After the recent disaster, Zhou Hong had spent a lot of time and resources smoothing things over.
Unfortunately, business for Sima Tao and Sun Yifan had been seriously damaged, and few customers came their way. Thanks to the efforts of Zhou Hong, much of the news of the events in Borough 89 and the surrounding areas had been stifled. And yet, it was impossible to prevent word from spreading completely.
Nobody seemed interested at all in Sima Tao and Sun Yifan. In contrast, the way that Bai Xiaochun had taken action on the day of the disaster ensured that many people approved of him more than ever. Almost immediately, a steady stream of customers was flowing into his shop.
The other shops in the area who had helped Bai Xiaochun also benefited, so whenever soul cultivators arrived wanting high-quality spirit enhancements, they would refer them to Bai Xiaochun’s shop.
Bai Xiaochun was doing business like crazy, even more so than when he had initially become popular. Bai Hao was constantly running around, busier than ever. As for Bai Xiaochun, he was very pleased with everything, especially with how perfectly the plan had been executed. Clearly, Bai Hao was very useful when it came to coming up with plots and schemes.
Bai Xiaochun was currently in the back room of his shop, doing research into seventeen-colored flame.
It was with great contentment that he went about researching seventeen-colored flame. Thanks to his several months of hard work, he now felt that he understood this type of flame much better than before. As of this point, there were only two main problem areas that, once he resolved, meant that he could formally start trying to conjure the flame.
Suddenly, his eyebrows danced up and down with delight as he finally resolved the first of those main problem areas. Everything made sense now that the problem faded away.
However, it was in that very moment that, out in the main part of the shop, Bai Hao let out a cry of alarm.
Then, two rumbling sounds like thunder echoed into the shop from the street. The entire shop vibrated, and cracks even appeared in the walls and ceiling, as though the shop might collapse at any moment.
Bai Xiaochun was instantly startled out of his good mood. Irritated, he burst out of the back room just as the angry voices of Sima Tao and Sun Yifan rang out.
“Get the hell out here, Bai Hao!!”
“Bai Hao, you contemptible rapscallion! You were the one who tampered with that soul medicine! How dare you slander our names! Things are not over between you and us!”
Their voices were so laced with rage that other shops in the area also began to tremble and vibrate.
Everyone who heard the words being spoken were shocked, and looked over hesitantly.
“Bai Hao tampered with the soul medicine?”
“Well he certainly had the motive… but I don’t think he's good enough to do something like that.”
Bai Xiaochun had originally been extremely irritated at having been interrupted, but then he heard the words being spoken, and his heart lurched with nervousness and guilt. Unfortunately, there was no time for thought or planning; he couldn’t leave Bai Hao out there on his own.
The shop was already in complete disarray. Thankfully, Bai Hao hadn’t been hurt. However, Bai Xiaochun had put a lot of hard work into this shop, so to see someone else messing it up felt just the same as if someone had broken into his home. At this point, his anger began to burn.
Eyes bloodshot, he shouted, “So, repaying kindness with enmity, huh Sima Tao, Sun Yifan? You’ve ruined your reputations and now you’re trying to drag me down with you? How despicable!
“If I hadn’t stepped in during the disaster, you two might have lost your lives! I calmed everyone down and gave you time to explain yourselves. I'm the one who resolved the whole situation!
“If you don't want to show your appreciation, fine. But now you dare to slander me? You two… are complete bullies!!” Bai Xiaochun made his voice as loud as possible, causing it to echo out clearly throughout the area. He was aware that it was possible that Sima Tao and Sun Yifan had actually come up with some clue to implicate him, and therefore, he decided to try to overawe them with an intimidating display.
Sima Tao’s fury grew hotter, and he retorted, “Bai Hao, you--”
“I what?!” Bai Xiaochun interrupted, glaring at him. “When you opened up a shop right next to me in open competition, Sima Tao, did I ever ask you to stop? Did I ever go and threaten to tear it down? Did I ever curse you to your face?
