Chapter 108 Unconventional RansomSeeing all the members of the Taibai Sword Faction retreat unscathed, eyes of the rest of the experts grew green with envy. However, without Li Mu’s explicit approval, none of them dared to head off to the gate. Actually, they even did not dare to move at all.
Because those who tried to escape but got hit by the arrows had served as a prior warning.
Up to now, they were still on the ground moaning in pain.
As Li Mu’s eyes swept through the throng of experts, even the most experienced cultivators felt their hearts pounding.
After all, all men were afraid of dying.
“Erm… I’m sorry. I kept you guys waiting for so long. May I ask what are you here for?” asked Li Mu.
He sounded polite and sincere.
That question, however, almost put the experts in tears.
“Yeah, why did we come to the county government?”
“How come we are here?”
“If we just stayed at our places and handed in the ransom obediently before taking the imprisoned out and returning to Taibai County, we wouldn’t have fallen into such huge trouble, would we?” Many of the experts were starting to regret going on this trip.
“What got to us that we chose to follow suit of the Taibai Sword Faction and confront the county magistrate?”
“Well, good for them. After paying a small price—leaving a pretty girl behind, the Taibai Sword Faction can make it back safe and sound. But we are still stuck here. In front of the apparently malicious devil, Li Mu, we are helpless as lambs. So, what shall we do now?”
“That old bastard is the one to blame for all of this!”
Many of the experts began to resent Zhou Zhenhai.
In fact, this time it was that old man claiming to be the younger brother of the outer school elder of the Taibai Sword Faction who talked all the experts into the mission. He first badmouthed Li Mu and amplified their grudges against the county magistrate, and then got their hopes up by assuring them that the Taibai Sword Faction could thoroughly conquer Li Mu and allow them to rescue their hostages. That was why they agreed to come to Li Mu today.
However, the mission had turned out to be… a tragic.
With the body of Wei Chong, the elder of the Qing Sha Clan, still sprawling on the ground, they would be seriously mental if they now accused Li Mu of holding their disciples hostage.
“Your Honor, we’re here to pay the ransom,” said the elder of the Sky Dragon Faction with a courteous bow. He indeed had a quick mind.
As the others heard that remark, they were instantly inspired.
“Yes, yes, we’re here to deliver the ransom.” One of the experts echoed in a hurry.
“To admire Your Honor’s unmatched bearing.” Another one added.
“We come here to make amends to Your Honor. Since the youngsters in our family don’t know how to behave properly and vexed Your Honor, we’re willing to bear all the consequences,” one more answered respectfully.
By that moment, those renowned figures in the northwest of the Wulin World who usually acted like overlords all put on an ingratiating smile and behaved like new-born lambs, hoping to please Li Mu.
They knew being docile was no longer only a matter of fear of death.
If they offended that devil, their faction and family would not be able to live a peaceful life in the northwest. Given that each of those men still had parents and children to take care of, they could not simply go on the run on their own. Thus, once they got on Li Mu’s nerves, they and their loved ones would probably all be reduced to ashes.
Hence, it was a matter of personal and public interests.
To them, the interests of their family and faction were more important than their own lives.
Nevertheless, Li Mu ruthlessly lay bare their crafty lies.
“Hand in the ransom? Well, where is the ransom? Why can’t I see any gold here? I think I told you all that you should just go to the prison and pay the price before you get your men back. Why did you take a trip to my little office? And, as far as I know, you arrived in Taibai County a couple of days ago but you have been rather reluctant to turn in the ransom. I take it that you guys have such intention at all, do you?” demanded the county magistrate.
He spoke in a harsh tone and with a severe expression.
Truthfully, he made up the last part on a whim, but it happened to score a hit.
The experts then attempted to defend themselves further, but Li Mu did not give them any chance to speak.
“Now that you’re here, I can’t let your trip go fruitless…” Li Mu raised his voice, an idea coming up in his mind. “The help, fetch me some ink and papers.”
The guards waiting outside immediately came in carrying a huge table laden with the writing materials.
