"Is everything ready?"
"Of course Brother Wu. We have three hours after midnight. This gives us plenty of time to have "fun" with that worm..."
"Good. I shall go first and carry our weapons to the house and place them out of sight. You and Brother Du will follow once you get Zheng Jin with you."
"We will...But are weapons really necessary Brother Wu? For that trash, I think-"
"Do not even try to "think", Zi Tien. That task is mine alone. I do not want any flaws in my plan and bringing weapons will remove any of that. Now, if you dare disagree, then shut the fuck up and roll!"
"A-alright Brother Wu. Rest assured, we will be there a bit after midnight with Zheng Jin."
Zi Tien stared as Wu Tiao turned his back and left, leaving him confused and bitter as to why Wu Tiao was that anxious and irritable in the first place.
"Tch, acting as if you are the leader...Without me and Brother Du, you are nothing!"
Zi Tien spat onto the ground as he glared at the direction that Wu Tiao went. Truth be told, the three never considered one another as "friends" or even "brothers", and they acknowledged that they only use each other for their own benefit.
But one thing about Zi Tien was that he respected strength the most, and seeing Wu Tiao act all high and mighty in front of him is sickening, to say the least. And while he may indeed be loyal to his leader Du Zhen who is much stronger than him, to Wu Tiao who only had brains? Not so much.
"Bringing a huge sword to kill a chicken...what a joke."
"Everything is prepared...there is no chance for failure."
Wu Tiao thought as he strode confidently while looking at the slowly setting sun. Any doubts on his head vanished as he dismissed them as unreasonable; simply because Zheng Jin had no possibility of being a threat now that every component of his ploy was complete.
"With this, I shall find out just how you eluded death that night..."
Wu Tiao's eyes narrowed as he thought of finally getting an answer to his question. It may not be a Divine Artifact, but he expected that knowing whatever saved Zheng Jin from certain death will benefit him nonetheless.
"...and this time, I will make sure you do not return. Let's just see how you crawl your way out of this one, Zheng Jin!"
Convinced of his success, Wu Tiao smirked as he thought the ways to make Zheng Jin talk once he was caught...before finally ending his life for good.
"Ah, there you are senior brothers!"
Zheng Jin then bowed towards Du Zhen and Zi Tien as he greeted them.
"Y-yes. Here we are..."
Du Zhen warily said as he looked around for other people. His gaze then landed at Zheng Jin who is dressed entirely in black, blending perfectly with his hair. He also held no weapons, or anything at all as a matter of fact, as he simply stood there with his hands crossed while smiling dumbly at them.
"Heh, as clueless as ever."
Du Zhen gloated as he thought of how greed completely clouded Zheng Jin's mind to the extent that he had now lost every sense of self-preservation left whatsoever, even willing to go with his enemies just with a mere promise of treasures.
"Wait, where is brother Wu? Is he not coming?"
"Oh, do not worry about him. He went on first to get some food for us."
Du Zhen forced a smile as he answered Zheng Jin. While he did not know if it was true, Du Zhen just uttered out a response that Wu Tiao told him beforehand.
"Oh. Well then, what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
"Hehe, you are quite excited, Brother Zheng. Let us go then."
Without wasting any time, the three of them finally walked away from the shack, an ominous smile on each of their faces.
"Hmm, what could that one be plotting?"
Zheng Jin wondered why Wu Tiao went ahead of them, but he was sure that it was for whatever scheme Wu Tiao was preparing. It did not matter, however, as he too had a thing or two up his own sleeves...
"Let's see who has the better one then..."
Zheng Jin smirked as he felt a surge of excitement; the same one he used to feel right before every battle. Though he did calm himself immediately afterward, as going to battle with a clear mind was something he believed in and put in into practice time and time again. It did not fail him then, and he believed that it will not fail him now.
"That's strange. Where are all the sect guards?"
"Hehe, this is... We actually bribed them, so they won't appear for another three hours after midnight. That's how we moved our treasures out in the first place!"
Du Zhen bragged as Zi Tien nodded with a smile on his face. It was as if they were very impressed with the feat.
"Hmm, that is pretty impressive."
Zheng Jin praised as they expected them to, wanting to see where they were going with this.
"Haha impressed are you? Well, why don't you join us then? You can have everybody at the outer sect grovel at your feet if you are with us!"
