SC 81-90

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Ji Han was floored for a long time, then suddenly took a step back. “I’m not going,” he said proudly.
Everyone else was too far away to hear what they were saying, each of them confused. Only Wen Jingshan pfft’ed out a laugh.
Zhao Jiangui felt a bit wronged.
“Don’t you forget that in two months, you and I have a deciding battle set at Swordmeet Peak,” Ji Han said with gritted teeth.
“If you lose, the title of ‘number-one swordsman’ will belong to me.”
“I’ll be reflecting on myself while facing a wall then, though…”
“If you don’t come, that will be considered your loss,” Ji Han answered coldly.
Zhao Jiangui felt even more wronged. “I’ll go.”
“You better remember,” Ji Han sneered.
Zhao Jiangui had to laugh. “Okay,” he said, relaxed. “I’ll remember.”

Once it was heard that the number-one swordsman, Zhao Jiangui, was going to battle with the Demonic Creed Lord, Ji Han, at the summit of Swordmeet Peak, the jianghu gossipers were all excited, occupying good spots on the Peak for watching the excitement about six days ahead of schedule.
On the day of the deciding battle, they waited from sunrise to sunset, and yet the two protagonists never once showed up.
“Did we remember the date wrong?” someone wondered.
“Could it be that because Hero Zhao is reflecting on himself, he’s not going to show up at all?” another asked.
Hearsay spread all around immediately, the chatter even more lively than spectating a sword fight.
Zhao Jiangui had actually been at Swordmeet ever since a few days ago.
He hadn’t been sure that what Ji Han had said about the battle had been an actual thing, so he had trusted Xiao Lin with going up the mountain to survey while he himself waited for news in a small mountain cabin. If Ji Han showed up, he wouldn’t be too slow.
But Ji Han did not.
Having not seen him for two months, his thoughts raced like mad. Now, he couldn’t help but worry that Ji Han had met with some sort of mishap on the road, which was why he couldn’t get here on time.
While his imagination went wild, he suddenly heard the soft sound of the wooden gate opening. He looked out into the courtyard, catching sight of someone in black robes slowly approaching.
It was Ji Han.
Elated, Zhao Jiangui quickly walked out. “How did you find this place?”
“This Lord got lost,” Ji Han said coldly.
“You’re going to Swordmeet Peak?”
“Which road are you heading towards, then?”
Saying that, he paused slightly, feeling this conversation to be familiar.
Ji Han frowned, gazed at him for a long time, then expressionlessly forced out a single sentence.
“The road to your heart.”

Zhao Jiangui and Ji Han’s duel on Swordmeet Peak was causing a huge shockwave in jianghu.
A life-and-death battle between two great swordsmen of the present world — that would be a rarely-seen sight to behold! How could anyone not want to watch such a good show?!
A long row was formed beneath Swordmeet, a sea of people in every direction. Many fighters had spread out their beddings to wait several days ahead. On the day of the battle, the righteous and chaotic had a rare period of temporary treaty, ascending the Peak together in the early morning.
They, of course, had no idea that the other two were having a private conversation in a tiny bamboo hut right now. The righteous-chaotic group detoured around the Peak and split into two bunches, leaving a huge, flat rock in front of them open to be the arena. However, the stars of the show were slow to arrive, which clearly made the crowd a bit antsy.
Whispers ran about. Someone unknown laughed in mockery. “Is Zhao Jiangui scared? How come he hasn’t shown up yet?”
“Bah! Devil Ji isn’t here, either!” someone else quickly retorted.
A sudden uproar exploded out of the righteous faction’s side; it was the Hero of Mount Ba, Jin Beiguo, that was snarling with full force at the chaotic side. “Our Brother Zhao’s sword arts are supreme!”
Protector Hua of the Demonic Creed refused to back down, putting her hands on her waist and shouting, “Our Creed Lord is the best in the land!”
One of the Twin Elites picked it up. “Hero Zhao is the strongest!”
The other twin nodded repeatedly. “My big brother is right!”
Anxious, Protector Hua quickly smacked Wei Qi, who had been standing silently beside her all this time and pretending to be a bystander. “Quick! We can lose anything but our mightiness! Cheer on the Lord, now!”
Wei Qi, the only one that knew that Ji Han was secretly meeting with Zhao Jiangui right now, had a face of suffering, lowering his head. “I probably shouldn’t…”
“Wei Third!” she raged. “The Lord treats you well!”
Thus, Wei Qi raised his hand, in pain, and waved it. “The Lord is handsome, the Lord is great, the Lord is the most excellent in the whole world.”
Jin Beiguo rallied his qi and used force to immediately suppress Wei Qi’s voice. “Brother Zhao, Brother Zhao! Jianghu’s most powerful!”
Protector Hua inwardly used her force to raise a mouthful of internal force, then roared with the intensity of a lion. “Creed Lord, Creed Lord! Lord of the Martial Forest!”
The two sides had their weapons drawn, about to break out into a fight.
Wei Qi silently covered his face.
If the Creed Lord knew that they were making such a mess, he would definitely be pissed.

