Chapter 136 – Two-faced
Ancient Wind city was a mountain city, located on a slope of the Boundless mountains. The entire city was built on the side of the mountain. All of the streets and alleyways in the city were sloped.
Passing through the deep, quiet city gates, a main road slanted upwards before them. At the end of it was a palace-like estate, lording over the entire city. It was even more imposing than the Hawkwolf Guard in Jiaping city.
Lanterns and streamers decorated every single household on the sides of the street, as if they were welcoming a grand celebration. However, there was no joy at all on the faces of the passersby.
The news of Qian Rongzhi’s return as a Hawkwolf guard quickly reached the grand estate, which seemed to trigger some kind of mechanism. Over a hundred burly men flooded out and chased away everyone on the sides. They stood ten steps apart from one another on the side of the main road as they remained focused.
When the three of them rode past, the men called out loudly, “Welcome back to the clan, young miss!” However, the clip-clopping sounds of the horses still reached the estate.
Qian Rongzhi raised her head and traveled at the very front, while Li Qingshan and Diao Fei remained half a horse behind, staying to her left and right. They were like her personal guards.
They had all agreed on this in the past few days. Only by showing respect to Qian Rongzhi could they make the people of the Qian family lower their guards. For the sake of a thousand Qi Gathering pills, something as insignificant as this was obviously not a problem. However, Li Qingshan felt like Qian Rongzhi was not simply acting right now. She did have some complacency and pride after returning home with success.
The gate of the estate stood several meters tall, and there were even several dozen steps before it, making them seem rich and influential. A pair of stone lions gazed down in an imposing manner, but Li Qingshan only found them to be rather fiendish.
The crimson gates opened loudly, and a skinny old man in extravagant clothing emerged from the gate. He was the patriarch of the Qian family, Qian Yannian. He had personally come to receive the three of them.
“Patriarch, Rongzhi was fortunate enough to complete the task and join the Hawkwolf Guard.” Qian Rongzhi dismounted from her horse and bowed gracefully. Before she could even bow completely, a pair of skinny hands grabbed her arms. “Haven’t I said it before? Just call me grandfather. You are now a person of the government, so how can you bow to an old man like me?”
Li Qingshan and Diao Fei looked at one another. Qian Yannian’s movements were startlingly quick. They were not slow like an old man’s at all. Although his tone was gentle, he gave off a pressing aura. This was the pressure that weaker Qi Practitioners naturally experienced before more powerful Qi Practitioners.
Qian Yannian said, “The two of you must be Zhi’er’s colleagues!”
Diao Fei clasped his hands. “We are. Under sir Zhuo’s orders, we’ve accompanied Rongzhi on her visit to home and to congratulate old master Qian on your one hundred and thirty second birthday.”
Li Qingshan clasped his hands as well as he smiled. All he did was study the main target of the mission this time. Qian Yannian had thin, grey hair, and his face was covered in faint, age spots. His nose was all soft, like dangling rubber that was close to melting, and his skinny body held up his luxurious clothes, making him seem like an old monkey in human clothes. It was rather funny, but also rather sickening.
If it were not for his shining eyes and swift movements earlier, Li Qingshan would have doubted whether this old man who was close to death was actually their greatest opponent or not in the mission this time.
First-rate masters who had practised internal martial arts only had a lifespan of around a century, provided that they had not suffered any internal injuries. A fifth layer Qi Practitioner could only have a few decades more than that. At Qian Yannian’s age, his cultivation had already begun to decline. Qian Rongzhi had been right about this piece of information.
Li Qingshan glanced at Qian Yannian’s hundred treasures pouch as he wondered whether there really were several hundred Qi Gathering pills in there or not. His gaze had already passed over Qian Yannian’s shoulder. Currently, he was looking at the people behind the gate, or more accurately, the group of Qi Practitioners behind the gate. There were males and females, old and young, scholars and monks. They were not people of the Qian family, but people who had come to celebrate the birthday. Their gazes back at Li Qingshan were not as enthusiastic. As a matter of fact there was even disdain and coldness.
Li Qingshan remembered what Zhou Wenbin had said before. As hawks and wolves of the government, they were extremely repulsed in the entire cultivation world, particularly with people from sects. Every single person liked to be free, without any restraints or under anyone’s control, yet the Hawkwolf Guard just happened to watch over the entire world as representatives of legalism who protected the law.
Qian Yannian waved his hand. “Please!”
In a quiet room, Qian Yannian no longer seemed as bold as he was before everyone. Instead, he looked at Qian Rongzhi with reddened eyes. “Where’s Qian Rongming?”
Qian Rongzhi said sorrowfully, “Rongming- Rongming was killed by someone.”
“What!” Qian Yannian grabbed Qian Rongzhi’s shoulders firmly. “Who? Who did it? Why are you fine?” Qian Rongming was not an outsider he had adopted, but a direct descendant of his Qian family, a descendant with enough talent out of over a hundred of his grandsons that had come out of taking wives and concubines without restraint.
Qian Rongzhi said, “It’s Li Qingshan. It’s the kid who was with me today. He’s the one responsible for Rongming’s death.” She actually told him the entire story in detail.
Qian Yannian could only accept the truth. He said viciously, “If he weren’t a Hawkwolf guard, I would definitely tear him to pieces.” Afterwards, he used his shrivelled hand to rub Qian Rongzhi’s tender cheek. “But fortunately, I still have you.” Indecency flashed through his eyes.
Qian Rongzhi said, “Grandfather, you might be willing to spare him, but he isn’t willing to spare you!”
“What did you say?” Qian Yannian was surprised.
“We’ve come this time under a secret mission from the Hawkwolf Guard. We’ve come to investigate the Qian family!”
