The one speaking was exactly one of the disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club that sat at Li Mu’s table before.
A moment ago, they were also terribly scared. Each kept their head low, afraid that Li Mu would spot them. But now, with Li Mu gone, they began to swagger around again.
The instant the words were out, the hot atmosphere in the hall cooled as if someone had poured a bucket of water to a burning charcoal brazier.
The duel suddenly crossed the minds of many guests.
“Yeah, right! There is gonna be a duel between the two Great Masters!”
The deadline they set was three days later. Two days, if today was included, had already passed. Thus, the day after tomorrow was the date of the life-and-death battle of the two Great Masters.
During these two days, people in Chang’an had made various predictions about the duel. Generally speaking, the majority of the residents believed Heaven-Sword Celestial Being would win, because Heaven-Sword Celestial Being was taught by a famous master and had made a name for himself since many years ago. He also feigned his death and lived in seclusion these years to further practice Cultivation Methods. Today, it was hard to tell which level he had reached. It was not completely impossible that he might have broken through the Great Master Realm and entered the Innate Stage.
That disciple of the Heaven Sword Martial Club was pretty satisfied by the effect that remark created.
“I can tell you now, Li Mu is a dead man… When the sun rises the day after tomorrow, his head will be chopped off. He is merely a junior cultivator who just entered the Great Master. Our Heaven Sword Celestial Being will kill him as easily as killing a dog.”
With a gloating smile, he assured the others with great solemnity.
However, this time, his words did not cause a stir among the guests in the hall once more.
Instead, the place was filled with dead silence.
The other disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club who were also pompously chanting Li Mu’s doom a moment ago suddenly altered their gleefulness with horror. Trembling fearfully, they turned to stare in the direction of the doorway, as if they had caught sight of some ghast monster.
The disciple who just spoke was bemused. He wondered, “Why are you…” But suddenly, something struck him and without really thinking, he wheeled around and darted his eyes towards the doorway as well.
Li Mu was standing there. He must have returned when no one was watching him.
He tied the dark-maned horse to the pole by the door and walked in slowly. “I just hurried off without paying for tonight’s event…” As he said, a sheet of golden cash flew out of his hand and gracefully headed towards Bai Xuan. It was true that Li Mu had ordered some dishes when he and Zheng Cunjian sat at the table.
“Mr. Zheng has already paid before he left,” clarified Bai Xuan in a haste.
A little stunned, Li Mu nodded at her and mumble, “Okay.” Then, with a wave, that golden cash which had flown halfway to Bai Xuan instantly veered around and shot back to his hand.
Li Mu nodded at Hua Xiangrong with a smile before turning to leave again.
Seeing he take off, the disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club finally breathed a long sigh of relief.
It seemed that Li Mu had no intention to get even with them.
Li Mu took the rein off the pole and led the horse a few steps away. Abruptly, he spun around and lifted a hand, and six jets of purple lightning burst out from his palm. Like six electric snakes, the jets of light instantly shot into the six terrified disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club.
“Do you really reckon I didn’t hear you talking behind my back?”
Li Mu demanded without expression.
In truth, he was not heading back to pay the bill. He simply remembered that he forgot to teach a lesson to those disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club in the hall when he was heading away from the hall. Therefore, he randomly picked an excuse and scuttled back to the Holy House.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Black smoke began to rise from the six disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club. As though being hit by a flash of lightning, they all fell to the floor and started foaming at the mouth as their limbs twitched uncontrollably. They now looked like pieces of burnt wood.
The six jets of lightning actually had wiped out their internal qi. Hence, they were practically disabled men.
Everyone in the hall gasped.
In fact, Li Mu was not a good actor. The guests had a vague feeling that the young Great Master was not here to get the bill paid at all. That was clearly an excuse to come back and settle with those disciples of the Heaven Sword Martial Club. After all, the guests who had a good memory all knew that they were at the same table as Li Mu tonight and had let loose of snide words at him.
“Seems that the young Great Master is the type of man who bears a grudge against any offense.”
“Your Honor, even though he is a Great Master, you don’t have to go over there in person and save his face in public like that.”
On the way back, a trusted general of the black-armored soldiers asked Cai Zhijie with a mystified look.
Cai Zhijie was riding a horse, his bulky body rocking back and forth, as if the horse was about to crash under his weight at any moment. “It’s Zheng Cunjian of the Chang’an government who came to me. Of course, I must do this favor for him. That scholar is quite ruthless and resourceful. I don’t see any reason to affront him. Plus, if you do some deep thinking, you will know perhaps the magistrate of Chang’an is behind this.”
“But I was told that Li Mu is an abandoned son of the magistrate. Eight years ago…”
“Shush! Mind your words.” Cai Zhijie directly cut the trusted general off.
He glowered at this trusted soldier and warned, “The private matters of His Honor are not what we can speculate. Be careful, the tongue may cut the throat.” It was widely known that Cai Zhijie was a cranky but relentless boor. But in fact, he was quite good at bureaucracy. Otherwise, he could not have occupied the position of the security official in the eastern branch of the local government that governed the rich area of Chang’an for over a decade.
“Bear this in mind, never ever piss off Li Mu,” Cai Zhijie said seriously, “Spread the word. All the soldiers in our eastern branch shall be polite with that young Great Master. No matter who comes to you and asks you to take on Li Mu, reject them all. Whoever dares to take the liberty of agreeing on it and stirs up trouble for me, I will flay him alive.”
“Yes, sir,” the trusted general answered at once.
He had seldom seen Cai Zhijie warned him about anything with so much care.
