Chapter 262: The Recipient [Volume 4 – Perpetual Conflict]
Qianye glanced coldly at Ma Zhong before picking up a steel nail and piercing it into his thigh.
Amidst the miserable cries, Qianye calmly said, “This is the price for selling me out. Now, tell me the truth about your identity and the details about the goods or deal.”
The man replied rapidly, “I really don’t know what the goods are! I’m only here to wait for the courier and guide him to the designated receiving area where a different person will be in charge of receiving the goods. But now, that place has also been destroyed.”
Qianye frowned after hearing the complicated handover procedure. His intuition was telling him that the boulderheart jade letter in his chest pocket wasn’t just any normal letter.
“Then who do you work for?” Qianye asked.
“I belong to the Egret Corps. We can be considered… a power attached to the Serene South Province.”
Qianye’s thoughts were interrupted after hearing this reply.
Although the Serene South Province still existed within the empire’s territory in name, it had actually left the empire’s control and was one of the most active rebel provinces. This so-called Egret Corps was, in fact, the rebel army.
Qianye had never expected that the target of Song Zining’s business was actually the rebel army. According to imperial law, the crime of associating with the rebel army was ranked even higher than colluding with the dark races.
The rebel army had already existed for hundreds of years—the empire had cleared out their nest time and again, but the situation on the Western Continent was only growing worse by the day. The rebel army was on such an expanding momentum that the empire had no choice but to mobilize Marshal Li Xitang to come and hold the fort here. Even then, they were only kept in check; it still wasn’t possible to uproot them completely.
Qianye had become acquainted with some of the indignant stories behind these rebels during his missions with Red Scorpion. But he had seen even more instances of the rebels stabbing the imperial army in the back while the latter was busy fighting against the dark races. Thus, Qianye had an ingrained sense of dislike for the rebel army.
Qianye forcefully suppressed the feeling of discomfort in his heart and pondered some of the odd points in this whole matter. He then raised his head to look at the lady in black. Seeing no surprise on her face at all, he knew that this spineless man before him had already confessed to all he knew.
As it turned out, Ma Zhong was a lieutenant colonel of the Egret Corps’ logistics department. The Master Lin whom he had spoken of just now was his direct superior, the deputy chief of the military supplies department.
Although Ma Zhong himself was also directly in charge of some of the rebel army’s external transactions, he was merely a liaison this time, while the true recipient was another lieutenant colonel.
That person was called Chen Lu. This 28-year-old lady with rank-seven strength was someone who had been in the Serene South Province for ten years. Her military rank wasn’t high, but she was a technical officer in charge of purchasing and maintaining origin arrays for origin guns. It could be considered a fairly important position.
That was also why Ma Zhong had held on to some vague hopes that the rebel army would dispatch people to rescue them.
After hearing this, Qianye turned to ask the lady in black, “Has Chen Lu already fallen into your hands?”
“All survivors were moved to the headquarters after taking down that base,” said the lady in black. She then added, “This was three or four days ago. By now, they ought to have spoken everything they should and shouldn’t have.”
Surprisingly, Qianye laughed after seeing the calm gradually returning to the lady’s face. “But even then, you lot still don’t know my identity and what item I’m carrying. It seems this matter would cease to exist as long as I just walk away.”
The lady in black responded with a charming smile, and this time, her expression was much more natural and lively, “Although you’re powerful, it’s impossible for you to contend against the whole of Lone Ghost. Not to mention others, the chief in charge of this region alone is already a champion. You’re young, powerful, and have a bright future ahead of you. So I think you should just abandon this matter!”
Qianye laughed again—he was almost tempted to do so. He turned his gaze toward Ma Zhong and found that an expression of terror had surfaced on the man’s face. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something.
However Qianye spoke first, “But I still feel somewhat uneasy about this. For instance, this Ma Zhong. Although he claims not to know the details about this transaction, it’ll be troublesome to leave him alive.”
The lady in black hesitated for a moment and said, “Although the employer’s instruction is to capture him alive, I guess it’s fine to kill him since there’s nothing more we can squeeze out.”
For the sake of her own survival, the lady in black had been trying to persuade Qianye to prioritize safety over principles since they were in the hall. As such, she repeatedly suggested, both explicitly and subtly, that Lone Ghost didn’t know of Qianye’s identity at all. Now that Qianye’s stance had finally softened, how could she still care about the client’s requests? By comparison, her own life was naturally more important.
Ma Zhong, on the other hand, was astonished. This was the first time he had heard that the Lone Ghost’s client wanted him alive. What scared him out of his wits was that this mysterious courier who had passed through a siege of numerous Lone Ghost assassins actually wanted to silence him!
“No, don’t! You can’t do this!” Ma Zhong cried out.