“How can that be possible? I’ve managed to run Ancient Wind city as tightly as a steel bucket. It’s not like we’re stingy when it comes to areas we have to cough up for. Why would the Hawkwolf Guard direct their attention towards me?” The lecherous light in Qian Yannian’s eyes vanished, replaced by fright. Small clans like his were afraid of the Hawkwolf Guard the most. Once they attracted the attention of these hawks and wolves, they would get hunted down and torn apart.
Qian Rongzhi said, “It’s Li Qingshan again. He took brother Rongming’s hundred treasures pouch and became greedy, and he’s also envious and hateful of me, so he spoke ill about the Qian family to our commander Zhuo.”
Qian Yannian said, “Why didn’t you dispute that for the Qian family? What’s the point of having you around then? Slut, are you trying to betray the Qian family?”
Qian Rongzhi said, “How didn’t I dispute it? However, Li Qingshan even had backing from Clear River city. He joined the Hawkwolf Guard without even competing against the others. Zhuo Zhibo is afraid of offending him, so he ordered us to come and investigate. The only reason why Rongzhi is here today is all due to the great kindness the Qian family has shown. If it were not for the Qian family, if it were not for grandfather, the Rongzhi of right now would not exist. How can I betray the clan?” As she said that, she began to tear up, as if she wanted to prove her innocence with death.
Qian Yannian thought about how she had also been so obedient, so he eased up slightly. “Then what do we do now? Why don’t we give him some bribes, and then you can make a small sacrifice for the Qian family?”
Qian Rongzhi said, “Grandfather, he’s a hungry wolf, as greedy as they come. All he wants to do is devour the Qian family whole. He’s not someone that can be satisfied by casting a bone his way. If you don’t believe me, just pay close attention to their reactions.”
Qian Yannian said, “Then what am I supposed to do? If I hadn’t listened to you and sent the two of you off to become Hawkwolf guards, this problem would have never happened.”
Qian Rongzhi became vicious. “You can’t let them, in particular, Li Qingshan, leave Ancient Wind city alive.”
Qian Yannian said, “You want me to plot against Hawkwolf guards!?”
“If Li Qingshan remains, the Qian family will never have peace. I will shift the blame of their deaths to other people. Grandfather, this is all for the sake of the Qian family.”
Quite a while later, Qian Rongzhi emerged from the quiet room. The resplendent sunlight seemed to purge the darkness in her heart. As soon as she made her way into the courtyard, a middle-aged man stopped her.
“Big brother!” Qian Rongzhi bowed politely.
The middle-aged man extended his hand towards her cheek, but Qian Rongzhi avoided it. “Don’t be like that, big brother!”
This was Qian Yannian’s eldest grandson, Qian Xingwei. Although he lacked the talent to practise qi, he still practised internal martial arts. He was the head caretaker of the entire Qian family.
Qian Xingwei was furious. He grabbed Qian Rongzhi by the chin. “Quit acting around. Do you really think you can be all high and mighty just because you’ve joined the Hawkwolf Guard? As long as you’re still a part of the Qian family, you have to listen to me. Don’t forget about the great kindness the Qian family has shown to you.”
Qian Rongzhi said, “Yes, big brother. Rongzhi would never dare to.” Suddenly, a few people walked over from afar. Only then did Qian Xingwei release her. He ordered, “Come to my room tonight.” He watched Qian Rongzhi walk away as he spat and said, “So what if you’re a Qi Practitioner!?”
What he could not see was the sinister smile on Qian Rongzhi’s face.
Everyone would pay.
Night had fallen, and the lanterns had been lit.
There was a merry hubbub in the hall; all the important guests had come to wish Qian Yannian well. Although the birthday party was the next day, most of them had arrived a day early in order to show respect. Out of them, the most valuable guests were obviously the dozen or so Qi Practitioners. Li Qingshan and Diao Fei used their identities as Hawkwolf guards to get some of the best seats.
Qian Yannian introduced everyone one by one. When he reached Li Qingshan, he said, “This is a young hero of the Hawkwolf Guard, sir Li Qingshan!”
No matter what everyone was thinking, they all said words of courtesy like ‘Pleased to meet you’ or ‘Admirable’.
“Your name’s Li Qingshan?” A sharp voice rang out. Li Qingshan looked over, and all he saw was a scholar sitting on the ground with his legs stretched out. His hair was in a mess, and he seemed like a rather unruly person. He was also a third layer Qi Practitioner; he looked over with hostility.
Li Qingshan said, “That’s me. And who are you, sir?”
“That’s Gong Liangbai, known as the Wild Scholar by the people of the jianghu. He comes from the Humble Maple academy.” Qian Yannian introduced the two of them first. Afterwards, he asked Gong Liangbai, “What’s wrong? Do you know sir Li?”
In a world where even a district magistrate was a powerful cultivator, an academy was not just a place for studying. Instead, it was similar to buddhist and daoist temples. Practising martial arts and practising qi were all a part of it too.
Gong Liangbai did not even glance at Qian Yannian. He only stared at Li Qingshan. “Do you know Wei Dandong?”
Li Qingshan said, “I don’t.”
Gong Liangbai said, “But he knows you. If I’ve guessed correctly, you should be from Qingyang city, right? A few months ago, this junior brother of mine paid a visit there. Since young, he has always been rather sickly. Originally, he went there in search of a cure, but he never returned.”
Li Qingshan suddenly remembered the sickly scholar who had come for the spiritual ginseng back in Qingyang city. He was the first first-rate master to die to his hands in the snowy landscape in front of the mountain god temple. The other first-rate masters were all middle-aged, but only he was in his twenties, so Li Qingshan had some impression of him.
“I think I’ve seen him around.”
Gong Liangbai subconsciously straightened up. “And then?”
Li Qingshan said, “I killed him.”