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Sui Zhou reacted extremely quickly, darting over to examine the state of the two’s injuries. Tang Fan and Du Gui’r hurried over in suit.
“How are they?” Seeing the other’s serious expression, Tang Fan’s heart sank.
Sui Zhou shook his head, taking back his hand that had just been beneath Wei Shan’s nose. The man had been stabbed in the back, which had pierced him through the heart. He had long ceased breathing.
Then going to see to Lu Yan, Sui Zhou discovered that despite the other being similarly heavily injured, and also having been wounded twice over, he was still breathing!
“Lu Yan!” he called out his subordinate’s name.
Du Gui’r walked over with a struggle, handing over a medicine bottle. “Brother Sui, give him a pill of this!”
Sui Zhou took the bottle, poured out a pill, pried open Lu Yan’s jaw, stuffed it in, then slightly lifted his neck, forcing him to swallow it.
Tang Fan noticed that Lu Yan had a deep stab wound in his back. These injuries had been acquired before he had come into the cave, but his chest had an extra one that was actively bleeding, which ought to have been made when they had pursued Meng Cun.
Du Gui’r ordered Tang Fan to first staunch his bleeding with goldsore ointment, then reached out to take Lu Yan’s pulse. After a short moment of concentration, she said, “He suffered a heavy injury, but it’s good that we found him early. If we were a half-minute later, there would likely be no hope for him”
Hearing that, Sui Zhou and Tang Fan were slightly relieved. They already had their own vague guess, but they still eagerly wished to learn what had happened out of Lu Yan’s own mouth.
Lu Yan swallowed the pill, then spat out a huge mouthful of black blood not a minute later. Du Gui’r felt his chest, and contrarily let out a sigh of relief. “His heart is a little lower than usual. That stab didn’t pierce through his heart, which was why he could be saved.”
As if to corroborate her words, Lu Yan’s eyelids trembled a few times, then slowly opened a crack.
“B-brother…” His voice was barely audible. Before they asked, he said of his own volition, “It was Ch… Chuyun-zi…”
So it was him!
Sui Zhou nodded. “We know. Rest well, and don’t talk.”
Only after that did Lu Yan calm, completely passing out.
Tang Fan’s brow tightly creased. They had still made a miscalculation.
Chuyun-zi’s origins were unknown, and he had visited of his own volition, originally being the most suspicious. However, after Tang Fan, Wang Zhi, and the rest’s initial investigation, they had ruled out his suspicion.
That had been because, for one, his identity was much too eye-catching. For two, he hadn’t been in Datong for long, had no contact with any confidential information, and thus didn’t meet the standards for an informant. For three, Chuyun-zi’s words and acts had fully fit in with the image of a frivolous Daoist, not showing any flaws. Later on, when they had uprooted the wire that was Ding Rong and Shopkeep Jin, the whole matter had come to an end.
Tang Fan had been cautious and fastidious enough to keep Du Gui’r and Meng Cun within his list of suspects. Reality had proven that despite Du Gui’r’s innocence, Meng Cun genuinely had been one of the informants.
And yet, with all of their calculations, they had still missed Chuyun-zi. It had been thought that he had been brought along to be used as a convenient distraction by Meng Cun; who could have thought that the priest would also have issues?
He had been acting for so long, not being exposed even when Meng Cun had been. Why had he suddenly chosen this time to reveal his status to two people that had nothing to do with the situation at large, Wei Shan and Lu Yan? After this was over, he could have followed them all back to the city. Having shared in calamity with them, would he not have been able to earn their trust even more?
Tang Fan regretted having not been able to consider everything from every aspect, but there would be no use in self-reproach right now. The crux was to figure out Chuyun-zi’s plan.
“This isn’t your fault.” Sui Zhou seemed to have sensed what he was thinking, lightly patted him on the arm.
Tang Fan truly had done all he could, but an intelligent person’s thousand considerations would always have at least one miss. There was nothing to be done about that. Were the White Lotus Society actually that simple an enemy to contend with, it wouldn’t be like weeds that couldn’t be extinguished after repeated wildfires, cropping up again with spring winds.
Feeling a thread of warmth, Tang Fan smiled at the other man. However, at exactly that moment, he caught Wei Shan’s body out of his peripheral, and his heart abruptly jumped.
