and could not remain seated in the Creed Lord spot.
A sudden burst of clamor came from outside. The Vast Alliance had apparently thought to make an ambush, and were now fighting with Yin Buhuo’s group.
The Alliance people had been trapped for a long time, and were terribly exhausted. How could they ever be their match? They fell downwind in not much time. Wei Qi gathered in close to Ji Han’s ear, signalling for him to use the chaos to aid the Alliance.
Ji Han’s emotions were twisted up. In the span of his slight hesitation, the opportunity was missed.
The fighting sounds abruptly stopped. When they stuck their heads out to look again, one of the Twin Elites had been caught — Yin Buhuo’s group had grabbed him to threaten the jianghu fighters. As the Alliance was made of righteous sects, they naturally wouldn’t look on as something befell him, so they were forced to throw down their weapons and await defeat.
The Alliance Leader, his acupoints sealed, panted hard. “I never thought that you wouldn’t be dead yet, Yin Buhuo.”
The other smiled lightly, but said nothing.
Doctor Yan slanted a look into the cave. “There’s still more inside.”
Hearing that, Yin Buhuo stared inside, pondering for a short moment. “How long will you hide for, Han’r?” he asked coldly.
Ji Han couldn’t help but grip his sword tightly, though he still didn’t move.
In this moment, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat puzzled. Their group had been holding their breaths as they hid out in the cave — if a martial artist had sensed it, that would be normal, but Doctor Yan had been raised by an ordinary family since childhood. He should have had no martial arts whatsoever. How could he have noticed that people were concealed within?
The Alliance Leader was astonished. “The demon Ji Han is here, too?”
Yin Buhuo kept ignoring him. “Han’r, if you refuse to come out, we’ll just come in.”
Before his voice finished falling, Doctor Yan walked inside the cave. As he got closer, Ji Han noticed that he had a sword. He was startled, but couldn’t tell the depths of his martial arts — since he had dared to come in alone, he had confidence in his own skills.
Ji Han didn’t dare to act impulsively.
Yet, as long as Doctor Yan walked just a few steps in, he would run into the Creed followers hiding up ahead. Ji Han knew well that amongst the people here, he alone had the highest power, and if he refused to act, the others would be unable to hold up at all.
He feared that, at this time, all of his trusted people were certain to die here.
Thinking so, he had to straighten his back, grip his gray, three-chi-long blade, and stride out.
Wei Qi and Protector Hua grabbed his sleeve in shock, but he gently flicked them off.
Having sighted him, Doctor Yan couldn’t help but show a light smile. “Long time no see, Creed Lord Ji,” he said casually.
Ji Han’s expression was as frigid as a deep pool. He obviously had no desire to be any further polite to him. “Draw your sword,” he said, coldly.
Doctor Yan grinned. “The space in this cave is so narrow, that you and I won’t be able to be at our full power. It would be better to head outside to determine the winner.”
Ji Han still watched him icily, saying nothing.
“Don’t you worry. Given that you can beat me, I’ll let the others go at once.
Ji Han didn’t believe him, but he didn’t have any other choice. The cave’s area was indeed too small to maneuver in, and their opponents had power in numbers. Regardless of whether Doctor Yan was lying to him or not, he was helpless.
Wei Qi grabbed him in a fluster, whispering anxiously into his ear. “Lord, you are still injured.”
Ji Han simply brushed his hand away. “It’s fine. Step back.”
Ji Han slightly shook his head. “You all stay here, and don’t come out.”
Doctor Yan’s smile grew.
Wei Qi grit his teeth, then finally made up his mind, striding to keep pace. Footsteps rustled behind him; he turned his head to see that most of the Creed people were silently following.
Ji Han and Doctor Yan exited the cave together. Upon seeing him, Yin Buhuo just smiled, not saying anything more. He seemed to feel that this outcome was as expected.
On the Alliance’s end, as soon as Jin Beiguo saw him, he pointed and called out after his shock. “Demon! Where is Brother Zhao now?!”
Ji Han acted like he had never heard him, indifferently walking a few steps out, listening to Doctor Yan laugh behind him. “He’s dead, of course.”
After a short silence from the Alliance, Jin Beiguo hissed and cursed. “You demon! I will live past this day! I must kill you to avenge him!”
