I Shall Seal the Heavens Chapter 1408
Chapter 21: I REFUSE!
Iron Awl Hu's eyes went wide as his head was violently ripped off of his shoulder's by Sunan's Sweep of the Dragon's Tail.
Even as soldiers poured into the courtyard, his head spiralled through the air, trailing droplets of blood like tiny red flower petals. It almost seemed to move in slow motion as it arced up, then slowly descended, smacking onto the paving stones with a splurching sound, after which it rolled across the ground briefly before plopping into a small fish pond.
Iron Awl Hu's body teetered for a moment and then toppled over.
Sunan landed on his feet in a defensive stance, instantly glancing around to determine what he was up against.
There were roughly twenty soldiers in the courtyard, wearing leather armor and carrying long spears.
I hate spears, he thought.
Almost to a man, the soldiers' mouths were wide open in shock. One poor fellow even stumbled off to the side and started retching.
A long moment passed that seemed to stretch on for hours and hours, but in reality lasted for only a few breaths of time.
At that point, the soldiers seemed to recover, and one by one, they began to point their spears at Sunan and Sun Mai. However, their eyes flickered with fear, and some of them were even trembling visibly.
Sunan was just about to say something when Sun Mai strode forward, hands clasped behind his back.
"Who's in charge here?" he asked in a commanding voice.
The soldiers looked around nervously, their eyes soon coming to rest on one of their number in particular, a stocky man with a wide nose and a coarse beard.
"Er, I'm– I'm the leader here." The man's eyes flickered down to the decapitated corpse of Iron Awl Hu, and then the severed head in the nearby pond.
"Very well," Sun Mai said. "Who is the most powerful person in this compound?" He took a menacing step forward. "You?"
The bearded man subconsciously stepped back. "NO! No, of course not!" His eyes once again flickered down to Iron Awl Hu's corpse.
Sun Mai chuckled. "I see. And what is your honored surname and respectable name?"
"A very manly name. Tie Gangwen, let me rephrase my question. Who is in charge now that Mr. Hu has met a most unfortunate and untimely demise?"
"Ritual Master Zhen."
"Take us to him. Now. You lead the way."
Tie Gangwen gulped and then nodded, issuing orders to the other soldiers to fall into formation.
Sunan glanced around to look for the pregnant woman, but she was nowhere to be seen. Presumably she had slipped away during the commotion.
The soldiers quickly lead Sunan and Sun Mai out of the courtyard and into the corridors of the compound.
As they walked along, Sunan leaned over and whispered, "What are you planning to do?"
"First, save our hides. Second, take over."
"That is the natural state of affairs. When the leader of the pack is eliminated, a new leader emerges. It is the way of nature, and only by following the way of nature can we achieve true harmony." He gasped. "Dammit, where are writing materials when you need them? Remember that thought, I need to put it in my classic scripture."
"Fine, we take over. But what about this Ritual Master Zhen? And what about the Golden Immortal?"
"I don't know about the Golden Immortal. My bet is that he was not any greater a fighter than Iron Awl Hu. If we can truly seize control of Hu's power structure, we can deal with him when the time comes. Right now this Ritual Master Zhen is the rightful successor. Considering his title, he must be a Yen-li priest."
Sun Mai gave Sunan a sidelong glance. "You don't know about the Yen-li priests? Where did you grow up, a–" Sun Mai suddenly bit his tongue. He had learned long ago that Sunan tended to be sensitive when it came to his home and family. Sun Mai quickly began a new sentence. "They're sorcerers. Although, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that what they are doing is not magic it all. It's most likely manipulation of Qi. Just in a different way than we have come to use it."
"So what, we recruit him?"
"No." Sun Mai lowered his voice even beyond what it had been, into a nearly inaudible whisper. "We kill him."
"Listen to me, Sunan. We have to kill him immediately. Any person who worked directly for Iron Awl Hu is clearly a vile person, allied with the Demon Emperor, a person who kills the husbands of pregnant mothers, who force young girls into brothels, a monster, someone who has plotted and murdered and slandered and–"
"Alright! Even still, I won't just murder someone. We talk first!"
Sun Mai grimaced. "Fine. He'll have one very limited chance to submit. If not…."
Sunan took a deep breath, then nodded grimly.
Before long, they were below ground level in the complex. As they walked along, both Sunan and Sun Mai remained vigilant. Soon they reached a wide corridor that ended in a red wooden door. The soldiers quickly fell into place along the walls of the corridor.
Tie Gangwen nervously cleared his through. "This is Ritual Master Zhen's workshop. He… spends most of his time in here."
Sunan studied the door briefly, but didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. "Well, open it up!" he said after a moment.
"Open it up?!" replied Tie Gangwen, making a slight choking sound. "Sir, no one just opens up the door of Ritual Master Zhen's workshop. Not even his excellency Lord Hu. To do such a thing would be… dangerous."
Sunan looked over at Sun Mai.
"Fine then," Sun Mai said. "Knock or do whatever it is you would normally do."
Tie Gangwen swallowed hard. "No one knocks either…."
Sun Mai started, and Sunan frowned.
"Then how does one go about seeing him?"
Tie Gangwen shrugged. "Wait…?"
