He sped up his steps while cursing the d.a.m.ned weather. At this moment, the bright flame of his home hearth was exceptionally attractive to him. Lil’ Knife planned to add a piece of Dark Grove firewood into the fireplace after getting home. A single piece of it was enough to warm up the house for the entire night. He wouldn’t be able to enjoy such a luxury if not for greenhorns like Qianye.
Lil’ Knife soon arrived home. Light and warmth rushed at his face as soon as he entered, as well as the sight of his beautiful, smart wife, preparing tea and snacks in the living room. The fact that she was still awake and waiting for him filled Lil’ Knife’s heart with warmth.
However, he was startled upon entering the living room because there was someone sitting there, and a man no less!
He was instantly overcome by fury. With a shake of his right hand, a thin, hiltless blade appeared in his grasp. This knife was the source of his nickname, a blade that had slit all too many throats.
Hearing the incoming footsteps, the man in the living room turned about calmly. Lil’ Knife’s hands shook upon seeing the man’s face. His blade fell out of his hands, yet he didn’t even notice it. “It’s you?!”
The one in the living room was, of course, Qianye. After witnessing this newcomer’s divine might as he made short work of the beast horde, Lil’ Knife had given up entirely on any designs he might’ve had before. Now that Qianye had suddenly appeared in his house, the man quickly recalled his warning from that day.
At this moment, there was no doubt in Lil’ Knife’s heart, only bitterness. “What he said was actually true.”
Qianye glanced at the knife on the ground and said, “You dropped your knife.”
Lil’ Knife smiled wryly. “Will that even make a difference?”
With that, Lil’ Knife sat down beside the table and looked straight at Qianye. “Do what you want to me, but let her go. I kidnapped her back in the year, she knows nothing.”
Qianye said with a faint smile, “It’s no use playing hero in front of me. I can’t let her leave and spread the news. An unknown murderer is the best kind of threat.”
Lil’ Knife turned pale. “Iron Bear won’t let you go.”
Qianye replied calmly, “I’ll go find him after dealing with you.”
Lil’ Knife was shocked. “You! You know about last night?”
Qianye revealed a spurious smile. “What do you think?”
Lil’ Knife grabbed his head and said, “We didn’t want to kill you. W-We were just testing you out.”
“Using a beast horde and the natives? Not a bad way to probe someone, I must say. If they succeed, it’ll save you a lot of work, won’t it?”
“No, of course not. We’ve already gotten an idea of your combat strength. This kind of probe will give you some difficulty at most, nothing lethal.”
“Why would you want to sound me out?”
“We wanted you to form an enmity with the natives and attract their attention. That way, you’d need to rely on our support to survive. Additionally, Iron Bear hopes you can take root in that place, buffering the threats from the sea and the other sh.o.r.e.”
“What’s there in the sea and the other sh.o.r.e?”
“A mist will sometimes rise there, a very special kind, you’ll understand when you see it. There’s a kind of creature in that mist. No one knows what it looks like because no one has come out alive after being surrounded by the mysterious fog. Additionally, true high-ranking fierce beasts will appear when the mist arises, and those are nothing like the trash from yesterday. The only one in town who can fight them is Iron Bear, and even he needs fire support from the town to push those beasts back.”
Qianye nodded seriously. Qianye had a good idea of Iron Bear’s strength—the man could be considered a fierce general even in the imperial elite corps. Those who could oversee an entire region in the neutral lands were all powerful people.
Qianye leaned closer and said, “Time’s up. Now tell me, why shouldn’t I kill you?”
The woman wanted to say something, but Lil’ Knife stopped her with a glare. He then pondered for a while before saying, “In the future, we won’t make things difficult for you, ever again. Your taxes can be halved; that’s the very minimum. Also, you’ll get fair prices throughout the town. You might be able to get more out of Iron Bear, but this is the best I can do.”
After saying that, Lil’ Knife closed his eyes. “I know these conditions don’t count for much, just do it.”
But that throat slit he was waiting for didn’t arrive. Instead came a reply, “Deal.”
“Ah, impossible!” Lil’ Knife jumped out of his seat.
Qianye got up and patted the woman’s shoulders. “She bears your child, this is the only reason you’re alive.”
Both delighted and surprised, Lil’ Knife hugged the woman tightly. Watching Qianye about to leave, he called out hurriedly, “Tell Iron Bear to think more about my sister, otherwise, he’ll do stupid things!”
Qianye smiled but left without making any comment.
Moments later, Qianye was standing within the large residence at the center of town. He closed the door behind him, blocking out the biting chill as well as all the guards strewn across the grounds.
In front of him, Iron Bear was struggling to clamber up, and there was blood seeping out of his mouth as he glared at Qianye with eyes full of hate. He charged over again with a loud roar, the muscles in his body pulsating as though there were snakes moving beneath his skin.