Ji Han had long detoured around the riled-up jianghu folk and gone to the outside of the bamboo hut Zhao Jiangui was temporarily staying in. The two of them stood in the courtyard, watching each other for a short pause, then suddenly broke out into laughs at the same time.
“I ran into Xiao Lin on the way,” Ji Han said. “He told me to come here to look for you.”
“To catch me and bring me up the mountain for the duel?”
Ji Han shook his head. “I really do want to duel with you, but now isn’t the time.” He gently tapped against the scabbard of the longsword hung at his waist; a pot of fine wine hung beside it. “We haven’t met in two months. I found you to have a drink, before all else.”
Zhao Jiangui frowned at him. “Why do you want to drink again? Your injuries…”
Although Ji Han’s injury back then hadn’t been critical, it had still left behind an extremely deep wound, which had later split open again. It probably hadn’t gotten better that easily.
Ji Han furrowed his brows, seeming to be somewhat huffy. “Drinking doesn’t matter. I found you today for proper business.”
Not waiting for Zhao Jiangui to invite him in, he strode into the building. The other was forced to follow after him. “What are you going to do?”
“Do you still remember those assassins?”
Of course he did, but when he had been in the Creed, the assassins’ interrogation had never yielded anything. Seeing how Ji Han was right now, some new info was obviously to be had.
“Their interrogation has borne fruit,” Ji Han said, as expected.
Zhao Jiangui had to sink into contemplation. “Was… was it your father?”
When he said this, he was a tad hesitant, as he wasn’t sure what he should even be calling Yin Buhuo now. He knew that Ji Han still held some affection towards him. Ji Han had noticed the hesitation in his words, as well, but he had paused for only a bit before continuing on.
“It wasn’t him,” Ji Han answered quietly. “I’m afraid that there’s yet someone that wants me dead in the dark.”
Zhao Jiangui had asked his second junior to investigate this a while ago. At the time of the campaign of Paleblue Mountain, Yin Buhuo and Doctor Yan had been taken in by the Six Doors, but Elder Wen had gone missing. He seemed to have vanished into thin air, with it hard to find even a tiny trace of him throughout all of jianghu.
That all was way too bizarre. Ji Han had ordered Wei Qi to do a thorough investigation, but there had been no results. Zhao Jiangui knew that the Six Doors’ investigation methods were very different from jianghu’s, and thus had been thinking that after his self-reflection was done, he would head over to the capital’s Six Doors, having believed that the one that wanted to kill Ji Han was Elder Wen and knowing that this matter was extremely urgent. Now that Ji Han said this, he was instead made to hesitate.
This appeared to be getting even more complicated and twisted up, but it was unclear where the investigation should start. Since Ji Han was currently ensnared in danger, though, he needed to check things out as soon as possible.
Ji Han sat down at the table, going silent for a long time before he spoke. “Father… following his absence, so many messes have happened. I shouldn’t have left.”
Before this, Ji Han had been a puppeteered qi piece in Yin Buhuo’s hands, meaning real authority over the Creed had always been in the other’s grasp. Now that Ji Han was the proper Creed Lord, there was a need to balance the conflicts between multiple parties. Even while overwhelmed, he had stubbornly taken the time to scramble over here for a scheduled fight.
“I need to go back soon.“
Zhao Jiangui nodded. “I understand.”
“I’ve thought carefully about this. What you said back then was not without reason; as my sword arts are now, they wouldn’t be enough to fight you.”
Zhao Jiangui was startled. Only after a long time passed did he understand that Ji Han was referring to what he had said at Paleblue Mountain.
The most formidable swordsmanship under this sky is not the kind that kills people, but the kind that saves people.
That was a principle he had become aware of only after many years of wandering jianghu. When sword arts were practiced to their ends, they were all the same, with not too much difference between moves. The disparity between experts was minimal to begin with.
When one reached the realm of transformation, the distinction between the superior and inferior was a matter of the sword wielder’s heart.
“But, one day, I will beat you,” Ji Han said, once again smoothing his tone out, some arrogance between his words.
Zhao Jiangui couldn’t help but laugh. “I believe such a day will come.”
It was getting gradually later. He saw Ji Han out of the small courtyard, walked to the wooden gate, and watched him go a few steps off. Then, he remembered something important, waggling the pot of wine he had seized from Ji Han as he shouted at his retreating figure. “Next time we meet, I’ll treat you to wine!”
Ji Han waved flippantly, but didn’t look back, his voice coming from a distance down the mountain road. “Who’d want to drink with you?!”
Zhao Jiangui couldn’t resist laughing. Dusk went on; he leaned against the gate as he watched Ji Han gradually disappear amongst the overlapping images of bamboo, yet his heart still felt delight.

