No Pollution, No Public Harm Chapter 81-90

Chapter 81

"Girl, I made some corn and pumpkin congee, do you want some?" Zhang Meizhen bustled around the kitchen, then poked her head out to ask Gan Qing. She saw that Gan Qing was sitting by the side of her bed, her face expressionless, an opened envelope on her knees. She looked like she wanted to pour a glass of water but when her hand was extended halfway, she suddenly seemed to not want it anymore and drew her hand back into her sleeve. Zhang Meizhen asked curiously, "What is it? Who sent it to you?"

"Boss Meng." Gan Qing's eyes shifted around, like a statue that had just come to life. She casually put the letter away and stood up and stretched her body. After lying down for a day, her joints creaked and popped. "Meizhen-jie, you were saying?"

"I was asking you if you want some corn and pumpkin congee…"

"Sure," Gan Qing readily agreed. "Add some milk and I can eat the entire pot."

Zhang Meizhen was still a little doubtful. "Tianyi? He's just a couple of streets away. If he shouts, we can hear him. Why did he post whatever that is to you for no good reason?"

"It wasn't sent from his place." Gan Qing rummaged through the pile of medicine Yu Lanchuan had bought for her and found a medical face mask. She put it on and said in a muffled voice, "Old Meng secretly took my I.D. and registered me for the gaokao for self-taught students. These are things sent over from the exam center. Ai, Meizhen-jie, just look at how mischievous this precious nephew of yours is. If you have the time, can't you do something about him?"

Zhang Meizhen couldn't help but feel that this little lady was secretly taking advantage of Meng Tianyi. "What did he register you for this time?"

"Still accounting and finance." Gan Qing had her back to her. She pulled on an outer garment. "I don't know if he has a wrong understanding of accounting and finance, or a wrong understanding of me—let me teach you how to make it tasty, don't add water to pumpkin—when I was in senior high, in the maths paper for liberal arts students, my best record was answering up to the second question from the back, and I only managed that once."

"Oh, that's much better than Tianyi." Zhang Meizhen followed her guidance to deal with the pumpkin. "In his first year of primary school, Tianyi scored thirty-two marks in his maths test. From then on, he had always worshipped people who dealt with numbers. Even the counting dogs in circuses were among the list of candidates for the position of his idol."

Gan Qing was clearing her throat and choked on a breath, coughing until she felt like dying. "Such… cough… extraordinary talent."

Even the wonderkid from downstairs, Han Zhou, had supposedly reached Year 3 before he started failing.

"He did start a little young." Zhang Meizhen sighed, her face full of regret. "That kid Tianyi had always been precocious."

The two of them fell silent for a couple of seconds, then laughed in unison.

Zhang Meizhen asked suddenly, "What… did you originally wanted to study?"

If what you had gotten was not "Paper B," if you were the daughter of an ordinary family, if your growing up years had been ordinary, if you had sat for the university entrance exams, if you had graduated and started working…

Gan Qing leaned against the kitchen door. More than half her face was hidden by the mask, revealing no clues.

"I've never thought about it properly." After a while, Gan Qing finally opened her mouth to speak. "I probably belong to the type who comes out of the exams and sees a dark future, then draws lots to choose which universities to try when it's time to apply. I remember that my English was still okay, my maths was pulling me down and the other subjects were just average. I probably would apply for a language-related field of study."

People who studied language-related fields, what did they do after graduating?

She had never had the time to learn about that.

Becoming a translator or an editor, or working for some multinational company or international liaison division to deal with international partners… or perhaps doing something completely unrelated. Becoming like those weary-faced little white collar workers working from nine to five, not really daring to think of buying a house and a car, her only hobbies outside of work being going home and cooking. Hastily changing channels the moment she noticed the television broadcasting a foreign-language program to save the trouble of Wei Xiao asking her again, "Can you understand that? Come, translate for me without looking at the subtitles."

After graduating and starting work, if there was someone who wasn't her colleague pursuing her, she would definitely be very happy. It could satisfy her vanity and was also the best recipe for an ordinary life that followed the normal convention. Even if her boyfriend was busy with work and couldn't go on dates with her, it would be fine. She was a homebody anyway. But that old man Wei Xiao probably wouldn't be happy. Ever since that man got old, even though he wasn't competitive, there was a bit of a rigid obstinacy in his bones. He might not be happy with her finding a young man whose income was a lot higher than hers because he knew that she was lazy and capable of doing nothing but eating and waiting for death, and would probably not make anything of herself in her entire life. He would be afraid that as time went by, the other person would dislike her.

As Gan Qing thought on, she suddenly smiled.

Zhang Meizhen glanced at her.

"Nothing." Gan Qing waved. "I just suddenly had a thought that even if I get accepted to a university, I probably won't be earning much more than I do now… By the way, Meizhen-jie, how's Old Sect Leader Yang?"

Zhang Meizhen paused. "I don't know. He's still in the ICU. Family visiting hours are limited. We have to wait for his doctor to give us concrete information on his condition."

"Those whose emergency treatment takes a long time mostly turn out alright in the end," Gan Qing comforted her with this very unscientific statement. "If..."

"We've been neighbours for so many years now. Of course, I'm hoping for the best for him," Zhang Meizhen cut her off. "If what? Back then, if the two of us had gotten together regardless of everything, we might be sick of each other by now and might not get along as well as we do now as neighbours. When I think about it calmly, I realise that Yang Qing and I were not people of the same path in the first place."

Sect Leader Yang was old-fashioned and introverted. His reputation and his principles were more important to him than anything else and he could not let others find fault with anything he did.

Zhang Meizhen was the exact opposite. Her actions departed from convention, she was wilful and headstrong, and she did everything as her heart pleased.

Even if Old Yang gave up Beggars' Sect for Zhang Meizhen back then or if Zhang Meizhen gave up her dignity entirely and completely betrayed Travellers' Sect, and the two of them had gotten together, they would have not a small amount of fights and disputes in the later decades, and might not necessarily have been happy.

That was indeed true. Love between a man and a woman could not solve all problems, no matter how earnest they were.

"When a person lines up, they would always feel that the other line is faster. When a person remembers the past, they would always feel that if they had picked a different path at certain points, their fortunes would be reversed. That's how people are. In actual fact, we're just consoling ourselves. No matter what you chose, you are still you. How much better could you be than the way you are now?" Zhang Meizhen said in a very carefree tone. "Look, you said so yourself. Even if you followed the flow and went to university, you might not be better off than you are now."

Gan Qing's gaze fell on the pot where the corn and pumpkin congee was bubbling slowly over the low heat. Weighed down by the extra eyelid folds that her cold gave her, her gaze was a little dim.

A warm and sweet smell rose in the air, spreading through the tiny kitchen. The sound of people's voices came from the corridor on the other side of the window on the north side. Those who had gone to work or to school were coming home.

It was a long time before Gan Qing came back to herself. She said, her voice a little hoarse, "The corn is going to be overcooked, Meizhen-jie, you can turn off-"

"But I still regret it."

Gan Qing raised her head in astonishment and looked at Zhang Meizhen's side profile that appeared aged and calm. This carefree old madam faced the wall and murmured, "No matter what my rational mind says, no matter what my experience says, I still regret it." 

Every single thing that slipped out of one's hands by mistake because they had not been treasured, because they had not been desperately held on to with all one's might, they would all become distant dreams that remained out of reach for one's entire life. They were like a blackhole, devouring everything yet would never be full.

Even if things changed with the passage of time and one had obtained what they could only dream of having back in the past.

"But you're not the same." Zhang Meizhen indicated that Gan Qing should help herself to the congee, then walked to the balcony to smoke. As she brushed past Gan Qing, she crooked a finger and flicked it against Gan Qing's jaw. "Back then, I was totally alienated by everyone, no one wanted anything good for me. You have much better relations with people than I do, both the living and dead all want you to have a good life. All of them have their necks stretched out eagerly and would love to live the good life on your behalf. Go and make the best of it."

Yang Yifan went from the hospital straight to the police station. Captain Miao, who had a cold face all year round, was already waiting for her.

After the police got Wang Jiake back by sheer luck, they followed her description to launch a surprise attack that very night itself on the little guest house where she had been locked up.

Travellers' Sect could escape today but not forever. There was not enough time to tear down the building and escape at the last minute. That illegal business could not hold up to inspection at all. Once the police checked, they found that the original certification had been revoked long ago and not only was it operating without a license now, it was even sheltering quite a number of vice offenders. The business owner, the employees and the driver who assaulted Wang Jiake were all arrested. Wang Jiusheng intentionally did not let them escape—the more difficult the matter was to unravel, the deeper the police would investigate and the greater the scope of involvement would grow. It would be better to let a few hoodlums shoulder the blame. They would only be jailed for a few years anyway and their families would be "taken care of" by Travellers' Sect.

After those few people were taken away, they spilled the beans on Beggars' Sect Big Horse Monkey, Xiao-Zhai and the rest of that group. They had no other choice—Wang Jiake would definitely have told the police about there being a group who looked like vagrants trying to kidnap her at that time.

Both the righteous and the demonic groups gathered at the police station, both in silent agreement not to drag in their sects. And thus, they all cooked up a load of bullshit.

"Sit." Captain Miao studied Yang Yifan. She had been staying in the hospital for the past few days and did not have the energy to spare for her makeup and her outfit. Her face was colourless, no longer looking as refined but also no longer as forceful as before. She looked rather more pleasing to the eye now and so, for once, Captain Miao said something courteous, "I heard that the old man was hospitalised. How is he now?"

"I don't know," Yang Yifan said, her face full of weariness. "If you have any questions to ask, please hurry up. The hospital might call me back at any time to sign notices of critical illness."

"Wang Jiake testified that after the banquet on that day, you were not among the people suspected of breaking the law." Captain Miao became serious. "As for the other opinions online, regardless of whether they were taken out of context or whether they are true, it is not under the jurisdiction of the police. The suspicion on you should be cleared now."

Yang Yifan raised an eyebrow, as though she was asking, "Then why did you ask me to come here?"

Captain Miao said, "There are a few things that we require your cooperation to investigate. It is regarding Wang Jiake's kidnapping. Firstly, Wu Guosheng, male, forty-six years old. He claimed that he has a boss backing him up who can help Wang Jiake repay her high-interest loan, and used this to lure and kidnap her. In actual fact, he is an unlicensed cab driver. He is the main suspect in this case. Do you know this person?"

Yang Yifan said, "Never heard of him."

Captain Miao nodded. Wu Guosheng—the unlicensed cab driver who kidnapped Wang Jiake—had said the same thing.

He said that he knew some local hoodlums who helped people provide loans and harass debtors for repayments, and had his eye on Wang Jiake since she was naive and sweet. At the start, he only wanted to scam her to satisfy his lust but unexpectedly, he made a surprising discovery in her phone. He picked some of the more sensational ones to show a friend, intending to just make it something to chat about. He didn't think that someone would put it online and that it even started a huge round of heated discourse. Hence, this baddie had some evil thoughts. Using tricks and deceptions, he hid Wang Jiake, planning to use her phone to blackmail those rich people.

Yang Yifan was one of the unfortunate scapegoats he picked.

"Then, this person called Zhai Da'an, do you know him?"

Yang Yifan spread her hands. "Where did he sprout from?"

"Then, what about Yang Ping? You should be familiar with this name, right?"

Yang Yifan's mouth swiftly tensed. "What did you say?"

Captain Miao watched her. "I've investigated your details. After senior high, the emergency contact and family member listed in your records was only Mr. Yang Qing, your grandfather. Your mother has already passed away and your parents did not divorce. All these years, your father, Yang Ping, was essentially missing the whole time but your family has never made a police report. Can you tell us the reason? How is your relationship with him?"

The police had located Zhai Da'an, also known as Beggars' Sect's Xiao-Zhai. Male, thirty-nine years old, the lobby manager of a hotel. He declared himself to be fond of making friends and usually hung out with people who were of the more sketchy type. After she was kidnapped, Wang Jiake tried to escape. Zhai Da'an instructed a few people to grab her in the process but was unsuccessful and even clashed with the original kidnappers.

The Travellers' Sect people wanted to drag Beggars' Sect into the water and insisted that Xiao-Zhai and the others were in the same group as them, and that they had only splitted due to uneven profit distribution.

Beggars' Sect of course refused to acknowledge that. Their explanation was also very comprehensive. Xiao-Zhai said that he was a friend of Yang Ping's. Yang Ping had left his family after falling out with them. Even though he had not gone back for many years, in his heart, he still thought of his family. Yang Yifan was his only daughter. When he heard that his daughter was implicated in this terrible matter, the old father went everywhere in a panic to look for help. Out of loyalty to their friend, they used all sorts of connections to find Wang Jiake. They wanted her to come forward to explain things and clear the negative effects of public opinion. In the end, they accidentally found out that the girl had been kidnapped by that gang of unlicensed cab drivers and illegal guest house operators. And so, they made a plan to rescue her. Those baddies were ashamed and angered, and were throwing all the blame to others. Everything they "confessed" was a deliberate revenge and could not be trusted.

Each side was spinning their own story. It was basically a scene out of Rashomon.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the critical person in the matter, Yang Ping, was currently unknown. They had no choice but to summon Yang Yifan there to ask her.

"What did they say? Yang Ping was concerned about me?" The corners of Yang Yifan's mouth turned up in a strange smile. "I thought I was experienced in the ways of the world. I never would have thought that when it comes to being shameless, my imagination is still limited. What a joke."

Her peculiar tone was very striking. Captain Miao's brows furrowed lightly.

"Do you know how much money I spent and how many rounds of aesthetic treatment I did to make this scar fade until the way it is now? Here, there's still a mark now. Captain Meow, do you know how I got this scar?" Yang Yifan reached out and pushed back the long hair on her left temple, revealing a very faint scar on her left cheekbone. "Yang Ping went out and got into a fight with others. He lost and was taught a lesson by the other side. When I was young, I wrote about this matter in my diary. He saw it… he gave me this cut using an iron rod meant for shifting coals in the brazier."

For a moment, Captain Miao could not say anything.

"A young girl, ten years old." Yang Yifan curled her hair around her finger, then swiftly let it go. "When I was sent to the hospital for treatment, the three cuts on my face had to be stitched up, eighteen stitches in total. Half my face was covered in scars, such an thrilling scene."

Chapter 82

"If it happened now, it would probably be considered child abuse." Yang Yifan shrugged. "But no one would make a police report for me anyway. Even if someone did, you guys wouldn't bother."

Captain Miao said seriously, "If the suspect had indeed engaged in acts of child abuse, we will definitely handle it."

"Whatever." Yang Yifan let out a half-mocking scoff. "You sure know how to talk big. Once a child is born, they are a beast of burden the parents are raising. All their rights lie in the hands of those two people. Since it's something that belongs to them, of course either one of them can do whatever they want, unless the other person who also has the rights has something to say about it. The other person who has rights over me—my mum—only cries or thinks that the family's dirty linens should not be displayed in public, and takes the initiative to conceal the matter. How would outsiders like you handle it, what would you use to handle it, Captain Meow?"

"My surname is not Meow." Captain Miao finally heard clearly what she was calling him and his eye twitched. "Ms. Yang, surely you do not have a lisp?"

Yang Yifan narrowed her long, slender eyes and gave him a fake smile.

Captain Miao put on a poker face and gravely turned the conversation back to the topic on hand, "So, what you're saying is that Zhai Da'an and the rest are lying. They have also participated in the kidnapping of Wang Jiake, and that even includes your father, Yang Ping… Why? Your father even wants to blackmail you?"

"I didn't say that… Who knows? Back then, when my grandpa severed his paternal ties with Yang Ping, I don't know if that matter was ever officially notarised. If it wasn't, who knows, he might be back to seize his inheritance." Having said so far, Yang Yifan lowered her head and let out a laugh, as though to herself. "But, speaking of that, did this bunch of people readily admit to blackmailing and extortion? They really are cooperating with our police comrades."

Captain Miao felt that she was insinuating something. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing. I just feel that it's an injustice," Yang Yifan said. "I'm so poor that all I have is money. The thing I fear the least is being blackmailed and extorted. You want money? No problem! The problem is, no one has ever demanded money from me. They didn't even notify me and just directly put the video online to create a fuss. Ai, I'm going bald from this. Captain Meow, why don't you ask those other people who were just as unlucky as me and see if any of them had received any blackmail or extortion calls?"

Captain Miao's brows slowly drew together.

Regardless of whether it was Travellers' Sect or Beggars' Sect, no matter how much of a dogfight their quarrels were in private, they had a silent mutual understanding not to bring up the name of their sects in front of government officials. This was because in the late eighties in the last century, there had once been a strict crackdown on "black triads." Ever since then, regardless of whether they were righteous sects or demonic sects, they all learned to conceal themselves and live like normal people. If they went a little overboard, they wouldn't be able to explain the nature of their activities and might be slapped with a lawsuit. Hence, both sides worked very hard together to turn the matter from something major to something minor, wanting to turn the fight between two sects into an issue of "personal conduct." On the question of "blackmail and extortion," they were united.

"I feel that you are hinting something to me." Captain Miao involuntarily sat up straighter. "Hold on, I heard that on the day that your grandfather was hospitalised and received emergency treatment, there was a group brawl in your neighbourhood. Due to the fact that it did not result in any serious repercussions and both sides laid down arms, our colleagues at the police station only gave them an educational lecture. There's more to this matter, isn't there?"

"I said just now, my grandpa will leave behind an inheritance in the future," Yang Yifan replied. "Captain Meow, what I am referring to is not that lousy apartment that's pushing thirty."

Captain Miao couldn't be bothered to correct the way she called him. He immediately asked, "Then what is it?"

"That day, I accompanied Grandpa to the hospital and wasn't at home. These people wanted to barge directly into my house to look for something. They were stopped by my busybody neighbours." Yang Yifan lifted her eyelids that had fallen down due to exhaustion. There was a light in her eyes, bright enough to burn. She spoke slowly, pausing between each word. "They were looking for a jade-green bamboo stick."

She finally said those words.

Yang Yifan was born in Yanning in the early eighties. She had basically grown up in the "civil society."