He had no weapon, and his acupoints were sealed; there was naturally no way that he could charge over and take a blade to this villain, only able to hoarsely chastise him with vulgarities while others blocked him in front. All of a sudden, he went mute, collapsed onto the ground, covered his eyes with his hands, and burst into tears.
The Alliance Leader was also mumbling to himself in a daze. “I… I caused Nephew Zhao’s death…”
Ji Han continued to play deaf, simply walking forth, turning, and addressing Doctor Yan coldly. “Draw your sword now.”
“Since I’m your older brother, I can give you some leeway, of course.”
Before he even finished, his sword was drawn and going straight to attack Ji Han’s shoulder. The latter used his sheath to block it, his own sword instantly in hand.
Doctor Yan used a flexible sword as he specifically went for Ji Han’s not-yet-healed shoulder. Ji Han had never been adept in defense; flexible swords were not like typical longswords, as whenever he blocked attacks, the flexible sword would slice a wound across him like a serpent.
After a few exchanges, he felt the wound on his shoulder begin to split, its sharp pain unending. Then, following a couple more blocks, his hand suddenly lost strength, and his sword slipped from it. He quickly turned sideways to dodge the other sword, but he couldn’t dodge the move after that.
His back was wounded by sword qi, but he heard Doctor Yan let out a cry of pain, too. Upon turning his head around, he saw that the sword in the other’s hand had also been sent flying.
Someone was guarding him in front, his clothes as white as snow. Ji Han was startled for a moment; when the man turned his head, he nearly blurted out in full joy, “Zhao Jiangui.”
“I got here late.”
Ji Han’s brow was creased, but he quickly pursed his lips a little in a smile. “Not too late, thankfully.”
The Vast Alliance was silent for a long time. “You’re not dead, Brother Zhao?!” Jin Beiguo exclaimed.
Zhao Jiangui just gazed down upon Ji Han, who had fallen to the ground, with a small curve of the lips. “This Zhao is indebted to the Creed Lord’s immense generosity in allowing me to end up escaping calamity.”
Ji Han couldn’t stop his smile. However, before Zhao Jiangui finished speaking, the other suddenly turned his sword behind him in a backhanded move to block Doctor Yan’s strike, sweeping the longsword he held away. “Remember this,” he gently said. “The most formidable swordsmanship under this sky is not the kind that kills people, but the kind that saves people.”
Ji Han was taken aback, then quickly came to an understanding… that he might have been speaking to him.
There had been day where Zhao Jiangui had said that his sword technique was all murderous intent, no defensive maneuvers. Also, rumors circulated jianghu that his sword had killed, while Zhao Jiangui’s sword was one of chivalry.
He had never expected that Zhao Jiangui would justify himself to him in that phrase, which was probably to compete with him over the title of ‘number-one swordsman’. Inevitably, he felt a bit amused, yet also a bit tense, because as he stared at Zhao Jiangui’s fight with Doctor Yan, he suddenly noticed that some others had come to encircle nearby.
They were people he didn’t recognize; all he could tell was that they were well-trained and excellently-equipped. He had been on the alert until he saw Xiao Lin’s head sticking out as he followed one of them, after which he exhaled, returning his heart and head to watching Zhao Jiangui.
Doctor Yan had merely been using Ji Han’s injury and sword style to get a bit of a cheap advantage, so after fighting Zhao Jiangui for just a short time, he was already at a disadvantage. Yin Buhuo, sensing that things were not promising, told the rest of the Creed to attack in unison.
The people that had originally been just standing around now surrounded them.
Their martial arts were not on par with jianghu experts’, but they surpassed in good training and seamless cooperation. A young man in long, crow-gray robes that Xiao Lin stood next to appeared to be their leader; following a few more of his orders, there was something of an overtone of troops that were as swift as the wind.
He had a faint guess as to who these people ultimately were.
The two sides slowly fell into a deadlock. Ji Han turned to see Wei Qi and the rest being dumbstruck, and had to knit his brows. “Wei Qi!” he loudly shouted.
Implicitly understanding, Wei Qi and Protector Hua led their Creed people into the battlefield.
The situation at large was determined.
