“My, my, what have we here?”
Sun Mia heard a voice behind her. It was a slightly nasally and unattractive voice, but it was filled to the brim with arrogance and self-confidence.
Startled, she turned around to find a fat young man in a green robe staring straight at her. Her eyes involuntarily widened when she saw the emblem stitched onto the front of his robe: this was a member of the Fan clan! Sun Mia felt her heart sink, and a frisson of fear went down her spine.
Hurriedly, she turned back to the shopkeeper she had been bargaining with, only to find that the woman had backed away from the counter, and turned her face away from Sun Mia. There was a hint of discontent on the shopkeeper’s face, but it was obvious that she had no intention of getting involved in any altercation with the Fan clan.
“Hey now, don’t look away, pretty flower!” chided the fat man, clearly displeased. “It just so happens that this young master has taken a liking to you, you know? This is your lucky day.”
Frowning, Sun Mia glanced at the fat young man, then turned to walk away from him. But she suddenly realized that she was currently surrounded! A group of young men, about the same age as the fat man in the green robe, had completely cut off any line of retreat. The expressions on their faces were a mixture of lust and the sick joy of treasuring another’s misfortune. Sun Mia felt her fear grow deeper, and her hand crept towards her sleeve, where a small knife lay concealed.
Fan Mitsu frowned at the girl, who still wasn’t looking at him. Feeling irritated, he snapped waspishly, “Hmph! And here this young master was going to offer to take you in, but who would have thought you wouldn’t put this young master in your eyes! Don’t you realize that I belong to the Fan clan? The Fan clan rules this city now! Those who hew to us shall be protected, and those who oppose us… will pay the price!
“Come now, girl,” he continued in a voice that was half angry, half wheedling. “Wouldn’t you like to be safe and protected, a valued member of the Fan clan…?”
“Not interested,” stated Sun Mia coldly. She still refused to look at Fan Mitsu, but her eyes darted around, looking for a path of escape. Unfortunately, Fan Mitsu’s group had no intention of letting her go.
“Brother Mitsu, it seems this bitch can’t tell the difference between good and bad. Let’s just take her back and… heh, heh, educate her a bit…” sneered one of the well-dressed young men. The expression on his face was indescribably evil, and Sun Mia flinched away from him instinctively.
Fan Mitsu laughed, then placed a mock-insightful expression on his face. “Ah, brother, I expect you have the right of it. Well then, let’s get going–” As he spoke, he reached out a hand to grasp Sun Mia by the arm. Her face hardened and her hand, unseen inside her sleeve, gripped her small knife even more tightly. But before she could even attempt to defend herself, a cold voice suddenly spoke a single word:
A gust of wind blew up out of nowhere, causing Fan Mitsu and his minions to flinch and cover their eyes. When they could see again, a moment later, a man had suddenly appeared in front of them, blocking Fan Mitsu’s attempt to grab Sun Mia!
The man was dressed in an expensive-looking white robe, which was covered by a grey mantle with the hood pushed back. The face thus revealed would likely be handsome, if it wasn’t for the permanent glare in his eyes. He looked down on Fan Mitsu and his companions like they were ants, and he was contemplating bringing down his boot! His hand had fallen upon the hilt of his sword, and he seemed prepared to draw it at any moment.
Naturally, any number of people had been covertly watching Fan Mitsu and his band. The market was crowded that day, and neither merchant nor customer was especially pleased with the behavior shown by these would-be noble sons. But no one was willing to stick their neck out to defy the Fan clan, especially over the fate of a single peasant girl.
Or so everyone had thought — but suddenly, a vicious-looking man had appeared, directly opposing Fan Mitsu! Every single onlooker was shocked by this sudden event, while Fan Mitsu himself stared blankly at the interloper. Beyond anyone else, however, the person who felt the greatest surprise was definitely Sun Mia.
This man — wasn’t he exactly the same man who had saved her from being trampled not one hour ago? Why was he here? Sun Mia had thought that she was already as frightened as she could be, but the appearance of this man made her realize that there was still room in her heart for further terror. If it were the fat man in green, she had at least a chance of injuring him — but she had no such confidence about this man…
Fan Mitsu had no skills and no worth, but what he did have was a greatly honed sense of self-preservation. His personal cultivation was low, barely at the first level of Qi Gathering, but it was just enough to let him estimate the cultivation of the man in front of him. In Fan Mitsu’s opinion, this man was stronger than a captain from the Fan clan guard soldiers: in other words, stronger than the sixth level of Qi Gathering!
Naturally, Fan Mitsu had no intention of aggravating a strong expert, no matter how strong the Fan clan might currently be — after all, if he had his head chopped off here, no matter how much trouble it caused afterward, he would still be dead!
“Forgive me, senior,” he said in a fawning tone. “I didn’t realize that this girl belonged to you. By all means, take her away, I promise the Fan clan won’t contest you in this matter.”
“…Hmph,” said the dangerous-looking man after a moment. “Do you think an apology will be sufficient?”
