Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
The Cloud River Realm Watchman appeared to be a captain or a lieutenant at least, Lu Ye realized.
“How can I help you, Lord Prefect, sir?” muttered the spectral captain with a cursory glance on the authority pass Amber held in its jaws.
[Lord Prefect. So, that’s the authority that the pass carried], Lu Ye noticed, although the name of the title “Lord Prefect” sounded odd to him. [Prefect of what, I wonder?]
“I’ve been informed that you have arrested some people?” Lu Ye asked.
“Yes, sir,” responded the Watchman. “We found intruders trying to enter this city, a blatant disregard for rules and order. Hence we had, by the charge the Lord Governor entrusted upon us to keep the peace, arrested them all.”
[Keep the peace? How could it be not peaceful enough when there’s not even one resident of this city alive!] Lu Ye almost scowled aloud.
But Lu Ye knew that while the spectral City Watchman retained some form of sentience, their intelligence remained low, or they would not have so easily acknowledged him as Lord Prefect.
Not wishing to prolong the conversation, Lu Ye said curtly, “And it is by Her Ladyship’s orders that I’m here to escort the prisoners.”
“Her Ladyship?” Doubt teemed on the captain’s face, looking like he was struggling to understand who “Her Ladyship” was. A hint of dawning revelation erased all that a second later; the form of address must have struck a bell. The captain frowned, “These dungeons are the most carefully-guarded areas in the City Watch’s charge, sir. You may escort the prisoners, but only with a written statement from Her Ladyship herself.”
Lu Ye could not know what exactly “Her Ladyship” meant to the captain. But he was trying to imply that he came with the authority bestowed upon him by the woman in the red dress. Since she could give him the power of Lord Prefect of the city, it was plain enough that she must wield considerable sway here.
But it would not be practical to search for the woman in the red dress and ask for her help now. Lu Ye quietly channeled his power. The grip on the hilt of his weapon tightened slightly. With a stony face, he said, “I don’t have any written statements. All I have are orders that came directly from her lips. You can refuse to accede to that command, but you can bloody well do it to her face personally.”
Troubled, the captain of the City Watch did not know what to do. But Lu Ye, on the other hand, was delighted. This showed that the woman in the red dress’ influence really could be relied upon.
“So be it. I think even the Lord Governor himself wouldn’t deny Her Ladyship’s request. Come with me then,” the captain of the City Watch conceded at last. He lifted a hand and placed it on the heavyset doors of the entrance.
The set of doors shone with a momentary flash. Convoluted swirls of runes sprawled all over the door burst with a bright glow in the next second before they were gone, and the door gradually swung open to admit them.
Not far away, Ji Yan, who had been watching from a corner, exhaled a long and relieved breath. Lu Ye looked like he was going to strike at the captain of the City Watch and Ji Yan had been worried sick. If a fight were to break out, he and the rest of the Hidden Light Sanctuary would charge forward to assist.
After all, Lu Ye’s heading to the dungeon was for his sake. Honor dictated that the Sanctuary should do their best to at least safeguard Lu Ye’s wellbeing.
Fortunately, everything had turned out rather well.
Although the sight and sound of the door slamming shut behind Lu Ye as soon as they were inside the dungeons of the City Watch headquarters did little to quell his anxious jitters.
If their infiltration were to go awry, they would be stuck here with a company full of City Watchmen behind a set of locked doors.
The only thing that calmed Lu Ye down was the absence of any sign that the captain of the City Watch had suspected anything. Without a word of protest, he led Lu Ye and Ju Jia down a long flight of stairs that wound deep underground.
The spiral stairs wound more than a hundred meters downward.
The downward trek took quite some time before they finally reached the bottom of the spiral. The passage was damp and dark and what light that illuminated the stone-hewn passage came from the flaming brands flickering feebly in the darkness.
Furious snarls and angry howls could be heard coming from the rows of jail cells up ahead.
Lu Ye scanned the cells and found a familiar face crawling towards the bars. A look of recognition registered on the face of the person before it was replaced with that of surprised joy.
That must be a member of the Sanctuary. One of the ones who had been with Ji Yan before he was captured.