“You have two options. One is to write me a letter asking for more ransom and go stay in prison until someone comes here to bail you out,” addicted to playing the role of the bad guy, Li Mu bellowed murderously, “Or else, I will send you to hell right off.”
“Your Honor, this… is… sort of coercion.”
“Wouldn’t… wouldn’t it be… too demanding? Considering that we’re here to pay the ransom in the first place. Your Honor… If, if this ever gets out, your credit will be undermined…”
A few seniors in Jianghu stammered shakily.
Li Mu gave them a chilling smile before putting down his foot to wrap up the arguing.
“If you simply turned in the ransom, I would have let you out already. But you didn’t. Instead, you tried my patience over and over again. Today, you even came to tackle me together. If it hadn’t been my invincible cultivation, I’m afraid I would have been trapped here… Now, say no more, just make your choice. Option one will keep you alive, while option two will land you in hell!”
The throng of experienced Jianghu adventurers found they were at a lost for words at that moment.
It was true that they were in the wrong.
They actually planned on attacking the county government in a group. It was just that the plan was thwarted after they witnessed the brutal power Li Mu had.
Tactically, Li Mu did not give those cunning foxes any chance to argue.
He cast a quick glance at the middle-aged warlock in cyan and the little boy beside him at the gate and wheeled around, picked a writing brush, and began to contemplate something. After a while, he started writing rapidly.
This alien devil had gotten the hang of the written language in this world, though his handwriting was far from neat. The letters he wrote coiled and twisted together like entwining snakes, which were hardly readable. But he still wrote a long paragraph and then checked and rechecked the content carefully before tossing the brush to the side.
“The items I wrote down on this paper are your ransom. Anyone of you who offers me one of those objects can leave Taibai County unscathed. Well, there are a dozen things in total. The sooner you get me those things the earlier you can be released. And when the items on that list are all collected, the rest of you who are too passive to hand in your share will stay in Taibai County and undergo reform through labor. In that case, you won’t be able to leave this place for the rest of your life,” warned Li Mu gravely.
As he said that, he motioned the guards to hang the paper up on the wall.
The experts all looked up and began to read the devil’s writing with difficulty.
To their bewilderment, that was not a list of some secret martial arts manuals or precious treasures but a mix of various funny items, such as trees, jade, building stones, bugs and birds, plants and fish. Further, each item was followed by a note about its age, quantity, quality and so on. The writing was actually quite well-organized.
“You’ve only got one shot. Once any of you provided me with one of the items as I described, you can leave. You won’t have such a good chance when I’ve gathered all the things I need. I will leave you to it now.”
Li Mu beamed brightly at them.
But in the eyes of those experts, that beam was as wrenched as a demon’s.
Although they were clueless about that reform through labor, they could tell it must be some kind of horrible torture.
Still, they took a load off as they found that Li Mu was not blackmailing them for some precious manuals. The building materials and the other creatures are indeed scarce, but in comparison with manuals on secret martial arts, they were much easier to get a hold of. And the most important part was that it would not hurt the core of their family or faction.
As if on cue, a clever Dutou Official began to call out, “Everybody, the chances are limited. First come, first served. Who will be the first one to write down the ransom…”
Upon hearing those words, the seasoned sly foxed in Jianghu immediately rushed forward.
Li Mu watched them with a gleeful smile.
He recognized the Dutou Official, a guy named Jin Xiaoran. This Jin Xiaoran was a trusted subordinate of Ma Junwu. As he swooped in to urge the experts at the right time, Li Mu reckoned him very perceptive and worth further training.
However, as Zhao Ling watched the event going from the other side of the yard, the impression Li Mu left on her went even worse.
“He is not only lewd and despicable but also audacious as to do kidnapping and blackmailing. Gee, he stops at no evil!” muttered the new maid.
But Li Mu turned a deaf ear to her swear and headed straight for the back room.
After taking a few steps, he suddenly turned around and cupped his fists at that middle-aged warlock at the gate as his greetings. It seemed that he did not want to go up to that man and befriend him.
