Ran Min and Ge Bin trembled and they both lifted their heads, their mouth gaping and their eyes (well, Ran Min’s eyes… ?), widened. Everyone else in the room also had the same reaction, even Bi Liang couldn’t help but be slightly startled and take a step back.
Cheng Hao smiled “Your plan was truly excellent, it would most likely have been a success: thug #1 would be the bad cop and thug #2 the good cop. I would have a bad impression on #1 which would change due to him actually not being bad in the future and occasionally giving out incredibly useful info while #2 would be branded as loyal and also kind and respectful deep in my mind, truly smart! Too bad…” Cheng Hao’s smile turned into a grin and his eyes glinted “… That your own disguises fooled you!”
Ran Min opened his mouth about to say something when he realized that Cheng Hao was no longer in front of him. He heard the sound of metal hitting the scabbard and Cheng Hao reappeared holding the older man’s blade in his hands
“Remarkable weapon. Ran Min, descendant of the Ran family, a powerful family of legendary swordsman, their swords impeccable and incredibly sharp due to the mysterious ores used during the smelting process…”
Cheng Hao looked at the blade and then turned towards the pale Ran Min who was still searching for the blade in his scabbard. Cheng Hao continued.
“You have made two mistakes: the first, a Ran swordsman’s weapon is composed not of metal but of special ores smelted in the lava in the craters of an active volcano. They would be tempered over and over which would give them a special luster and make it similar to iron”
Cheng Hao played with the weapon, executing tens of beautiful strikes as he continued his explanation. It almost looked like he had been practicing with that sword for years.
“The only exception would be that these ores would not rust as they are not iron and they would be many times as durable as this blade of black iron, these scars may have fooled other people into thinking that the blade might have gone through many battles, but it only makes it more obvious that it is not an original blade”
Cheng Hao threw the weapon in the air and let it fall down embedding in the floor for a few centimeters. He lifted his hand and Li Biang, also understanding the child’s intentions, materialized a knife made out of Aura.
Cheng Hao smiled and nodded “Thanks elder brother! Now, let me tell you a tale! About a thousand years ago, the Ran family was suddenly attacked by a mysterious expert of that time. He slaughtered his way through the Family’s castle and when he got in front of the gates to the main hall, the few soldiers standing there deserted, leaving their swords behind to run faster”
Cheng Hao chuckled and thought in his mind ‘You children, you better listen to your teacher, this tale comes from first hand experience! I still remember the rivers of blood of the Ran Family flowing on the roads like water during a flood, the bodies piling up on the sides of the road… And their lives getting extinguished with but a wave of my hand!’
He slashed at the blade horizontally and the sword embedded in the ground divided in two.
“To avoid that to happen again, they imprinted each of their swords with a special symbol, a qilin, their family’s mark. Every weapon had then been enchanted with magic and connected with their wielder’s life, meaning that if the sword broke, the person swinging it would die too… Now, does this Ran Min look dead to you? Also… Every swordsman in the Ran family is left handed!”
Everybody in the room turned to look at an ashen face Ran Ming and they saw that his right fist, his only fist, was tightened so much that it had turned white.
Cheng Hao laughed “Ahaha, truly, your disguise might have given you a mysterious past that might have saved you from inquiries by your new targets, and kept your past safe for a while. Unfortunately for you, it is just your bad luck that I stumbled here, you see…”
Cheng Hao turned and pointed at a stunned Bi Liang “I actually didn’t want to come in the first place, this guy forced me to! Although I might actually thank him later as this is getting interesting!”
Cheng Hao turned towards the blind man that was still patiently kneeling on the ground “Now… Ge Bin… The blind, loyal dog of the Golden Tiger faction. Ops, sorry, you are not actually blind, how silly of me! Sorry, it was a mistake, I hope you won’t mind…”
Ge Bin almost paled after hearing his words and kept his poker face, only showing a glint of fear and admiration as the corners of his mouth twitched. Of course, that was noticed by both Cheng Hao and Bi Liang.
A person in the crowd stood up “That is impossible! I have checked his eyes’ reactions many times, they don’t react at all! Even their Qi passages are blocked and…”
Cheng Hao smiled “Oh really? Would you like to make a bet with me? If it is as you say, then I will bow down, call you grandfather and apologize to you all, if it is not…” Cheng Hao chuckled evilly “Then bark as a dog for a day”
The man paled and trembled for a bit: he was the doctor and expert in medicine in the group and he had analyzed Ge Bin way back and confirmed that the man truly was blind and it was not a mere act. He inhaled, gathered his courage and headed towards Cheng Hao and Ge Bin, Ran Min still standing there not daring to move.
“E-excuse me!” The man approached Ge Bin. The man kneeling on the floor lowered his head and apologized “I am sorry, La Dan…”. La Dan shook his head “No, it is not your fault, it is that brat that-” “No, I’m sorry for making you bark like a dog for a day…” Ge Bin interrupted.
La Dan paled and he hurriedly removed the cloth covering Ge Bin’s eyes: when he removed it, Ge Bin looked at him and innocently said “You lost the bet because of me, I apologize!”
“How… How can this be… I-I checked him way back and the meridians around the eyeballs didn’t hold an ounce of Qi inside them, they… They were destroyed! And why should he act as if he were blind in the first place?” The man yelled.
Cheng Hao patted his shoulder, although he had to stand on the tip of his feet to do that, and told him “He fooled you into thinking that because men unintentionally lower their guard around people they judge inferior to them. Could anything be better for a spy than to be ignored?”
Cheng Hao smiled seeing that La Dan was absorbing information like a sponge, listening intently to his explanation “There are many ways to fool a man as trusting as you. For one, it would be if two twins swapped places, another one would be to use some special medicine to block the Qi flow in a special section of one’s body, you see…” Cheng Hao specified.