“This one,” Lu Ye pointed at the incarcerated Hidden Light Sanctuary acolyte.
The captain of the City Watch waved. Another spectral figure that looked like a jail warden appeared quickly with a huge set of keys jingling as he approached.
“Take this one out.”
The jail warden muttered a wordless acknowledgment and immediately did as he was told. The Hidden Light Sanctuary acolyte quickly got out of the cell to find Lu Ye giving him a knowing look, motioning for him to stay with him at all times. Next, they pressed on further.
The captain and the jail warden quietly followed behind.
Lu Ye just strolled past another jail cell. He looked inside and another haggard face replete with shock that eventually gave way to relief squeezed itself through the iron bars, crying, “Please, help! Friend Lu Ye!”
Lu Ye looked at the Hidden Light Sanctuary acolyte beside him. The latter shook his head, not recognizing this stranger.
Lu Ye lifted his hand and showed his Battlefield Imprint.
The stranger’s face fell, although he was quick to force a smile, “I’m also a member of the Grand Sky Coalition! Please! Help!”
Lu Ye ignored him and just pressed on.
The commotion was enough to tell everyone else locked down that the situation was changing. Every other Cultivator behind bars stood behind those said bars, waiting to see what was going on. As soon as Lu Ye came by a cell, the Hidden Light Sanctuary would help to identify any allies. For those that he didn’t know, he would ascertain their loyalties by checking at their Battlefield Imprint. Any Grand Sky Coalition allies were duly rescued while all others, who belonged to the Thousand Demon Ridge, Lu Ye was more than happy to leave to their own devices.
It did not take long for Lu Ye to realize that there was more than meets the eye with these underground dungeons.
The Cultivators who were kept here did not have any visible wounds. They were not ill-treated in any way; all they were subjected to was detainment.
But all of them—aside from the few Hidden Light Sanctuary acolytes who were just locked down here—looked frail, their faces white like the color of death. Even standing appeared difficult and some had to be carried by Ju Jia on his shoulders.
Lu Ye knew what he sensed, a rotting aura lingering about them.
That was what was lurking around these dungeons. The moment Lu Ye stepped off the spiral stairs, he felt it. The inexplicable sensation of something trying to invade his body. Something sapping away what vim and vigor in him, making him feel tired and drowsy.
What exactly it was, Lu Ye did not know. But he knew that they needed to leave. Fast.
His pace quickened.
But that was hardly the full extent of his troubles. As the throng of Cultivators liberated from incarceration grew, the captain of the City Watch was slowly turning surlier and grumpier at a visible rate. Lu Ye had taken out too many people from his custody.
“Brother Gu!” a cry jolted Lu Ye awake from his deliberation of the situation. The Hidden Light Sanctuary acolytes had found their legate Gu Canyang.
Lu Ye motioned for the jail warden to unlock the cell and several acolytes rushed in to retrieve the severely-depleted Gu Canyang.
“Surely you now have enough, Lord Prefect, sir?” the captain of the City Watch asked with undisguised hints of annoyance and irritation.
“I daresay we have.”
Gu Canyang was kept in the deepest cell of the dungeons, not because of his strength and power, but rather because he was the first to be caught.
Lu Ye had found every Cultivator that needed to be saved. It was time to go.
The procession of thirty men began to wheel around to leave. Most of them looked pale. Ju Jia had to help carry two in his arms, with an additional two under both his armpits. The rest grappled with each other for balance as they left.
Step after step, the procession limped slowly out of the subterranean dungeons amid the cries and curses from the Thousand Demon Ridge Cultivators still locked in their cells that were all eventually stifled with the deafening and final boom of the dungeon doors mercilessly slamming shut.
They followed the circumvoluted stairs and ascended back to ground level, much to the tearful joys of the Cultivators who had been wallowing in the despair that they were going to be locked down in the dungeons for good with the keys to their cells tossed away.
Few of them knew how Lu Ye managed to pull off the stunt of engineering their salvation, but all of them did know to keep their silence.
Whatever questions swelling inside them could wait for a better—or safer—time.
Lu Ye gestured to Ju Jia for him to leave with everyone else, while he stayed back a little longer to stall for time. At last, he gave the ghostly captain of the City Watch a salute, “That’s it then, good sir. Thank you so much for your cooperation.”
