Chapter 921 Underhanded Tricks
Lan Yingying gazed at Li Mu, her heart awash with respect and admiration.
No one could have said such haughty words — no one else but him. Whether the Grand Masters of the five great religious orders or even her father — the proud, stern, and ambitious Grand Master of the Cult of the Orient — juxtaposition of them with this very man would only show how his stature and presence would dwarf them all.
Yet hearing the words coming from the lips of this man sounded so right and just that two thousand men from twenty of Molderad’s most powerful and illustrious sects and orders had retreated with panic like a pack of beaten dogs scrambling to safety with their tails between their legs.
Such august greatness and splendor.
Never before a man of his like has ever walked the earth of Molderad.
“No wonder Shen Jia admires his teacher so much…” Mused Lan Yingying.
He really is unique and matchless.
Li Mu peered at his student and his sweetheart. “I will proffer no remarks as to your relationship. Should you be meant to be together, then so be it. But if that day so arrives and you are ready to accept Shen Jia and be wife to him, I shall come bearing gifts to formally request your hand in his stead. Would that be fine?”
“Thank you so much, Master Li,” Lan Yingying muttered bashfully, her cheeks flushed with red calefaction.
That made everyone burst into peals of laughter.
That was the end of the episode.
Shen Jia later brought Lan Yingying to the infirmary to have her wounds looked at.
Li Mu and Lu Chuan quietly withdrew to the main audience hall to talk in private.
“What do you think of the debacle today, Brother?” Asked Lu Chuan, still thinking about Li Mu’s conversation with Abbess Retribution, “Something tells me that someone had been the architect of something insidious which clearly has been directed at us and the Creed of Divinity as a whole.”
“Peace on Molderad has endured for far too long. Too unusually long. I have searched and investigated, but whatever clues I seek, I’m afraid they are all gone. As if they had not existed at all in the first place. What about you, Brother? Who do you think is capable of such devilry?”
“I can only think of the Five, Brother. They appear to be the only ones capable of pulling off something like this.” Only the Great Five — the five great religious orders of Molderad –commanded such authority and influence.
“Yes and no,” Li Mu shook his head, “The Great Five might have the wherewithal for such a feat, but they needed more than that. Heh. Whoever’s helping them is trying to remain hidden. Ten years. Finally, they are beginning to show themselves. This might look like a crucifixion aimed at Shen Jia on the surface, but it was more than that. It was a test.”
“That’s the Jianghu for us,” Lu Chuan remarked gravely, “There are others who feel jealous and resentful to see people better, smarter, and wiser than them, more so, those who are already in a position of superiority. People like them couldn’t tolerate having their position compromised.”
“Riches and power, Brother,” Li Mu responded, “Just like the Cult of the Orient, who suffered enough. Once anything or anyone beyond their abilities to handle appears, they would remove their masks and do whatever it takes to regain their absolute superiority. Whether it’s good or even, it’s just pretense for these despicable scums to further their cause.”
Lu Chuan suddenly looked like he remembered something. “What… What about Nie Renlong?”
“Let’s just pray that he doesn’t disappoint.”
Nie Renlong had been closely in touch with Li Mu for the last ten years, meeting to discuss martial arts and sparring together. In their many meetings, they have remained friendly enough for Li Mu to give the Grand Master of Arcusstone advice and suggestions on how he could improve. At the very least, Lu Chuan had always thought that they were close friends, although few ever knew the fact that it was Li Mu who delivered Nie Renlong from doom in the first place.
“Let them come, Brother. The Great Five can march up to our gates and I, with the rest of Creed included, shall stand with you side by side. We will stand fast,” Lu Chuan assured solemnly.
Li Mu chuckled. “Don’t worry. Nothing will go wrong. I haven’t been slacking off, have I? After all, I’ve made some friends of my own too.”
Seeing Li Mu brimming with confidence filled Lu Chuan with comfort.
“By the way, is there no news about your mentor Master Yundao, Brother?” asked Lu Chuan again.
Li Mu shook his head.
That has and would remain the one conundrum that he could not yet resolve.
Since Li Mu’s arrival into this realm, he had finished most, if not all of Li Zhiyuan’s final wishes, among them included avenging the deaths of the former Grand Master and his fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms of the Creed of Divinity and resolving the complicated situation between him and Dongfang Qinghong. It was said that she retreated back into the fastness of the stronghold of her order and went into reclusive and solitary meditation, never to get herself involved in any matters of the Jianghu ever again.
Save for the whereabouts of Li Zhiyuan’s mentor, Ascetic Yundao. For years, Li Mu had been raking through fen and field himself, yet all the clues have been broken as if the elderly senior had vanished off the face of Molderad.
“Not to worry. Just follow the plan we’ve agreed upon,” said Li Mu. “Since our enemies are now stirring with impatience, we’ll just have to wait for them to step into our trap.”
Still fresh in his mind were the drawings that illustrated Li Mu’s intricate plans and recalling them once more filled him with anticipation.
The man who routed a two-thousand-men-strong host.
News of the Aspect of Vengeance Li Zhiyuan’s exploits erupted across Molderad like a depth-charge detonation, sending tremors and ripples through the Jianghu of the continent.
Any information about Li Zhiyuan could be deemed newsworthy enough, never mind one so stunning and astonishing.
Just when the furor stemming from the first news was just about to subside, another shocking news of greater significance rocked the world.
“Li Zhiyuan: I define what is good and evil. If I say it’s good, then so it is. If I deem something evil, then it must be. Get that?”
The very words that escaped Li Zhiyuan’s lips just outside the entrance of the Creed of Divinity’s main audience hall swept across the whole world like a bushfire on a sweltering season.
Words that could send men into fits of disbelief and amazement.