“Ah, don’t misunderstand me, senior, I had no intention of settling this matter with mere words! Please, take this small gift, as a gesture of this junior’s true feelings…” spoke Fan Mitsu quickly, and he reached into robe to pull out a stuffed wallet, which he proffered to the frightening expert with a respectful expression.
Everyone nearby dropped their jaws in stupification. Wasn’t this the same Fan Mitsu who had been throwing his weight around, doing shameless acts with the assurance of the name “Fan”? Wasn’t this sudden humility just too convenient? All surrounding eyes stared at Fan Mitsu with increasing disgust, but the fat young man had no intention of paying those gazes the slightest bit of attention. His life would always come first! Quietly, he promised to himself that he would never return to this part of the city in his life, just in case.
As for the dangerous-looking man, his glaring expression didn’t change, but inside he was suddenly at a loss. He had been following this Fan Mitsu for some time, and had witnessed the various petty crimes committed by the fat young man. He knew that Fan Mitsu was quite weak, and was merely borrowing the strength of his clan to suppress these merchants; in the absence of the countervailing power of the Sun clan, these neutral merchants had no backer to protect themselves from the lethal vengeance of an offended Fan clan.
And so, the man had planned to provoke Fan Mitsu, and when the fat young man invoked the name of the Fan clan as protection, he would ruthlessly kill the young fool in complete defiance of the Fan! After all, that had been the job he had been hired for! But who knew that this supposed arrogant scion of the Fan would throw away his face so quickly in the presence of a strong expert, and submit instantly?
The dangerous man could still kill him, of course, and accomplish his task of agitating the Fan, but there was a difference between killing a Fan Mitsu who was unwisely trying to hide behind the name of “Fan,” and a Fan Mitsu who had already completely surrendered. In all honesty, normally the man would already have cut the fool down, but… Out of the corner of his eye, he could still see Sun Mia shivering in fear of his appearance. Of course, there was nothing between him and the girl in reality, but for some reason he still hesitated to frighten her further by lashing out at that damn fool for no apparent reason.
However, this was only a momentary hesitation, and quickly dismissed. The dangerous-looking man had long given up any hope of a good reputation, and for good reason. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword, preparing to cut Fan Mitsu down — but in that moment of hesitation, he suddenly heard the sound of many boots approaching at a run.
Shouting voices were heard, and wide-eyed spectators were suddenly rushing to clear the road, revealing the approach of a number of well-equipped, strong-looking soldiers. These were, of course, the soldiers of the Fan clan, who had been dispatched to capture Sun Mia! And indeed, as they pounded into the square, a nondescript man suddenly popped out of the crowds to shout, “Over there! The Sun clan girl is over there!” It was the spy who had been closely following Sun Mia from the Sun estate, and naturally he pointed the incoming soldiers directly to her!
Sun Mia was, by this point, in a state approaching despair. She had nearly given up hope of escaping this situation alive, and was paralyzed at the thought of the many unknown tortures the Fan might inflict upon her if she was captured alive. The only person who was in a position to save her was that frightening-looking man, and she had no idea what his motivations might be. From the look on his face, he might have even worse intentions for her than the Fan clan!
That man had no further leisure to pay attention to her, however. His eyes narrowed into an even deeper glare, as he analyzed the opponents in front of him. Twelve men at the fifth level of Qi Gathering — and one commander at the sixth! The corners of his mouth turned up slightly in an extremely wry smile. His current strength, due to…various circumstances, was only at the seventh level of Qi Gathering, but he had many years of experience living a life far more dangerous than that of a local guard in North Pine City! In other words, although he would have to be careful, he was fully confident in his ability to kill all the opponents now before him.
The sixth-level commander took note of the dangerous-looking man, and the way he stood slightly in front of the young girl who was the guards’ target. He raised his hand, halting his men, and spoke out in a loud voice. “That person is a member of the criminal Sun clan, and I have been ordered to bring her in for questioning. I hope that the young expert in front of me has no intention of giving me trouble about this?”
The dangerous man glanced over at Sun Mia again. The girl appeared to have been completely consumed by fear, and her eyes seemed to be darting everywhere without being able to focus. The man snorted under his breath; it seemed that the guard commander wasn’t simply inventing a pretext, and this girl was actually a member of the fallen Sun clan. He could only shake his head mentally at the sheer foolishness of the girl, who had left the remaining safety of her clan only to be hunted down by her enemies.
Still, today she was fortunate, and she might make it back home alive.
“And if I do plan to give you some trouble? What do you think you can do about it?” said the dangerous-looking man to the commander. The commander narrowed his eyes and drew his sword. Immediately, all his men drew their own swords as well, and spread out to encircle the dangerous-looking man.
“Making an enemy of the Fan clan is an unwise decision,” growled the commander. “I’m not in the habit of giving second chances, but I’ll ask one more time. Give up the girl and retreat, and there will be no further repercussions.”