No. Chuyun-zi revealing himself hadn’t been for them. After stabbing Wei Shan and Lu Yan, he hadn’t gone to find Sui Zhou and he, so they weren’t his target. His actual target was…
Tang Fan stood with a bang. “This is bad!”
As soon as this link was figured out, the rest all linked up. He knew what the other part’s goal was!
“From the very start, the Society’s target wasn’t us, but Wang Zhi,” he said to Sui Zhou. “That was why they had to draw us away, one by one, and this cave was the best spot for it. We believed it would be safe to come here, but couldn’t have imagined that our departure would leave Wang Zhi and the others in circumstances where they have no help. Following that, too, Meng Cun abducted Du Gui’r just to lead us astray and deal with us separately, so that we would have no way to help Wang Zhi out of his predicament.”
“If they just wanted him dead, they wouldn’t need to spend so much energy,” Sui Zhou noticed. “The only possibility here is that they want him alive.”
“Right! He’s the Defending Supervisor of Datong, and a close subject to the Emperor. In the Society’s view, a live Wang Zhi is much more valuable than a dead one. He has Wang Yue’s patronage, too; if they keep hold of him to threaten Wang Yue, the latter will certainly land in a hard spot. Even if Wang Yue was unmoved, having Wang Zhi in hand would not only shake the Ming army’s morale, but cause the Dynasty to massively lose face. That was why they did so much to lure Wang Zhi over here — it was to get him alive.
“However, Wang Zhi’s martial arts are strong, and he has Wei Mao. The other party won’t be able to catch them for a time. Now, dawn is about to break. Meng Cun said that after the dawn, the Tartars will launch a massive attack against Datong. Chuyun-zi must have been anxious to capture Wang Zhi before that time, which is why he had no choice but to reveal himself ahead of schedule and rush to help.”
Catching someone alive was more difficult as opposed to dead, because when your opponent learned that you had no intention to kill them, they would definitely use various strategies to drag the time out as much as possible. With Wang Zhi’s own intellect, he must have realized as much, so the two sides were likely in a deadlock. He wasn’t able to flee, and the Society followers weren’t able to contend with them for the time being.
“What do you think of this?” Sui Zhou asked.
“I’ll go break the array, you’ll go rescue him, and help him drag out the time as much as you can.”
“No,” Sui Zhou countered without thinking. “The array might have people defending it. I don’t feel good about it.”
“There shouldn’t be any. You saw that before, when we chased Meng Cun, there were no more than four lying in wait in the cave to kill us. After the government’s suppression, the Society was already greatly diminished. They wouldn’t have had to scramble to collude with the Tartars if they weren’t. In order to capture Wang Zhi, they must have turned their whole nest upside down. Even if there are people guarding the array, there won’t be many.”
“That’s true, Brother Sui,” Du Gui’r said. “Go rescue him now. I’m here, too, and I have some tricks to use. If I want to catch anyone off-guard, I still can. I can go with Brother Tang!”
Time was precious, and no one could afford delays. Sui Zhou’s line of sight swept over the two of them, then he gave them a slight nod, said “Be careful,” quickly turned, and left.
Tang Fan and Du Gui’r joined forces to hide Lu Yan away behind a boulder in the corner, checked over his injuries again, then gave him another pill. After confirming that he was fine, they went.
It wasn’t that they were intentionally placing Lu Yan in dangerous circumstances, but their numbers were limited right now for both rescue and breaking the array. Tang Fan by himself would not be able to overcome someone defending the array; Du Gui’r was a young lady of strong will and proficiency in medicine, able to take down even Meng Cun, so she was a great help. With her around, his chances of success grew.
The Society was currently busy with putting all of its power into fighting Wang Zhi, where Chuyun-zi couldn’t even spare any time. They likely wouldn’t be able to divert anyone over here before they returned, meaning that Lu Yan was relatively safe.
Once out of the cave, they walked leftwards. According to Tang Fan’s intuition, if their enemies wished to set it up for the best effect, the array was certain to be not too far from the Weining Sealet. It could even be in the foothill region. In order to conceal it, Li Zilong must have used the environment as cover.
“Can you hold on?” Tang Fan asked Du Gui’r.
She grit her teeth. “Yes!”
Even though the slice on her shoulder had stopped bleeding, it was still there. Regardless of how good the medicine was, wounds healing up automatically was an impossibility. From getting dragged along by Meng Cun, her neck now had a shallow knife wound on it, too. She was veritably banged up all over, yet she endured, which Tang Fan quite admired.