When she was old enough to remember things, the various sects had, after a momentary period of reunification and glory, started to go underground once more. Yang Yifan had never had a sense of belonging to Beggars' Sect. She only remembered that when she was very young, some peculiar uncles frequently visited her home to look for her dad for drinks.

Once they drank, they were very noisy. They would not be done before three to five hours were up. They stank up the whole place and when they were drunk, they passed out everywhere. The floor would be covered with limbs sticking out at every angle, making their home look like a mass grave.

Yang Yifan hated them, not only because they were very annoying but also because every time that happened, her mother would secretly hug her and cry and natter endlessly that they were running out of money for food, that even the two yuan for Fan-Fan's kindergarten had to be paid by Grandpa, when on earth would the man of the house make something of himself? The two of them, mother and daughter, had such a painful, suffering life.

Before the child could understand what money was, the fear of poverty was already branded into her bones.

At that time, to Yang Yifan who had yet to reach schooling age, "Beggars' Sect" was a group of locusts that ate their family to poverty.

Later on, both of Yang Ping's arms were destroyed by Wei Xiao and those people stopped coming. Yang Ping, who had never been home before that, started to stay home from dawn to dusk. From an indifferent and irresponsible father, he became a gloomy and peculiar father. Sometimes, he drank on his own to drown his sorrows and talked nonsense when he was drunk, cursing the Beggars' Sect people for sucking up to those with power.

At that time, to Yang Yifan, "Beggars' Sect" was like a gambling game that her profligate gremlin dad was obsessed with.

Even later on, she was taken away by her grandpa and started living at No. 110. She finally gained a complete understanding of Beggars' Sect.

When she saw it clearly, she hated it even more. This was because there was not a small number of members in it that were evidently sound of mind and body but were just doing nothing. They proudly proclaimed themselves to be preserving the traditions of Beggars' Sect's "dirty clothing section" and did not feel the least bit ashamed to go around begging. If they lacked anything, they would boldly and confidently ask other people to give them material assistance. From day to night, the phrase "we're all brothers from the same family" was never far from their lips. They idled about and had no proper work to do. Every few days, they would get into some ridiculous conflict or cause some bullshit trouble and come to look for the Old Sect Leader to intervene.

Furthermore, these hoodlums and ruffians who did not do any honest work did not feel the least bit ashamed. They had always considered themselves to be from a "reputable and righteous" sect and were bursting at the seams with their sense of superiority.

The demonic sects were always more flexible than the righteous ones. Travellers' Sect produced a Wang Jiusheng and very boldly and decisively washed themselves clean of their dirty past. In a flash, they transformed themselves into "proper and serious" businessmen. The disciples in the sect showed their various remarkable abilities and used dishonest means to help the company make profit, and all of them led comfortable lives.

On the other hand, the "reputable and righteous sects" always seemed to be separated from the "winners in life" by a lofty wall. Not to mention that Yang Qing had spent an entire life working but was not good in business. Even if he was, there was no way he could set up a large company and earn money the way Wang Jiusheng did. As a reputable and righteous sect, it was a basic requirement to be "indifferent to fame and fortune." The reason everyone gathered together had to be the righteousness in their hearts. If they relied on business volume, how would that be proper?

Since time immemorial, heroes only pursued "vocation and love" and must remain a respectful distance from "wealth and beauty." Heroes only followed Heaven's law and did not have mortal lust.

In Yang Yifan's eyes, these two groups of people could be summed up as: one group was the genuinely shameless ones whose methods had been passed down through the generations; the other group was hiding their shame with a loincloth, hypocrites whose methods had no boundaries in their messed-up system of values.

But Grandpa Yang Qing was brought up by Beggars' Sect since he was a child and it was also thanks to Beggars' Sect that he made his name when he was young. It had been his spiritual home for his entire life. No matter how much Yang Yifan disliked it, she had no choice but to hold her nose and endure.

Since she could not hold on to this jade-green bamboo staff now, then it was time…

...for someone to flip this weiqi board.

"Let me show you something good." Yang Yifan took out her buzzing phone and waved it before Captain Miao's eyes. Someone was calling her, the caller ID showed "Elder Zhao."

She smiled. She put the call on speaker and turned on the recording function, then accepted the call. "Hello?"

"Xiao-Yang, it's me, Grandpa Zhao," Elder Zhao spoke without the least inkling of what she was doing. He first briefly asked about Sect Leader Yang's condition but very quickly, he could not restrain himself. His tone changed and he said, "Even though you are Sect Leader Yang's biological granddaughter, thinking about it, you did not formally enter Beggars' Sect, did you? You have never handled the sect's internal affairs and had never practised using the Dog Beating Staff. I see that the way you conduct yourself and your affairs also does not conform with our sect's traditions… It isn't appropriate for the Dog Beating Staff to be kept with you, is it?"

Yang Yifan looked at Captain Miao who was scribbling furiously and said to Elder Zhao, "What do you mean by this? My grandpa isn't dead yet."

"Let us talk nicely, don't lose your temper. Old Sect Leader is already advanced in age. His health will definitely be weaker than before after this round of hospitalisation," Elder Zhao said. "Actually, all these years, Old Sect Leader-"

"Has blocked off your road to fortune more than a few times," Yang Yifan interrupted.

"Hey, you…"

"Grandpa Zhao, Elder Zhao, I would like to ask, what are the traditions of your Beggars' Sect? You allow the disciples under you to engage frequently in shady businesses like stalking and getting evidence of love affairs, and even help the paparazzi take pictures and sell them for money. Are those the traditions of Beggars' Sect? How much of the money your disciples earned is to demonstrate their filial piety to you?"

"Who started those rumours? Utter nonsense!"

"At the start of the year, a hotel opened for business in the outskirts of the city. A group of your disciples were hired by their competitor and went over to create a disturbance. They ruined the hotel's opening ceremony and even got the police involved. That happened, didn't it?" Yang Yifan said. "Even if you have forgotten it, there is still a record of it in the police station over there."

Captain Miao felt that his own two ears were no longer sufficient and wanted nothing more than to grow another pair on top of his head.

Yang Yifan said, "But I heard that when these disciples were freed after the incident, surprisingly, not a single one of them were punished. It was all as per your special instructions."

"Those weren't my disciples!" Elder Zhao immediately refuted. Then, his tone gentled. "I just feel that everyone has their own difficulties and I was just helping to speak out for them. Xiao-Yang, not everyone has a chance to attend university like you and become a boss. Among our brothers in the sect, the majority are still people whose lives are difficult. If we can help, then we should help. If you can't help… you should at least be considerate!"

Yang Yifan scoffed. "Isn't that so? Money is hard to earn, shit is hard to eat."

"What are you saying?" Elder Zhao continued to say, "Compared to Travellers' Sect, are we Beggars' Sect not as united as them or is our name not as popular as theirs? Is there any reason why Travellers' Sect can not care at all about the swindling and tricking they've done all these years and prosper while we squander away the time we have and have no accomplishments at all? Our ancestors once had assets. It's just that at the start of the country's liberation, we handed them all to the country! Yifan, the Old Sect Leader is old now and his thinking is still old-fashioned. In consideration of his health, we shouldn't be bothering him so much with these trifling matters. Help your Grandpa Zhao pass the message—he can rest assured if the Dog Beating Staff is handed over to me. I'm not impulsive like Old Tian and I also won't ignore important matters like the other two. I guarantee-"

Yang Yifan cut him off, "I can't pass the message. Please pass it to him yourself via telepathy."

"You-"

Without waiting for Elder Zhao to finish speaking, Yang Yifan hung up right then. Her phone spun between her fingers. She raised her head to look at Captain Miao. "Heard that? Captain Meow, the waters are deep. They would rather admit to kidnapping and blackmail than to tell the truth to the police. Shouldn't you people investigate properly?"

"I'll say it once more. My. Surname. Is. Miao." Captain Miao stood up and turned to instruct his colleague. "Call a meeting and prepare to interrogate the suspects separately! Yanning is not a place for this!"

The surging wave was finally crashing on the shore. Everything hidden in the sand grains would soon have nowhere to hide and would be exposed to the light of day.

Yu Lanchuan's charging phone buzzed, vibrating until it fell off the desk itself. His eyes not leaving his computer screen, he reached out to catch it as deftly as though there were eyes on his ears. On the other side of the desk, Liu Zhongqi looked on so enviously that light was shining from his eyes. "Ge, can you-"

"No," Yu Lanchuan cut him off. "Someone's knocking on the door, go open it… Hello? Old Fish, what's the matter now?"

"The wind is blowing in the wrong direction, Master Lan!" Yu Yan lowered his voice in the call. "The higher-ups suddenly want to investigate the illegal societies in Yanning!"

Yu Lanchuan asked, "Is there yet another qigong master selling eggs in bulk and causing mischief?"

"It's not a qigong master! The news I heard mentioned Beggars' Sect and Travellers' Sect! Their names are specifically stated. My rank is not high enough, I'm still not sure what the exact situation is. When we arrested the qigong master the last time, that pack of Travellers' Sect ruffians attacked the police. We interrogated them three times and they would rather plead guilty than admit that they had an organisation backing them up. I know the truth in my heart but I was afraid of causing trouble for Old Master Yang and Meizhen-jie, so I didn't dare say anything… Listen to me. Don't poke your head into this and definitely don't meddle…"

Yu Lanchuan brows drew together swiftly.

Right then, he heard his younger brother who was opening the door say, "Are you looking for my brother?"

A familiar voice said, "Yes, please excuse me."

Yu Lanchuan nearly lost his grip on his phone. His attention that had been on Yu Yan was drawn away by this voice. He brushed Yu Yan off absent-mindedly and just barely managed to maintain his seated upright and frowning posture, his expression so severe he looked like he was handling matters for the United Nations.

When Gan Qing came in wearing a face mask, he gave her a proper and serious nod and said something completely unrelated to the matter at hand. "Okay, got it. If there's anything you need me to help with, just let me know…"

Yu Yan wailed, "What help, dage! Was everything I said just now a waste of my saliva? Please may I trouble you to withdraw your claws, stay low and stay alive, Alliance Leader! You fought with Beggars' Sect that night. Captain Miao's people will definitely ask you some questions. Remember, you don't know anything… Ai, you really don't know anything in the first place anyway."

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

Gan Qing heard every single word and quickly hid her laugh behind a cough.

Yu Lanchuan hung up on Yu Yan, his face impassive.

"What are you laughing at? You… What is this?"

Gan Qing put a paper packet on the desk. "English mock exam for self-taught students. I'm here to ask you for pointers on some questions."

Liu Zhongqi was peeking in from the door and once he heard the word "English," his brain started to curdle. He turned and slipped into his own room, not daring to eavesdrop anymore.

He thought he was being quiet but the two people in the room had already heard him. When the gremlin kid had gone away, Yu Lanchuan finally opened the packet. "Isn't the self-taught English exam free marks for you?"

"Not free," Gan Qing said almost inaudibly. "It's asking for my life."

A stack of photographs fell out of the package, together with a printed list. It was a list of names and addresses.

"This is…"

"Eight years ago," Gan Qing said. "Mudpool Backlane…"

Yu Lanchuan was at first baffled. Then, he abruptly realised something and looked up in disbelief.

"...Wei Changsheng's house."

Gan Qing sat under the desk lamp. The lamplight shone on her eyes above her mask, putting a soft halo on them.

"Little Master Yu," she asked. "That day at the cemetery, you said that you can help me investigate the cause of Wei Xiao's death. Do you still mean it?"

Yang Yifan stayed at the police station until very late before Captain Miao sent her out himself. She suddenly thought of something. "Coco… The girl called Wang Jiake, she shouldn't be an offender, right? Is she still here? Can you arrange for me to meet her? I have a couple of things to say to her."

Wang Jiake happened to be there. Originally, she had been taken home by her parents but another special investigation team asked her to come back to assist them with investigating scam loans.

Yang Yifan met her in a small waiting room. The last time, the two of them had met amidst dazzling luxury; one person soaring on the wings of success and speaking without fear, the other swept along by the glamour and at a complete loss.

This time, they were united in being shrouded in misery.

When Wang Jiake saw her, her gaze flickered away awkwardly. But after she avoided looking at Yang Yifan, she couldn't help stealing glances at her. She prepared herself to receive a dressing down the very next minute.

"Coco, right?" Yang Yifan came to a stop two steps away from her. "I'm not here to get even with you."

Wang Jiake said cautiously, "Please have a seat…"

"No thanks. I only have a couple of things to say, I'll leave right after."

Wang Jiake rubbed the corner of her clothes between her fingers nervously.

Yang Yifan looked at the girl and remembered herself from ten years ago. Young, nothing to her name, a pair of curious and greedy eyes on her face. The way she had desired everything was truly the pinnacle of naivete.

"You will slowly realise that no matter how hard you work, you still can't live the life you want. Nothing goes your way and you still have a pile of troubles by your side that you can't resolve. You won't succeed in your entire life and you'll never become the person you want to be in your entire life."

Wang Jiake was stunned. Yang Yifan was mocking her to her face!

But thinking about it carefully, did she need other people to mock her? This was reality. She could not refute those words.

All of a sudden, sorrow welled up from within her and tears started forming in her eyes.

"...Those who are weak will pretend that they are not at all sorrowful and switch to pursue ever cheaper happiness, losing themselves in gluttony, in materialistic desires… all those things from which they can obtain a momentary satisfaction," Yang Yifan said softly. "Because they feel guilty, they even have to shout out loud and put themselves on parade, encouraging others to follow suit, desperately putting on a show of being bold and confident that their way is the right one."

Through her tears, Wang Jiake looked at her, a little unable to react.

"I am that weak person," Yang Yifan said. "I'm sorry. I lied to all of you."

Chapter 83

For a moment, Yu Lanchuan basically stopped breathing.

The corners of Gan Qing's curved eyes dropped low, her gaze falling onto the elegant grains of the wooden desk. In her heart, she understood that the person who sent this thing to her did not have good intentions. When she exposed herself in front of Travellers' Sect and Beggars' Sect and revealed Wan Mu Chun's knife, she was already prepared for other people's bad intentions. She could even guess who was the one who sent her this thing. 

But yet… in the end, her emotions were still stirred.

When she was young, she didn't understand why her sect had the "single disciple" rule. She also didn't understand why her shifu had never been gratified no matter how hard she worked and only taught her half-heartedly. At that time, Wei Xiao told her that killing techniques would pollute a person's heart. A person obsessed with this path would become a puppet controlled by the knife. The chuuni Gan Qing had snorted disdainfully and thought that this old man must have memorised that line from some shitty comic book.

It was only later on, after she had experienced a great deal, that she understood that the old man was right.

"Three cun and two fen" was a shortcut that could eliminate all grudges and enmity at the fastest speed. There was no need to hang around and wait for the right time, no need to helplessly wait for the other person to receive the retribution they deserved… It was such a temptation.

The whole night, she had wrapped the cloth strip around her hand, then removed it; removed it, then wrapped it. Just like someone exhausting every bit of their rationality to resist a drug addiction.

"Fifteen years ago," Gan Qing said, "I left you in a landfill, played some tricks and had lots of fun. I led the group of Travellers' Sect people on a wild goose chase for ten kilometers and realised that there wasn't a single person in the group who could fight. So I thought that I was very powerful and was so smug that I forgot myself. I knocked out one Black Bat and wrote some words on his body calling Wang Jiusheng a cowardly tortoise and saying that even this group of losers dared rebel against him."

Yu Lanchuan had heard Han Dongsheng say that the person who saved him back then had martial arts skills that were still superficial and that their actions were a little "over-spirited." It was only now that he found out how "over-spirited" she was.

Gan Qing seemed to be chuckling. "Wang Jiusheng isn't useless."

Of course Wang Jiusheng was not useless. He had never practised the martial arts for children and had probably gone starving as a kid. When he grew up, he was busy going here and there to curry favour. His martial arts skills were probably very sloppy. Furthermore, he was already over sixty years of age and was no longer young or strong. Gan Qing probably wouldn't need more than one strike to kill him.

He had climbed up rung by rung from the very lowest level of society. Like a hunting dog on thin ice, he could keenly detect all sorts of smells in the air and was resolute when it came to the kill. He could always catch the waves of the era, riding ever higher.

Yu Lanchuan said, "If he was useless, we won't need to talk about him now."

Gan Qing rested both elbows on the armrest, leaning back lazily against the back of the wooden chair. She shrugged lightly. "Those people in the photos—other than Yang Ping and that Nine Pouch Elder from Beggars' Sect that I've seen once—I don't know any of them. Little Master Yu, some help please?"

Yu Lanchuan went through them and shook his head. "They didn't come to the Martial Arts General Assembly."

"Then, that means they have retired. A group of people retired from the sect and a person ousted from the sect." Gan Qing's left index finger tapped lightly on the back of her other hand. Her gaze swept across the photo showing Elder Tian's alarmed and vicious face. "A sect elder who doesn't know what's going on and looks like he can't tell his ass from his elbow, yet these few people could actually find their way to Mudpool Backlane. I believe Meizhen-jie's judgement. Wang Jiusheng is definitely behind them."

"So, it is very likely that he sent the photos to you. Other than the culprit behind the scenes, who would keep these things?" Yu Lanchuan pushed his glasses up. This person was only at his most polite when being businesslike. Once his spirits were high, they would soar until he was no longer speaking properly anymore. "It's a good thing that you're not completely dumb and not so impulsive that you immediately started following the addresses to hunt them down."

"Why would I be so impulsive? It's not like I've never been taught a lesson." It was not the first day Gan Qing knew him and she couldn't be bothered to quibble with him. She left out a soft laugh. Having said that, she suddenly paused. "But…"

But what if she hadn't been taught a lesson back then?

If she hadn't lost her temper with Wei Xiao, if she hadn't destroyed the sinews of her right arm in a moment of anger and insisted on turning herself in, the probability of the police catching her was practically nil. Wan Mu Chun were experts and other than the unique wound they left behind as proof to collect payment, there would be no other trace. Then, after getting a sweet taste of success, there would likely be no stopping her from then on.

Only a saint could transcend mortal desires. She was not a saint; she was only a drifter who dropped out of senior high school.