He swung his fist after arriving in front of Qianye, eliciting a crisp bang as an umbrella of ripples spread out from his fist.
However, Qianye raised East Peak and brushed Iron Bear’s fist away with the hilt. Then, he borrowed the momentum to spin the heavy blade about, smacking the man’s belly with the sheathed blade.
This time, Iron Bear had no more power left to fight or even lift his head for that matter. But there was still an unyielding glint in his eyes. “The Wolf King won’t let you go!”
Qianye crouched down in front of the man and said calmly, “Don’t you think I’m more useful to the Wolf King than you? Why would he want you instead?”
Iron Bear’s expression turned ugly. In the end, this position of his was something he had robbed from the previous town mayor several years ago. His predecessor had been tossed into the Eastern Sea—even his remains were nowhere to be found.
“You’re just a newcomer,” Iron Bear squeezed out a single sentence.
Qianye replied, “I’ll be the experienced one as long as I kill the old-timer, you for instance. It’s just that simple.”
Iron Bull lowered his head. “Do it. Remember to drag the men outside into the house afterward. Otherwise, they’ll freeze to death.”
“Ho? You seem to cherish your subordinates quite a bit. Do you think someone who can come to such a place will fall for that?” Qianye asked expressionlessly.
Iron Bear sighed. “This place will still have you after I die, but if you leave one day, this town will be finished without those guards. There’ll be no one to stop those natives.”
“Do you have anything to tell Lil’ Knife’s sister?”
Iron Bear became enraged. With strength from G.o.d knows where, he stood up, roaring, “I’ll tear you apart if you dare touch a hair of hers.”
But he only managed to move a couple of steps before falling to the ground.
Only then did Qianye say, “That’s what Lil’ Knife asked me to tell you.”
Iron Bear wasn’t stupid—the man’s determination to fight to the death receded after realizing what was going on. He sighed. “Indeed, those words would’ve fallen on deaf ears if you hadn’t beaten me black and blue. Fine, speak, what do you want me to do? I’ll do anything, even if it costs me my life, but you must promise to take care of my wife and kids if I die.”
“I don’t need subordinates yet. But, I want detailed information on the Great Maelstrom and the two products that come from it.”
Iron Bear was astonished. “You want to go to the Great Maelstrom?”
Qianye quickly grasped the important message. “That means those in the neutral lands can go to the Great Maelstrom?”
Iron Bear nodded and said with some measure of arrogance, “To be precise, the only fixed pathway to the Great Maelstrom is in the neutral lands. People from other places like the empire and Evernight can only enter via temporary pa.s.sages.”
Qianye was somewhat astonished. “If that’s the case, why do humans and dark races not come to rob this place? Can the neutral lands withstand the combined a.s.sault of the two factions?”
Iron Bear replied, “Rob? How can it be so easy!? We’ve done in the expeditionary fleets from the empire and Evernight more than once. When the time comes, the entirety of the neutral lands will defend the lands as a single ent.i.ty. Besides, you think we’re putting up a fight alone? There are hundreds of small nations supporting us.”
“What else is there?” Qianye inquired.
With how valuable the Great Maelstrom was, the two factions didn’t hesitate to fight a battle like the one that had taken place in Indomitable. If there really was a stable pa.s.sage, then both the human heavenly monarchs and dark race great monarchs would surely take action to obtain some more quotas. They wouldn’t let the neutral lands hog all the profits.
Iron Bear knew quite a bit, too. Being closely questioned by Qianye, he replied in a rather embarra.s.sed manner, “The pa.s.sage in the neutral lands is actually not that easy to use. It’s highly unstable despite existing perpetually. I heard that even divine champions and marquis won’t last long in there during violent fluctuations. Hence, we always recruit a batch of people on death row each year to enter the pa.s.sage and see if any lucky b.a.s.t.a.r.d would make it back alive. Tens of thousands have entered the pa.s.sage throughout the years, but only twenty have ever returned alive.”
Now that was more reasonable. So it turned out that this pa.s.sage was a path of death; no wonder the two factions weren’t interested.
“Continue to collect more information regarding this matter, the more details the better. Additionally, I also want more detailed intelligence on the natives.”
Iron Bear agreed. “Are you planning something big?”
Qianye smiled while shaking his head. “What I want is to prevent others from doing something big to me.”
Iron Bear understood some things but was still puzzled about some others. However, Qianye had already turned to leave.
After watching Qianye’s silhouette disappear in the distance, Iron Bear summoned his men and instructed them to move the guards in the courtyard to someplace warm. It was well past midnight by the time he had finished all the arrangements. A chilly wind blew over, and the biting cold caused Iron Bear to s.h.i.+ver abruptly.
He suddenly realized that Qianye was only wearing a single unlined garment, yet he was able to move unrestrained in this kind of frigid weather.
Iron Bear s.h.i.+vered once more at the thought of this.