In fact, Li Mu himself did not know how to explain that.
Although that man had rooted for Li Mu under several occasions, the county magistrate felt that he was merely paying the lip service. When Li Mu had been in real danger, such as being ambushed and hunted by Wei Chong the other day, he did not come forward to help him. By contrast, he seemed quite active when fighting for the flood dragon blood.
To put it in the language on Earth, he was all bark and no bite.
Certainly, Li Mu had no interest in getting to know such a hypocritical man.
Adding that he already learned that the middle-aged warlock in cyan was probably a member of a powerful branch of the royal family in the Western Qin Empire, he had one more reason to stay at a respectful distance from that man.
Time was really precious for Li Mu. He needed to practice martial arts in order to get out of the Divine Martial Stars. Thus, he had no time for the game of throne between the so-called big shots of the empire. Such political scheming would only distract a cultivator from pursuing the ultimate martial arts.
“Maid, what are you standing there for? Come to the back room with me.” Li Mu yelled at Zhao Ling.
Then, he took off for the back room.
Waking up from her reverie, Zhao Ling trembled with fright and followed behind his master as she worried about what she could do if Li Mu decided to play dirty. Like a lamb to be slaughtered, she kept quite a distance from Li Mu and quietly entered the back yard.
Seeing them take off, the middle-aged warlock in cyan gave a wry smile.
This time, he did waste no time and dash here for the purpose of helping Li Mu.
Back then when he saw the battle at the Nine-dragons Fall, he hesitated because of Wei Chong’s identity. Later, he tried to catch up with Li Mu when he was being hunted by Wei Chong. But unfortunately, he lost track of them and had to return to the county and do some self-reflection.
Today, when he heard the astonishing news that Li Mu had made it back to the county in one piece, he realized that Li Mu might be a more valuable man than he gave him credit for. Therefore, he briskly made up his mind and came to help Li Mu as well as cozy up to him in spite of the potential danger of affronting the Qing Sha Clan.
But it came as a total surprise to him that the current Li Mu was several times more powerful and intimidating than a few days ago. Strong as Wei Chong was, the prior hunter was crushed by his previous prey, who was already so mighty that he did not need the warlock’s help.
That put the warlock into an awkward position.
Shock by the rapid enhancement of Li Mu’s strength, Wang Chen was even more eager to draw such an excellent cultivator to his side. If he could obtain the support of a fierce man like Li Mu, he believed the princess and the prince would be trudging in the court like they were doing now.
But he was also quite clear that the more Li Mu’s strength hiked, the more difficult it was to rope him in.
As such, he could not help kicking himself for not resolutely sticking up for Li Mu in that flood dragon battle.
If on that night he had helped Li Mu defeat Wei Chong at all costs, he would definitely win Li Mu’s deep gratitude. In that case, perhaps today Li Mu would have welcomed him in with a smiley face. Even if he might not make Li Mu serve for the princess at once, at least he would leave the talent a good impression instead of still trying to get on speaking terms with him.
“I made a big mistake.”
Wang Chen sighed helplessly.
Nonetheless, he would not give it up.
As long as Li Mu was still staying in Taibai County, he knew there were opportunities to make up for his mistake.
“Sir, that county magistrate is amazing!” exclaimed the boy next to him, who was called Qin Zheng. With admiration and yearning gleaming in his eyes, the boy spoke again, “How awesome it would be if I could have such power! This way, my sister would not have to go through those hardships.”
Wang Chen rubbed the boy’s head affectionately. “If you listen to Her Highness and work hard to learn knowledge and practice martial arts, you will be able to protect Her Highness when you grow up.”
The boy nodded solemnly.
Although there was a saying that children from a poor family usually grew out of childishness faster, in fact, the youngsters in the royal family probably matured even sooner.
“Let’s head back. I’ll find a time to introduce you to that county magistrate,” said Wang Chen with a comforting beam.
After that, he led the boy out of the county government.
The warlock had already memorized all the items Li Mu wrote before taking off.
He was very curious about the reason why Li Mu wanted those bizarre objects.