When Yin Buhuo’s group was defeated, Zhao Jiangui put his sword away and walked over to wrap up and staunch Ji Han’s bleeding. At the same time, the man in crow-gray unsealed acupoints for the Alliance Leader and the rest of them. Infinitely grateful, the Leader asked, “It is a blessing that you came to our rescue, Young Hero. I don’t know your respected name?”
The young man smiled lightly. “I am undeserving of your praise. This humble one is Wen Jingshan.”
Upon seeing that the Alliance group clearly had no idea who ‘Wen Jingshan’ was, he further supplied, “Zhao Jiangui is my senior brother.”
The Leader was slightly caught off guard, expression morphing slightly.
Ji Han furrowed his brows, too. “That’s your second junior?”
“You recognize him?”
“You once mentioned that… he’s a member of the Six Doors?”
Ji Han fell silent.
People of jianghu were least pleased about getting involved with the Court. If any jianghu-goer was willing to be at its beck and call for all their lives, they would inevitably be called a running dog lackey whenever people brought them up. It was like as long as one relied on the Court, they were a shameless fawner. Wen Jingshan being affiliated with it wouldn’t have been a huge problem, but now that he had rescued the Vast Alliance, that was rather injurious to their dignity.
Something like this could be blown up, or downplayed. If handled poorly, Zhao Jiangui would likely be implicated.
Wen Jingshan was well aware of this, so he wasn’t overly polite to the Alliance Leader, instead heading over to Zhao Jiangui’s side, then giving Ji Han a warm smile as he asked his senior something. “Brother, how should these two be dealt with?”
He was talking about Yin Buhuo and Doctor Yan, of course.
At this moment, three forces were present. No matter who they were handed over to and how they were dealt with, it would incite displeasure. This was quite the prickly problem.
“This bunch of villains should be executed on the spot, with their crimes listed for all to hear!” the Alliance Leader said.
Ji Han still said nothing.
Wen Jingshan just smiled as he looked at Zhao Jiangui, as if waiting for his decision.
Upon hearing the Alliance Leader’s words, Yin Buhuo became a little panicked. “Han’r!” he quickly shouted. “I’m your father!”
“When you set up a trap to kill him, you never once thought of yourself as his father,” Zhao Jiangui said coldly.
Looking at things now, Yin Buhuo had likely started plotting all this in Ji Han’s youth. Him teaching him the sword had only been to use him as a billhook that cleared away the thorny underbrush and made a path for his blood-related son.
Yin Buhuo went mute.
Even though Ji Han loathed him, he still couldn’t handle doing the job himself. Zhao Jiangui understood his thoughts, and also knew that if Yin Buhuo landed in the Creed, it would only cause Ji Han’s followers a headache, while landing him in the righteous faction’s hands would dash the Creed’s dignity. Since Yin Buhuo was undoubtedly bound for death, after considerations, he had to say, “Brother, they will be handed over to you.”
Wen Jingshan smiled. “This is a great gift you’ve given me, big brother.”
The Court had long been wanting to tidy up jianghu; the Demonic Creed’s former Lord was indeed a good gift.
Ji Han’s brows lightly creased, but he didn’t say a word.
The Alliance Leader became all the more unhappy. “Nephew Zhao, don’t forget your status!” he called out.
Discussions successively popped up in the surrounding crowd. They were all remembering that Zhao Jiangui had killed the Alliance Leader’s eldest disciple and turned traitor for the Demonic Creed, inevitably a bit dazed.
Ji Han glanced at the Leader. “Now that this this Lord leads, we will never encroach upon your Alliance again.”
The Leader was astonished, stammering for half the day before he said, “Since that’s so, there’s no need to hide away in the Creed anymore, Nephew Zhao.”
Everybody had a realization.
“Such a major thing has happened in the Creed,” Ji Han said. “Who knows how many sudden incidents there’ll be. This Lord is likely going to need to rush back to it tonight…”
He looked up at Zhao Jiangui, which meant that he hoped that he would go back with him.
The other gazed back at him, helpless. “My Master knows about all this. He… he punished me with going up the mountain and reflecting on myself for three months.”
Ji Han frowned.
Zhao Jiangui suddenly lowered his voice, smiling as he practically whispered into his ear. “He also invited you for a cup of tea after those three months.”