Startled, Danqing Shen pointed at his nose, “Me? How am I to save you? Like I said, we’re not that close, merely getting along. There’s nothing to make me risk so much just for you. You know very well that behind be there’s…”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve been hearing things ever since I entered central area.”
Zhuo Fan shook his head, “Old Dan fought with Invincible Sword, beaten and thrown down in merely five moves.”
Danqing Shen’s glared at him, “Is that how you see a duel of experts, a beatdown between thugs?”
“Pretty much. That’s its meaning and that’s how it spread, thus, that’s how I heard it, he-he-he…”
Zhuo Fan’s went stern the next second, “But it’s because of this fight that Old Dan had to become one of the Nine Sword Kings of Sword Star Empire, Dragon Cleaving Sword King. Behind you are countless innocent lives of your homeland. Old Dan is a kind man and won’t want them to suffer. This is why the Sword Star Empire caught you.”
Danqing Shen’s eyes shook and sighed in pain, “I have long said what was the point of being best in western lands. You’re still at another’s whim in the central area. I’m glad I didn’t take the Vaulting Sword with me or western lands would have been defenseless against the Invincible Sword. Maybe the whole western lands would’ve rose up to get that divine weapon back like Shangguan clan did, ha-ha-ha…”
“Oh, by the way, why are you with the Shangguan clan? Have you come for the Soaring Sword as well?” Danqing Shen’s aged face looked mournful, but recovered soon after, giving Zhuo Fan a weird look.
Zhuo Fan shook his head, “It’s just happened. My goal and theirs differ. I’m not interested in the Soaring Sword, ha-ha. Shangguan clan’s fate is of no concern to me either.”
“It’s good you’re not tied with them, because the Shangguan clan is now stuck.”
Danqing Shen looked at the blazing sky, where the Pill King Convention’s final round was being held, “Shangguan Feiyun and Baili Jingwei are working together, leaving no room for the Shangguan clan to escape this quagmire. Birds of a feather flock together. Drifting about, it’s hard to find a familiar face. I’ve been coming to enjoy your friendship, Zhuo Fan, and I’d hate for anything to happen to you.”
Zhuo Fan stared at his honest look and nodded, “I’ll be alright.”
“Then I’m relieved.”
Danqing Shen patted his shoulder, “I came here to confirm whether you were in danger or not. But seeing you so confident shows me it’s nothing. Just like back in Double Dragon Gathering, practicing what you preach, with everything in the palm of your hand. But there will always be incidents and when the time comes and you’re in real danger. I’ll do all I can to help you. “
Zhuo Fan grumbled then whispered in his ear.
Danqing Shen gasped, “That… can save you?”
Zhuo Fan’s eyes flashed, his smile oozing confidence, “Though it’ll hardly happen, ha-ha-ha…”
Meanwhile, in the clearing behind the manor, as the last towering flame was snuffed out, the candidates had finished their pill making. The guards went first and placed the pills in two piles.
Only this time, one was made up of top and perfect pills, shiny and smooth, evident of the alchemists’ broad experience; thirty-two pills in total.
While the other had average and low pills, with feeble aura, and looking crude. Any untrained eye would call them amateur work, if not duds.
And this pile came from only five people.
With a wide grin, Baili Jingwei pointed at the five pills, “Cast them out!”
Four sighed and lamented their luck. While only one relaxed, Shangguan Yulin.
[Cast out means I get to walk.]
There was no need for guards to lend a helping hand as the five left by themselves. The remaining candidates watched on with glee at their misfortune.
[He-he, useless! Vermin mixed with true alchemists like us should’ve been removed from the start.]
Baili Jingwei waved and the guards grabbed them before they get too far. Everyone jerked.
“Congratulations, you are the finalists welcomed to the imperial capital. Please wait in the parlor!”
Baili Jingwei clasped his hands and gestured with a smile.
The winners were ecstatic, cheerfully leaving with the guards, but not before giving the five losers one last taunting look.
Baili Jingwei turned to the five with a cold look. Shangguan Feiyun froze.
Taking a casual sip of tea, Baili Jingwei had a vague smile, “People, do you know why I wanted you to stay?”
“Please enlighten us, Prime Minister!” They all shivered.
Baili Jingwei flicked his hand and threw their pills on the ground with disgust, “You can make 8th grade pills so why can’t you even make a top 7th grade?”
The five looked at each other in silence.
“I’ll tell you, it’s because you don’t have the basics of alchemy, to the point you just crammed in over a short period of time!”
Shuddering, Shangguan Yulin was sweating buckets.
Baili Jingwei gave him a creepy smile, “With the Crown Prince’s serious situation, I’d understand if you made a lower grade, since all of it is based on one’s basics. But your skills show you’re posing as top alchemists, wanting to slink in. Getting you to heal the Crown Prince will be the same as harming him. Who’d be responsible? You have lied to me and lied to His Majesty. You deserve death!”
“Prime Minister, spare us, please! We didn’t mean to!” With such a huge crime dumped on their heads, the five lost their reasoning, falling to their knees and pleading.
Shangguan Yulin was scared to death, horror gripping his heart. He was a Shangguan clan spy and getting killed because of this was a serious blow to his illustrious name.
Baili Jingwei grinned, giving Shangguan Feiyun a look.
Shangguan Feiyun took a deep breath and said, “Get up. Even though death should be your only reward, I’m willing to give you a chance. If you can answer one question of mine, I’ll pardon you!”
“Thank you sir, thank you!” The five bowed at once.
Shangguan Feiyun muttered then began, “You might not know but I’ve been hailed as a mighty talent since young. My power was outstanding, getting the attention of great experts from eastern lands. I’ve always been the best among my peers, ultimately rising to become the best in eastern lands!”
The five were baffled.
[Where’s Sword King going with this? Where’s the question?]
Sinking into his memoirs, Shangguan Feiyun had forgotten his audience, “Despite outstanding and matchless, when it came to the Clan Head seat, father was biased towards my elder brother, giving it to him and not me. Saying something like my nature was skewed, detrimental to the clan. Humph, which expert isn’t skewed? From that moment, I left the clan, taking another path, Shangguan clan branch. Yes, my bloodline is the true Shangguan clan, representing its true power. Would you say so? “
The four looked at each other lost. [Is that the question? Ain’t this too easy?] Who didn’t know to smooch another’s rear? They did it all the time.
They bobbed their heads, “Yes, yes…”
“It’s good you realize it.”
Shangguan Feiyun said, “Then let me ask you this. When the yearly memorial of our ancestors is held, how many incense are lit and how long will the washing last?”
They five were stumped.
[How the hell are we supposed to know about Shangguan clan’s tradition? I bet not even the eastern lands know! That’s your affair, not outsiders’.]
[Is this a trick question, or what?]
Clueless as a newborn chick that this pardon wasn’t for them, but for Shangguan clansmen. The question was given to avoid rash action and ruin everything for the spy.
Also, the memorial of ancestors was a big thing in any clan. Shangguan Feiyun asked it so it fit his story and to make Shangguan clansmen easier to switch sides.
When a man was asked to betray, he was asked to forsake the clan, forsake one’s ancestors. But by admitting it here and now that you were a spy, you wouldn’t be a traitor, just siding with another branch.
Shangguan Feiyun was a bigshot of the Shangguan clan in the end. Who was to say which branch was the true one and which one the fake?
By using this cryptic logic, with life and death hanging by a thread, it was the easiest to break the enemy’s will. It was also a mind game cooked up by Baili Jingwei, so the enemy had no way of noticing it.
Sipping tea still, Baili Jingwei’s eyes glittered as he watched the five, especially the shaken up Shangguan Yulin…