There was little more discussion. Sunan and Sun Mai stood in front of the red door, arms crossed, waiting. The soldiers appeared to be completely terrified, and virtually all of them were sweating profusely despite the fact that the corridor was relatively drafty and cold.
After a few minutes passed, Sunan suddenly realized that there was indeed a draft, and strangely, it was a wind that was blowing against his back. However, he was only standing a meter or two in front of the door. He turned to look behind him and saw nothing unusual, but was able to confirm that there was indeed a wind blowing down the corridor toward the door. Even the flames of the torches lighting the corridor seemed to be bending in the same direction; toward the door.
Sunan leaned toward Sun Mai. "Do you feel that?"
Sun Mai nodded. "What do you say we just let ourselves in?"
"Rebuke of the Dragon!"
"Sword of the Scholar!"
Even as Sunan and Sun Mai unleashed their most powerful techniques, the soldiers began to run in the opposite direction, clearly terrified. As for the red door, it didn't stand up long. A few moments later, red splinters of wood showered about as the door virtually exploded.
As the dust and wood chips settled, the chamber beyond the door slowly became visible.
It was large, but thanks to the vast accumulation of books, artifacts, and other objects, it seemed much smaller than it actually was. At the far end was a raised platform and a table, where sat an extremely skinny and short man wearing what appeared to be a roughly sewn cloth robe, tied around the waist with a thick rope.
He lounged there lazily, a slight smile on his face. His eyes were sunken into his face, making him look almost skeletal, and his fingernails were long and jagged.
"Well, it took you long enough," the man said, chuckling. "I've been watching you." He held up a simple copper mirror and tapped it with the long fingernail of his left index finger. "Magic mirror. You certainly dispatched Iron Awl Hu with gusto. I also saw you whispering in the halls. I suppose you're here to… recruit me? Kill me?"
If Sun Mai was taken aback by the man's words, he didn't show it. Clasping his hands behind his back, he said, "Recruit isn't quite the right word, good sir. We would like to extend an invitation for you to join us!"
"I see," said Ritual Master Zhen, stroking his chin with his long fingernails. "And who exactly is 'us,' if I might ask?"
"Oh," said Sun Mai. "Well, I will allow our esteemed Sect Leader to tell you." He looked over at Sunan.
Sunan blinked as he scrambled to think of a name. The first adjective that popped to mind was Golden, probably because he and Sun Mai had just discussed the Golden Immortal. Clearing his throat, Sunan said, "We are the Golden… Dragon Sect!"
Ritual Master Zhen nodded slightly. "The Golden Dragon Sect. Interesting. Well, I think your offer is worth discussing! Please, come have a seat and we can talk."
Sunan took a step forward, already formulating the questions he wished to ask the man.
Sun Mai followed close behind. However, before either of them had taken more than five steps, they suddenly experienced a strange sensation in their arms and legs. It was almost as if they were suddenly wading through water. The feeling grew more intense, until it was like they were trying to walk through thick mud. After only a few breaths of time had passed, they couldn't even move.
Sunan's eyes went wide, and Sun Mai gritted his teeth.
Chuckling could be heard as Ritual Master Zhen placed the copper mirror down. "As expected, you two are complete and utter fools. Do you think someone like me, Ritual Master Zhen, master of the arcane, summoner of Demons, would even consider 'joining' two buffoons like you?"
Sunan couldn't see what Sun Mai was doing, but he could feel the blood pounding in own his veins, and could sense the killing intent rising up in his heart. He suddenly realized that he really had been a fool. How could someone who worked so closely with someone like Iron Awl Hu possibly be an honorable and righteous person? How could a person like that possibly be trusted to discuss things in a rational manner?
How could I even have thought that this man would sit down and talk?
Ritual Master Zhen continued to speak, unleashing a variety of scathing insults upon Sunan and Sun Mai, and simultaneously picking up a wooden box from off to the side, which was filled with knives and daggers. Some were long and straight, others wickedly curved. Some shone brightly, others were rusty and old.
Even as Ritual Master Zhen began to rifle through the daggers, Sunan closed his eyes.
Sun Mai said that this guy's magic is probably just Qi. If that's the case, then there's nothing supernatural at all about what he's done to us. I MUST be able to break free.
Tuning out the droning of Ritual Master Zhen, Sunan entered a state of complete and utter focus.
Qi is just energy. Energy is force. Force pushes and pulls, and can also be resisted. Whatever force it is that is pushing against me, well… I can push back! I refuse to give in to this. I REFUSE!
It took so much effort that Sunan began to tremble, but by sheer force of willpower, he suddenly managed to clench his hand into a fist.
Focusing his mind and his will, he filled himself with the desire to reject whatever force it was that Ritual Master Zhen was using to lock him down. His leg lifted into the air and he took a step forward. Opening his eyes, he realized that Ritual Master Zhen was still completely focused on the daggers. But then, the man suddenly stopped talking and pulled a bronze dagger out of the box.
"Ah, this is the one!" he exclaimed.
By that point, Sunan was walking toward him, slowly but surely. Even as Ritual Master Zhen began to look up toward him, Sunan formed dragon's claws with his hands, and circulated his Qi in preparation for an attack. He was now roughly 3 meters away from Ritual Master Zhen.
When Ritual Master Zhen caught sight of Sunan walking toward him, his eyes went wide. But then, he suddenly smiled.
Then, the unimaginable happened.