"I accepted the humiliation silently. I swallowed my complaints. And why? Because I, Bai Hao, am a nobody here, and I didn’t dare to provoke you!
“I didn't even do anything when you clearly tried to take advantage of how nice I was being. Even when you were in a really bad situation and I could have taken advantage of it, well, I have my bottom line, and I know that there are just some things I can’t do!
“I couldn’t just stand around and watch all of the other Fellow Daoists from the other shops in the area get dragged into the situation, and that’s why I helped you. But now, you actually come here to wrongly accuse me? Sima Tao, do you have no heart? If so, then dig open your chest to prove it. But if you do, then, how evil-hearted you are!
“Not only are you ungrateful, you are the type who oppresses the good and timid people in the world. You are completely and utterly selfish, and in fact, don’t even qualify to speak a single word to me!” Bai Xiaochun spoke with decisiveness that could sever nails and chop iron, in a manner as grand and lofty as the highest clouds in the sky.
Bai Xiaochun’s words were like a razor-sharp sword that cut deeply into Sima Tao. His face fell, and he was so shocked he took a few subconscious steps backward. Mind numb, he stared at Bai Xiaochun with the desire to respond. He even opened his mouth. And yet, not a word came out.
Seeing how Sima Tao was trembling in shock because of Bai Xiaochun’s words, Sun Yifan shouted, “Cut the crap, Bai Hao!”
“You can just shut up this instant, Sun Yifan!” Bai Xiaochun shot back. “Do you really think that Lord Bai doesn’t know that you and Sima Tao are as thick as thieves? You set up shop on either side of me, you villains. You had the backing of an heir apparent, and used your seniority as old-time necromancers to try to put me out of business!
“You know, there’s a question I've been wanting to ask this whole time. Did I ever do anything to offend you?!?! No! I didn’t! For mere profit, you attempted to prevent me from making a living. Alright, fine. I can deal with that. But now you want to plant false evidence against me to try to earn your reputation back? Well let me tell you, I have nothing to hide in anything, and I certainly don’t fear evildoers like yourself!”
Bai Xiaochun’s words were spoken with complete frankness, and flowed out as smooth as a river. They made Bai Xiaochun seem more impressive than ever, and caused both Sima Tao and Sun Yifan to freeze in place, their hearts pounding with anger, but unable to say anything in response.
Everyone else in the area was surprised. This was their first time realizing how sharp-tongued this Bai Hao could be. It was almost as if his words were weapons, making this spectacle even more dazzling than an actual fight.
Even Bai Hao was stunned. This was also his first time witnessing how glib his Master could be, and it left him gaping with surprise. It was only now that he finally realized what it must have been like to see Bai Xiaochun during the Bai Clan’s ancestral ceremony. If words were swords, then speeches like this could kill!
“You… you….” Sun Yifan was furious, and his mind was spinning, but he could hardly speak. Neither he nor Sima Tao were proficient in battles of words. Furthermore, to people like them, reputation was everything, and they had long since come to believe that as grandiose Nascent Soul experts, they couldn’t possibly act like newbie cultivators who battled with words.
And yet… here was Bai Hao, a Nascent Soul expert, an elite cultivator with shocking battle prowess, whose sharp words left them feeling completely helpless.
Sima Tao was the first to recover. Gritting his teeth, he said, “At this point, Bai Hao, words are meaningless. It doesn’t matter whether you admit it or not, today… I challenge you to a duel! Not a duel of magical techniques, but a duel of flame conjuring! Whoever loses will get the hell out of Arch-Emperor City, and never conjure a single flame again for all time!”
At this point, Sun Yifan also recovered. He knew that the incident with the soul medicine was something very damaging that had to be recovered from. Right now, the most important way to go about doing that was to get revenge. If they could crush this Bai Hao once and for all, they could wipe away their disgrace, and slowly recover from the humiliation of recent days.
With such thoughts on his mind, he shouted, “That’s right, Bai Hao. I also challenge you to a duel. Since you're good enough to tamper with soul medicine, then let’s see how good you actually are at flame conjuring!”