The crowd had waited from daylight to nightfall, the righteous and chaotic sides’ hands-on-their-hips cursing having transformed into throwing eggs and melons at each other. At the end of their waiting, they received a message from Zhao Jiangui’s junior sister, Gu Jue, who said that since his period of self-reflection had not yet ended, he wasn’t coming for today’s bout.
Zhao Jiangui’s sect was a famed traditionalist one in jianghu. The righteous faction crowd was disappointed, but understood enough. After that, Ji Han had also ordered people to send word over that he had already rescheduled with Zhao Jiangui. Everyone had arrived here with excitement, yet were returning in disappointment, and had no choice but to go their separate ways and wait for the two to fight again.
However, after his meeting with Ji Han, Zhao Jiangui did not return to his sect for self-reflection at all. Once he saw him off, before he could tidy up and leave, he saw Xiao Lin walking into the courtyard.
“Long time, no see, Hero Zhao.” Xiao Lin wasn’t overly polite with him, getting straight to the point. “The Alliance Leader wants to see you.”
He followed Xiao Lin out of the bamboo house, and they took a shortcut to Swordmeet Peak.
The spectating crowd had already scattered, resuming the Peak to its former calm. From far away, Zhao Jiangui saw the Alliance Leader and several seniors standing with their hands behind their backs upon Swordmeet’s ‘stage’ — he felt a chill in his heart, as this scene looked really familiar.
He subconsciously took a step back, wanting to turn around and flee. In his experience, what was about to follow was definitely not going to be anything good.
However, Xiao Lin was still behind him. Knowing that he couldn’t stop him, he mustered up his strength to shout, “Hero Zhao! Where are you going?!”
The Leader and seniors swiveled their heads around at the same time.
Zhao Jiangui’s heart thumped. This wasn’t good.
In no further the time it took to think that, he witnessed the others simultaneously kneel down before him.
“Hero Zhao!” they hollered. “We beg you, save the Vast Alliance!”

Whenever all of the Alliance seniors kneeled down in front of someone, it was certain that nothing good was going to happen — Zhao Jiangui had a deep understanding of that truth.
All he wanted to do was put his lightness arts into action and run away, tossing all of these elders behind him, but as a famous heroic swordsman of the righteous path, he could never do such a thing. With no choice, he was rooted to the spot, smiling fakely as he helped the Leader up. “What are you doing, Alliance Leader?”
The Leader was worthy of being an old jianghu hat that had experienced many battles and held no surprise at favor nor humiliation, as he pushed Zhao Jiangui’s hand away and nearly burst into tears. “Hero Zhao, the hundred-year foundation of the righteous path is about to collapse! If you don’t promise to help, this old man will not rise!”
Zhao Jiangui was thinking that now that the righteous and chaotic factions were at peace, there was no way that they would make him go seduce the Creed Lord again.
Furthermore, he had already seduced him! There was nothing in jianghu he couldn’t do!
“I agree,” he said, gritting his teeth.
The Leader looked overjoyed.
“Leader, can you inform this junior of what you want me to do?”
“This will certainly not be a difficult task for you, Hero Zhao.” The Leader helped the rest of the seniors up without delay, patted off his own clothes, and beamed. “We simply need you to return to the Demonic Creed…”
“And protect Devil Ji.”