Yu Lanchuan asked, "Hmm?"

"Nothing." Gan Qing shook her head. Her tone changed and she said, "But this is not hard to guess. Won't Wang Jiusheng have considered, what if I don't have that kind of explosive temper and don't do as he wanted? What if, after receiving this, I go directly to him, the main culprit? After all, there's a former North Branch Master who's familiar with Travellers' Sect beside me and one of his running dogs has also shot his mouth off in front of me."

Yu Lanchuan fell silent for a few seconds. "If it was me, other than sending you a copy of the photos, I would also reveal your tracks to the people in the photos. That's the key point—the hunter has the right to make independent decisions but the hunted can only desperately grasp for survival. You may be calm but there's no way these people can be calm after finding out that Wan Mu Chun has a descendant and that the descendant will at any time seek revenge from them. They must be so anxious now that they can barely survive the day. Even if you don't look for them, they will not let you go."

Elder Tian and the rest knew that she lived at No. 110 Courtyard. Gan Qing had also received their addresses. Wang Jiusheng had shone a searchlight over here and exposed both sides to the light.

It was as though both sides had taken out their guns and were aiming them right at the other side's vital points. Everyone had agreed—One, two, three, put down the gun—but after counting to three, no one would really lower their weapon.

"Wang Jiusheng has a large household and a large business. No one can say for sure how much wealth he has. Apparently, he has so many houses that he can sleep in a different spot each night in Yanning. If you want to look for him directly, I'm afraid it would take you some time," Yu Lanchuan said calmly. "You are only one person while Beggars' Sect and Travellers' Sect have numerous informants. It is definitely easier for them to lock on to you than it is for you to lock on to Wang Jiusheng. If you don't get rid of all these people in the photos, it would be as though you are skipping the checkpoints and going straight for the boss fight. Not only can you not get to him, you might even have enemies at both your front and your back."

"So, if I'm an impulsive person, I would jump into his trap right off the bat." Gan Qing let out a bitter laugh. "If I'm not, when I have thought it through, I would realise that I have no choice but to jump into his trap."

No wonder certain other people could thrive and prosper, and have money and power. Meanwhile, she could only hoodwink high school students in a little shady shop.

The old man had been right to keep telling her to study hard. But she had not listened. Hence, after she grew up, she became someone who had achieved nothing other than being able to play tricks with small blades.

Yu Lanchuan looked through all the photos. Then, he carefully studied the addresses sandwiched between the photos. Finally, he locked on to Yang Ping.

He picked out Yang Ping's photo. "Out of all these people, only Yang Ping's address is unclear. Furthermore, out of all these photos, only this one shows bloodstains. I remember you had once said that at that time, Senior Wei Xiao's death was handled as a case of sudden heart failure. In that case, his body must have been very clean. If it was a one-against-many fight, there would definitely be a lot of unintentional marks and it would be much harder to disguise it. Keeping this in mind while studying the other photos, you will notice that everyone else has very strange expressions. They're either confused or shocked, and some are even a little terrified. So, Yang Ping must be the main offender."

"These people have retired. Right now, they are probably either joining public square dances or bringing up their grandkids." Gan Qing reached out and spread out the other photos. Then, she pointed out Tian Zhanpeng. "This person was pushed to the front to be used as a tool by someone, he's completely dumbstruck. Yang Ping's the only one left who's not easy to handle. That day when Beggars' Sect were fighting internally, I followed one of their disciples and overheard some things. Yang Ping is colluding with Travellers' Sect and is the one who started this round of internal conflict in Beggars' Sect. Wang Jiusheng knows that Yang Ping will definitely make a grand appearance before long."

"So, Yang Ping will surely be your first target," Yu Lanchuan said. "Even if you leave No. 110 immediately after getting the news and hide yourself, Wang Jiusheng can foresee your movements. If that is the case, then my guess is that Yang Ping definitely also has these photos while the other people all have one each."

Gan Qing didn't immediately understand. "Hm, why is that?"

"This way, he can continue being an ignorant pawn unaware of the situation and continue being the one standing out from the group. Meanwhile, the other people who have received a photo will naturally come to the conclusion the photo they get is Yang Ping blackmailing them so that they will stand on his side and help him return to Beggars' Sect. If they don't, he will borrow Wan Mu Chun's knife and disturb them until they have no peace in their lives," Yu Lanchuan said. "A weak person will surrender when they are threatened but a group of people… even if they're not particularly strong-willed, they will naturally form a team."

"Makes sense." Gan Qing inclined her head. "And after they form a team?"

"Elder Tian is a Beggars' Sect Nine Pouch Elder. He has disciples under him and he has resources. This person will become the main leader," Yu Lanchuan said. "If it's him, he will first make use of Beggars' Sect that has informants everywhere and hide his companions and their families. He will pretend to break away from the other sect elders and support Yang Ping. The best case would be if he could make Yang Ping stand out and attract attention. Then, he will find a chance to reveal the 'truth' to you—a tooth for a tooth—and let you look for Yang Ping to settle the score. The best would be if neither of you win and both suffer losses instead. They can then be the oriole swooping in from behind. I have interacted with Tian Zhanpeng for a bit. I don't know him well but judging from what he has gone through all these years, I think that this person is not very intelligent and there is also a limit to what he can observe. This is a reasonable guess on his line of thought."

The only thing these people did not foresee was likely the sudden crackdown targeting Beggars' Sect and Traveller's Sect.

Gan Qing, "..."

In the future, she must never ever play mahjong or cards with Yu Lanchuan. Otherwise, before the game was half over, he could use his understanding of the other people's intelligence to guess most of her cards.

Yu Lanchuan pretended not to notice her look of amazement but in his heart, he was so pleased that his metaphorical tail was pointing straight at the ceiling. Yet, he still purposely acted aloof and raised an eyebrow as though he did not understand. "Why, is there a problem?"

Gan Qing looked at him and let out a sudden sigh. "No, I just suddenly feel that life is so difficult."

All at once, Yu Lanchuan's ego bloomed and he felt that he could hold up the sky and support the earth. His desire to protect and his sense of power exploded, and the shamelessly boastful line "This is nothing, if there's anything you can't understand, you can come look for me anytime" was on the verge of coming out of his mouth.

Then, he heard Gan Qing continue to say, "A man of talent like Little Master Yu also has to walk to work every day for the sake of his house loan, and has to wake up early in the morning and crawl back late at night, what more other people… Ai, it's really too difficult."

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

This woman was really too annoying. This would not do, he should switch to someone else.

Chapter 84

The moment Gan Qing saw his face turn cross, she quickly coaxed him. "Of course, it's already very great that you can go to the bank and get a loan. If I went, they would definitely not give me one. Buying a house is something that I don't even dare dream of, the difficulty level is about the same as flying to the sky. Even though things are quite difficult for you now, you can think of it as overcoming the calamity before you can become an immortal and ascend to Heaven. In the mortal realm, it is only almighty lightning rods like you people who have the ability to attract lightning. You're so amazing."

Suddenly put in the same category as lightning rods, Yu Lanchuan gritted out a few words, "...If you're not going to speak properly, get lost and bury yourself in the earth."

"Don't be like that, aren't I asking you for help now?" Because of her cold, Gan Qing's voice when she spoke sounded like the mysterious voice she used as Teacher Meng-Meng, the voice she used every day to call other people "darling." Her words dragged out, lingering, slipping into Yu Lanchuan's ears like countless sand grains rubbing against his ear drums. It made the back of his head tingle.

Without him realising it, Yu Lanchuan's fingers curled in.

Gan Qing continued to ask absent-mindedly, "Then, based on your deductions, should I apply for police protection now?"

There seemed to be a door in Yu Lanchuan's heart that was not closed properly. Following the sound of her voice, a very tiny voice leaked out from behind it: You can apply to me for protection. It even nearly slipped out of his mouth.

Luckily, his reaction speed was fast and he snapped off this line in time. "How much tax do you pay every month? Can you take up so much public resources?"

From behind her face mask, Gan Qing studied him with an inscrutable gaze.

Yu Lanchuan asked, "What are you doing?"

"Looking at Little Master Yu…" Gan Qing paused subtly, "...Such refined features and elegant lines, such a handsome face and a perfect body."

And surprisingly, he could still maintain his bachelor status. It was all due to his incredible skills.

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

He felt that Gan Qing's expression and tone was rather strange. It was a little like she was teasing him and a little like she was cursing him. Basically, the words were rich in implications and didn't sound good.

Gan Qing quickly poured him a glass of water. "Please go on."

"The good news is, the people from Beggars' Sect and Travellers' Sect might not have the time to bother with you now, " Yu Lanchuan said. "You found Wang Jiake and dragged Travellers' Sect and Beggars' Sect into the game. Right now, I don't know who from which side divulged the truth but the police seem to be investigating Beggars' Sect and Travellers' Sect. Both these groups have lots of people and lots of issues. If they don't wipe their asses clean this time, it is very likely that they will be treated as illegal organisations and banned. I think they should have received the news by now."

The phones of the four sect elders of Beggars' Sect were ringing fit to explode. Tian Zhanpeng silenced his overheating phone and rushed into the reserved room they had booked earlier. The warm air inside enveloped him and he broke into a sweat.

Immediately, someone asked, "Old Tian, why are you only here now?"

"I was moving house the past couple of days, lots to take care of… Where's Old Zhao?" Tian Zhanpeng said distractedly, his eyes sweeping around the room. He didn't see Elder Zhao. "Why, he's not here too?"

"Old Zhao was taken away. A lot of our brothers in the 'dirty clothing section' in our branch were also taken away. At the start, we thought that it was the city management cracking down on begging and busking. It was only later on that we found out that it wasn't the city management, it was the police!"

"What happened to Old Zhao? What's the situation now?"

"That's why I said that when you guys went to start a fuss at No. 110 the other day, you shouldn't have alerted the police!"

"We were only at the police station for a short while. Didn't everything turn out fine at that time?"

"It's the same for Xiao-Zhai and the rest. It's been a few days since we last heard from them."

The many jumbled voices in the room made Tian Zhanpeng feel dizzy and his head swollen. He also still had a large pile of rotten troubles behind him and for a moment, his blood pressure spiked.

Right then, someone suddenly said in a small voice, "Today, my shifu gave that you-know-who a call…"

Tian Zhanpeng asked, "What you-know-who?"

"You know… Old Sect Leader's granddaughter."

"Just call her Yang Yifan, what's with that 'you-kn0w-who'... Are you a primary school student who goes to the toilet in a group to secretly badmouth other people?" Tian Zhanpeng said irritably. "And what does Old Zhao mean by doing that? He urged everyone to act together, then privately contact Yang Yifan on his own. Is he trying to get the prize before everyone else?"

"Calm down, don't be impatient, Elder Tian," someone else said. "My follower who's watching the situation at the hospital reported back and said that Yang Yifan went to the public security bureau today… What time did Elder Zhao call her?"

Both sides matched up the times. The room turned silent.

After who knew how long, someone finally said in a small voice, "Her? No matter what, she's still the Old Sect Leader's biological granddaughter… Isn't she afraid of dragging the Old Sect Leader into the matter? Surely she wouldn't go this far?"

Tian Zhanpeng looked up, his eyes dark and sinister. "Looks like the chances of the Old Sect Leader leaving the hospital alive is not high, that's why she's taking such drastic measures. This…"

He cursed unpleasantly in a low voice. At his temples where the hair was already white, veins bulged out.

"Bring her here and we'll ask her," another sect elder said. "Does she plan to destroy the very foundations of our ancestors!"

"Family members should be mindful of the time," the ICU nurse reminded in a soft voice. Yang Yifan made a noise in response to indicate that she had heard the reminder.

The old sect leader was lying among a pile of medical equipment. It made him look thin and small. Probably no one could have imagined that Chuan Lin Feng of the Five Supremes back then would end up as this shriveled bag of bones.

Yang Yifan remembered that he had always been envious of Grandpa Yu Huaide from upstairs. After the old Yu Huaide passed away, Old Sect Leader Yang had said a few times, "How nice would it be to be like my brother. When he wanted to die, he found a place to sit, closed his eyes and died just like that. He came and left with no worries holding him back."

But he had too many worries. Compared to other people, his entire journey from life to death seemed to be like wading through water and mud, with many things towing him back.

When you wake up from your sleep, you will realise that I have destroyed everything you've worked for in your entire life until only shattered pieces are left. From now on, Beggars' Sect might really only exist in wuxia fiction, she thought. Will you blame me?

Family members could not stay in the ICU ward for long. Yang Yifan looked at him deeply, and then was led away by the nurse.

Patients in the ICU ward did not need someone to accompany them. There was nothing Yang Yifan could do at the hospital anyway. She changed out of the protective clothing. She planned to stay for a few days at her office; at No. 110, there were always people from Beggars' Sect poking their heads in.

I have nothing on at night so I'll go over it a bit more, then use the company's public account to post a public statement, Yang Yifan thought as she walked. Near the hospital, the traffic was bad and it was inconvenient for parking. She had parked her car rather far away. To save time, she took a shortcut there.

Suddenly, her back tensed. Before she could think further, she was already dodging to the side. The step she took was a little large, the thin heel of her shoe got stuck in the drain cover, pinning her leg there and making her stumble.

Yang Yifan twisted her head around. She saw an unfamiliar man wearing patched clothes standing behind her.

"Miss Yang," the other person said in a rather impolite tone. "I'm a Four Pouch disciple under Elder Tian. Today, the sect elders have convened and we hope that you will do us the honour of joining us. I am here specially to pick you up."

Yang Yifan tugged at her shoe for a while but the heel of the shoe seemed to have been specially made to fit into the drain cover. It was stuck firmly and snugly, and she could not pull it free. "My apologies. I don't have the time and I'm also not part of Beggars' Sect."

The man wearing the patched clothes had a look like he was facing a dilemma. "The instructions came from higher-ups. If I don't manage to invite you, the sect elders will blame me for not being able to do my work properly."

"Are you people inviting or kidnapping?"

"Of course we are inviting," the man wearing the patched clothes said. "It's just that we can't take no as an answer."

Yang Yifan scoffed. She furtively slipped her hand into her pocket to take her phone. "What if I don't want to go?"

The man said, "Please excuse me."

As he spoke, he reached a hand out to grab Yang Yifan's elbow. Yang Yifan ducked to avoid his hand and at the same time, pulled down the zip on her shoe and leaped out with her foot bare. She smashed her knee against the man's lower body and took the chance when he retreated a step to turn and run. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at her phone screen and frantically dialled the emergency number.

This was the disadvantage of modern smartphones. The screens were flat and one couldn't rely on touch. During an emergency, it was very inconvenient to call the police.

When she was very young, Yang Ping had forced her to practice martial arts. She had suffered not a small number of beatings due to that and it was to the extent that whenever she recalled this matter, her memories were all painful ones. Later on, she refused to dip her toes in this area anymore no matter what. Now that she was over thirty years old, the martial arts for children she had learned was purely for show now and could not be brought out at all for fights and brawls.

The man immediately gave chase. Yang Yifan's legs were not as long as his in the first place and she even had one foot bare and one foot clad in a shoe with an eight-centimeter heel. She ran like she was performing an act and she was breaking out in a cold sweat. Right then, footsteps sounded from ahead. Yang Yifan's eyes brightened. She was just about to shout when she saw that the intersection was blocked by a few vagrants!

Her call connected. Before Yang Yifan could make out the voice coming from the other side, someone twisted her elbow from the back and her phone immediately fell out of her hands. She kicked out and the man wearing patched clothes took the chance to stomp ruthlessly on her knee. It had been a little over twenty years since Yang Yifan last suffered such physical pain and she fell to her knees on the spot.

The man sneered. "Now will you come with us?"

Yan Hao left work early today and came back to help Boss Jiang man the shop. He was bending over and sweeping the ground in front of the shop when his ears suddenly twitched. Like a big-eared bat, he keenly sensed a noise coming from behind him. Yan Hao turned his head around and saw that Qiao-Qiao was standing on the other side of the crossroads. 

Qiao-Qiao hadn't been at work for a few days now. He heard that she had applied for leave. The poor and stingy pet store next door couldn't afford a second employee so the boss had no choice but to put in an appearance himself to welcome the customers. The boss was a bald man in his thirties, nearly 1.9 meters tall, his upper arms bulging with fierce-looking muscles and his lower arms tattooed with a spirited azure dragon. He had scared the wits out of the little animals in the pet store and also the little Yan Hao next door.

The moment Yan Hao saw him, from two meters away his calves would start to cramp. Until now, he did not dare bring the canned pet food to the next door.

Now that Qiao-Qiao was finally back, Yan Hao was both surprised and pleased. He waved madly at her and communicated with her using sign language that he was still not fluent in: I have something of yours!

Right then, a bus drove past the intersection and stopped between the two of them. Yan Hao had no choice but to withdraw his hand. He clutched at his hair awkwardly.

Half a minute later, the bus rumbled away. But when Yan Hao looked again, Qiao-Qiao had disappeared without a trace from the opposite side of the road. Startled, he rushed over to look for her. The air seemed to still carry a trace of the fruity perfume she wore. Yan Hao looked to the right and to the left—he saw a shadow slip around a corner.

Yan Hao's skills were from the lineage of Tang Qian Yan. His qinggong could put Gan Qing at a disadvantage. Qiao-Qiao's footsteps were so light and nimble they didn't seem to be those of an ordinary person and he naturally had noticed that a long time ago. It was just that he had never asked. The two of them were like online friends who happened to be neighbours. Everyday, they communicated with each other using the written word and "human-flesh emoticons." When it came to "real life" matters, if one person didn't volunteer information, it was not convenient for the other person to inquire.

What on earth had she encountered?

Yan Hao hesitated a while, then gave chase.

Qiao-Qiao seemed to be following someone. The girl was really like a reincarnation of a cat demon and was naturally as lithe as a swallow. Yan Hao brought out all his skills but nearly lost her a few times. Finally, Qiao-Qiao came to a stop.

Yan Hao couldn't be very sure where he was now. Keeping one eye on Qiao-Qiao, he dug out his phone to check his location. Right at that moment, out of the corner of his eye, he spied a Beggars' Sect disciple acting sneaky.