“Qi not flowing doesn’t mean that the meridians are destroyed… To make sure of that, you need to check wether the Qi is gathering on their ends or is flowing on as if those meridians had never been there: the first case would be our case, that the medicine blocked the Qi flow in the meridians but only stopping it, making it gather there with only a tiny bit continuing on its path. That is because, when the effect of the medicine vanishes, it would begin to flow back as before!”
La Dan listened to his words and pondered, taking mental notes, and then kowtowed “Senior Cheng is so considerate and generous! To give me this much information although I have erred and put the safety of my whole faction at risk I, Da Lan, will gladly act as a dog for a day, hell, even for a year or for my whole life if it means to repent!”
Cheng Hao nodded and lifted him placing his small hands on La Dan’s large shoulder “I see your vigor and loyalty! What dog and dog, just reflect on your mistakes and do not make them again! Cultivate and get stronger and if you will I will forgive you and even help you in your cultivation the moment you tell me so!”
La Dan cried and bowed nonstop “I will! I will! Thank you, young master! Senior Cheng, no, Master Cheng, I will be in debt with you for my whole life!”
Cheng Hao nodded satisfaction and told him that he could head back in the crowd where he sat, fire burning in his eyes and his hands itching to cultivate and get stronger in order to gain Cheng Hao’ favor!
Ge Bin knelt on the floor in silence and Cheng Hao nodded in appreciation “Ge Bin, get up, I can’t bear to see someone as loyal to your master and as kind to both enemies and allies as you kneel on the floor like a dog! Please stand up!”
The young man stood up and bowed with gratitude towards Cheng Hao “Thank you Leader Cheng! First of all, I apologize for betraying the lot of you… Well, I didn’t actually betray as neither me nor Ta Yun, the guy you called Ran Min, nor I actually were in this faction for real from the very beginning. Still, I apologize!”
In the crowd, an old man stood up “You little bastard! Have you forgotten how Third Protector Lao helped us? He was like a father to us, how could you betray him!”
Ge Bin ignored him and then turned towards Cheng Hao “My true name is Na Mu. I apologize, but before I die, may I know which were my mistakes? I thought that I had hid the fact that I could see quite well…”
Cheng Hao nodded “Well, unlike Ran Min I wasn’t too sure at a first glance and you only truly got my attention when you stood up to stop Ran Min: I told you to get in front of me but yet I pointed with my hand to my right and you followed the command given by the hand you could not see instead of that given by my voice like any true blind man would have”
Na Mu shook his head in disappointment “What if I had extremely developed senses? What if I had heard the air moving or something? Wasn’t this more of a guess then?” The man looked at Cheng Hao, thirsting for an answer.
Cheng Hao smiled “Not a chance! You see, before I moved my hand, I had swiped with my other arm first, interfering with the sound. It would have been impossible to notice the movement of my arm pointing to the right without using one’s sight. I received my confirm when I kept tapping my fingers on my back to attract your attention, it would have raised some sort of reaction when I suddenly tapped them a lot louder than before and even going as far as sending a sound wave, you would have at least lost your balance for a sec…”
Cheng Hao winked “You see, it is difficult to find yourself in a place that changes suddenly, it would have been like pointing a torch at point blank in someone else’s eyes: he would immediately swat it away and lose his balance for a moment as his eyesight would have been suddenly robbed for a bit! For someone relying on his hearing it would be have the same effect”
Na Mu whistled “Wow, so smart! This Golden Tiger faction is truly lucky to have found you! Maybe I have truly chosen the bad side in this war…”
Cheng Hao sighed “Unfortunately, a loyal man such as you wouldn’t betray others because of a slight change in the war’s balance. It is a pity, if you had not been in the opposing faction we could have been brothers!”
Na Mu also chuckled “Unfortunately, you are right! On the other hand, I also think so! You are small, cute but also smart and knowledgeable, which would not need me to waste my time to explain things and could instead play and joke with, my perfect type of smaller brother!”
Cheng Hao nodded and he hugged Na Mu “Well, we can only blame fate. Goodbye, brother that I have never had a chance to have…” Cheng Hao broke the embrace “It was nice meeting you!”
The other boy smiled happily and bit something in his mouth: black blood started flowing from the mouth’s corners. He looked at Cheng Hao one last time “I know that I shouldn’t say this, but… Good luck, brother!”
Cheng Hao also nodded “Good luck to you as well, Na Mu!”
Tears rolled down Na Mu’s cheeks and fell on the ground as his body fell back wards and got caught by Bi Liang. He also nodded in admiration “Truly, a worthy young man. Cheng Hao, although he was not able to be your brother, I will also take his place as your one, big brother! We can only wish him luck on his journey to the next world!”
Cheng Hao also nodded. Behind them, Ta Yun also fell on the ground. Unfortunately he had no one to hold him so he fell face-first in a pool of his own blood.
‘Fate… What is Fate? Is it a white page that we write ourselves? Or is a book that has already been written and only awaits its characters to do what they are told to do… But if that were to be so, what about me? Was that bead of light truly destiny? Was me coming back to life actually planned beforehand? Did it have a meaning? I don’t know right now, but the only thing that I can do to find out is to look for more clues and rise my strength!’
In Cheng Hao’s head, the faces of many men dying by his hand, men that he respected and admired, only because they had different beliefs and belonged to a different faction in a war embedded themselves deeply inside his mind.
‘I will find a way… A way to carry out justice, to break fate!’ He lifted his head ‘I will break Fate and destroy the very idea of Destiny! I will break down the chains that bind us, that makes us crawl on a harsh path and instead let them build their own wings and fly free into the sky! We… Shall all experience freedom!’ Cheng Hao looked up “This I, Cheng Hao, swear!”