Qianye’s freezing gaze swept over Ma Zhong, causing the latter to shiver. “Since this trade route has already been broken due to your own incompetence, it’s best we clean this up thoroughly.”
“There’s more! I know a secret!” Ma Zhong shouted, “Save me, this secret is absolutely worth it!”
Qianye said indifferently, “Oh? Speak.”
Ma Zhong had already begun to gasp for breath as his emotions fluctuated wildly. “Let… let me down first.”
An indescribable glow flashed within Qianye’s eyes as he directly pulled out the nail on Ma Zhong’s wrist.
The man fell heavily on the ground and gasped for a while before saying, “Chen Lu is from the Song clan, and it’s very likely that her true surname is Song.”
A thought suddenly flashed through Qianye’s mind and it was so rapid that he almost couldn’t grasp it. But he had already come to a definite and keen realization that this business wasn’t just for pure profits. This also meant that Lone Ghost’s employer wasn’t just a villain who wanted to rob from another villain but also had other motives.
And the crux of this incident was perhaps this Chen Lu with her twin identities.
“Song clan?” Qianye raised his brows and shot the lady in black a glance.
The lady’s face, once again, turned pale as she met Qianye’s gaze. The terror within her eyes was even more obvious than before. This was also the first time she had heard of this matter—as a Lone Ghost assassin, she was very clear that such a secret, especially one involving such a gigantic entity as the Song clan, was a certain death warrant.
Ma Zhong’s eyes stared fixedly at Qianye like a drowning man searching for a floating log.
The man found no specific expression on Qianye’s face and was truly afraid that he wouldn’t be trusted. He nodded vigorously and said, “It’s indeed the Song clan, there’s no mistaking it! I incidentally saw Chen Lu having dealings with a certain person. I’ve seen that person before on the Eastern Continent, and he’s a steward of the Song clan. Later on, I found the opportunity to tail her twice, and I overheard parts of their conversation during one instance. There’s no doubt!”
The significance of this news was broad and complicated. The Song clan was one of the four major clans and a core strength of the imperial nobility. With regards to their standpoint, they naturally ought to be irreconcilable with the rebel army.
Since Chen Lu was a Song clan spy planted within the rebel army, it would result in a lethal calamity for herself if this news were to spread. As for the Song clan, not only would they lose a spy, but their connections and deals might also be traced and subsequently destroyed.
However, the matter wasn’t that simple. Now that it was certain that the Song clan was trading with the rebel army via this channel, they might be prosecuted for collusion with the enemy.
Qianye said calmly, “This news is, indeed, quite valuable to me. At least I can make her do some things.” If Ma Zhong used this information to threaten her, there was a good chance he could obtain some benefits from Chen Lu.
Ma Zhong hesitated for a bit and stammered, “I have indeed thought of this, but… I didn’t get the time.”
Qianye suddenly asked, “Who did you sell her to?”
Ma Zhong answered reflexively, “I didn’t!” Following which, his pupils constricted as if he had suddenly remembered something and revealed an expression of extreme terror.
Qianye spoke Ma Zhong’s current thought out loud, “Then why would the Lone Ghost’s client want you alive?”
Ma Zhong, as a middleman who knew nothing, was of little value if the robber’s target was this batch of goods. It would be better to kill him directly and avoid future problems. Presently, the other party had stressed that they wanted him alive, so it was obvious that they needed him as a witness to testify against his colleague, Chen Lu.
Ma Zhong’s expression shifted irregularly, and his gaze was darting around as he moved his lips without making any sound.
“What are you doing?!” The lady in black trembled and lost control of her voice, almost as if she would scream the next moment.
She saw Qianye draw his dagger and directly slash Ma Zhong’s throat open. The lady in black wasn’t a little girl who had never seen blood, but she couldn’t help but shiver after seeing Qianye’s precise movements which almost seemed as if they would never deviate even an iota.
“This kind of man will sell out just about anyone. What’s the use of leaving him alive?” Qianye’s tone was calm, but he was trying hard to suppress the waves of surging vexation in his heart.
At this point, Qianye was no longer in the mood to look into the things Ma Zhong did or did not do since the causes were no longer important.
The situation was quite obvious—Song Zining’s business had been compromised, and the situation was extremely dire. The person behind the scenes wasn’t content with simply uprooting this trade channel but also wanted to capture witnesses. This signified that Song Zining himself might be in danger.
Qianye drew a deep breath and looked up at the lady in black. “Tell me the location of your regional headquarters.”
“You can’t contend with Lone Ghost!” The lady in black still wanted to resist.
The Scarlet Edge danced between Qianye’s fingertips, and his handsome face was half concealed in the shadow cast by the dusky light. “The one in the hall is still alive, and there’s one more upstairs with half a breath left. Additionally, their positions seem to be somewhat higher than yours.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Teaser Source: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Egret/lifehistory