The location tracking on his phone succeeded. Yan Hao looked closely—Isn't this near the hospital where Sect Leader Yang is currently staying?

Suspicion rose in his heart. Not far away, he saw Qiao-Qiao slip into a tiny alley like a fish. Without thinking, Yan Hao followed after her and at the same time, he took a precaution—he sent his location to Yu Lanchuan.

Chapter 85

Yu Lanchuan was puzzled. His brows rising to his hairline, he replied to Yan Hao with a question mark.

Gan Qing asked, "Why, are you busy with something else?"

Yu Lanchuan suddenly looked up and asked her, "Do you people think that I look like a human GPS?"

Gan Qing blinked in confusion. This Little Master Yu's confidence in himself was usually off the charts but when it came to his greatest advantage, he instead lacked confidence?

Yu Lanchuan clenched his teeth hard. "Then, why do each and every one of you send me your locations for no reason? What the hell do you guys mean by this?"

On Yan Hao's side, he stopped replying after sending his location. He didn't even have the time to look at Yu Lanchuan's reply.

Qiao-Qiao's shadow slipped around the corner, disappearing in a flash and scaring Yan Hao until he was cold-sweating. He nearly thought he had lost her but fortunately, this lane had not been maintained for many years and the bricks on either side had loosened, revealing the soft earth beneath and keeping traces of the girl's nimble steps. Yan Hao followed the footprints to look for her and realised that there was a small door at the corner of the wall. For some reason, there was a gap in the brick walls between the two courtyards. It was very narrow, perhaps too narrow for even one person to pass through. The little door had probably been added there because they were afraid the space would be difficult to clean.

She must have slipped through the space to get to another street.

As he thought this, Yan Hao leaped up and over the small door, landing lightly on… empty air.

This little gap was unbelievably outrageous. On one side, the wall was slanted, making the gap wide at the top but narrow at the bottom!

In the first place, Yan Hao's frame was quite a bit larger compared to the girl's slender one. On top of that, after years of shrinking his neck and hunching his back in front of the computer, he had ended up with an exceptionally thick upper back. With this leap, he was stuck inside!

Yan Hao's legs dangled in midair. He kicked out a few times but still couldn't reach the ground and was just stuck there, unable to get up or get down. He strained to turn his head around and saw that Qiao-Qiao was at the other end of the little alley, looking at him in astonishment.

Yan Hao kicked his legs like he was swimming freestyle. His face turned red from exertion.

Qiao-Qiao came back to herself. In the cramped space, she signed at him with much difficulty: Are you following me?

Yan Hao wanted to sign in return but he really had no space to use his hands. Left without a choice, he could only endure the suffering and open his mouth, preparing to use spoken language.

Before he could make a sound, Qiao-Qiao immediately made a shushing motion.

The wooden door was not very effective at blocking noise. Yan Hao followed her hand gesture and inclined his head. He heard jumbled voices coming from the other side.

"Watch the entrance of the alley. Don't let anyone come in."

"Yang Yifan, if you hadn't been so merciless in your actions, we wouldn't want to use force either!"

"If Elder Zhao is not let out, this matter won't be over!"

Yang Yifan?

Yan Hao's eyes widened.

Qiao-Qiao crouched down and plastered herself against one side of the wooden door in the small space, peeking out through the cracks.

To save time, Yang Yifan had taken the small lane behind the hospital. The lane was dim in the first place and now, both ends of the lane were blocked by vagrants and beggars. In the northwest wind, a few shabbily-dressed vagrants gathered together, looking like they wanted to pick a quarrel. Even if anyone passed by, they would take a detour when they saw this group.

Qiao-Qiao saw two people wearing patched clothes seizing Yang Yifan, pulling and dragging her with them. She didn't know where they wanted to take her to.

Yang Yifan usually never spared anyone from her sharp words. Now, she knew she was at a disadvantage and adapted very quickly to the situation. She knew that no one would come even if she screamed so she did not waste any strength on that. She only lowered her center of gravity on purpose, making it harder for the other side to pull her and to buy more time. At the same time, she opened her patent leather handbag and let all the small items like her keys and I.D. scatter all over the ground. This way, as long as these beggar scums were just a little careless, they would easily overlook something in this crime scene. If someone came to find her, it would be a clue.

Qiao-Qiao arched her back like a wary cat. Right at that moment, she heard a rustling sound coming from behind her. She spared some attention to look back and saw that Yan Hao had nearly broken his collarbone in his efforts to turn his body just a little. He took a deep breath, sucking in his stomach, and finally landed on the ground. With much effort, he scuttled over to her like a crab and reached a hand towards her in despair—Help, pull me out!

Qiao-Qiao, "..."

She glanced towards the small wooden door, then at the rapidly suffocating Yan Hao. After hesitating a short while, in the end, she chose the side whose life was more "in immediate danger." She squeezed over and grabbed Yan Hao's hand and pulled him towards the outside.

But Yan Hao's radish-shaped body was just too large and the surrounding walls were just too sturdy and rigid. Qiao-Qiao strained hard enough to move mountains but only managed to pull Yan Hao for about five centimeters. She was sweating and had to stop. She shook her head at Yan Hao, then turned her head back around worriedly.

Yan Hao understood her body language. The situation on that side is more urgent. Why don't you stay stuck here for a while?

Yan Hao didn't say anything. His eyes sank and he grabbed her wrist.

He realised just now that even though Qiao-Qiao was light-footed and agile, she didn't have much strength in her arms. Just from the way she pulled at him, Yan Hao felt that even if she knew some martial arts, her training had probably not been very solid. He must not let her go out alone.

Qiao-Qiao stamped her feet and struggled to break free of his hold. Yan Hao tightened his fingers, gripping her harder, and kept shaking his head at her. Yan Hao's ability to come and go without leaving a trace wasn't purely due to his good qinggong skills. Swallows have wings but Tang Qian Yan did not have the advantage of that species and could only rely on the strength in their limbs. Yan Hao could use just the five fingers of one hand to hang outside a tall building. The strength in his hands was no small matter.

Qiao-Qiao felt that his fingers were like a metal pincer. No matter how she pried, she could not pry them open and she was so angered that she made as though to bite him.

Yan Hao twisted his head away and did not look at her, throwing caution to the wind and letting her bite as she wished. His skin was coarse and his flesh thick anyway. His other hand strained to take out his phone and he messaged Yu Lanchuan: Kidnapping, hurry up!

Before he could finish typing, Qiao-Qiao unleashed a powerful move on him—she tickled him.

Yan Hao's hand trembled. The "!" ended up as a "~" and the message was sent out when he was caught off guard. He was fixed in place by the walls on both sides and had nowhere to escape and he also didn't dare make a noise. He was bullied by Qiao-Qiao until his tears were nearly falling.

Yu Lanchuan again replied with a string of question marks. Who's kidnapping whom? How many people? What's the situation? Type properly, why are you acting cute!

Yan Hao, "..."

This was going to end up taking his life!

Cornered in the alley by Beggars' Sect, Yang Yifan saw a grimy car arrive at the intersection out of the corner of her eye. She said in a low voice, "What use is it if you people take me away? Are you going to make me hand over the Dog Beating Staff or make me publish an official apology in the newspapers? Will the police stop investigating just because I say something?"

"That's not for us to handle."

Yang Yifan scoffed. "Beggars' Sect is 'suspected' to be an illegal organisation and right now, you people are insisting on making the suspicion reality. I can also risk my life to accompany you… Let! Go! I will walk on my own!"

With a fierce twist, she broke free of the people holding her. Her face as placid as deep waters, she tugged out the shoe that was stuck in the manhole cover and put it on. Her domineering aura suddenly expanded to a radius of 2.8 meters[1]. Yang Yifan smoothened her disheveled hair. "Let' s go."

Right then, Yan Hao finally could not hold out against the ticklish feeling all over his body anymore. He loosened his grip and Qiao-Qiao slipped away like a fish, dashing over to the other side of the small door.

Yan Hao did not manage to grab her in time. During his fierce struggle, both his outer garment and the sweater he was wearing inside were pushed up by the walls on both sides. In a moment of panic, Yan Hao twisted around wildly and slipped out under his clothes and was left wearing only a tank top. Finally, he could just barely move around but it was too late to catch Qiao-Qiao.

Qiao-Qiao leaped away.

Yan Hao's face was about to crumble. Wait, don't go there!

Right at that moment, a police siren suddenly cut through everyone's tense nerves. Qiao-Qiao already had both legs in the air but her reaction was quick; she propped her legs against both sides, fixing herself into place. The beggars and vagrants watching the intersection were all panicking. The car that they were going to use for the kidnapping drove away.

The police siren pressed nearer and nearer. Right on its heels was the sound of someone shouting. "What's going on!"

The Beggars' Sect disciples could not be bothered with Yang Yifan anymore and scattered in all directions. In the small space, Qiao-Qiao and Yan Hao held their breaths and paid rapt attention. Qiao-Qiao carefully peeked out through the cracks of the wooden door.

She saw a man with thick brows, big eyes and an angry face leading a group of uniformed police officers into the area. Yang Yifan gave him an unruffled smile. "And here I was thinking that the call to the police just now didn't get through. What's this, Detective Meow, do issues of public security also require the criminal police to be dispatched now?"

"My surname is Miao—that's not the point." Captain Miao picked up her phone and passed it over. "You said that these organisations are everywhere so I thought that you might be in danger and got some of our brothers to keep an eye on your surroundings. I didn't think that they would really dare to! They're really a criminal organisation!"

Yang Yifan didn't take the phone.

Captain Miao looked up, "What is it?"

"The granddaughter of the criminal organisation's former boss has a hot potato in her hands," Yang Yifan lowered her head to look at him. "Captain Meow, would you like to take custody of it?"

At No. 110 Courtyard, Yu Lanchuan's cab request had finally been accepted by a driver when he received a message from Yan Hao.

After sending a few puzzling messages asking for help, this ineffectual Spiderman sent another one that said: It's okay now. The police are here.

Yu Lanchuan hadn't even had the time to button up his coat.

After sending the message, Yan Hao felt his nose itching and suspected that the alliance leader was scolding him. "Qiao-"

Her back to him, Qiao-Qiao extended one hand to cut him off. Yan Hao's nerves that had just relaxed tensed up again. A few seconds later, the two of them heard the sound of very light footsteps.

Yang Yifan followed Captain Miao away. The remaining police officers went to search the surroundings for the group of Beggars' Sect disciples. A man dressed immaculately in a western style suit walked over—the sleeve on the hand that was holding a phone had a decorative patch.

"She left with the police… Oh, the Dog Beating Staff is likely going to fall into their hands I'm afraid… I know, Elder Yang. The sacred item is not an issue. Beggars' Sect is in huge trouble this time and it's actually a chance for us… Our brothers have hid themselves well, please don't worry. I'll go over right now."

Yan Hao, who had squeezed his way over with much effort, did not understand a single word. He lowered his head to look at Qiao-Qiao and saw that there was a heavy and dark shadow cast over the girl's face.

Yan Hao patted her on the shoulder. Is there something wrong?

Qiao-Qiao ignored him. The man was walking further away while talking on the phone. Qiao-Qiao pressed lightly against the wooden door. With a clap and a jump, she squeezed out of the small space.

Yan Hao could only follow after her.

The man wearing the western style suit was very cautious. Every time he passed an intersection with a traffic safety mirror, he would stop and look around to guard against people following him. Unfortunately, his hearing and his martial arts skills were probably not very good. Two qinggong experts tailed him and he did not notice them the whole way.

In less than five minutes, Qiao-Qiao and Yan Hao saw the person he was meeting.

That person had salt and pepper hair and walked with a slight limp. He was short and thin. He was squatting by the road side and smoking, his eyes squinting. It was none other than Yang Ping.

Yan Hao didn't know Yang Ping but he could sense Qiao-Qiao's body turning tense. Blood veins appear in her large almond-shaped eyes.

Yan Hao thought a bit, then zoomed his camera in and secretly snapped a photo of Yang Ping. Once again, he sent his location to Yu Lanchuan.

Yu Lanchuan had just come to an agreement with the cab driver to cancel his ride request. The driver was very unhappy that the customer was cancelling the request for no reason and coldly rebuked him, "Please think carefully before you make a request. I'm already halfway there, and it's just a fool's errand!"

Yu Lanchuan knew that he was in the wrong and could only endure even when he was scolded. Who would have thought that after hanging up and before his phone could even cool down, he would receive another location tracking. He was going to go insane.

"Steady, calm down," Gan Qing quickly coaxed him. "Let me call the cab this time."

Yu Lanchuan's face remained cold and he stood there, wallowing in displeasure.

Gan Qing wiped the tears in her eyes and kept her eyes on the phone, swiping around for a long while. Yu Lanchuan said impatiently, "No one's accepting? What kind of luck do you have with people?"

"It's not that." Gan Qing sniffled and asked in a muffled voice. "What's the full name of that ride-hailing app?"

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

It seemed like these people wanted to anger him to death and seize the position of alliance leader!

On Yan Hao's side, he had just sent the text when he saw Qiao-Qiao gradually becoming unable to keep her breathing calm. That pair of hands that usually took gentle care of the little cats and dogs curled into fists, the veins bulging from the back of her hands all the way to her arms.

Yang Ping was looking up and talking to his subordinate; suddenly, he changed his expression. "What filthy thing did you bring back?"

His subordinate was puzzled, "What-"

Before he could finish speaking, the lighter in Yang Ping's hand that he used to light his cigarette swiftly flew out. Shrouded in a vicious wind, it headed directly at Qiao-Qiao hiding behind a tree far away.

Yan Hao grabbed Qiao-Qiao by the back of her collar and swiftly pulled her back. The lighter brushed past her and collided against a branch, exploding on the spot with a loud boom.

They had been found out!

Yang Ping chewed on the cigarette butt and slowly stood up. "Where did these two rats come from?"

Yan Hao couldn't let Qiao-Qiao be a target. He clenched his teeth and stamped his feet, and leaped out from behind the tree like a fool to stand in front of Qiao-Qiao, locking eyes with Yang Ping.

Yang Ping took the cigarette butt out of his mouth and looked at him in askance. "Oh, it's the Yan family's brat."

Yan Hao was momentarily stunned. "You… You know me? Who are you?"

Yang Ping revealed a row of yellowed teeth. "Why are you being a busybody if you don't know anything? I've seen that half-baked martial arts of yours. While I'm still in a good mood and can't be bothered to quibble with you, take the chance and get lost."

Right then, a robotic voice suddenly came from behind Yan Hao. "You're Yang Ping."

He turned his head to look. Qiao-Qiao was holding a phone and using some kind of app that read out the words she typed.

Yang Ping's brows twitched. His gaze fell on that unremarkable-looking girl.

She looked only twenty years old. Her face still had a girlish awkwardness and her lips were pressed together in a thin line.

"I am Zhu Qiao. Thirty years ago, my grandfather was one of Beggars' Sect's Nine Pouch Elders. Do you still remember?"

Yang Ping slowly straightened up.

"You sold out my grandmother and my little aunt to Traveller's Sect and they died in the fire at the warehouse. My grandfather went to look for the people from Travellers' Sect to get revenge and because of that, he was imprisoned and died in jail. My father was only thirteen years old at that time. He was playful and had been sleeping at a school friend's house and because of that, he escaped. He could never forget the day his family was destroyed in a single night. Even until his death, he investigated what happened that day."

After typing the last sentence, Qiao-Qiao handed her phone to Yan Hao. From her pants pocket, she drew out a dagger that was slightly over half a foot long.

The phone loyally and steadfastly read out the last line for her. "He is no longer here to see the truth. I will find it out for him."

T/N:
[1] "Aura expanding to 2.8 meters" (气场两米八) was originally used to describe the "cold-blooded domineering CEO aura" of the male lead in the Korean T.V. series Beating Again. It achieved meme status when netizens used it to describe a child in one episode of the variety show Where Are We Going, Dad?

Chapter 86

"You?" Yang Ping sneered. Then, he took out another cigarette and heaved a sigh. He said nonchalantly, "I think there was such a person. Oh, You're also an old member of Beggars' Sect. This is fate."

Yan Hao held Qiao-Qiao's phone and looked from one to the other in bewilderment.

Yan Hao had heard the older people speak of the tragedy thirty years ago that started the feud between Travellers' Sect and Beggars' Sect but that matter was too far away from him. He had only listened and then forgot about it.

But what had Qiao-Qiao—no, Zhu Qiao—said just now?

What did she mean by "Those people who died in the fire had been 'sold out' by Yang Ping"?

Such a major crime, yet Yang Ping did not deny it!

The elders at No. 110 still preserved some old traditions that spoke of jianghu loyalty. When they meet someone from the younger generation, they would take good care of them. Since Qiao-Qiao was considered an "old member of Beggars' Sect" and was even an old member who lost her home and family because of Beggars' Sect, if Elder Yang knew about it, he would definitely care for her like she was his own biological granddaughter. She had always been at the pet store at the entrance of No. 110, so why had she never revealed her identity to Elder Yang?

Was it a coincidence that she worked there or was she secretly keeping an eye on… Old Yang?

Yan Hao was only slow when it came to interacting with the outside world. His mind was not slow; on the contrary, due to his social anxiety, he was even more sensitive than most people.

He stared at Qiao-Qiao's back, fear intermingled with shock. He suddenly realised that Qiao-Qiao suspected Elder Yang of protecting his own biological son and that was why she had been keeping an eye on him at No. 110!

"Qiao…" Yan Hao wanted to say something but his voice suddenly changed in pitch. "Wait!"

As a mute person, Qiao-Qiao was someone who truly fit the saying, "If I can use my hands, then I won't waste words." Before Yan Hao could open his mouth, she was already thrusting the dagger at Yang Ping, scaring the wits out of Yan Hao.

Taking advantage of his long legs, he leaped a few steps to land before Qiao-Qiao, standing between the two people. He pushed away the dagger in her hand. "Calm down!"