Zheng Jin almost shook his head as he heard the monotone voice of Du Zhen. This must be one of the "lines" that the smartass Wu Tiao made him memorize.
Well, considering that he was a little bored after walking for a long time, Zheng Jin thought that he might as well play with this buffoon...
"Hmm, really? Even the Outer Sect Princess Bai Shuanyang? Or maybe even the Heavenly Duo Feng Lunzi and Ze Qi Yun?"
"T-that...haha. Those outer sect disciples that you mentioned are freaks brother Zheng Jin..."
"Hm? You guys can't even...well, that's too bad."
Looking at Zheng Jin's smug face as he shrugged at the notion of joining their group, Du Zhen wanted to maul Zheng Jin right then and there. Even though his invitation was indeed fake, being rejected by trash is just...
"Ah! Here we are Brother Zheng Jin. Let's not keep Brother Wu waiting, shall we?"
Seeing that Du Zhen was about to snap, Zi Tien who had been quiet until now immediately cut into the conversation. Considering Du Zhen's temper, he might've already tried to tear Zheng Jin to pieces if Zi Tien hadn't interrupted.
"It looks a bit shabby...Is this really a base?
After looking at the decrepit and worn down house, he couldn't help but wonder if this is just another part of Wu Tiao's ruse. After going inside, however, his suspicions had been confirmed.
Cobwebs and dust covered the floors and the walls. Not only that, there was not even a single servant or guard in this "base". Something tells Zheng Jin that this wasn't somewhere he wanted to hide his treasures. Actually, he wouldn't even be surprised if there was no "treasure" at all.
"Welcome, Brother Zheng. Please, join us. We plan to eat some dinner while we discuss your...gift."
"Ugh, chicken...and nothing else? How cheap."
Looking at the paltry selection of food with only four cups of wine accompanying it, Zheng Jin could not help but be a bit...disappointed. This was supposed to be his last meal after all...
With that, all of them sat across each other. The table is quite spacious and appears to be clean. Not only that, it is actually quite pleasing to the eye...With the ornate dragons and tigers that decorated it, Zheng Jin could not help but be amazed as to how something so beautiful got to this worn out house.
"He did not buy a new table just for this, did he? "
Wondering about the mystery of the table, Zheng Jin's thoughts were interrupted as Wu Tiao spoke.
"Brother Zheng, let's eat. The food might get cold."
Saying so, Wu Tiao took a chicken leg and put it on his plate and ate. This was followed by the other two, albiet with a weird expression on their faces. Zheng Jin thought that this gesture might be to tell him that there was no poison on the food. How thoughtful.
"If you say so, Brother Wu."
With that, Zheng Jin carefully disentangled his still crossed arms as took a piece from exactly where Wu Tiao took his. This caught the attention of Wu Tiao, who just kept on eating while watching Zheng Jin.
"Needs a bit more salt..."
While Zheng Jin's remark about the chicken confused Du Zhen and Zi Tien, Wu Tiao just narrowed his eyes, as if he was trying to find out if Zheng Jin is just stupid, or...
"Brother Zheng, I would like to thank you for agreeing to mend our relationship. I hope you could keep our secret because if you do...I promise that doing so will definitely be worth it!"
As Wu Tiao declared this, he suddenly raised the cup beside him, prompting the other two to raise their own as well.
"To us, Zheng Jin."
As the three swallowed the wine on their cup with expectant looks directed at Zheng Jin, he could not help but be even more disappointed.
*Sigh "I must say, I expected more than this old "poisoned wine" trick from you, Wu Tiao..."
Just as the cup touched his lips, Zheng Jin pulled it back and stared at Wu Tiao. He was not lying when he said that he was disappointed with his opponent. After all, this was his first conflict with another human since coming to this world, so he naturally had his hopes up.
"Wh-What? Are you saying that we put poison in your wine? Don't forget, Zheng Jin. You are but a mere guest here!"
Du Zhen suddenly shouted out, blaming Zheng Jin for wrongly accusing them of doing something so "shameful".
"Enough with your bullshit, you oaf. Half of the reason why I found out about your friend's little scheme was because of your childish acting. So shut up while the adults are talking!"
Purposely goaded by Zheng Jin, Du Zhen suddenly reached for something beneath the table when Wu Tiao stopped him.