The captain merely snorted with apparent disgust.
Lu Ye was not at all displeased. He spun on his heels and left.
He regrouped with Ji Yan, who was practically on his knees with gratitude.
Lu Ye waved off his ceaseless words of thanks. All he did was take a leap of faith and it paid off.
He would not have felt responsible if he did not have the means to make a difference. But Fate had seen fit to place the very instrument of his Grand Sky Coalition comrades’ salvation in his hands. Ignoring the plight of so many downtrodden comrades would only have made him feel guilty, especially since so many comrades had arrived in droves just to fight and even die for his sake back when his identity as a Crimson Blood Sect acolyte was made public.
If there were still Thousand Demon Ridge remnants lurking around the Lost City, their number would not be enough to change the status quo anymore. With most of them now either dead or behind bars, the rest were more likely to just lay low until this was over.
The sum of anything dangerous in the city had become limited to just the roving patrols of the Xianyuan City Watchmen.
Meanwhile, the Hidden Light Sanctuary contingent had found an empty mansion where everyone could stay inside and recuperate while they waited for the duration of the Lost City’s appearance to expire. Everyone who had been liberated from the City Watch dungeons was relocated here. Ji Yan and his men were all here; to convey their thanks properly and in person, and also to invite him to stay with them for the time being.
“I’m afraid I still have some unfinished business. We’ll meet again when I’m done.”
Ji Yan knew better than to pry. “Very well, Brother Lu Ye. I wish you good luck.”
He promptly left with his men to attend to the others.
Lu Ye waited until they were well out of earshot before he peered at Ju Jia. The hulking Body-tempering Cultivator had been his stand-in sidekick since the death of his former partner, Sima Yang, staying by his side all the time with the reminiscence of a Siamese twin.
Lu Ye could attribute it to his fondness for Amber, but he knew that there was also what he first said to Ju Jia.
[Since we both share the same enemy in the House of Wintry Blossoms, why don’t we work together?]
But their partnership could have ended with the demise of the whole House of Wintry Blossoms contingent.
“So, what plans do you have for the future?” Lu Ye asked casually.
Ju Jia kept his head low, uttering not a word.
He had been with Sima Yang for so long and it had always been the latter who made the decisions on where to go and what to do. Deciding had never been his forte.
Now that Sima Yang was no more, Ju Jia felt helpless and lost.
“Well, if you have nowhere else to go yet, I was wondering if you wanna stick around with me a little longer.”
“That sounds nice!” Ju Jia readily agreed.
Lu Ye was delighted. Ju Jia was an asset any order and sect would salivate over. A Ninth-Order Body-tempering Cultivator; any doors would be more than glad to open to admit him, rules and traditions be damned.
It was because of Sima Yang that he had not joined nor pledged his allegiance to any order. But now things had changed.
Sima Yang was no more and if Ju Jia could stay around, given time, he would become a full and invaluable member of the Crimson Blood Sect.
The membership of the Crimson Blood Sect might have grown by incredible leaps and bounds, solidifying the outpost’s strength and position in the outer-ring areas of the Battlefield, but Lu Ye could barely confess to having enough men under his command that truly possessed real fighting capabilities in a battle.
That he would arrive here and stumble upon such an asset in Ju Jia was beyond his wildest expectation. Despite knowing how unkind and unethical his notion was, Lu Ye couldn’t help but give thanks to both the demise of the House of Wintry Blossoms contingent and Sima Yang, both the winds that had helped to steer the useful Ju Jia into his open arms.
Lu Ye surmised that Ju Jia might even agree to become a full member of the Crimson Blood Sect now, but he did not want to push things so prematurely. Things like cultivating a sense of belonging and loyalty to the Sect needed time to foster true loyalty in the lumbering Body-tempering Cultivator, which was more important than mere lip service could provide.
But since they were not yet back at the outpost, Lu Ye would have to rely on the bond he and Ju Jia developed so far.
If Ju Jia could wholeheartedly serve a piece of filth like Sima Yang with such unwavering steadfastness, Lu Ye was confident that his friendliness and kindness to the former would prevail in swaying him.