Qiao-Qiao clapped her hands on Yan Hao's shoulders. Treating him as a large wooden stump, she used him as a pivot to "fly" over him as lightly as a butterfly flitting around the flowers and trees. Yan Hao reached back to grab her but the girl was like a scrap of paper, slipping out of his fingers light as a feather. Qiao-Qiao crossed over his shoulders, raised her dagger and struck right at Yang Ping's head.

Yan Hao shouted. He thought he was going to see blood splattering as far as a meter away. But who would have thought that Yang Ping would just raise his arm nonchalantly and grab hold of Qiao-Qiao's wrist that was holding the dagger.

Qiao-Qiao's dagger fell to the floor. Cigarette hanging from his mouth and one hand folded on his back, Yang Ping slammed her onto the ground. A snapping sound reached Yan Hao's ears and a chill ran down his spine. Before he could think further, he was charging forward to catch Qiao-Qiao. The girl had been as light as a scrap of paper just now but Yang Ping was now smashing her like a large hammer and Yan Hao's arms sank under the weight, nearly popping out of their sockets. She crashed into him, sending him back two to three meters until his butt landed on the ground and he became a human cushion for her.

Qiao-Qiao's wrist was broken. It dangled limpy and she was in so much pain that her whole body was shaking, curled into a ball.

Yan Hao looked towards Yang Ping in shock and horror. He had practised martial arts since young and had always thought that he lived alongside experts. He had challenged Yu Lanchuan before and had also been chased by Gan Qing before. He felt that these neighbours of his were all more powerful than him but it was just an ordinary kind of "powerful." No one had ever made him feel this sense of terror.

The body of this thin and small man before his eyes seemed to be hiding an inhuman monster and what he was using was some kind of unknown energy.

Yang Ping looked down on the two of them from his vantage point. His victory was too easy and he was evidently rather pleased because of that.

He bent down and asked Qiao-Qiao, "Little girl, let me ask you. Who told you that your family's deaths have something to do with me?"

Qiao-Qiao's long hair fell from her temples. In just this short while, it was already soaked in cold sweat. She lifted her head and looked out through the gaps of her hair, revealing a pair of terrifying eyes. Yan Hao could feel her body suddenly tensing. A cold glint shot out from her mouth, heading right for Yang Ping's face.

At first, Yan Hao didn't immediately realise what it was. He followed Qiao-Qiao's gaze to look over, staring stupidly, and saw Yang Ping scramble to lean backwards. There were wounds on his neck and his face that looked like scratch marks.

Yang Hao was stupefied. The legendary Hidden Sand Shooting Shadows[1] that was supposedly hidden in the attacker's mouth and shoots out concealed weapons truly existed!

When he was young, he had read about it in stories and had doubted it so many times. If you hid something like this in your mouth, what would happen if you accidentally set it off when talking?

Now he finally had his answer. It was possible if the person never opened their mouth to speak!

While thoughts were running through his head like a train, Qiao-Qiao had already leaped up from his arms. Fine needles shot out repeatedly from her mouth and while Yang Ping was dodging, she rolled and picked up her fallen dagger and swiped it at Yang Ping's knees. Yang Ping was unbalanced and couldn't evade…

No, he was purposely not evading!

Yang Ping only raised his leg slightly. The sharp dagger hit against his calf with a clang but his leg did not bend even the slightest bit—there was something under his pants leg! The dagger sliced open the fabric, exposing a corner of the metal brace inside. That was exactly what had shaped his pants to make him look different from other people on top of his slight disability.

Yan Hao stared, eyes wide and mouth falling open. If that was the case, how thin must his leg be? How crooked must it be?

"Die!" Yang Ping smashed a palm at Qiao-Qiao.

Qiao-Qiao raised the dagger with one hand to block but before she could lift her hand, the other person caught the blade between his fingers. She heard a whistling sound; by the time she wanted to let go and dodge, it was too late. Yang Ping had stomped on her stomach.

Half of Qiao-Qiao's body lost all sensation from the pain. This stomp flattened her from half-kneeling to lying flat on the ground. Before she could recover, a hand choked her throat.

Yang Ping lowered his voice and let out a sinister laugh. "Let me see you try shooting again."

Yan Hao couldn't be bothered to continue examining just exactly how peculiar Yang Ping was. He leaped up and crashed into Yang Ping from behind.

Without even looking back, Yang Ping shifted his body to the side and accurately avoided a direct collision. This action was as though he could control the situation down to the millimeter and Yan Hao immediately felt that there was no direction from which he could strike effectively. He wasn't someone who liked to cause trouble and his experience in fighting with others was lacking. He paused just a tiny bit and Yang Ping held Qiao-Qiao in his hands like a weapon, swinging her towards Yan Hao.

Yan Hao was prevented from attacking. He was afraid of hurting Qiao-Qiao and quickly loosened his muscles, falling back three steps from the collision. Qiao-Qiao's face was unnaturally flushed and her limbs were starting to spasm.

Yan Hao drew in a deep breath. He opened his throat and prepared to shout. "He-"

Before he could finish shouting for help, a rod hit squarely against his back. The man dressed in a western style suit whom the two of them had followed just now took the chance when Yan Hao's attention was entirely on the fearsome Yang Ping to find a rod from somewhere. The sneak attack was steady, accurate and ruthless.

Yan Hao's vision blackened. He fell to his knees with a thump and nearly fainted on the spot.

"Tang Qian Yan?" The corners of Yang Ping's mouth curled up in a superficial smile. "Hah, what an oaf. Each generation is worse than the last."

As he spoke, he looked at Qiao-Qiao in his hands whose consciousness was already fading. Who knew what he was thinking; veins suddenly bulged out on the back of his hands. Typically, the veins on the back of a person's hands appeared greenish blue, bluer if the person's skin was very pale. However, the veins on Yang Ping's hands were a dark, murky purple.

Yan Hao held on desperately to his darkening vision. He wanted to climb up but his limbs seemed to be disconnected from his torso and refused to listen to his commands.

Qiao-Qiao…

Right then, a police siren suddenly sounded. The man who had sneak-attacked Yan Hao jumped in fright, the rod slipping out of his hands. This man had a guilty conscience. His entire body shrank back and he instinctively wanted to run away. Even Yang Ping's hands loosened their grip subconsciously. Air flowed through Qiao-Qiao's throat and she started coughing uncontrollably.

Unexpectedly, Yang Ping did not panic. Police sirens were typically fixed to police cars but he did not hear any vehicle sounds. "Who's playing tricks?!"

His answer was a stone flying towards him from a very crafty angle and hitting him on the hand that was holding Qiao-Qiao. Yang Ping turned his body to dodge but at the same time, something flew over towards where he was dodging and caught him nicely on his head—it was a man's coat. When draped over Yang Ping, it was as though a large blanket had fallen on him, catching him off guard. Someone took the chance when his vision was obstructed to strike his arms with a rod, forcing him to loosen his hands, and snatched Qiao-Qao away.

Yang Ping ripped the coat off his body in a fluster. He saw Yu Lanchuan standing three steps away.

He had been coveting No. 110 for a long time so naturally, he could recognise this "Little Master Yu."

Yang Ping asked, "You?"

"I'm not playing tricks." Yu Lanchuan carefully lowered Qiao-Qiao to the ground and kept away the personal alarm that sounded like a police siren. "This is just a rehearsal, the police will be arriving soon."

Yang Ping rubbed his arm that had been hit by the rod. He let out a sudden sneer. "I've long heard that Old Yu's family produced a weirdo… Hah! Yang Qing, oh, Yang Qing. Back then, he criticised every little thing about me. But that venerable old man has high standards so it's normal that he didn't approve of me. I have always been waiting to see what kind of person he would pick as his successor…"

Yu Lanchuan was holding the golf club he had grabbed on his way out. His face was unruffled, he didn't feel any shame at all in calling the police. "You're being polite. I don't dare accept the praise. I'm just a little more presentable than you are."

The smile on Yang Ping's face gradually turned sinister.

"Little Master Yu," he said, grinding his teeth slightly. "You're such an important and valuable person, you must have eighty insurance policies covering your entire body, don't you? A word of advice for you, hide further. Otherwise, later on, the mud and blood will splatter on you and it won't be easy to wash off."

Yu Lanchuan removed his glasses and placed them beside Qiao-Qiao. His gaze fell on the girl's swollen wrist. "Sure, thank you. I'm not willing to fight either so why don't we find a place to sit down and have a chat? We'll wait for the police to come and mediate the dispute between the two of you. Coincidentally, they have been looking for-"

Before he could finish speaking, Yang Ping suddenly moved. He feinted, swinging an open palm towards Yu Lanchuan's ear; at the same time, he burst past like a gust of wind, planning to escape.

Yu Lanchuan swung the golf club with the grace and ease of the legendary Xiaoxiang sword. It swept horizontally before him and blocked Yang Ping's path. Yang Ping let out a soft groan. His purplish-black hands reached across from under the golf club, like a poisonous branding iron targeting Yu Lanchuan's chest. The golf club in Yu Lanchuan's hand spun nimbly. A strike and a lift, and it wound around Yang Ping's wrist.

Yang Ping couldn't even be bothered to dodge. His thin wrists seem to be cast from metal, colliding with the metal golf club with a loud clang. In that very cramped space, the two of them began exchanging moves. Yang Ping's hands moved faster and faster until they blurred. Yu Lanchuan had always considered himself to be the type who favoured technique when fighting against others and this was the first time he was forced to such desperate straits. What was even scarier was that when the golf club hit against human arms, the other person seemed to not know pain. Yu Lanchuan's wrists and the area between his thumb and index finger were already starting to hurt. Without thinking, he retreated.

Yu Lanchuan's heel bumped against something hard. He had retreated to the wall.

"You and the police?" Yang Ping smashed his fist forward. Yu Lanchuan turned his head to dodge. The attack had clearly missed its target, yet one side of his face and his ear burned in pain, like he had been slapped with a sharp gust of wind. The brick wall held together by cement even loosened and bits of dust flew up. Yu Lanchuan thrusted the golf club forward, using it like a sword to stab at Yang Ping's stomach. Yang Ping contracted his body and seized the other end of the club. He said with a sneer, "Can you keep me here?"

As Yang Ping spoke, he swiftly pushed the golf club down. Yu Lanchuan's wrists were forced to twist; he didn't dare pit his strength against Yang Ping and let go immediately. When the club bounced up, his leg swept across and the club went flying away to be caught single-handedly by someone.

That person picked up the conversation. "Who knows? Nothing's for sure."

Gan Qing held Yu Lanchuan's golf club and slowly walked over from the other side of the little alley. She wore a face mask and had a hood over her head, and looked like a dark cloud drifting over.

The look on Yang Ping's face finally changed. "Wei…"

"You've got the wrong person." Gan Qing walked over slowly. She gave Yan Hao who had just climbed to his feet a light kick and passed the golf club together with a cab receipt to Yu Lanchuan. "Alliance Leader, why did you run so fast? When you go back later, don't forget to reimburse me… It's not strange if other people got the wrong person but how could you also get it wrong, Elder Yang? Wei Xiao… Didn't you kill him yourself?"

Yang Ping's western-suited subordinate saw that things weren't looking good and had already run off. While they were talking, Yu Lanchuan took the golf club, Yan Hao picked up the rod that had been used to knock him out just now, and Gan Qing hid both her hands in the sleeves of her coat… Three people were just enough to surround Yang Ping.

Yang Ping said, "You're that…"

"Yeap, that's right."

Gan Qing took off the face mask that was rather stifling. The tip of her nose was a little red. Her face had been covered by the mask the whole time and there were fine water droplets from the humidity. There seemed to be a touch of colour on her lips yet she did not have the kind of adorable look that asked for love and pity. She obviously did not look like Wei Xiao but, for no reason at all, the way she carried herself made Yang Ping suddenly recall that nightmarish match.

The young Wei Xiao had a quiet and reticent look. He alone went up against five of them, yet there was no weakness for them to attack. His eyes were cold and always lowered. It made him seem like he was being modest but in actual fact, he didn't really look people directly in the eye.

Their martial arts that they had spent long painful years developing to the point that they outstripped others seemed to be nothing more than petty annoyances to him. Under that gaze, Yang Ping's false and boastful self-confidence also crumbled and collapsed until nothing remained.

For half of his life, he could not walk out of the shadow of this gaze. Even after he killed Wei Xiao with his own hands and wiped away his past humiliation, in his nightmares in the late hours of the night, this pair of eyes still gazed at him like a shadow tailing him.

"I learned some little tricks under Wan Mu Chun's sect. Before I could master anything, I was thrown out of the sect." Gan Qing raised her left sleeve lightly, revealing the snow-white blades at her fingertips. "Coincidentally, I am slightly disabled and so are you. Between the two of us, neither one can be said to be bullying the other."

T/N:
[1] "Hidden Sand Shooting Shadows" is a literal translation of 含沙射影. It is an idiom that means making hidden innuendos to disparage someone, and also refers to a mythical creature called 蜮 yù that hides in the water and conceals sand in its mouth that it shoots at people's shadows, making them fall sick. 

Chapter 87

In Yang Ping's entire life, what he hated the most was other people calling him "disabled." Gan Qing's jab at him made him swell up in anger like a pufferfish and he got over his psychological fear of Wan Mu Chun on the spot.

He charged at Gan Qing like a demon, wanting to flatten her.

At the same time, Gan Qing skidded backwards. Her steps were not as light as Qiao-Qiao's, her feet didn't really lift up from the ground and were instead dragging along, but each step gave her just enough space to avoid Yang Ping's oncoming fist and the wind from his strikes. It seemed like she was unwilling to use even an ounce more energy than was strictly necessary.

Stirred up by her feet, the feather-light dust and fallen leaves danced along with the wind.

Yang Ping suddenly took out a retractable baton from his sleeve and swung it horizontally at Gan Qing's chest. Gan Qing bent backwards, the corners of her old and pilling coat flying up like a flower suddenly bursting into bloom. At the same time, Yu Lanchuan's golf club lunged in from the side and smashed on the retractable baton.

Gan Qing let out a carefree laugh. "Did I step on your tail, Senior Yang? Right off the bat, you want to smash a crater in this flat ground… Ow!"

Yang Ping pushed the long baton up with both hands, forcing Yu Lanchuan to retreat a few steps. Yu Lanchuan had gotten an earful of Gan Qing's nonsensical blabber and lost his focus for a second and in his fluster, he stepped on her foot.

The tip of Gan Qing's shoe was flattened by him and she hopped about on one foot. Her bearing of an expert vanished without a trace. "Little Master Yu, whose side are you on!"

Yu Lanchuan didn't have the time to pay her any attention. He was quickly switching techniques.

The Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang were originally sword techniques for the heavy sword and had a touch of being unconcerned with fine and meticulous details[1]. It did not suit Little Master Yu's fancy temperament—this handsome guy had to face the mirror even when practising on the balcony; his swordplay could be imperfect but his pose could not.

Thus, his Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang had always been full of confident ease and agility, and lacked some of the original intention of the sword techniques.

But now, the heavy golf club was impeding his performance, forcing him to simplify his actions. Yang Ping was also an expert that he rarely encountered in his life. As he parried move with move, he faintly sensed something he had never sensed before. He was getting a peek of his distinguished forefathers fishing in a cold river accompanied by snow, the space vast and lonely and tranquil. From the place where all life was cut off, he gazed from far at the days and nights flowing by and his heart suddenly calmed.

In actual fact, all schools of martial arts were not about learning how to move one's limbs by rote. Their teachings had been handed down through thousands of years until this day and each had their own way of thinking, most of which could be summarised as "Heaven and Earth, mountains and rivers; mortal affairs come and go." This was the very first lesson taught when the shifus passed down their skills. It was just that the first lesson was like the introduction to a subject; it seemed to highlight all the important points but was actually not important at all. As the students learned more and more, eventually, it was forgotten.

To compete and see who was more powerful and who was better at fighting could already be considered to "not forget one's original aspirations." There were even more people who not only pursued a "reputation," but also desired to gather the authority and profit behind that reputation into their arms.

Holding those things in their arms as they descended into madness and obsession, not stopping before they reached death.

With a flick of her fingers, Gan Qing sent a small blade flying towards Yang Ping's neck. The throat was a person's vital spot. Yang Ping dodged instinctively and the small blade brushed past his front lapel to bounce off Yu Lanchuan's golf club. Yu Lanchuan lightly batted away the blade; it changed directions and was again caught in Gan Qing's hand.

Yang Ping seized the golf club with both hands. Before he could get his balance, the small blade coming for his life sealed off the space he had to move around in. Yang Ping let out a roar. He had just shook her off when Yan Hao swung the rod at his legs.

The way these three people fought was to fight while distracting him at the same time. They all knew that there was a gap between their skills and Yang Ping's. No one tangled with him; they just came forward to poke at him and then ran while someone else took their place. They were not letting him get away but were also not directly crossing swords with him.

Yang Ping clenched his teeth. He could tell that these brats were really trying in vain to keep him there and wait for the police to arrive.

The short baton in his hands transformed into a shadowy blur, spinning and knocking aside Yu Lanchuan's golf club. He brushed past Yu Lanchuan; then, his short baton suddenly extended a few inches and knocked accurately on Yan Hao's wrist. Yan Hao's wrist turned numb and his weapon slipped out of his hand.

However, Gan Qing was much more quick-witted than the other two. She did not exchange moves with him at all. From beginning to end, her little blades flew unceasingly to block Yang Ping's path, looking like shadows taking physical form, giving the other two time to catch up to Yang Ping.

Yang Ping stabbed the short baton into the ground and stood firm a meter away from her. He suddenly let out a cold laugh. "Wan Mu Chun who exists everywhere, for whom no gap is impenetrable, doesn't even dare to fight openly and directly with others now!"

Gan Qing answered, unperturbed, "I don't have a choice, I'm disabled now."

The corner of one Yang Ping's eyes twitched. He spied Yan Hao and Yu Lanchuan surrounding him warily and said slowly, "Back then, Wei Xiao signed the life-and-death pledge before the match and it stated that it was to be a one versus many match. Even though he wasn't anything good, at the very least, he knew to value his reputation. If he knew that his descendant had turned from a hawk to a dog, who knows how he would feel."