In response, the man simply laughed and drew his own sword. Shockingly, it was not made of ordinary steel, but some unknown black metal, which no one in the crowd had ever seen before! And as he drew the unusual sword, he simultaneously released his Qi aura, and everyone in that market square was suddenly bathed with a palpable sense of fear. Many of the weaker spectators felt faint, and tasted blood in the back of their mouths; Sun Mia, who was still standing next to the man, actually coughed up some blood and staggered back into the table of the merchant she had been bargaining with less than ten minutes ago.
The guard commander widened his eyes in shock. He had sensed that the man in front of him was at a higher level, but he had thought that the man was at the seventh level of Qi Gathering at most, and thus did not fear the man with all his men behind him. But this aura was far stronger than should be possible for a practitioner in Qi Gathering; to suppress this many people in such a great area, it was much more akin to the abilities of an expert in the Core Reinforcement stage! On top of that, it was a terrifyingly evil aura, that caused an involuntary fear even in himself who had the strength of a sixth-level Qi Gathering expert.
What was this terrifying ability? Where had this frighteningly strange expert come from? For the first time, he began to worry that he and his soldiers might not win this fight.
But he was no Fan Mitsu, to be cowed at the first sight of a dangerous foe. With a grim expression, he shouted at the dangerous man, “You! Are you really willing to become an enemy of the Fan clan for a mere criminal Sun girl?”
The man laughed in satisfaction. “What Fan clan? What Sun girl? Why should a traveller like myself be concerned over such a small thing as a Fan clan? What crimes could this fragile Sun girl possibly accomplish? I say — your Fan clan is just a frog in a well, unable to see the world around them!”
The commander flushed at the man’s taunts. “You think you can insult the Fan clan in this North Pine City, and live? Good! Good! Let’s find out just how stro–”
The commander’s words were cut off by a sudden deep thump, and he and his men were forced back by a small shockwave. At first the commander thought the dangerous man had made some sort of attack that he hadn’t seen, but he quickly realized that this wasn’t the case.
A man had suddenly appeared in front of the Fan soldiers. The shockwave had obviously been from him striking the ground, attested to by the broken cobbles beneath his feet, and the plumes of dust that drifted in the air. The man wore an off-white tunic and pants, held on by a grey sash around his waist. Slowly, he arose from where he crouched on the ground, and stood up straight, staring directly at the dangerous-looking man.
Everyone stared at the newcomer, whether it was the spectators, the Fan soldiers, Sun Mia, or the dangerous-looking man. This young man carried no weapons besides a simple knife tucked into his sash, and even further, he did not have the aura of a martial cultivator — although the few who noticed that fact, attributed it to his aura being hidden beneath the strange and deadly presence still being released by the dangerous-looking man. But the longer one stared at the young man, the more they felt that there was something fundamentally wrong with him.
It wasn’t his movements or gestures, which were human enough. It wasn’t that his aura couldn’t be detected, which was odd but explicable. It wasn’t his lack of visible weapons, which although unusual in North Pine City where most experts trained in swords, was nevertheless not unique. It was something deeper, something primal.
Something inside every watcher, some deep unknown instinct, rejected some part of the young man in front of them. Just looking at him, it was clear to one and all —
This man was not an ordinary human!
The young man completely ignored the soldiers standing behind him as he said, “I thought I had recognized you, earlier, and so I followed… But with that sword, and that aura, I no longer have any doubt.”
One of the Fan soldiers, agitated by the young man’s sudden appearance and the disturbing feeling he gave off, shouted out and swung his sword at the young man’s head with all the strength and speed of a man at the fifth level of Qi Gathering. The commander’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to command the guard to stop, but– it was already too late!
Without so much as glance at the man attacking him, the young man took a step back, towards the attacking man. Almost absently he waved his fist.
The soldier’s eyes just had time to widen before the young man’s fist smashed into his jaw, shattering it in an instant. The soldier sailed three meters into the air, arcing gently before landing directly on the top his head. His neck gave out an unpleasant sound, as the rest of his body fell nervelessly to the ground, never to rise again.
A trained soldier of the Fan clan, a fifth-level practitioner, killed in a single strike!
Into the sudden frozen silence, the young man stepped forward once more, still completely ignoring the guards surrounding him. He raised his right hand, and pointed straight at the dangerous-looking man.
“Practitioner of the Infinite Sky Devil Sect, Li Stahn!” The young man glared, raised his left arm and fist, and patted it possessively with his right hand. “I, Gan Zhu, have come to discuss with you — the price of the arm you stole!”
- Hope it was worth the wait. 😉
- If you don’t remember Li Stahn, he’s the guy who cut off Gan Zhu’s arm back before he died… Well, that should be clear, though? You’ll learn more about him in the future, unless Gan Zhu actually manages to kill him here… >.>
- They are soldiers, who are guards. They are guard soldiers. I don’t know, it sounded better than “Trained thugs” I guess… 😛
- A lot of people had a lot of plans that just went out the window… I can’t wait until they realize it… ^.^
- Thanks for reading, as always! Wait, why wasn’t this note #1? 😀