The Cloud Shuttle streaked across the sky like a flash of light.
A large shuttle like that one also had a limited capacity. At the time, there were Lord Zhenxi and his sixteen guards, three receptionists from the Wind-ride Sword Sect, and a warlock good at massive star deployment driving the shuttle—a total of twenty people on board. After flying for about an hour, the energy of a Divine Crystal, which was the fuel of the shuttle, had almost been depleted.
Then, the Cloud Shuttle had to do a forced landing in a mountain area.
“We’re in the region of the Green Mountain, three thousand miles away from the capital, so we don’t need to worry about the chasing troops for the moment,” said the warlock.
A Divine Crystal was highly valuable. As they took flight they simply had no alternative but to use it. Yet, it was rather unwise to continue consuming it when the coast was clear.
At last, the warlock alone drove the shuttle away.
He was a temporary employee, not a key crony of Lord Zhenxi.
“Your Highness, why didn’t you…” said the guard leader covered in sticky blood as he did a throat-cutting gesticulation, “If that man sells us out…”
Lord Zhenxi was over fifty years of age. He had achieved something in practicing the Dragon-commanding Skill, the main secret art of the royal family and had already entered the Celestial Being realm decades ago. He was in his prime and full of life. His square jaw and sideburns made him quite awe-inspiring.
By then, composure had reappeared on his features. He answered, “Dropping my benefactors when they are no longer needed is not what I do. Plus, even though the warlock doesn’t have a high cultivation, his ace cards are plenty, so it is not that easy to kill him. He is an old acquaintance of mine. Now that he helped us out, he has already set a foot in treason. So, he won’t get any benefits even if he rats on us… Well, let’s drop this topic. Anyway, this time it’s me who got you all in trouble.”
Then, Lord Zhenxi bowed to the guards.
“Don’t mention it, Your Highness. If it weren’t for you, we would have long died a tragic death.”
“We dare to die for Your Highness!”
The guards swore in one voice. They were the men of sacrifice Lord Zhenxi cultivated, and every one of them was extremely loyal.
Lord Zhenxi said, “Good. I’ll remember your regards forever. Today, I did fall into dire straits. But heaven never seals off all the exits. During all these years, I’ve laid many projects in the dark. It’s time to switch them on. The Western Qin Empire is teetering. Haha, it won’t be long before the empire falls into turmoil. Then, our opportunities will present themselves.”
Born in the royal family, he was accustomed to scheming against one another and was very skilled at buying people over and inspiring his subordinates by delusion.
Upon hearing his speech, the eyes of the guards gradually lit up. The panic and crest-fallen air of defeated dogs was no longer seen.
Lord Zhenxi knew faith was the one thing they could not lose at the moment.
He looked toward the northwest again. But his previous dissatisfaction and dejected mood were gone. Then, he said with confidence and unyieldingness, “Brothers, change into comfortable clothes. We’ll head for the northwest, to Fufeng City. The Fufeng magistrate is my adopted son, who follows my orders… As to that Li Mu, humph, I must kill him to avenge my son. Although I’ve met with misfortune, I won’t let anyone pick on me. What’s more, I’ve heard that the thief Li Mu has obtained a treasure that enables a low-level Natural Expert to confront a man half a step from the Sage Realm. We can kill Li Mu and take that treasure. Adding the support of the army in Fufeng City, I believe the crown prince can’t do anything to me even if he sends his troops on a punitive expedition over here. When that day comes, it’s possible that I’ll turn from defense to offense and attack the capital. Well, when the victory is mine, you’ll all be my grand generals, the founding heroes of a new empire!”
At those words, the guards felt their blood boil with excitement.
They took off the heavy armor and blood-smeared clothes, unfastened their weapons, and discarded them in the depths of a nearby swamp. Then, they all changed into light clothes, carefully destroying all their traces before disappearing into the thick woods.
In the crown prince’s mansion in Qin City…
A teacup was smashed on the floor.
The crown prince was thirty-five years old. He was tall and slender, wearing a black robe with an embroidered golden dragon. His facial features were quite exquisite, though not as deviously handsome as the second prince’s. He had surely inherited the fine genes of the royal family of the Western Qin, so it could be said that he was a man with a graceful bearing. But right at the moment, his face was contorted with rage.
“A bunch of dunderheads! To have allowed Lord Zhenxi escape!”
He was glowering at the dozen imperial generals in front of him. His fierce eyes scanned each of them with an unconcealed killing intent.
“Your Highness, we beg your pardon.” Several generals lowered their heads to avoid meeting his eyes, their hearts shuddering in horror.
The crown prince held back the words which sprang to his lips. Finally, he managed to restrain his fury and instructed with a snort, “Send people to search for the evil remnants of Lord Zhenxi within the city. I’d rather you kill a thousand good men by mistake than let one real criminal slip away… And, confiscate all the properties of the second prince and Lord Zhenxi. All the properties shall go into the Center Treasury. If anyone dares to doubt that, send him to me.”
The Middle Treasury was the private vault of the crown prince.
It appeared that he had decided to appropriate the funds for his personal use.
“Yes, Your Highness!” The generals took the order in relief and scurried out of the room.
The smell of blood in the air of the capital had not completely dispersed.
In some alleys, the repercussions of the coup were still in progress. The sky grew bright. The previous night, innumerable people had been beheaded, and many prestigious big shots who still assumed great airs of authority in the government already had no chance to see the upcoming sunrise on that morning.
The crown prince’s fury was gradually appeased.
He marched out of the hall and went to a high stage before the gate, letting the biting wind carrying snowflakes blow in his face.