Gan Qing had muddled her way through life to her current state and it had been a long time since she had a delicate and transparent heart of glass. She could even thrive as a "witch" and was very obstinate. Neither soft nor hard tactics worked on her. She did not fear being provoked and was also shameless, and did not care the least bit about his words. "How else could he feel? Probably just 'each generation is worse than the last,' your father's favourite phrase."

Yang Ping, "..."

On a daily basis, Yu Lanchuan was rendered so speechless by Gan Qing's words that he practically hopped in indignation. Now, he finally had the chance to watch her aim her barbs at someone else and there was an indescribable delight in his heart.

Gan Qing extended a sincere invitation. "What other personal attacks do you have? Please don't hesitate to share."

Both sides of Yang Ping's face tightened. Who knew what he was thinking, he suddenly laughed again. "You people want to delay time until the police get here. But when they do, so what?"

Yu Lanchuan said, "Nothing much. But if you want to attack the police the same way you attack us, the next wave will probably have guns with them."

"Let me be honest with you. Even if you catch me, it's not impossible for me to break out of jail if I want to," Yang Ping said with a sneer. "Even if I go with them obediently, what can they do to me? What offense did I commit? Injuring that little girl? She was the one who attacked me with a knife first. I only twisted her wrist that was holding the knife. I didn't even take her life. Did I cross the line?"

Gan Qing sensed something and her eyes turned cold.

"Join a criminal organisation? I've already been ousted from Beggars' Sect for eighteen years. Everyone, can I be dragged into Beggars' Sect matters?" Yang Ping retracted his baton and wedged it in the crook of his arm. "You people say that I burned so-and-so to death thirty years ago and that I killed so-and-so eighteen years ago. You sure know how to slander others, do you have proof?"

Qiao-Qiao struggled to her feet. The little mute girl opened her mouth and put all her strength into letting out an ahh.

Yang Ping couldn't be bothered to look at her. His murky gaze was locked on Gan Qing. "The bones of the dead have rotted into pieces. Wei Xiao's tiny and shitty house has also turned into a flat lawn long ago. If I don't admit anything, what can you do to me, huh? What can you do to Wang Jiusheng?"

Gan Qing's voice was suppressed in her hoarse throat. "So it was really Wang Jiusheng after all?"

"Who else could it be?" Yang Ping said. "That year, I was completely isolated. The cowards in Beggars' Sect were all busy licking the Old Sect Leader's feet, praising him for being fair and impartial. No one listened to my orders. Other than Travellers' Sect, who else could dig a meter into the ground and unearth Wei Xiao, that earthworm hiding in the soil?"

Gan Qing's fingers rubbed against the blade in her hand.

"How about that? Doesn't it make you want to kill Wang Jiusheng? Go ahead and kill him. After that, you'll be a wanted criminal and have to conceal your identity and live in hiding," Yang Ping said.

Yu Lanchuan said, "That is none of your business, you-"

Yang Ping raised his baton at Gan Qing, pointing at her as he said, "Why don't we make a bet?"

Gan Qing raised her eyes.

"Let all the irrelevant people leave. Then, you don't have to hide yourself anymore. Compare your skills against mine, let me experience for myself whether or not the legendary Paoding Jieniu still exists. If you lose, get lost and go back to being a cowardly turtle. If you ever find trouble with me again in your life, your shifu will descend to the eighteen levels of hell to be flayed and torn apart. He will never be reincarnated."

"And if I win?" Gan Qing asked.

Yang Ping seemed to be hearing a child's innocent and naive words and couldn't help smiling. "In that case, I will turn myself in to the police. I will even guarantee not to be the only unfortunate one, I will definitely drag Wang Jiusheng to be— my— buffer—."

Yu Lanchuan frowned. "Gan Qing…"

Gan Qing stopped him with a raised hand.

Yu Lanchuan said, "He only wants to get a chance to escape. Only an idiot will fall for his tricks!"

Gan Qing's eyes were locked on Yang Ping. She took out a cloth strip from her pocket and began winding it around her right hand.

Yu Lanchuan asked, "What are you doing?"

Gan Qing removed her coat and passed it to the trembling Qiao-Qiao. "I'm an idiot."

Yu Lanchuan had just been inwardly relieved; now, he was eating his words. He moved his legs to go forward but suddenly, something sliced through the air towards him. Yu Lanchuan's legs immediately paused. He slowly looked down… A small blade was nailed right on the front welt of his leather shoe!

"Be good, don't fuss," Gan Qing said lightly. "Otherwise, I'll need to spare some attention to deal with you."

Yang Ping bared his teeth into a smile. The three-versus-one situation would not happen again. Since Gan Qing had said that, she would really fight her own allies. When an expert of Yang Ping's caliber was surrounded by them, he could easily find a loophole and slip away if they did not coordinate well, much less if they fought among themselves. As long as Yu Lanchuan's side could still think rationally, the best option for them was to watch from the sidelines.

"You have guts. You really dare do this," Yang Ping said. "Back then, Wei Xiao was defeated by my hand."

"Wei Xiao was not defeated by your hand," Gan Qing said, pausing between each word. "He was defeated by Wang Jiusheng's hand. You were merely carrying out Wang Jiusheng's orders to collect a body. Also, the last person to use the same tone as you to say that I have guts was Wei Huan. His bones have long since been licked clean by maggots."

Yang Ping curled both hands into fists. Both his arms were flushed with blood. Under his coarse skin, his bulging veins appear increasingly vicious and that pair of hands looked a little purplish from far. Without warning, he struck first. This time, Gan Qing did not dodge to the right and left. There was a whistling sound; her blades and his retractable baton scraped against each other with a noise that made their teeth ache.

Yan Hao took a step back without realising. For a second, he felt as though the glint of the blade had flashed right before his eyes.

These bystanders watching the fight were born in a peaceful era and were for the first time in their lives truly feeling what was meant by a forbidding murderous aura. Yu Lanchuan and Yan Hao had both fought Gan Qing before. They knew she was powerful but speaking generally, it was the same kind of powerful as a schoolmate who always achieved Distinction in exams.

Yu Lanchuan had even once thought she was nothing more than a young woman who had taken the wrong step in life, who just had more petty tricks than others. 

Now, he was finally realising that the "wrong step" the young woman had taken back then was killing Wei Huan with her own hands when she was seventeen years old.

Not a weak cat or dog that didn't even have the strength to truss up a chicken, but a man who had a heavy blood debt on his head, who was the epitome of evil, who was… her shixiong from the same sect.

Gan Qing had never been serious with them.

He was distracted for just a second and Yang Ping and Gan Qing had already brushed past each other. Yang Ping's short baton knocked against Gan Qing's ribs; at the same time, he turned his head away unnaturally. A small blade had sliced a small cut on his eyelid. If he hadn't closed his eyes in time, this cut would have landed on his eyeball.

Gan Qing bore the full force of that blow and her upper body swayed slightly. Her eyes that were slightly bloodshot from her cold seemed to reddened even further. She didn't let out a sound.

Her reaction had turned slow.

All these years, she had lived a muddled life, drifting wherever the waves brought her. Her mind was entirely filled with thoughts of getting skewers after work. Her knives had turned blunt, her hands weakened. Yu Lanchuan had assumed that he was dragging her back from the edge of law-breaking and crime, and had repeatedly had his heart in his throat due to her actions but in actual fact, there was no need… because when push came to shove, she might not be able to really make the lethal cut.

With the cloth strip wrapped around it, her right hand no longer shook. But as before, it didn't have the strength to lift up and it hung from her body like a prosthetic limb. Her right ribs that had bore a blow were burning with pain and her internal organs had also suffered a shock along with them.

Yang Ping slowly wiped away the blood on his eyelid with his thumb and licked it. "Have you returned your skills to your shifu already?"

He had just finished speaking when the edge of the knife was already at the side of his neck. Yang Ping snapped the retractable baton up, blocking her blade, but that deathly pale left hand was unexpectedly nimble. The blade swiftly "swam" from her index finger to her little finger, the life-taking tip coalescing into a single line that crossed over the baton and turned towards Yang Ping's throat. Then, in the instant that it was about to cut open his skin, she suddenly sensed something wrong.

Yang Ping's palm snuck under the baton, his wrist bent at an angle that was impossible for humans. His palm struck her chest, the skin so purple it was almost black.

Wei Xiao had died by a similar strike.

In a moment of urgency, Gan Qing only had time to use her right arm to block. The sound of bones snapping rang out. Her entire body was pushed back nearly ten meters, her back colliding heavily against an unused telephone pole. Her right arm dangled down and Yu Lanchuan suspected that her bones had broken through her flesh and skin!

People whose bodies were on the thin side could not bear taking such direct collisions. Gan Qing's vision blackened and for two seconds, she even suspected that she had fainted. There was a buzzing in her ears, followed right after by a sharp pain that dragged her consciousness back.

Yu Lanchuan rushed over. Yan Hao gripped his rod tightly with both hands, staring nervously at Yang Ping.

Yang Ping wasn't even looking at him. From his vantage point, he glanced down at Gan Qing, then smiled an unruffled smile.

"Wan Mu Chun, a brief moment of glory," he said, "But what use is it? Time passes and things change. When we look back, regardless of whether it's Wei Xiao or the younger generation, they do not deserve their reputation… A waste of my time to be concerned with them for so many years. Since that is the case, I'll be leaving now. Wan Mu Chun's lineage has already fallen to this state but surely you won't go back on your words?"

Yu Lanchuan grabbed hold of Gan Qing. "Wait a minute. She may have lost but I didn't say I was letting you go!"

"Little Master Yu, oh, Little Master Yu." Yang Ping slowly kept his baton away in his sleeve and shook his head with a sigh. "Have you ever drawn blood?"

Yu Lanchuan could not say anything to that.

"A house cat." Yang Ping let out a laugh. "Don't bare your fangs and flex your claws in the wild. Good boy."

T/N:
[1] "Unconcerned with fine and meticulous details" - The description of the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang swordplay is "大巧不工" which comes from "重剑无锋,大巧不工." This is from Return of the Condor Heroes, a wuxia novel by Jin Yong, and refers to the Heavy Iron Sword used by the main character, Yang Guo, describing how simple and precise strikes are more suitable for the sword than fancy techniques. (This is a more literal interpretation, Baidu Baike explains it as the wielder's cultivation being more important than the sword's sharp edge.)

Chapter 88

From the time he was young and all the way until now, Yu Lanchuan had always been very relaxed when it came to practicing martial arts and did not have much competitive desire. After all, his life was one that was "conventional" and successful. Since young, he had always been "the perfect other kid" and he was very familiar with all the various rules of society, be it the explicit or the implicit ones.

Whether it was Yan Hao who challenged him under the pressure of his elders or those who started a dispute for the sake of their "reputation," to his eyes, they were all laughably childish. Their lives were like dog shit but they still got so worked up fighting over these useless things. What was the difference between them and kids obsessed with online games?

Even that one time when Elder Yang, Han Dongsheng and the others had gone up themselves to rescue people from the health supplements MLM den, he had felt that the way their emotions influenced their decisions and the way they treated the symptoms but not the root cause was not masterful enough.

In his entire life, what Yu Lanchuan lacked the least was self-confidence. As a hobby, the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang was nothing more than a superfluous addition to something that was already perfect. As for whether or not he could become good at it, was it important?

This was only the second time in his entire life that his heart was smothered in a heavy helplessness. He wanted nothing more than to abandon his current mortal body and reincarnate, to suddenly sprout superhuman powers and become the hero that he had fantasised as a child and disdained as an adult.

The last time he had choked on this feeling of helplessness, unable to breathe, was at the landfill fifteen years ago.

And both times turned out to be due to the same person.

But there was no one who was almighty, who could reach both the heights of Heaven and the depths of Earth.

Even if Yu Lanchuan could make use of his numerous connections in society and sweep Yanning clean of all illegal health supplement MLMs, when facing someone like Yang Ping who was fearless like a dead pig unafraid of boiling water, his hands were tied.

Just like all those years ago—Wei Xiao had inherited Wan Mu Chun's supreme skills, had concealed his identity and lived in hiding, and still could not give his little girl a good ending.

The police were still on their way. The clues for the old cases were already obliterated.

He could not defeat Yang Ping. He just couldn't.

"Wan Mu Chun shouldn't be like this." Yang Ping started to leave, unruffled despite the chaos. As he walked away, he said, "I've heard that your grand-master, Mr. Chun—that should be his position in the hierarchy—when he moved to kill, even if his opponent's sword was pressed against his throat, his blade would not stop. It would be a bet to see whose throat was ripped open first. If you hadn't withdrawn just now, you might have cut my throat first, or I might have killed you first. No one knows for sure. But you withdrew."

Gan Qing tried to push herself up on one hand. Her left hand tightened unconsciously around the razor blade until it was cut open and dripping bright red blood. Yu Lanchuan forced her hand open and gripped her wrist.

"Let's not talk about your skills; you don't even have the courage to bet at all." As he spoke, Yang Ping reached Gan Qing's front. He looked down at her in contempt. "Was it really you who killed Wei Huan? I really can't tell. Could it be that it was that old fool Wei Xiao who did it but didn't dare admit it and made you take the blame? In that case, you're really filial."

Gan Qing slowly looked up.

"You don't have bloodlust." Yang Ping leaned forward slightly and said to her in a low voice. "This is normal. Women don't have bloodlust, they are naturally nothing more than a joke. Their mouths may be more vicious than anyone else most of the time but at a moment of crisis, they're completely exposed. I'll be leaving now. Remember what you said… But even if you eat your words, it's okay. You're only someone I have defeated, hah! If you dare, come look for me. I'll be waiting respectfully."

Right at that moment, a golf club barred his way. Yu Lanchuan said coldly, "Wait."

"Little Master Yu." Yang Ping let out a fake laugh. "What other advice do you have for me?"

Yu Lanchuan carefully lowered Gan Qing. "The one who made a bet with you was her. I never agreed to let you go."

Yan Hao wasn't a decisive person but he had ample loyalty. He had been standing at the side just now, unsure of what to do, but hearing Yu Lanchuan state his position, he immediately raised his rod. "Little Master Yu, you… Watch out!"

Yan Hao's voice suddenly changed in pitch because Yang Ping had moved without prior warning, his palm striking at Yu Lanchuan. The might of his strike this time was even more terrifying than when he hit Gan Qing just now. Before the wind from his palm reached, Yu Lanchuan already felt suffocated. How could a civilised person like him have seen this kind of all-or-nothing fighting technique?

Yu Lanchuan immediately retreated eighteen steps in succession, his golf club in hand. He nearly forgot all the moves he had practised since young.

Yan Hao's heart leaped to his throat. This sight made him lose all hope. Why were they still fighting? If they could send this big demon away without coming to any harm, that was already good enough.

Yang Ping raised an eyebrow. "Still want to try?"

Yu Lanchuan's tightly drawn mouth suddenly quirked up. "Of course."

Even if he couldn't defeat him, so what?

There were always times when one had to put aside rationality, put aside everything, forget all those lofty "strategies," forget about profits and losses, and face the direction their instinct and courage was pointing to, and walk forward with their heads broken and bleeding.

"You're looking for death!'

"I heard people say that your body did not develop well ever since you were young and because of that, you put in twice the effort to practise martial arts but only attained half the results," Yu Lanchuan said quickly. "You practised for nearly half your life, yet you did not achieve anything of worth. When you had a match with someone, you even had to fight in a gang and you were all still beaten up until you were pissing your pants. Later on, after some years, your legs were broken and you were ousted from Beggars' Sect. When you were physically well, your martial arts skills were not good but after your limbs were broken, you could instead launch a counterattack? I don't believe this. Given your character, for you to really fight a fair match as you said you would, break the arm that she couldn't really use as she liked in the first place, then just shoot your mouth off and leave... Are you someone who lets people off whenever possible? I don't believe this either."

One of Yang Ping's eyes twitched.

"You say that there's not enough evidence, that's why you're not afraid of the police. I agree. In that case, since you're not afraid of the police, why are you in a hurry to leave?" Yu Lanchuan narrowed his eyes a little. "I cannot think of any other explanation other than that you must have used some way to cheat to make yourself suddenly so powerful. I don't know much about the principles of demonic skills but the possibility of drugs is higher. There is a time limit to their effectiveness, am I right? That's why you want to scare us, to stop us from blocking your way. What is the time limit? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Or does it depend on how many times you use those demonic skills…"

Before Yu Lanchuan could finish speaking, Yang Ping seemed to want to prove that he was wrong and suddenly charged over. The golf club and those strange-looking palms clashed at close quarters and the force that transmitted was even more terrifying than it had been just now. Yu Lanchuan's hands nearly lost their grip, the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang going off-key. Yang Ping wrenched sharply and there was a sharp pain in Yu Lanchuan's right wrist. His joints loosened for an instant and the club fell out of his hands!

Yu Lanchuan had grown to his current age safe and healthy, and had never met with a car accident or a sports accident even once. This was the first time he was feeling the true pain of a serious injury, the kind that made a person want to roll around on the ground. For an instant, he couldn't help thinking, How does it feel to break the tendons in your own arm?

Is it also this kind of pain?

No… it should be even more painful, shouldn't it? How did she do it, how could she do something so ruthless?

Yan Hao shouted and swung the large rod at Yang Ping's upper back. Yang Ping flung his arm out and sent the wooden rod flying. His eyes that were shot through with fine blood lines looked over viciously, a ferocious animal-like glint in them. The purplish veins had already crept up to his face, covering both sides of his forehead like spiderwebs. It made him look rather inhuman.

Shocked out of his wits, Yan Hao subconsciously stepped back.

Yang Ping pressed in on him.

Yu Lanchuan breathed out white puffs of air, shaking uncontrollably. He endured desperately not to scream and forced himself to laugh coldly. "So… what is this? A new kind of drug? Have you shared it with anyone else? Do those followers of yours use it too? Senior Yang, you said that the police cannot get anything on you for the old cases but… what about drug trafficking?"

Yang Ping roared and reached out to grab his shoulders. Suddenly, a cold glint flashed past, aiming right at the joints of his elbow. Yang Ping did not dodge in time and a hole was cut open in his sleeve following the line of his arm tendons—three cun and two fen!