This night had been heart-pounding, yet not even two shichen had passed since their encounter with Underworld Soldiers Passing By. The sky hadn’t truly started brightening, a cover of fog outside that only faintly gave a smattering hue of gray. This happened to be the most unbearable instance before daybreak.
The rain had stopped, but the sandstorm was still going as ever. The instant they left the cave, they heard the sound of wind whistling past their ears, and felt the roiling sand particles attacking the face.
Wang Zhi had been able to withstand these circumstances all night, still trapped inside the array. The enemy might not be thinking to kill him, but this was still highly impressive.
“It’s pitch darkness, Brother Tang. Where are we going to find it?” Du Gui’r couldn’t help but whisper.
“Do you feel which direction the sandstorm is blowing?”
All she could feel was pain swiping across her face. Quickly pulling the outer robe she had taken off some corpse over her head, she shook her head. “No.”
“The array can only take advantage of situations. Flat land doesn’t create wind; the sandstorms look to be irregular, but the more we go forward, the worse the wind and sand get.”
Du Gui’r trailed him for a time, then noticed that that was true, getting elated. “You’re saying that this direction is the right one? If we keep going, we’ll find the stone array?”
“We should, reasonably speaking!” In order to prevent the tiny woman from getting lost or blown away by the wind, he firmly held her arm. The two strove forth into the storm, one after the other.
In comparison to the dangers of this night that Tang Fan’s group had faced, Wang Zhi was obviously not going to be much better off.
At this moment, he was standing inside the crazed sand, back-to-back with Wei Mao. Using their sabres to prop their figures up, they both had wounds of all sizes and different depths on them, half of their outer robes dyed with blood.
They were surrounded by bobbing phantoms, tens of thousands of underworld soldiers circling them in a war that had repeatedly unfurled for hundreds of years. Within this earth-shaking brawl, the qi of living people was mixed in — as long as Wang Zhi and Wei Mao loosened their attention even a little, those White Lotus followers hidden amongst the underworld soldiers would go in for a sneak attack.
At the beginning, Wei Mao had defended Wang Zhi, but later on, upon discovering the foe’s intention to keep him alive, that had changed to Wang Zhi defending Wei Mao.
The two had held out for the majority of the night by relying on their own strong martial arts and tenacity, but no matter how skilled they were, they were just mortals, not deities. After successively killing several White Lotus followers, their opponents were evidently getting antsy, the force of their attacks ever increasing.
Were they instead in broad daylight, Wang Zhi might not fear much, but now that the enemy was obscured, using their familiarity with the environment to hide and take advantage of the situation, there was no way to defend against them.
This was a stalemate.
If he was to be captured, then used to menace Wang Yue or lose face for the Dynasty, he felt like he would rather fight straight to the death, or slit his own throat and be done with it.
This didn’t stem from any deep affection he had towards Wang Yue, nor any held-up grandeur of self-martyrdom to safeguard his integrity, but rather his own pride. He wouldn’t be able to stand the humiliation.
Still, at the moment, the circumstances they were facing were truly terrible. If this went on, then even if daybreak came, the sandstorm stopped, and the array vanished, their dual strength was isolated. It would be hard for them to fight off so many people.
“Eunuch Wang, this subordinate likely won’t be able to hold on… in a minute, I will charge up and help you fight, so you should use the chaos to kill your way out of the array…” Wei Mao panted out from behind him.
“What a load of crap! I can kill my way out without you! Don’t believe for a second that your sacrifice can save anyone! Keep your stupid life, would you?!” Wang Zhi scolded loudly.
Wei Mao laughed tragically, his defeated expression full of despair.
If not for having no other way out, who would be willing to stake their life?
In the scenario that only one person could be left alive, Wei Mao wouldn’t be choosing his own survival. That he had been brought here from the capital by Wang Zhi meant that his loyalty was not to be doubted — and if Wang Zhi ultimately died while he survived, he wouldn’t have any sort of good end even if he did manage to get back.
“Eunuch Wang, instead of both of us being lost here, it would be better for me to stake it all here. If something happens to me, please look after my family—“
“My ass, I’ll look after them!” Wang Zhi interrupted. “Take care of your own family, I’m not interested in doing it! Quit saying nonsense! It’s annoying to hear! You think that just because you die, I’ll be able to escape? Stop dreaming! The odds of two winning together is greater! If you dare to act on your own, I’ll raid your house when I get back!”