"Stop, Brother Wu! Remember...we still don't know where "that" is..."
"Damn it! You're right..."
Du Zhen, who was in the middle of grabbing something from under the table, was stopped short by Wu Tiao's whisper.
"Oh, you hid the weapons under the table? Quite classic. That brings back memories..."
Zheng Jin said as he looked under the table, his voice making even Wu Tiao gnash his teeth with its condescending tone. It was right after that when Zheng Jin added:
"Oh, and by the way...Aren't you supposed to be the leader of this group 'Big Brother' Du? If I were you, I wouldn't let Wu Tiao tell me off like I'm an idiot."
Zheng Jin scowled at Du Zhen, attempting to provoke him much further.
Grabbing his sword from under the table, Du Zhen thought twice before charging. He then smiled and mocked Zheng Jin.
"You are nothing but a rat who is now trapped with us Zheng Jin. You will tell I, your grandfather, about where you hid the divine artifact that let you avoid death that night, and I swear upon the heavens that I will keep your corpse intact!"
As soon as Du Zhen said those words, laughter filled the room. As to who was laughing, it was actually Zheng Jin who the three expected to cower considering his current situation.
"Hahahahahaha!...And you believed that? Oh, Wu Tiao...You must be glad that your leader is as thick as pig shit!"
"You are courting death, you fu-"
Du Zhen who heaved his sword above his head, ready to strike, was suddenly taken aback by Wu Tiao shouting and hitting the table with his fist. Even the passive Zi Tien was surprised by Wu Tiao's uncharacteristic outburst.
"Do not tell me what to do, Wu Tiao..."
"Brother Du, you must calm down. He is no threat to you and me, that is why he uses his sharp tongue. Besides that, what can he do?"
Inhaling a breath of fresh air, Wu Tiao explained why Zheng Jin just simply cannot die yet. It was a chore, but he finally managed to convince Du Zhen to put down his sword...for now. He then rose from his seat and stood near Zheng Jin, staring as the latter bit on his food once again.
"I admire your fearlessness, Zheng Jin...or is it stupidity? Pity. I always thought that you were smarter than this, considering that you used to be a genius and all..."
"Oh, me? A genius?"
Zheng Jin looked at Wu Tiao in disbelief. But even though he might be intrigued by this information, this was not the time. He was now restless...or to be exact: the thing up his sleeves is.
"Smart enough to see through all the holes in your so-called "scheme" apparently. Did you really think I was stupid enough to come to the enemies' den unprepared just to die like a greedy idiot?"
"What are you-"
"You didn't even try to know where I went this past month, Wu Tiao. To think that you assumed I was doing nothing at all just baffles me...Are you that confident that I wouldn't even try to improve myself after you just tried to kill me?"
Somewhere along those lines, Zheng Jin finished all the food in his plate. His full attention was now on Wu Tiao, his shit-eating grin on full display.
"Hah, so you are saying that after all these years, you finally advanced your cultivation? That's just impo-"
"Impossible? Wu Tiao...just by assuming that, you just broke the first rule of us schemers...a very simple one at that."
Hiding his anxiety that gets worse every second he sees Zheng Jin's still-confident demeanor, Wu Tiao replied as he went even closer, as if to mock the next words that might come out of Zheng Jin's mouth.
"Interesting. What "rule" might that be?"
With a smile that is even wider than before, Zheng Jin replied:
"Rule number one. Never underestimate your opponent."
Just as those words left Zheng Jin's mouth, Wu Tiao caught sight of something...shaking...inside Zheng Jin's robe. He did not know why, but looking at Zheng Jin's ominous smile instantly took his confidence away as his instincts took over, making him panic as he slowly stepped back.
Although he finally saw Zheng Jin for what he truly is, it may have been too late...
"D-Du Zhen...kill this boy now..."
Hearing Wu Tiao's words, both Du Zhen and Zi Tien became confused.
"Wait...what about the divine-"
"Th-there is no divine artifact, you fucking idiot! Hurry up and-"
Not even letting Wu Tiao finish his sentence, Zheng Jin made his move and aimed the contents of his wine cup to Wu Tiao's mouth, sending him gagging on the floor as he tried to remove all of the liquid on his throat.
"Huh. So it is poisoned."