"Stop playing with them." Gan Qing picked up the dagger Qiao-Qiao had dropped just now with one hand, her other arm dangling from her body. She loosened her fingertips slightly and a few bloodstained razor blades fell out. Her fingertip brushed along the blade of the dagger and the blood groove, slow but steady. Her left arm didn't seem like it was only in adulthood that she had to make do and use it; instead it seemed to have been trained since she was young and had never trembled. "That was just a warm-up. When did I… cough… admit defeat?"

Yang Ping was nearly driven mad by the few of them. If his actions prior to this could still be considered to be particular about maintaining the proper appearance of a "fair match," this time, he had gone into "SEED mode" and did not care about anything at all. He had completely turned into a mad dog.

Yang Ping's retractable baton shattered the bricks on the wall and smashed towards Gan Qing like a tempest. Gan Qing was far from being as sturdy as stone and her right arm was also broken. She essentially could not control half her body. When she dodged to the right and to the left, her movements were noticeably draggy and there were quite a few times when she narrowly dodged only when the baton was about to hit her.

Yang Ping naturally noticed this and targeted Gan Qing's right side, aiming for any spot on her that looked sluggish… Just like how the few of them had surrounded Wei Xiao back then. Wei Xiao might have appeared arrogant by taking on so many of them on his own, but in actual fact, they had divided the tasks earlier on. That time, he also had fellow fighters using the Tangle form to keep Wei Xiao's knife-wielding right hand occupied and give him the chance to attack.

They didn't feel that it was unfair to do that. All of them from the same generation only had that level of skill, so what right do you, Wei Xiao, have to stand above the rest? What right do you have to be so maniacal? You must have cheated. Either that, or Wan Mu Chun's lineage itself is demonic and does not deserve to stand alongside their reputable and righteous sects as the Five Supremes. It does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the other proper martial arts.

Since it was a demonic skill, then they did not have to apply conventional reasoning to it. Hence, even if it was many fighting against one, it was naturally a reasonable thing.

Only winning mattered.

The current speed of the two people fighting was no longer something Yan Hao could see clearly from where he was watching at the sidelines. Right then, police sirens finally sounded from far away. At the same time, Yang Ping's palm struck towards Gan Qing's temples. The bones in her right shoulder were broken and she had no way to block. If she ducked her head to dodge, Yang Ping's retractable baton could take the chance to smash on top of her head.

But this time, Gan Qing did not dodge.

The sharp dagger sliced Yang Ping's arm, unerringly following the line of the scar all the way up. It was abnormally similar to the way Wei Xiao had destroyed the nerves in his hand all those years ago. Yang Ping let out a terrified shriek; at the same time, an arm lunged in from nowhere, blocking right between Yang Ping's fist and Gan Qing. The back of the hand touched her face.

Her left leg as a pivot, Gan Qing changed directions. The dagger sliced to the end, and with a twist and a snap, she threw him down to the ground.

Yang Ping seemed to be suffering from unbearable pain. He curled into a ball on the ground, his whole body spasming uncontrollably. The police who had rushed there swarmed up. Gan Qing lifted her left hand and threw the dagger onto the ground. She faced Yang Ping and let out a barely audible laugh. "Is bloodlust something that should come out of your mouth?"

The police who didn't know what was going on charged over and swiftly separated everyone at the scene. "There's someone injured! Call the ambulance!"

Yang Ping let out a blood curdling shriek, "My arm! My arm!"

"My god! Arm? It's a knife wound, a dagger…" Two police officers restrained Yang Ping with much difficulty. They flipped him over and saw clearly the arm he was hugging close to his body. There was a line of blood on it that followed the same path as an old scar on his arm, overlapping the scar. It looked extremely vicious and terrifying...

Then, when they took a closer look, they saw that the knife wound had only broken skin, barely reaching below the epidermis. It did not harm his tendons nor did it reach his bones. This person's blood clotting ability was pretty decent. In just a short while, the wound already looked like the bleeding was about to stop.

The police looked curiously at Yang Ping rolling on the ground, then at Gan Qing who was in a battered state. With just this comparison, the person lying on the ground seemed to be pulling a dumb porcelain scam.

"Ai." A police officer felt his head aching and took off his police cap, clutching at his sparse hair. He said in resignation, "Sir, did you draw this on your arm? Wake up, stop pretending."

Yang Ping turned a deaf ear to him.

He had once thought that he had ended the nightmare haunting his whole life with his own hands in that cramped and dark Mudpool Backlane. For the sake of wiping away his past humiliation, he did not mind all the difficulties he had to go through to gather those worthless people and have them watch from the sidelines, letting them be his witnesses to prove that he had defeated Wei Xiao until Wei Xiao was pleading for mercy on his knees.

But it turned out that he had not.

A nightmare did not obey his self-deception. His false persona that he had put on for many years was as flimsy as a cicada's wings. Just a tiny cut from a small knife, and the ugly truth was exposed…

Wei Xiao had first been injured in an accident arranged by Wang Jiusheng as part of his evil plot. His internal organs were bleeding and he could not move freely.

Were it not for that, Yang Ping would not have had the courage to fight him at all.

"What's wrong with this person?" The police saw that he was mentally delirious and asked in suspicion, "His mental state is abnormal… Damn, what's this on his face and arms? Tattoos?"

"I don't know." Gan Qing was not wearing her coat and felt cold. She sucked in a breath through her reddened nose. The cold wind assaulted her and her tears welled up again. She said in a stuffed-up voice, "He suddenly became like that. It was like an illness flaring up. He was terribly fierce, it was so scary."

The expression on the police officers' faces turned grave. They were clearly making a mental connection to drug addicts. "Call the ambulance, then contact our comrades in forensics… Take them all back… Ai, why is there a little girl injured so badly here? Is she with you guys? Is she of legal age?"

A female officer quickly ran over to check on Qiao-Qiao. The police officers' footsteps were hurried and busy, while Yang Ping's ten years' worth of blood curdling shrieks seemed to be ripping apart his heart and lungs.

Gan Qing looked at her own arm, a little distracted. Her right arm was the infamous murderous blade of Wan Mu Chun, extraordinarily gifted, with unparalleled sharpness.

However… back in that year, she had destroyed it herself.

All she had left was a left arm that was by nature not her dominant arm. At the very start, in those few years when she had been the most directionless and powerless, she had only casually trained it so that it would be more convenient for daily life.

In the past, this arm had not been stained with blood before.

She raised her left arm and lightly wiped the side of her face that had been knocked by the back of Yu Lanchuan's hand just now. She looked across the crowd, towards him.

Chapter 89

She saw Yu Lanchuan supporting his dislocated wrist and saying something to the police officer next to him in a low voice. Ah, that was right, the few of them had fought here with clubs and controlled weapons until the place was a mess. They definitely had to explain this to the police.

But how could they explain it? Gan Qing was thinking absent-mindedly.

This question only flashed through her mind for an instant, disappearing as soon as it was asked. Her mind didn't plan to answer its own question.

She seemed to be in a state where her soul had left her body and she didn't want to bother thinking of anything. Her broken right shoulder and her chest that hurt even when she breathed was also pushed aside for the moment. The voices around her, the wailing, the wind, all quieted down.

For some mysterious reason, her thoughts were wandering.

"Wan Mu Chun's blade has a soul. You must learn to walk along the edge of the blade, and not be conflicted with yourself."

When she was very young, Wei Xiao had casually told her that.

"What does it mean to walk along the edge of the blade?"

"It means that things should be how they should be. One day, when you no longer cut your hands when you play with knives, you will probably understand. You will sense when your knife is ready. And at any time you cower and shrink back, it will know before you."

Wei Xiao was right. When she made the first strike at Yang Ping, there were doubts in her heart. Because her left hand was not her dominant hand, she already lost confidence and also couldn't be sure what kind of knife skills could come out of her hand. She had not fought another person seriously for nearly ten years now. She was like a used paper placemat, huddling and hoarding her own life force, hoping for time to wipe away those complicated debts and enmity.

Ten years. It was enough to render a person useless.

She hadn't even thought properly about what she should do—if, by chance, she really killed Yang Ping with one strike, even if she had no fear like a dead pig that did not fear boiling water, would she be dragging Yu Lanchuan and Yan Hao into the mess too?

The edge of her blade was suppressed by the weight of so many layers of hesitations, it could not bear the burden. That was why, in the second that Yang Ping struck, she instinctively retreated and nearly died from the one blow from her opponent.

The real reason why she could find it in herself to make that second strike was actually not because of Yang Ping's mockery, nor was it because of Yu Lanchuan and Yan Hao's staunch refusal to give way. Gan Qing had long since stopped being someone easily provoked or easily moved. When Yu Lanchuan barred Yang Ping's way, if it wasn't because she was really unable to speak, she would definitely stop him. They were not acting in a movie, there was no need to take risks for the sake of loyalty. Too many had died by Yang Ping's hands to be counted, this man was unspeakably vicious and evil. A dozen Yu Lanchuans wouldn't be his match. No, the second time she picked up the knife was because of what Yu Lanchuan said at that moment. 

For an instant, Gan Qing had sensed that Yang Ping might be filled with uncertainty and fear about everything around him. His demonic skills and his martial accomplishments were all smokescreens to scare others. He lusted after power because he was internally weak… just like her.

Upon reaching adulthood, it was very hard to change the dominant hand even for minor tasks like eating and writing, much less for Wan Mu Chun's knife skills. For the sake of the skills in her left hand, how many times had she cut herself until she was covered in blood? Every inch of skin on her palm and the back of her hand had regrown after being damaged. She tempered herself while lost in despair and at the same time, also acted mysterious and played tricks, putting on a pretense of being "beyond the three realms" and not being concerned about worldly matters. She had always avoided face-to-face confrontations, afraid that others would know the cards in her hands and realised that she was no mysterious otherworldly expert but merely a fool whose life was absolutely screwed up.

When her knife struck for the second time, she knew where the blade should land and how deep it should cut. Hence, her heart had no distractions. She was not bothered by Yang Ping's fist that could smash a person's head and she also didn't have the time to think about whether her opponent's fist would be faster than her knife… This wasn't the "bloodlust" or "gambling desire" that Yang Ping had talked about. It was just the intuition passed down from her forefathers, the result of grueling hard work.

But she never thought that that idiot would stretch out his hand to block the blow for her.

Did he not have common sense? Did he not know that when two experts were fighting, outsiders were not allowed to interfere? If Yang Ping had not been scared witless by her strike and his fist had not gone off-track halfway, would he still have that hand?

"When I was young, your grand-master told me that regardless of what the past was, what the present is or what the future will be, you don't need to have so many hesitations. Just walk along the edge of the blade and you'll be fine. Who isn't walking on thin ice? People like us, what we fight for is just a thread of hope for survival and resolve."

"Gan Qing, the past cannot be undone but the future can still change."

Yu Lanchuan seemed to sense something. He lifted his head and looked over with a frown.

When he saw Gan Qing, his tense brows unconsciously relaxed for a moment but soon after that, he seemed to think of something and a dark cloud covered his face again. He walked over to her with large strides, planning to settle the score with her for all the decisions she made without consulting any of them prior to the fight earlier.

"You…" Before he could start his tirade, he saw Gan Qing suddenly smile.

When she smiled, her eyes moved a little more than the corners of her mouth did. The sides of her face that were slightly hollow were suddenly filled with her smile and she looked a few years younger. It was as though a clear stream had flowed past, frost and dust falling away completely, and there was a sense of innocence that was pure and mischievous. It cast a string of pebbles into Yu Lanchuan's heart, stirring up an unending series of ripples.

Yu Lanchuan's right brain only had this tinkling series of ripples left while the fury in his left brain was still putting up a final struggle and shouting: She's shameless enough to be smiling!

The corpus callosum between the two halves of his brain shirked its duty in disgust and went on strike. Yu Lanchuan fought a fierce fight with himself until he lost his rationality and also his ability to speak. After repeating the single word "you" for a long while, he still did not finish the rest of his sentence.

Right then, Gan Qing lifted her unbroken hand and placed it on his shoulder.

"Little Master Yu…" she said with a sigh. Yu Lanchuan frowned as he waited for the rest of her sentence but Gan Qing only smiled and lowered her head, her forehead pressing against the hand on his shoulder, just like she was lying on his shoulder.

So sudden!

Yu Lanchuan's brain exploded. The brain cells on both sides of his brain engaged in battle were all crushed in one fell swoop. His throat twitched and he stopped breathing.

The next moment, Gan Qing's entire body fell on him.

Yu Lanchuan hastily caught her. "Hey!"

But she had already lost consciousness.

She was very light, he could support her weight with just one hand. Her long slender limbs were like an empty, incorporeal frame, like she only had to fall limp and she could be easily kneaded and rolled up into a very small ball.

Out of nowhere, a thought rose in Yu Lanchuan's heart. If her blood was drained out of her, she would be left with barely any weight at all in the mortal realm.

This made his heart pound wildly. Without realising it, his arm tightened its grip around Gan Qing but was then forcibly pulled away by the paramedics who had rushed over. They swarmed up to him and took away the person in his arms.

"Wait… ow!" Yu Lanchuan subconsciously wanted to protect her but he forgot about his own dislocated wrist. When he tried to use force, half his body went numb from pain.

"Sir, your hand needs to be treated!"

"Slowly, careful!"

Yu Lanchuan wanted to get into the ambulance where Gan Qing was but was forcibly held back. After a round of pandemonium, he was pushed into another ambulance and sent to the hospital, had an X-ray done, had his joint pushed back into place… and he had just applied a cold compress to it when he was summoned by the police to be interrogated repeatedly and have his statement recorded. It was a long round of torment.

The way heroes left with a flourish of their sleeves once a matter is over, concealing their name and themselves in stories saved so much trouble. Behind these heroes, there had to be a team and an assistant!

He considered the few "teammates" he had beside him. There was one who could not speak, one who could but was inarticulate, and one who lay down and played dead right away without shouldering any of the responsibility. Yu Lanchuan's mouth was the only one left, a single fighter in the battle. He was completely exhausted in both body and mind.

It was only when the sky was completely dark that Yu Lanchuan could slow down. He hurried to the hospital to check on Gan Qing.

The cold compress from the hospital was pressed against his wrist. He looked at the person on the hospital bed out of the corner of his eye and listened absent-mindedly as the doctor said, "...The most serious injury on her body is the broken bones in her right shoulder. Her right arm also has past injuries that have not completely healed. In the future, she needs to be careful and protect it, otherwise it will affect her daily life. The others are not major issues. The main thing is that she has a serious cold and suffered collisions on top of that and might have a slight concussion. When she wakes up, she might feel dizzy and nauseous… Are you her family?"

Yu Lanchuan nodded absent-mindedly. When his chin moved down, he finally realised it wasn't right and quickly shook his head. "Just… a friend."

"Oh," the doctor said. "Then, can I trouble you to call her family? It's nothing major, it's just that she might feel unwell."

The doctor gave him some casual reminders, then hurried off without waiting for Yu Lanchuan to reply.

Yu Lanchuan pressed on the cold compress and stood there in vain for a while before sitting by the hospital bed. The sky was dark and dreary. The thin intravenous drip pierced into Gan Qing's vein. Her hand seemed transparent.

Who can I call? Yu Lanchuan thought in resignation.

Even though the fighting had been mutual on both sides and Yang Ping was also nothing good, Zhu Qiao was indeed the one who made the first move. She even brought along a dagger that had a blood groove. This wasn't something that could be concealed.

Hence, while everything was being investigated thoroughly, the little mute girl was temporarily detained. Yu Lanchuan called in a lawyer friend of his to follow up with her case and only then found out that Qiao-Qiao was not yet eighteen years old. This was a good thing. No matter what, her circumstances would be taken into account and her punishment would be lighter.

The other three of them were considered to have tried to stop the violence. They also had Yu Yan who came after hearing the news to help turn things around so they were still fine for now. They just had to be ready at all times to be summoned and to cooperate with the investigation.

Yan Hao's main injury was to his mental trauma. The hospital did not take care of treating that so he returned home first. Gan Qing's circumstances were a little more complicated.

After all, she had a criminal record.

No matter how clearly and repeatedly Yu Lanchuan explained that Gan Qing had followed him to the place after he received a location sharing from a friend and there was even the cab's driving log and the receipt in her phone as proof, the police were still very suspicious of her involvement in the matter. If she had not fainted at the right time, she would likely be facing interrogation at the police station even now.

They had asked Yu Lanchuan in a tone that wasn't considered ill-intentioned but was very odd, "You seem quite close to her? Hmm… You're a proper… Why are you hanging around with someone like that? Oh… neighbours. That explains it. Your building has quite a mix of people, you've got all kinds there."

Yu Lanchuan understood what they were saying...Her life had a "stain"; hence, people were exceptionally suspicious of her.

Even if everyone was in actual fact rising and falling together with the muddy waves in the sludge and no one was truly innocent and guiltless in their life, everyone feared bearing a "stain." Serious ones like "criminal record" and "wrong step," less serious ones like "divorce" and "communicable disease"—they were all of a similar nature. Once a person was branded with them, they would not be able to break free for the rest of their life.

A white wall with a slight blemish was still a wall but once a person's life had a blemish, it seemed that from then on, the only road open to them was the road to become the dregs of society.

Yu Lanchuan felt as though there was a stone blocking his throat. It refused to come up or go down, choking him unbearably.

Right then, a diligent nurse at the next bed brought a spittoon to him, cutting off Yu Lanchuan's train of thought.

"Oh, thank-"

"No need for thanks. I heard what the doctor said just now," the nurse said. "A concussion is very hard to bear, she will vomit until she's like a sea cucumber!"

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

The nurse had just stepped one foot out the door when he heard the person on the bed let out a soft chuckle. Yu Lanchuan quickly turned around and saw Gan Qing open her eyes.

The moment she opened her eyes, her limbs that had curled into a ball seemed to regrow their bones and tendons. Her eyes lit a spark of life that suffused through her body and she immediately no longer looked weak or lonely.

"You're awake?"