The right to define both good and evil was one many believed to be the sole prerogative of the Great Five and no one else’s. Not even the Aspect of Vengeance Li Zhiyuan. “How dare he uttered such words,” many thought. “Does he think he’s greater than the Great Five?”
“The Cult is just the patsy for whatever accusations the Great Five are pinning on them.”
“The first crusade on them was nothing but a one-sided slaughter aimed to cripple the Cult.”
These too were the words of the Aspect of Vengeance which were widely circulating in the Jianghu.
Hardly anyone heard them and did not feel apathetic at all.
“What the hell?!
“Is this Li Zhiyuan’s proclamation of siding with the Cult?
“Or is Li Zhiyuan trying to clear the Cult’s name?
“What gives him the right to do so?!”
“By right of being the most powerful one here.”
That reply by Li Zhiyuan too sent the whole world into a furious uproar.
Numerous militant orders and sects, as well as noble houses, all expressed their displeasure and protests at Li Zhiyuan’s claims, more so, those who had suffered losses during the crusade against the Cult. “If the Cult is innocent, then where does that leave us? Does that make us the bad guys now?!”
More news broke out: “Student of the Li Zhiyuan, the Punisher of Evil Shen Jia is asking the Daughter of the Demon Lan Yingying for her hand in marriage.”
“That really means he’s siding with the Cult!”
“Hmph, I daresay that the rise of Li Zhiyuan into prominence might be a gambit long set into play by the Cult which had paid off.”
Rumors and tales — after being meticulously doctored and taken out of context — were disseminated across Molderad at the quickest possible speed. Soon, all manner of warrior organizations, champions, and even independent unaligned with anyone all heard about the supposed defection of Li Zhiyuan to the dark side.
“Something tells me that a storm is brewing.”
So said an elderly senior who had retired from the Jianghu.
“Indeed. For ten years, the Aspect of Vengeance had slumbered. Is he finally emerging once more? Would another moment of strife bigger and bloodier than the last beset us? Something about him tells me that his insatiable blood lust could have corrupted him.”
So responded another stranger.
A half-month passed uneventfully.
But the same could not be said for the Jianghu of Molderad, where plots and intrigues never ceased.
The discussions and gossip pertaining to Li Zhiyuan’s behavior and disposition remained burning like coals and embers that never seemed to fade. In fact, something — or someone — had been intentionally fanning them to rekindle the flames of uproar.
As if on cue, another news more unbelievable began spreading across Molderad like a virus.
“Li Zhiyuan isn’t a man of this world. He is a demon that has made his way here from another dimension. A monster of carnage and destruction here to blight the world and ruin us all. He’s not here to help the Cult of the Orient. He only wishes to stir up more unrest and spark a war to use it to cause a cataclysm that would lay this world to waste.”
That was the last straw. Whatever or whoever it was, they were not only fanning the flames, but they were also tossing paraffin into the conflagration to make it worse for Li Mu.
As anticipated, the latest rumors proved to be the biggest bombshell ever.
No one would have believed such rumors if word about Li Mu’s possible unworldly provenance escaped before the buildup of hatred and prejudice against him. But the perfect timing of spreading this information now made it seem so credible and plausible to be just slander.
This was further substantiated by the endorsements of several member orders of the Great Five.
Which was just what was needed to stamp away any skepticism against those accusations.
“Kill Li Zhiyuan! Destroy the monster!”
“We cannot just sit back anymore!”
“We must do something! No mercy to evil scum like him!”
“We cannot let this demon prolong his impudence here any longer!”
“Didn’t he try to make use of the crusade to his advantage? We might as well start another crusade against him! Set aside our differences for now and deal with him first!”
Everything sounded just so much like a well-orchestrated crescendo with the emergence of each and every piece of rumor about Li Zhiyuan popping out of the woodwork with clockwork precision.
An ominous storm of heretofore unseen proportions was beginning to loom over Molderad.
And Li Zhiyuan has become the biggest Enemy Number One Molderad has ever seen.
The entire continent, as if seized by an invisible hand, was beginning to rattle and rock with such accumulating forces that the sheer magnitude itself could rip the whole continent apart.
The moniker and the name of the Aspect of Vengeance Li Zhiyuan quickly skyrocketed into the most dangerous and most feared villain on the whole continent. Even if one were to discount Li Zhiyuan’s precipitous rise to absolute notoriety, he already was the most dangerous man ever to step on the earth of this world.
To that end, the Creed of Divinity quickly replaced the Cult of the Orient into becoming a warren of depravity and wickedness.
A band of warriors had surrounded the mansion of wealthy merchant Wan Sanqian.
“Surrender that witch Shen Xiaoyue!”
“Kill them all! spare no quarter!”
Wan Sanqian was the husband that Shen Xiaoyue married and the couple has been deeply in love with each other. At the moment, the mansion had come under attack by a rowdy band of warriors demanding Wan Sanqian give up his wife and children. Naturally, he refused and that angered the warriors enough for them to succumb to a mindless frenzy of slaughter.
The five-year-old child hugged his three-year-old sister. Innocent and young, the children had never known about the grotesqueries of the world and the clamors of the mob outside filled them with panic and fear.
“Kill them all!” cried one of the warriors, “Show no mercy to these spawns of the Creed of so-called Divinity!”
It was the Grand Master of the Dragonhawks.
The attack on the Wan Family Residence was his idea.
Clad in rich silks, Wan Sanqian took Shen Xiaoyue with him as they slowly retreated inside their home. Of their whole retinue of bodyguards, only nine were left. The rest had long fled even before the fight ever began.
The wildly wavering illumination from the flickering flames cast a pall of gloom over what should have been a loving and joyous home for the children.
The faces of the demented warriors, irradiated by the fire from their own burning torches, twisted with the ugly lust for blood and rancor.