But Cai Zhijie just kept riding the horse in silence.
He was musing, musing about a lot of matters.
“An adolescent Great Master!”
“How long has it been since last I heard of such an unequaled genius!”
“Well, how old was the owner of the Guanshan Pasture, today’s divine empire guardian, when he made it to the Great Master Realm? Legend has it that he achieved it at the age of sixteen. But this Li Mu is only fifteen.”
Undoubtedly, Cai Zhijie would go and watch the battle in Heaven Sword Martial Club in a day.
If Li Mu really won it, even if he won by a narrow margin, he would complete his metamorphosis and become a sensation in the entire empire.
When that time came, perhaps the city of Chang’an would be too small to accommodate this brilliant young Great Master.
But, of course, the precondition was that he could secure a victory.
Accompanied by Zheng Cunjian, Li Mu finally went back to the Pig-Herding Alley.
“Well, Young Master does harbor resentment,” thought the Heartless Scholar.
Once more, he had a taste of Li Mu’s dark hobby.
He could not be clearer about the reason that Li Mu turned back. It obviously could not be for handling the unpaid bill, because he already told him so when Li Mu left the Holy House the first time.
“Do keep a lookout for that girl named Hua Xiangrong. I guess there is something bothering her.”
Just before he entered the yard of the Shack, Li Mu turned to Zheng Cunjian and instructed him.
Zheng Cunjian replied, “Sure, leave it to me.”
Then, Li Mu pushed the door open and stepped in.
Zheng Cunjian, on the other hand, kept heading forward on the back of his horse and left the Pig-Herding Alley to hurry back to the Li’s mansion.
One hour later.
In the study of the Li’s mansion.
Li Gang, the magistrate of Chang’an, was holding a history book while listening to Zheng Cunjian recounting what happened tonight with a smile.
“Haha, even heroes fall for beauties… that’s the nature of every young man.”
A broad smile climbed up the corners of Li Gang’s mouth.
“Your Honor, it seems that Young Master cares that Hua Xiangrong a lot.” Seeing the cool reaction of the magistrate, Zheng Cunjian tentatively posed another question, “Should I dispatch some men to keep an eye on the Holy House?”
But Li Gang did not give him a straightforward answer. He simply told him, “These trivial things are up to you. No need to ask for my permission.”
Zheng Cunjian then nodded and bowed to him before backing out of the study.
After he left, the room became perfectly quiet.
Li Gang put down the book, absorbed in his thoughts.
This handsome man in his fifties was experiencing the prime of his life. He looked gentle and cultivated, as pure and refined as jade. In the dim light of candles, his expression was indistinct. But he seemed a little tired, quite unlike the usual energetic and confident image he put on before his subordinates.
All of a sudden, the candlelight flickered.
A shot of black mist zoomed in and arrived in front of Li Gang.
He waved at it and the black mist quickly landed on his palm. It entwined around his wrist and then turned into a black snake, which stuck out its tongue and kept hissing as if it was talking to him.
Then, a hint of surprise appeared on Li Gang’s face.
“Really? You can’t even get in the yard? There is a magic formation? Well, this evil spawn does have varied tricks.”
That was beyond his expectations.
“He has set up a formation around the yard of the Shack?”
“That darn son of mine also knows how to use formations?”
The next day.
At early morning when the night had not yet fully faded, most streets in Chang’an were coated with a thick layer of frost.
The autumnal equinox had passed by.
The temperature began dropping from day to day.
Qin Zhen, disguised as a man, returned to her temporary residence.
A guard immediately reported to the princess the incidents that happened last night, who also underlined the event of the young Great Master, Li Mu, put the Holy House in chaos.
“He went to the Musical House? And killed the guiders of two academies for a prostitute?”
When Qin Zhen first heard that news after returning from the Musical House a moment ago, a trace of derisive sneer flitted across her eyes.
“Surely he is a hopeless jerk indulging in dissipation and attractive women… Hum, I wonder where he copied the Epigraph of My Shack. Almost believed he might be a great guy. Well, it appears this is his true color. He has just arrived in Chang’an, hasn’t he? But he already stirred up such big trouble. Anyway, how could a man fighting in a brothel be a man of integrity?”
Qin Zhen shook her head, telling herself to never pay more attention to that man.
“He also made two more poems tonight…” said the guard, about to hand over the copied poems.
But Qin Zhen waved him off, looking exhausted. “No need to present these to me. Just burn them. From now on, don’t mention anything about this man to me.” Since she was born in the royal family, the education she received all along was about stringent royal protocols and distinct outlook for honor and dishonor. Thus, she was always strict with herself as well as with others. Adding that she was also a girl, the loathing she felt over such an incident was much deeper.
The guard did not dare say one more word and just bowed his way out.
When the guard was gone, Qin Zhen revealed a fatigued look on her face.
Last night, she secretly observed around the place confining the widow and children of General Tang and made a bold attempt to sneak in. However, she was discovered by the guards. Among the guards, there was even an expert in the Great Master Realm. When her traces were exposed, she put up a fierce fight against the guards and finally escaped at the cost of the lives of two spies she placed at the Musical House. Luckily, the opponents did not find out her true identity. But the heavy defense they set up took her by astonishment.
“I must work out a new plan.”
Qin Zhen tried to focus again.
But she felt like she was stuck there, too worn out to make a step ahead.
“Why is life treat me so harshly?”
Although she was a royal member, a noble princess, she actually had less freedom than an ordinary girl. The weight on her shoulder was about to make her collapse. The pieces of baggage she was carrying were just too many.