Right after taking out Wu Tiao, Zheng Jin thrust out his sleeves and two small items came out of each one. A wooden box, and a wooden blowpipe. Not wasting a single second, Zheng Jin aimed the blowpipe towards the Du Zhen who now had his weapon up, a needle hitting him straight in the neck.
Zheng Jin also opened the small wooden box at the same time and threw it straight to Zi Tien, whose reaction time was slower than Du Zhen, still shocked by the sudden turn of events. Right when the box hits Zi Tien, dozens of tiny insects divided themselves and flew madly towards the three.
As soon as the bugs made contact with their skin, each and every one of them groaned and shouted in pain as the tiny creatures' mandibles plowed through their skin and flesh bit by bit, giving them intense and excruciating pain.
"Aaaarrghhhh! What the hell are these vermin!"
Shouted Du Zhen as he removed the needle from his neck and waved his sword around like a lunatic, almost hitting Zi Tien in the process.
"Harrower Leafbugs. Stings, doesn't it? Their bites anything but lethal, but still quite painful, I'm afraid."
"Damn you Zheng Jin! You actually dare to fight so dirty!"
At Du Zhen's words, Zheng Jin laughed then replied:
"Who says I'm here to fight?"
"What are you-"
Zheng Jin exploded towards Zi Tien who is at an even worse state than Du Zhen because of his lesser cultivation. In just a second, Zheng Jin managed to kick the bewildered Zi Tien right in the windpipe, crushing it as Zi Tien crumpled on the floor like a dead dog.
Zheng Jin then grabbed the daggers that belonged to Zi Tien right before turning towards the now stunned Du Zhen, smiling as he goaded him.
"You are next."
"Zheng Jin...I will kill you!!!"
Blinded with rage, Du Zhen swung his sword in a huge arc towards Zheng Jin, the wind whistling as his huge sword cut the air.
But in the end, it was all the sword could cut.
Zheng Jin had already slipped inwards to Du Zhen's exposed stomach, stabbing a dagger straight through his ribs.
*Cough "My body...What have you done to me?!"
"There was Greenwood Serpent venom in that needle. It won't go as far as paralyzing you completely, but it is enough for me to bring down a dumb oaf."
"This...! I dare you to fight like a man, Zheng Jin!"
"And I take it that you three joining forces to kill me back then is "fighting like a man?"
Du Zhen had no answer for Zheng Jin. He simply roared madly, slashing his sword towards Zheng Jin who just keeps on dodging every single one like a slippery bastard he is.
"...No matter. Like I said, I am not here to fight."
With every reckless slash, Du Zhen lost his stamina bit by bit, until finally, his attacks lost intensity as he slowed down considerably. Along with the paralytic venom and the Harrower Leafbugs that is continually wreaking havoc inside his body, Du Zhen finally fell on one knee, clutching the still-buried dagger on his stomach before finally pulling it out, blood spurting as the steel left his flesh.
"Getting a little tired, are we?"
"Do not mock me Zheng Jin. I will definitely kill you!"
"Kill me? Don't make me laugh...Now then, how does it feel to be beaten like a dog by a trash, "Brother" Du?"
Not even knowing that Zheng Jin was taking advantage of his quick temper, Du Zhen lunged forward with his sword, sealing his fate with such a reckless attack.
Du Zhen's final attack was dodged with ease, with Zheng Jin driving a dagger right through the side of Du Zhen's skull, sending him convulsing on the floor before finally dying with his eyes wide open.
With that, Zheng Jin removed the grin on his face, as there was no longer a hot-headed idiot for him to provoke. What replaced it was a serious expression as he looked at his final victim, Wu Tiao, who is steadily crawling towards the door while trying not to make a sound despite of the bugs inside his shoulder. It looks like the poison that was on the wine was not something lethal, but something that is used to immobilize.
"He must've intended to use that to get some information out of me. How ironic."
After grabbing Du Zhen's enormous sword, Zheng Jin approached the pathetic Wu Tiao as he put his foot on his back, pinning him to the ground with it.
"Spare me...please, Zheng Jin! I will tell you where the treasures are...so please!"
Losing his bravado from before, Wu Tiao begged for mercy. He really did not want to die here when he was so close to achieving his goal in the sect.
"Interesting. Where are they?"