"How can I not wake up? Such a loud voice cursing me to be a sea cucumber." Gan Qing shifted a little and lowered her head to glance at both her arms. Her left hand was connected to the drip while her right arm was in a splint. She had no free arms.

Yu Lanchuan could tell that she wanted to sit up and had just reached out to support her when he saw her drop both arms and use her core strength to easily fold her body up. Halfway up, she suddenly stopped moving, her eyes staring at a corner of the hospital bed.

Yu Lanchuan half-crouched down and asked urgently, "Do you need to vomit?"

Gan Qing shook her head slightly. Then, she clenched her teeth tightly, forcing a sneeze back. She was indeed still dizzy and she didn't dare let that sneeze run rampant.

Her nose was discontent and her eyes also kept tearing up, yet her heart was contented.

After ten years under the dust and curled up in a ball, she was stretching herself out, once again revealing the edge of her blade.

Yu Lanchuan tested the temperature of her forehead and checked the speed of the drip, then poured water for her. After busying himself for a while, he finally realised that he had forgotten to ask the doctor if there was anything she couldn't eat now and wanted to rush out of the ward to find someone to ask.

Behind him, Gan Qing let out a wolf whistle. It even had a twisty tune.

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

"No need to trouble yourself, Little Master Yu." Gan Qing beckoned at him. "I don't have much appetite. Come over here and talk to me. The police will probably interrogate me on my own. Let's check our stories so that I don't expose you."

"Just speak the truth. What do you mean by exposing me… What are you doing!"

Gan Qing had directly pulled out the drip.

"Annoying." She casually took a cotton swab and pressed it against the puncture wound, lightly flexing her numb fingers. "I barely take half a pill of cold medicine in a year. I'm not used to drips, just seeing it makes me want to go to the bathroom and it's not like you can help me get there."

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

Gan Qing shot a glance at him without looking up, then smiled. "I know you don't mind but the other patients might not agree. It wouldn't be good if other people think you're a perv and beat you up. You wouldn't even be able to fight back."

Yu Lanchuan forced his words out through the clenched teeth. "Thank you for your wise words. In the past, there had already quite a few-"

Before he could finish speaking, Gan Qing suddenly took hold of his wrist that had been dislocated. Her hand seemed even colder than the cold compress. Yu Lanchuan shivered lightly. He stayed motionless, not daring to move, letting her callused fingertips wander over every inch of his injury.

"Good," Gan Qing said. "It's not a serious injury. The swelling is not very bad and there aren't any unnecessary muscle strains."

Yu Lanchuan finally regained his wits and grabbed his hand back. His face turned stiff. "Don't just touch as you like!"

"Should I pay? If yes, then I'll pay the cost of the cab ride. You don't have to reimburse me for that." Gan Qing waved her hand. The improper smile on her face had yet to disappear but her voice suddenly changed. "After getting a taste of Yang Ping's might, how could you still dare to take the blow for me? Didn't you learn your lesson?"

It would be fine if she didn't mention it but once she brought it up, it was the final straw that set Yu Lanchuan off. "If I hadn't blocked it, your brain right now wouldn't be concussed, it would have been smashed to bits!"

Gan Qing listened to him go on a long tirade that attacked the structural composition of her brain, complete with logic and proof. She tried interjecting a few times to no avail and had no choice but to listen while sitting there and drinking water. She had just drained the glass and was putting it down when Yu Lanchuan sprung up like a spring-coiled robot, automatically standing up to pour her another glass.

The water was warm, the temperature just right.

Yu Lanchuan said, "...We agreed beforehand that we would just keep him under control and wait for the police to arrive and hand him over. But you just had to use that 'jianghu matters should be settled the jianghu way' excuse, didn't you? Do you know the difference between 'standing up for a right cause' and 'beating each other up'? Do you know that you still have a..."

"A criminal record," Gan Qing continued for him.

Yu Lanchuan swiftly turned mute.

"What?" Gan Qing lifted her head, unbothered. "When the police interrogated you, they should have focused on that, shouldn't they? A respectable and elite member of society like you, why would you have anything to do with an ex-murderer?"

Yu Lanchuan's mouth tightened.

"I want to ask too." Gan Qing spread her hands at him. "Little Master Yu, instead of busying yourself to become a CEO and marry a perfect woman, you spend whole days hanging around with me, don't you feel that it's below you? You strive so hard for your career, your academics are better than anyone else's, you stand above your peers in your work—your life should be a smooth-sailing one. I'm a bomb that could go off at any time; with me around, aren't you afraid that something that crosses the line will happen one day and drag you down..."

"I will bear the responsibility." After falling silent for a long while, Yu Lanchuan suddenly spoke.

"N-No, no, there's no need for that." Gan Qing's tongue was in knots. "There's nothing of that sort between us."

"What I mean is that I will be responsible for my choices," Yu Lanchuan gritted his teeth and said, pausing between each word. "Even if that day comes, I am willing to bear the consequences of failing to see clearly with my own eyes. I don't need you to tell me what to do, mind your own business!"

Gan Qing made a miffed noise, then said softly, "A friendly reminder…"

"What I want is not a friendly reminder!"

Gan Qing paused. The fingers of her left hand resting on her knee rubbed against each other for a while. She could see her reflection in his eyes—a miserable and sorry sight, an arm that didn't listen to her commands hanging from her body, looking just like a mutt who had spent half her life wandering from place to place.

Gan Qing let out a short laugh. "Little Master Yu, do you want to put on your glasses before saying that?"

Chapter 90

"Sure," Yu Lanchuan said. Then, he indeed took his glasses out of his pocket and put them on. "Now can I continue talking?"

Gan Qing, "..."

"What do you mean by all those things you said just now?" Yu Lanchuan looked down at her from his vantage point, his brows rising above the frame of his glasses. "I thought that people like you didn't come with the ability to disdain yourself."

"Little Master Yu, would it hurt you to speak nicely?" Gan Qing sighed. "I just feel that we... don't match, ermm… You understand, right? You and me, in more than one way."

Yu Lanchuan let out a snort of laughter. "A few years ago, all the fashion writers in the world were united in thinking that sneakers and fashion were two words that did not go hand-in-hand. Whoever dared wear a pair of white sneakers with western-style pants was basically committing a crime as grievous as exposing their red thermal underwear under a white shirt. In the recent two years, the athletic style has become the spokespeople for fashion. If you don't match your formalwear with a pair of informal shoes, you would seem like an insurance agent. Whether or not a match is good, who has the last word on that?"

"I don't know." Gan Qing thought for a while, then spread her hands and answered. "I buy shoes from the supermarket or the market, from whichever shop has the most discounts. My selection criteria is how dirt-proof they are."

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

Gan Qing smiled, "I haven't even had the time to give an example and you've already given one for me. See, this is a bad match."

It was as though one of them existed in the otherworldly paradise of Peach Blossom Spring while the other lived in the decidedly real paradise of Wulingyuan.

And in the old dreams of jianghu, they met by coincidence.

Upon waking up from the dream, they each had to cross the bridge they came from and walk the road that was theirs.

Yu Lanchuan looked into her eyes and felt that there was a very special kind of tranquility there, like a mirror unaffected by any waves, reflecting everything in the surroundings exactly as they were.

"Just look at how I have no money but I spend like there's no tomorrow. Every month, the most detailed planning I do is to put aside the amount for my rent in advance. Not a single cent is left of the remaining amount. If I have nothing to do, I like to just lie down. When I'm not working, my only pastime is eating skewers. The sensory organs above my neck are in hibernation most of the time. If a manual has more than three lines, I'll find it too long to read. I don't even know how long I can stay in Yanning." Gan Qing paused. "...Maybe I won't stay for more than a few years."

Because Yanning was a bustling and lively big city. In a big city, all the people harboured grand ambitions in their chests, each fighting against the flow to advance upwards. She mingled in the center of the crowd yet wasn't quite part of it. To her, this was just a place of old friends and old memories. When the day came that she could truly let it go, it would be time for her to leave.

After hearing that, Yu Lanchuan said firmly, "A ruffian like you won't have a good life in your final years."

The fingers of Gan Qing's left hand rubbed against each other for a bit. In her heart, she recited the principle of being a hoodlum: One must not beat up a beautiful member of the other sex.

"My parents divorced because their personalities were incompatible." Yu Lanchuan stood up straight and leaned slightly back against the wall. He folded his arms across his chest and said quietly, "My dad doesn't like to be tied down. He's independent and doesn't follow the crowd. He does things on the spur of the moment and is dirt poor. But he doesn't care about that. He drifts everywhere and even his meals are uncertain, but he even feels that it's pretty good. It's been so many years since their divorce but my mum is still secretly paying for his old-age insurance and he can get the benefits after sixty. She's afraid he'll have to be a beggar in the future."

"They have a good relationship."

"Their relationship has always been good. Unfortunately…" Yu Lanchuan said. "To use a tacky internet slang, it would be 'Fell in love with a wild horse, yet I have no grass plain in my home.' With the two of them as an example to learn from, I have always felt that letting hormones affect your personal preferences is a very foolish thing. Life should be well-arranged. Based on my circumstances, it would be best if I get together with a girl who's not too rich, whose job is steady and undemanding, and who likes to stay at home. If she stays at home, she can take care of the household and improve my standard of living. If her job is stable, she can earn money to spend on herself and in the short term, she won't be an additional financial burden to me. If she's not very rich and can't pass the hurdle of a downpayment on a house by herself, by being with me, she can enjoy the benefits of having fixed assets. A relationship is only meaningful if everyone benefits. Other than that, for the sake of making it easier to get along with each other for the long term, I hope that she has the same level of spiritual awareness and desire for self-improvement as me. Later on, I realised that most girls like this aren't the type to stay at home. Hence, to me, staying single is the most economical. There is no risk and I can also maintain my standard of living."

As a salted fish with nothing in her brain, after listening to someone else's thorough and methodical life plan, Gan Qing was speechless with amazement. All she could do was say in praise, "You are truly an amazing person who's adept at summarising the lessons learned from experience-"

"But even though my heart is so clear on that," Yu Lanchuan cut her off, "I am still walking that same mistaken path."

Gan Qing fell into silence, her eyes quietly fixed on him.

"I want to try," Yu Lanchuan said. "I want to see if I have the ability to shoulder that kind of life… and you."

"If you say that, I feel like I'm one of President Yang's 'baggies' that cost an arm and a leg even though I can't see what's so great about them," Gan Qing said.

"No," Yu Lanchuan said in a low voice. "You are a risky venture."

Through his lenses, his gaze was thick and dense, revealing a little of his tender emotions. They were like the morning dew that appeared for just a short while before the sun was up; when the sun was high and the dust of travels kicked up, they would quietly disappear without a trace. 

Because they were so rarely seen, when one occasionally happened to catch the sight, it was enough to shake one's soul.

Back when Gan Qing listened to Zhang Meizhen's story, then turned her head and crashed right into his gaze, she had already been shocked once. Previously, when she and Yang Ping made the bet over the knife's edge and he had taken the blow for her without any hesitation, she was shocked one more time.

And now, this was the third time.

The same thing should not be done more than three times.

Gan Qing sighed and said as though to herself, "Then, what are you?"

In a treacherous and difficult journey… an oasis of pleasure?

Yu Lanchuan thought for a while, then answered seriously, "Probably old-age insurance?"

Gan Qing's shoulders suddenly slumped. Her left hand propped on her knee covered half her face. "Little Master Yu, that's enough."

Yu Lanchuan pushed his glasses up. "After all, there is a high chance that your life won't be good in your final years."

Gan Qing felt that she was on the verge of doing something she would regret with her arm. Her head was in pain, and she sniffed and said listlessly, "...Go away, I beg you."

The corners of Yu Lanchuan's mouth revealed a hint of a mischievous smile that he didn't hide well. He reached out and tousled her hair, then walked out.

Yu Lanchuan had passed the letter and photos that Gan Qing had received to Yu Yan and told him to find a way to hand it to his higher-ups while keeping the source anonymous. A mere few days later, his lawyer friend that he had called got back to him.

"It can be considered to be going smoothly. Fortunately, it's not convenient for the girl to talk so there's no chance of her saying the wrong things. Knowing that I'm there to help her, she's also cooperating," the lawyer said. "Right now, I'm doing my best to label the incident as a conflict and mutual fight rather than a premeditated murder. After all, the retractable baton Yang Ping had is also quite lethal. When the time comes, I'll see if the issue of controlled weapons can be turned from major to minor. Her young age is also an advantage."

Yu Lanchuan asked, "What about Yang Ping?"

"Still hospitalised," the lawyer said. "However, his issue doesn't have much to do with you guys. Your hypothesis was not far off the mark. This man should have been taking some kind of unknown drug for a long time. The police right now are very tense because if this is proven to be a new type of drug, it will be a serious matter. My side is also unable to get any inside news on the situation. I feel that the police also can't be bothered with handling this minor matter of a physical fight now."

Yu Lanchuan asked, "What about the external injuries on his body?"

"Ai, speaking of that, it's really amazing," the lawyer said. "It's just five millimeters short of meeting the criteria for light injury, can you believe that? I say, who was it who did that? Can I meet them one day? This person is really both godly and crafty!"

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

No wonder a certain person had only asked a couple of simple questions after waking up in hospital, and had not been worried at all about the police making trouble for her!

"It's just a coincidence, what are you thinking?" Yu Lanchuan brushed off his friend with no sincerity at all. "You're a profiteering litigator, how do you still have the time to read wuxia stories? Trying to make your liver go bust from overwork?"

"In that case, I want to meet them even more! If their luck is so good, aren't they the same as a human-shaped lucky carp? Which member of society doesn't want to inhale a breath of that prosperous air…"

Yu Lanchuan hung up.

He pushed open the door of his house, ready to go to work, and happened to see Gan Qing coming back after buying breakfast.

Before Gan Qing could finish her "Good morning," Yu Lanchuan took a sudden step forward and drew near her hair, breathing in the smell of off-the-shelf shampoo.

"Such a cheap prosperous air." Yu Lanchuan left this review, then casually took a packet of soy milk from her hands.

"...You're welcome," Gan Qing said.

The speed at which the modern day young men took advantage and became arrogant from being spoiled was so fast!

The phone call from Captain Miao interrupted Yang Yifan's meeting. She raised her hand to cut short the discussion, then went to the next door pantry to pick up the call.

"We've caught Yang Ping," Captain Miao told her. "This man is suspected of using illegal drugs and might be involved in multiple murder cases. We are in the midst of investigating… But I'm afraid it won't be easy. Too much time has passed and the evidence has turned to dust."

After the call, Yang Yifan turned to return to the meeting room. "We'll go with the version we decided on just now. Publish it."

Two minutes later, Yang Yifan's public account and her company's official account published the same public statement. She apologised for the negative impact of her inappropriate words and conduct and also announced that other than the ongoing partnerships, her company was temporarily stopping all other work and preparing to undergo a transformation.

After walking through almost half of her life's journey, she was returning from the long dream. She needed to truly wake up from this sleep, hence she gave herself and her employees a long holiday.

Elder Tian and the other people who appeared in the photographs were also taken away by the police. Right after that, the unlicensed shops and cabs run by Travellers' Sect were investigated en masse. The economic crime division set up a case to investigate Futongda Corporation and that very night, Wang Jiusheng fled overseas to hide from the storm.

Those who had anything to do with Beggars' Sect were also swept away by the tempest. For a while, the beggars and buskers that had been in every street and alley of Yanning seemed to vanish without a trace.

These two great sects that had once summoned wind and rain in the annals of history, that straddled both the good and the evil paths, were like two huge yet ancient and rundown ships. Amidst the wind and the rain, they floated and swayed and collided, then slowly sank together.

The moon of Fuliang was covered by clouds, the snow on the cold river flowed east with the water, the sparrow in front of the fall hid in its nest of mud, the wind piercing through the forest scattered and dissipated.

This lively and exciting midwinter where the beating of the war drums reached the sky came to an end. Spring had barely started when the weather seemed unable to wait any longer to turn warm.

Everyone in his WeChat Moments were grumbling about how Yanning no longer had spring and autumn, and was only left with summer and winter. Teacher Meng-Meng removed her splint and prepared to welcome the next peak sales season.

Zhang Meizhen faced the mirror and applied lipstick. She applied, then wiped it off, then applied again. After changing three or four tubes, she turned to ask Gan Qing. "Which one is better? Is lip gloss better at hiding lip wrinkles than lipstick and makes me look younger?"

Gan Qing rubbed her eyes and suspected that she might be slightly colour blind. She really could not see the difference and could only fawn on her landlord without much emotion. "My Meizhen-jie suits both heavy and light makeup and looks good no matter what she uses."

"Do I need your nonsense? It's no help at all." Zhang Meizhen did not fall for this trick and rolled her eyes. "In the future, your boyfriend really can save so much trouble. He won't have to embarrass himself at the makeup counter during special occasions. He just needs to open a bottle of beer for you and consider it done."

Gan Qing didn't reply and just looked at her with a wide smile. She saw Zhang Meizhen study herself severely in the mirror, making sure that there was no fault to be found, before picking up her bag and preparing to leave the house.

The moment she stepped out of the front door, Zhang Meizhen suddenly paused, then returned inside without a word. She removed her makeup and washed her face and combed out her hair that was styled with gel. In a flash, she transformed from "Meizhen-jie" to "Grandma Zhang." With this simple and unadorned appearance, she left the house.

"Excuse me… Yang Qing has just been transferred to the ordinary ward, hasn't he? Where do I go to visit him?"

"Oh, Grandpa Yang." The young nurse on duty stood up. "The family has informed me. Grandma, you're visiting your friend, aren't you? I'll take you there."

At the door to the ward room, Yang Yifan looked up and nodded at Zhang Meizhen from far to signal to her. "I'll be leaving awhile to buy food."

They walked past each other. Zhang Meizhen slowly raised her eyes and through the white walls and white door of the ward room, she saw a pair of old and murky eyes looking at her from half a century ago.

It seemed like yearning and also like a question—

The dust from the upheavals in our past, have they all settled down?

— END OF BOOK 4 —

Book 5: Fleeting as the Morning Dew

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