“Eunuch Wang…” Wei Mao’s eyes watered as he firmly gripped the sabre’s hilt.
“Don’t quibble like a woman! Kill them!”
Within the sandstorm, it was dark without daylight, the brawl of ghosts unendingly heard. It was a huge trial for one’s power of will. Wang Zhi and Wei Mao had hearts of iron, but they couldn’t act like they were deaf; after such a long time, their actions would inevitably be affected, thus landing them in the enemy’s arms.
The two coordinated seamlessly, attacking and defending, thus repelling a wave of sneak attacks. Another foe was done away with during, but Wang Zhi suffered because of it, getting hacked on the shoulder.
“Doesn’t that jackass Tang Runqing usually have all the damn ideas?! What time is it now? How come I don’t see him? Where did he run off and die to?!” Eunuch Wang cussed fluidly, sparing no one, from the White Lotus Society to Tang Fan. Of course, he was well aware that the others might be tied up too, but that didn’t stop him from indulging in his fixation on verbal abuse.
Wei Mao smiled bitterly, knowing that his Chief Eunuch was lifting his own spirits by reprimanding others.
At right that moment, however, his ears twitched. “Eunuch Wang, listen!” he said excitedly. “Are there rescue troops?”
Wang Zhi quit cursing everyone. He, too, noticed that the people surrounding them appeared to be lesser, their offense slowing and the pressure on the pair reducing.
Within the sandy wind, the sound of weapon clashes vaguely sounded out, the commotion even more lifelike, and able to distinguished from the fight of the underworld soldiers that lingered about the ears.
Had someone actually come to rescue them?
Wang Zhi had no time to think more on it, saying decisively, “Use this chance to kill a few more! Go!”
They roused their energy up high, going in together to murder their counterparts.
The Society followers seemed to have not thought that Wang Zhi and Wei Mao, who had been turtles stuck in an urn, would still have the strength for a desperate struggle. Pairing that with an unexpected strike from an outside force, the momentum of their formation shortly turned chaotic from how caught off-guard they were.
Wang Zhi and Wei Mao wielded their spring-gilt sabres, which had both drunk an immeasurable amount of blood, and simultaneously exploded with strength that had been previously stifled, cutting down two followers in quick succession.
Of course, they had to pay a price. A few new injuries were added onto them. They understood at heart that this momentum was not going to last for long; the first beat of the drum gave energy, which waned on the second, then stopped on the third. If this situation went on, their strength would soon dissipate.
Taking advantage of their foe’s chaotic formation, the two met up with the one that came to help. As soon as they saw each other, Wang Zhi went bug-eyed. “Why is it only you?!”
Sui Zhou was busy fending off three people that had come attacking in front. Despite it being three-on-one, he wasn’t losing out in the slightest. “Who else did you think it would be?” he asked without turning his head.
“Where are your two Guards?!”
Wang Zhi brandished his sabre to block oncoming swordwind that stabbed at the face, turning to grab at a newcomer. The Society follower was similarly alert, drawing back, yet was a step too slow, his shoulder getting firmly clamped down upon by Wang Zhi’s fingers that were like iron talons, following which he was involuntarily used as a meat shield by him. Another follower happened to swipe his emeici towards Wang Zhi, only for a human figure to unexpectedly flash before his eyes, his weapons sticking into his own comrade’s body.
His friend shrieked, leaving the follower automatically stunned, immediately after which his neck was sliced by Wei Mao, ending his life.
“One is dead and one can’t move,” Sui Zhou coldly answered.
Wang Zhi was startled. He had thought that a rescue team had arrived, but it was only Sui Zhou by himself. The other’s skill was no lesser than his own, but two fists would find it hard to contend with four palms — what use would one person have? And how much time could be dragged out?
“What about Tang Runqing?!” he asked, still slightly unwilling.
Even though Tang Fan knew no martial arts and they would only be able to protect him if he was here, no one would believe that he was getting underfoot, because his caution, meticulousness, and ample wisdom gave him enough skill to be reliable. It could even be said that the reason Wang Zhi and Wei Mao had held out for so long was precisely because they held the thought that Tang Fan would think of a way to help them out of this predicament; with hope, there naturally came strength.
Now, however, upon discovering that Sui Zhou was alone, it was not just Wei Mao, but even Wang Zhi that was feeling a little desperate.