The failure to murder Lord Zhenxi, the last symbolic figure in league with the second prince within the capital, made him very discontent about the result of the bloody night. He could have crushed his enemies once and for all but fell short of success for lack of a final effort. As a consequence, he would have greater trouble waiting for him, for he knew the second prince had gained equally intimidating forces outside of the capital after years’ worth of scheming. In his plan, once Lord Zhenxi—the last symbolic figure on the opponent side—was killed, the nonlocal forces would be at a loss without a leader, and then he would break their bases and wipe them out at the fastest speed. However, at the moment, the matter had become knotty.
“If Lord Zhenxi gathers the provincial armies and starts an open revolt, that is not something that can be suppressed within a couple of days.”
“But, anyway, the second prince and his forces have finally fallen from power.”
The crown prince could finally breathe with ease.
The hostile confrontation between him and the second prince that lasted for decades had finally drawn to an end.
The downfall of his biggest political opponent was suffused with black humor and ridicule.
He abruptly broke into a fit of cold laughter.
Who could foresee that the second prince who claimed to be the number one royal genius of the Western Qin would be killed by a petty county magistrate?
At that thought, the crown prince had an urge to extend his gratitude to Li Mu.
“But somebody has to take the consequence of murdering a prince, especially a very powerful royal lord.”
“So far father has not finished his closed-door training. He is still trying to break the bottleneck in the Celestial Being Realm and obtain another five hundred years’ life from heaven, having no time for political affairs. So, all that has happened in the vast Western Qin over the last century has not reached the emperor’s ears. I already took the risk of forging the imperial edict to get rid of the second prince before father completed his closed-door training. After doing what cannot be undone, I shall just find some scapegoats and maneuver my way out. But now, a man has finished off the second prince for me…”
“Well, should I make Li Mu the scapegoat?”
The brain of the crown prince was racing.
But he had one scruple on that solution—rumors said Li Mu was the son of Li Gang.
Li Gang was his most trustworthy right hand.
As he was torn between his options, suddenly a crony of his hurried in and reported, “Your Highness, an express letter from Chang’an.”
“Speak of the devil!”
The crown prince took over the letter and glanced at the envelope. Instantly, a trace of astonishment surfaced on his face.
At the foot of the cliff in the back mountains of the Taibai County…
The waterfall rumbled down, generating a rising steam.
A hut was sitting by the Nine-dragon Lake.
A huge crow perched motionlessly on the roof of that hut in silence, as though being a black sculpture. The crow’s feathers were strewn with drops of water, which were slowly dripping down to the ground.
Coughs were heard.
A blind Taoist walked out of the hut and halted by the lake, seemingly waiting for something.
Moonlight bathed the land.
The twin moons as spotless as two white jade plates rose over the lake, their reflections rippling in the water.
The Taoist appeared to be waiting for something. He remained stiff on the spot.
Most of the nighttime passed by.
A hint of disappointment emerged on the Taoist’s face.
“It’s been over a hundred days. Why hasn’t the demonic dragon revealed itself?” “Has it left the lake because of that fight?” Strong persistence appeared on his features. “The Nine-dragon Lake enjoys exceptional natural advantages. It can swallow the essence of the twin moons, so it’s a perfect place to practice for the demon races. That flood dragon can’t have forsaken this place simply due to that fight. Anyhow, there might not be a second place in the world as good as this one to help it grown into a real dragon, right?”
The blind Taoist had devoted his whole life to destroying demons.
His purpose of staying there was just to figure out a way to kill that flood dragon.
For that purpose, he had set up countless star deployments around the lake.
But he did not expect that after so many days that demonic dragon still did not turn up once.
His patience was about to drain out.
Cool moonlight poured down the abyss, rendering the lake a different world, a cold, damp, underworld where he could see no traces of human beings in the place but his.
The blind Taoist began to consider leaving.
“You’re still here?”
Without any notice, a man’s voice rang from above.
The blind Taoist was startled, which instantly gave rise to layers of ripples in the lake as the overlaid magic shields were strengthened. “Who is it?” he yelled. He had placed a magic deployment around the place. That crow was exceedingly vigilant, but it failed to detect the stranger’s arrival in advance.
A wave of sharp broadsword qi zoomed over.
Li Mu, riding on his flying broadsword, slowly descended to inches over the lake.
Those days, he had started setting up deployments at some key spots in the Taibai Mountain. Like a strenuous marmot, he had put up not less than two hundred underground deployments in the vast mountain area, to change the running directions of the Spiritual Qi in the Earthveins. Also, he had made imperceptible modifications at some ridges and peaks. It was true that he had started changing the geomancy in Taibai Mountain according to his vision.
That night, he went to change the Nine-dragons Fall and the lake.
As he arrived on his broadsword, to his great surprise, he saw that blind Taoist at the lake.
“It’s you?” That crow opened its eyes, whose pupils reflected a scarlet light. The blind Taoist recognized Li Mu at once and stuttered, “How… How come you are so strong?” He could not find anything else to say, because when encountering Li Mu again after only a few months the boy had already became so powerful, that he was stunned and could not believe his eyes.
Li Mu did not reply. His spiritual force quickly scanned the whole place and discovered the star deployments the blind Taoist had set around the lake.
In Li Mu’s eyes, those star deployments were rather simple and crude.
“You want to hunt the dragon?” doubted Li Mu. He had no good impression of the Taoist, because it was the old blind guy who had kidnapped Ming Yue from the county government and incurred the series of trouble that happened later.
“No, I want to destroy the demon,” The blind Taoist said frostily.
“All by yourself?” Li Mu sniggered. Ten blind Taoists would not be the match of the flood dragon, and so it was even after adding the deployments he arranged in the surroundings. However, it suddenly occurred to Li Mu that the old blind guy knew that old beggar he met on the other day. His heart pounded at the idea and he demanded, “Tell me, who is that old beggar carrying a yellow dog on that day?”