“Yeah, fifth has been through a string of victories and has the seven houses under him. Luo clan is short on staff, but with the ineffable Zhuo Fan, he’ll break our siege!” Dugu Feng clapped, shouting.
The others nodded.
Dugu Zhantian was the only one steamed, “Silence, call for help comes first and then the rest. But we can call on anyone but fifth!”
“Why?” Dugu Feng crumbled.
Dugu Zhantian sighed, “Ever since Zhuo Fan got the dragon soul and entered His Majesty’s sight, fifth has been behind him all the way and our bond has been cut. Each to his own fate. Moreover, we were just about to destroy the Luo clan. And now that we’re on the ropes, we’re supposed to ask them for help? Have we no dignity?”
“But Marshal… fifth won’t care. He will always stick to his Marshal.” Dugu Feng grumbled.
Dugu Zhantian softened, but steeled himself back, barking, “Listen up and listen good. Don’t you send fifth any jade or I’ll use martial law on you!”
“Marshal!” They all shouted.
Dugu Zhantian wouldn’t have it, “He might do it out of respect for our past, but it was I who broke it off. I am not Dugu Zhantian if I stoop to such a low act as using him to save me from this entrapment. You dare notify him and you’ll be shaming my righteous name, throwing all I’ve lived for into the mud. I will have no face to live!”
The Four Tigers of Tianyu’s hearts sank, shaking their heads.
For him to say that, they knew there was no talking to him.
Dugu Zhantian watched their bent backs as they left, filled with sorrow…
“Big brother, second brother, how are we going to get out alive without fifth’s help?” The four went to a corner where Dugu Huo whispered.
Dugu Lin’s eyes sharpened, “I’m sending the jade!”
“Didn’t you hear what godfather said? His integrity is at stake here. Fifth might come, he might save us, but godfather…” Dugu Feng worried.
Dugu Lin said, “Brothers, don’t you find all of this strange?”
“Strange?” The others asked.
“His Majesty sent us after Regent Estate and Luo clan and our travel there had been quiet, but then came his edict to return on the eve of battle.”
“Isn’t it obvious that if the imperial capital is under siege then His Majesty would call for help?” Dugu Feng asked.
“That’s not the issue, but we all know His Majesty. Would the mind who incited the war between Luo clan and Regent Estate have no fall back? For argument’s sake, let’s say he doesn’t, but anyone knows closer help is faster. Why the rash edict, making both sides unable to achieve anything?”
Dugu Lin analyzed at the nods of the others.
“Not to mention, our ambush and current situation shows signs of someone’s design.” Dugu Lin sighed, “Dugu Army is a seasoned and efficient war machine. We’re in this mess, trapped, because His Majesty called us back in haste.”
“Does that mean the edict is fake? Zhuge Changfeng led us to a trap!” Dugu Feng started, “Which means the imperial capital fell and His Majesty’s seal is in Zhuge Changfeng’s hands.”
Breathing out, Dugu Lin shook his head, “I am not clear on this. But someone is!”
“Luo clan’s steward, Zhuo Fan!” Dugu Lin was firm, “Have you forgotten, Zhuo Fan found out about us but still went about his business like usual. We took it for his usual cocky self, but in hindsight, it points out what a know-all he is. That our fight was never meant to happen!
Dugu Feng cried, “You mean Zhuo Fan is in on Zhuge Changfeng selling his country? Won’t calling out to fifth end up being pointless then? But for Zhuo Fan to end up controlling everything…”
The others turned heavy.
Dugu Lin shook his head, “Perhaps not, when fifth was with us, not just once did he praise his steward’s desire to set Luo clan at the top of the food chain. Harsh, but he never demeaned his masters. He even respects them to the end. No, I believe Luo clan had no part in Dugu Army’s ambush. Even if they had something to do with it, with fifth around, we’d have a way out and then get to ask Zhuo Fan for an explanation.”
They all nodded, seeing wisdom in it.
“But godfather…” Dugu Huo hesitated.
Dugu Lin smiled, “Godfather’s integrity is important, but I, Crouching Forest Tiger Dugu Lin is scared of death and shall plead fifth for help. I will bear full responsibility.”
“How can you shoulder it alone? I’m a scaredy-cat myself.” Dugu Feng chuckled.
Dugu Shan and Dugu Huo shrugged, “We four brothers live and die together in the pursuit of our ambition. Since you want to live, so do we!”
The four burst out laughing.
Dugu Lin, in the four’s name, sent a jade out of the gorge. The flash of green vanished among the clouds, carrying the hopes of all the Dugu Army.
Unaware to them, Dugu Zhantian had been onto them from the start, standing a ways away.
Dugu Zhantian sighed, “Foolish children, you have a long way ahead of you. It’s best if I take this vilification on myself…”
He then vanished among the mist…
In a hidden room in Windgaze City, Li Jingtian laid on a bed, frail and weakened. Zhuo Fan and Yan Song were watching over him.
Yan Song shook his head after a summary check up, “Elder Li is truly heard-headed. He staked his meridians on showing off his tough side. But was it worth dying for?”
“Ha-ha-ha, you don’t get a martial fanatic’s mind.” Zhuo Fan chuckled, “Haven’t you been gushing blood in the Hundred Pill Meeting over our bet just to beat me? You’re no less stubborn than he is.”
Yan Song nodded, “Steward Zhuo has a point. Different strokes for different folks. Elder Li is a martial fanatic and I’m a pill fanatic. Both willing to stake our all for self-interest. We’re on the same path.”
“He-he-he, I just love you guys’ character. Dedicated and worthy to groom.” Zhuo Fan snickered, showing his admiration.
“Back then, I escaped a disaster and now I’m a 9th grade alchemist, thanks to Steward Zhuo’s care. But Elder Li has broken meridians, a cripple. How will his future be? He might even commit suicide when he hears that he can’t train.” Yan Song sighed, “The only way to recover is through Bodhi Root, but that thing has been refined, Just what…”
“Oh, no, no, no!”
Zhuo Fan chuckled, “Bodhi Root is wordly essence, offering endless vitality but even that can’t mend meridians. Bodhi Root would only recover Elder Li’s body, leaving him with crippled meridians. He is stuck in this place forever, at the peak Radiant Stage. It will be a crushing blow for this martial fanatic. “
“It’d be good enough if he could at least recover.” Yan Song shook his head.
“Ha-ha-ha, Elder Yan, if it’s about giving his strength back, I’ll just make him a war puppet, with bones as tough as steel and uncanny might. Since I’ll help him, I won’t stop at just saving him, but will make sure to take him to new heights.”
Yan Song smiled, “Steward Zhuo has a way?”
“Of course.” Raising an eyebrow, Zhuo Fan said, “Or I’d have stepped in and stopped his fight. As I had the means to save him, I let him go all out.”
Zhuo Fan’s hand held a vial, “Here is the 12th grade ingredient Hundred Leaves Heaven Flower’s nectar and the 10th grade ingredient Heavenly Dew. An ingredient to make a 10th grade pill, Heaven Reaching Pill. It mends bones, it mends veins. Even meridians will be as good as new from total destruction. And all will be much stronger in the process. The best pill for any cultivator!”
“10th grade?!” Yan Song gulped, a fire like never before burning in his eyes…