The Leader handed over a few secret correspondences to him. “Not long ago, we intercepted several Jackdaw messages. They are getting ready for a second assassination attempt on Devil Ji. They cannot be allowed to succeed, no matter what.”
Zhao Jiangui flipped through the letters, some doubts in his mind. “You don’t want them to succeed?”
The righteous path’s standpoint differed from his; from the Leader and his group’s angle, they should be hoping that the Demonic Creed will be destroyed as soon as possible. Why would they repeatedly want to stop Jackdaw from assassinating Ji Han?
“The Creed rules the chaotic path, and has immense influence. It has existed for hundreds of years, making eradicating it from jianghu nearly an impossible task.” The Leader stroked his beard. “Fighting with them inevitably harms both sides. Moreover, the righteous path’s momentum is declining, making head-on confrontation with them difficult.”
Zhao Jiangui raised a brow. “You want me to be an undercover agent in the Creed again?”
The Leader shook his head. “You’ve misunderstood, Hero Zhao. This old man merely feels that in these current circumstances, there’s no need to fight, and coexistence is feasible. The current Creed Lord can be regarded as mild-mannered and restrained; if he can continue like so, the righteous path can nurture its strength. If someone else gets swapped out to be the Creed Lord, or the Creed gets annihilated, those on the chaotic path will lack the restrictions of the Creed and undoubtedly throw the Martial Forest into disarray. The state of jianghu would truly be difficult to speak of.”
“A war is still inevitable?”
The Leader looked at him with a smile. “That will depend on you, Hero Zhao.”
Zhao Jiangui frowned. “What do you mean, Alliance Leader?”
The old man said no more about this, instead turning the topic back to Jackdaw preparing to assassinate Ji Han again. “For the righteous path of today, Ji Han is the best Creed Lord to have. You need to help him keep his position.”
Brows creased, Zhao Jiangui said nothing. Upon seeing him like that, the Leader added something else. “You must be curious about who wants to kill Devil Ji. Unfortunately, the identity of the Jackdaw Head is so strictly secret, this old man has been unable to find out what it is. But I can tell you one thing.”
Zhao Jiangui couldn’t help but look up at him.
“Yin Buhuo’s faked death was for the sake of using Devil Ji as bait and draw out the one behind the scenes that wanted to kill him, thus eliminating the threat to his biological son. Hero Zhao, you were an unaccounted variable that suddenly appeared in that set-up, so to prevent too many disturbances from cropping up, Yin Buhuo had shifted things to an earlier date. However, the one behind the scenes is not picky, as even though Yin Buhuo is not in the Creed, they still want to attack Devil Ji over and over again.”
Zhao Jiangui was alarmed. Something penetrated his mind, as if he had come to understand all that was going on.
The Leader stroked his long beard. “Their target is perhaps not Yin Buhuo, nor Devil Ji, in particular.”
Brows scrunched, Zhao Jiangui lifted his hand to burn the Jackdaw letters, knowing the answer.
That person’s target was simply whoever was the Demonic Creed Lord.

Dressed in a disguise, Zhao Jiangui left Swordmeet Peak and sped straight for the Demonic Creed on a horse.
He hadn’t informed Ji Han that he was coming ahead of time, thinking that he would be giving him a pleasant surprise, but, unexpectedly, right went he had just snuck his way to the foot of the Creed’s mountain, he ran right into Wei Qi and Yu Xian’r.
Having disguised himself with the utmost of care, he had believed that they shouldn’t be able to recognize him, so he quickly swerved around them. However, Yu Xian’r had sharp eyes, thinking him to be exceptionally familiar as he stopped him. “Where have I met you before?”
Before Zhao Jiangui had time to deny it, Wei Qi grinned, turning his head to quietly speak to Yu Xian’r. “Xian’r, just a few days ago, the Creed Lord keep reminiscing about Zhao—“
Zhao Jiangui’s interest was predictably piqued, and he quickly grabbed his hand. “Hallmaster Wei, you said that your Lord…?”
Wei Qi grinned. “So, it really is you, Hero Zhao.”