The Sui-Tang pair was as inseparable as Meng Liang and Jiao Zan. Why would Sui Zhou show up alone, if nothing had happened to Tang Fan?
Unexpectedly, Sui Zhou’s next sentence was: “He’s looking for a way to break the array.”
Wang Zhi became overjoyed, regaining a spark of hope. “Will he find it?”
Sui Zhou didn’t respond.
That question was really one he couldn’t answer. Tang Fan might not be able to answer it, either.
If he could find it, there was slim chance for survival. If he couldn’t, everyone would meet a dead end.
Sui Zhou realized that Wang Zhi and Wei Mao were arrows at the ends of their flights. If he answered that he had no idea, he would probably disappoint them further, so he changed the subject. “Have you seen Chuyun-zi?”
“No,” Wang Zhi answered suspiciously. “What about him?”
“He killed Wei Shan. Runqing suspects that he’s Li Zilong.”
Wang Zhi was shocked and furious. “Is that the truth?!”
The other hummed.
Wang Zhi was unsure of how Tang Fan came to this conclusion, but since it came from the guy’s mouth, he subconsciously held some belief in it.
At the beginning, he had also felt that Chuyun-zi’s appearance was too coincidental, which was why he had placed him next to him, to keep an eye on him. Later on, after things about Ding Rong had come up, Chuyun-zi himself hadn’t had any sort of suspicious motives and prerequisites, so he had gradually been struck from the list.
It came wholly unexpectedly that after this runaround, Chuyun-zi would not only be an informant, but his identity would be even more alarming than Ding Rong and Meng Cun’s. Truly, who could have known that that demonic practitioner, ever like a hundred-legged bug that refused to quit moving in death, would dare to appear in front of them after escaping execution in the capital? Who could have thought that he would become the State Master of the Tartar’s palace, then lower himself to run off here and set everything up? Who could have made an association with Chuyun-zi and Li Zilong?
The second Wang Zhi gave thought to how many Society followers had been hidden right by his side, yet he hadn’t noticed at all, the rage that arose from being fooled came up from the bottom of his heart.
“Li Zilong, you son of a bitch, get out here! Did you come out missing a ball when your mom had you? Is that why you keep hiding yourself away all day long?! You’re a sissy, making your subordinates charge out into battle while you take cover to watch the fun! Are you trying to say that you’re a woman in disguise? Looks like your lackeys really have their heads in the water, to take orders from you, some hermaphrodite demon! Come on! Show yourself to me right now! Take off your clothes and let your followers see if you’re actually a man or a woman!”
Despite no one being able to see clearly, his voice was sent out using internal force. The enemies must have heard him loud and clear.
Eunuch Wang’s achievements in insults were tremendous, it had to be said. This bout of vulgar disgrace would likely anger even the dead back to life, to say nothing of Priest Li Zilong, who was not to be proclaimed as being of common cloth.
Not long after this, a sinister voice came out of the sandstorm, a careful listen indeed marking it as similar to that of Chuyun-zi’s. “Wang Zhi, all you can do now is flap your trap! Don’t say that I’m not giving you a means to survive — if you be good and surrender, I can still plead for Dayan Khan to spare your life!”
Wang Zhi laughed aloud. “Priest Li, Miss Li, or Granny Li? How should this eunuch address you? Clarify that for me!”
He knew that there was no way that the Society-goers would kill him, else this wouldn’t have been dragged out so much, which was why he grew all the more unscrupulous.
The instant he spoke, Sui Zhou and Wang Zhi sensed their opponents’ attacking force become slightly fiercer. At the same exact time, Li Zilong’s voice sounded out again. “Do you still not recognize that you’re on the verge of death?!”
Sui Zhou narrowed his eyes, abruptly jumped off the ground, then used the tip of his toes to step on Wang Zhi’s shoulder and launch himself, flying straight for a certain area ahead.
Caught off guard from a wound getting inadvertently stepped on, the target of Wang Zhi’s insults immediately changed. “Sui Guangchuan, are you mute?! Can’t you warn someone before you step on them?!”
The translator says: Irony: insulting Li Zilong for having no balls despite being a eunuch yourself, and insulting women despite Du Gui’r having just killed a man.
 Meng Liang and Jiao Zan were sworn brothers, and the right-hand men of General Yang Yanzhao. Meng Liang ended up murdering Jiao Zan due to mistaking him for an ambushing enemy, then killed himself out of guilt.