"You...you have to release me first...!"
Surprising Wu Tiao who just found a way to bargain for his life, Zheng Jin suddenly drove Du Zhen's sword through his right leg!
"You are in no position to make demands, Wu Tiao. Now, if you do not want to tell me anything, that's fine too..."
"Wait! It's under the floorboards...right underneath the table!"
Taking the sword impaled on Wu Tiao's legs, Zheng Jin moved the table and hit the floor beneath it with the sword, checking if it is a trap of some sort. It was not, however, as countless spirit cards of different colors shone through the small pit below the ground, amounting to a total of 56,500 spirit crystals! He then collected each and every one of it, right before turning his attention back to Wu Tiao once again.
"So you do have some honesty after all...but it this really all of them?"
"Ah! I-it is! We cannot hide any more than that in this old house anyway. We just come here to hide and take some spirit crystals when we need it, because it would be trouble if we were caught having this much by the elders!"
"...You expect me to believe you?"
"Believe me Zheng Jin, I swear to the heavens! There was someone that hid his identity and attacked us inside the sect a long time ago, and we have been giving him any cultivation pills and other treasures except spirit crystals ever since then!"
"Oh really? And why would you do that?"
"It was because that stranger claimed that he was in a high position in the sect...and that doing his bidding will eventually be worth it for us. He even promised to get us to the inner sect!"
"And you believed him? Just like that?"
"We had no choice...We were no match for him! Moreover...he held an elder's badge!"
"Hmm...that's a pity then."
Saying those ominous words, Zheng Jin went closer and closer towards Wu Tiao, dragging the huge sword on the floor, making an eerie sound of metal scratching against wood.
"W-wait...what are you doing Zheng Jin! I already did everything you asked!"
Seeing his life flash before his eyes, Wu Tiao revealed his final card as he shouted:
"W-wait! There is one more thing you don't know!"
Stopping the sword right above Wu Tiao's face, Zheng Jin asked what Wu Tiao was talking about.
"We-...I was never the one that plotted to kill you, Zheng Jin...It was the stranger that I just spoke of! He gave me the tip that you had a Spirit Art Manual in your possession...that's why I-"
"Do you know who this "stranger" is?"
"N-no, we never saw his face...but he was indeed the one that started all of this! I-I deeply apologize for what we tried to do...but you're still alive now...aren't you?"
Hearing those last words, a strange expression appeared on Zheng Jin's face. He then lifted the sword upwards, staring at Wu Tiao with as he spoke.
"You did succeed back then. And that is exactly why you must die."
"Th-this...what do you mean?!"
"You can think about it in hell..."
Seeing that Zheng Jin will give him no mercy at all, Wu Tiao's mind shut down as he finally saw death coming for him.
"You...! You are a demon, Zheng Jin!"
"Heh, indeed. See, I'm not all that different from you three after all."
Zheng Jin found it funny that Wu Tiao would actually say that, considering all the things that each and every one of them had done for their ambitions.
Though he had to admit, it did have some truth to it. After all, Zheng Jin is anything but a pure of heart "hero" that spares his enemies left and right, only to be stabbed in the back right after. He actually hated those absurdly idealistic people back in his old world...
Blood burst out like a fountain as Zheng Jin's sword hacked through Wu Tiao, light leaving the latter's eyes as he finally died with an unwilling expression on his face. All his ambitions of greatness died with him, simply because of one wrong move...
After reaching in for something inside his robe, Zheng Jin threw a demon beast core right beside Wu Tiao's body. It was actually a Horned Fire Ape's core, one of the two that he got from The Forest of Nine Deaths. His heart ached when throwing away such a valuable item, but he needed to make this look like the way it is now.
Three outer sect disciples fought and killed each other for an Awakened Mortal Beast core...This kind of story really was something that was far too common in this world...
Zheng Jin then left Du Zhen's sword on the floor, then the wooden box and the blowpipe beside Wu Tiao's and Zi Tien's bodies respectively. Before leaving, however, the last piece of chicken on the miraculously still-intact table caught his attention.
"Still too bland..."
As Zheng Jin went out of the door while clutching the chicken leg on his hands, he could not help but think about Wu Tiao's words from before.
If what he said was true, then his quest for the former Zheng Jin's revenge...is still not over.