Zhao Jiangui followed Wei Qi up the mountain, scouting out information from him about how the Creed had been recently all the while.
They had never gotten any clues out of the Jackdaw assassins, and Elder Wen still hadn’t been found. Ever since the two had been captured, people had been repeatedly probing their defenses. The one orchestrating might be about to strike Ji Han again.
At his speech’s end, Wei Qi paused, then laughed quietly. “No wonder the Lord wasn’t worried about leaks in the defenses, since he long knew that you would be coming.”
“I didn’t send word ahead…” Zhao Jiangui pointed out.
Wei Qi nodded. “Your minds are linked, then.”
Aware that Wei Qi was deliberately poking fun at him, Zhao Jiangui didn’t say much, only being slightly embarrassed at heart. Wei Qi knew that he didn’t want others to discover his identity due to his disguise, so he made up a random excuse to the Creed’s guards that didn’t expose his true name, then brought him inside.
Ji Han had been busy with proper business recently, and was currently handling inter-Creed contact letters plus documents inside his study. The Elder Maid was attending nearby. Wei Qi asked her to pass a message along for him, but she was a bit nervous. “The Lord just said that no one is allowed to come in and disturb him.”
He nudged her arm, whispering to her, “Just say Hero Zhao is here.”
She startled. “Hero Zhao? Where?” she wondered.
The study’s door banged open.
Ji Han had a letter in one hand and a brush dripping with dense ink in the other, peering around outside. “Zhao Jiangui is here? Where is he?”
Wei Qi huffed out a laugh. Ji Han couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, coughing lightly. “This Lord is tired of reading so much, so I came out for a casual look.”
While he spoke, the brush he held dripped a thick drop of ink that landed on his lapels — he was obviously not-so-‘casually’ looking, but had clearly run out because he had heard Zhao Jiangui’s name.
Feeling happy, Zhao Jiangui couldn’t help but move his lips into a smile, immediately after which Ji Han unexpectedly glanced coldly at him. “Who are you? What are you smiling at?!”
Ji Han paused, becoming both surprised and delighted. “Zhao Jiangui?”

Ji Han ordered the Elder Maid to stay outside while he pulled Zhao Jiangui and Wei Qi into the room.
He was in a good mood, gait brisk, and even took it upon himself to pour tea for them. Wei Qi was shocked by the favor; Zhao Jiangui felt some surprise, too.
“I was just thinking of writing to you, and you happen to come,” Ji Han said. He restrained his smile a little, then began to talk business with Zhao Jiangui.
After all this time, the Jackdaw assassins were still locked up in the Creed’s prison. Previous interrogations by Elder Wen had yielded nothing, and following Ji Han’s return, the investigation had changed to Wei Qi. The Creed’s torture was harsh; few could withstand such harshness, and Shi Ge and Xu Jingying were no exceptions.
The two had quickly fessed up what they knew, but unfortunately, Jackdaw had always had single-line communications. They would only take payments and complete assignments, never knowing too much information. The identity of their behind-the-scenes employer was likely known only to the Head of the Jackdaw organization.
However, in this jianghu, that Head’s identity was also unknown.
Zhao Jiangui, while still hiding the fact that the Alliance Leader wanted him to stabilize Ji Han’s position, informed Ji Han about the rest of their speculations, brows creased in concentration. “If that really is the case, they’ll definitely attack you again.”
Ji Han nodded. “I know.”
“You’ll be in danger.”
“I’m already ready to meet the attack.”
He was indeed fully prepared. Many patrol guards had been added to the Creed these days, and Jackdaw’s three grandmasters had been lost inside the Creed, too. He wasn’t worried about himself being in danger.
However, after he said that, he noticed that Zhao Jiangui didn’t look to be that happy, and he couldn’t help but frown. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m not reassured.”
Ji Han blinked.
“I want to stay by your side.”

Wei Qi was still around. Ji Han felt humiliated and awkward, quickly averting his gaze. “Do what you want.”
Despite his mouth saying ‘do what you want’, he was actually very happy on the inside. “Since you want to stay here, you need to have a new identity.”
All of jianghu knew that Zhao Jiangui was still self-reflecting in his sect, the fact that they were on the opposite sides of righteous and chaotic notwithstanding. It would be genuinely difficult for him to openly stay in the Creed as himself.
“What should I do, then?” he asked.
Right as Ji Han thought to answer, the Elder Maid knocked on the door. “Creed Lord, the time has come.”
After Ji Han became the Creed Lord, the Elders and Hallmasters were getting switched out. He had been thinking of how to support his own trusted subordinates, so today, he had made an appointment with several Hallmasters for a discussion. Zhao Jiangui’s unexpected arrival had narrowly made him forget about it.
“This matter will be handed over to you and Protector Hua to complete,” he said to Wei Qi.
Wei Qi nodded in confirmation. Ji Han said his temporary goodbye to Zhao Jiangui, then left the room with the Elder Maid.
Wei Qi brought Zhao Jiangui back to his own Flying Hawk Hall, proceeding to speak to him while they walked. “You want to stay by the Lord’s side to protect him; in other words, you can’t be apart from him in day or night. I’ve had a think, and there’s only three identities that would suit you.”
“What are they?”
“The Creed Lord’s deathguard, attendant, or…” Wei Qi raised a finger. “Lover.”

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