Ordinarily, the Heavensworn Four didn't care a whit about origin realm cultivators of any kind. If that particular one hadn't been trying to gather information on the Moon God Sect's secrets, they wouldn't have known about him personally at all. Though they'd taken a more intimate interest in the matter afterwards, they hadn't thought it was anything more than routine. And yet, it was that mundane event which had brought calamity upon the Heavensfall Society.
Cong Taiyan opened his mouth several more times, but was stopped by a look from Beigong Ming each time. Clearly, the latter was worried that the former's fiery temper would anger their interrogators once more and lead to further bloodshed. Right now, they had to suck it up and wait for reinforcements.
"Next question." Liu Zhen's look swept frostily across the Heavensworn Four's faces. "You better think this one through. If anything is unclear, or if I think you're lying…"
"Oh, no, ask away!" Beigong Ming proclaimed loudly. "I swear on my inner demons that I will tell you the truth and nothing but the truth. If I lie at all, let my inner demons consume me!"
An oath upon one's inner demons was essentially the same as a heavenly oath. Nodding, Liu Zhen was about to ask his next prepared question when he saw the visual communication between Beigong Ming and Cong Taiyan. Sudden, mischievous inspiration struck. He grinned sinisterly.
"I'm asking only you this question," he suddenly turned to Beigong Ming. "You're the second of the Heavensworn Four. Have you ever thought about getting rid of your big brother and replacing him?"
It was a very malicious question. Jiang Chen and Emperor Peerless both nodded, appreciative of Liu Zhen's stroke of genius. The question appeared simple, but it had the powerful effect of throwing the four's brotherly bonds into disarray. If successful, they would no longer be of one mind. Internal strife would make the act of questioning significantly easier.
Beigong Ming's face froze when he heard the question. In general, he was quite accepting of Cong Taiyan's leadership. But to say that he hadn't ever had delusions of becoming the boss was a flat-out lie. After all, there was a big difference between the boss and the second-in-command. The wild thought of becoming the boss of the Heavensworn Society in Cong Taiyan's absence occasionally flash through his mind… However, impractical daydreams like that were supposed to be hidden in one's heart. Talking about them in the open was another matter entirely.
Cong Taiyan widened his eyes when he heard the question. He gawked at Beigong Ming. Liu Zhen's question had hit a soft spot, piquing his curiosity. The leader of the Heavensworn Four was both a firecracker and not one for deep schemes. He couldn't shake his reliance on wily individuals like Beigong Ming, but actually looked down on them a little. In fact, he tended to be wary of and wanted to exclude them. He was greater than Beigong Ming in terms of strength and audacity, but was measurably worse at intellect. Thus, whether Beigong Ming would try to take over his position was also an occasional consideration for him.
Beigong Ming cursed silently. This question put him in a very awkward position. Denying it would be lying, since he had had such thoughts before. The fact that he had never acted on them was immaterial. But… how could he admit to something like that?
Admitting so would instantly offend Cong Taiyan to a grievous degree. The Heavensworn Four would never coexist peacefully together after. His words prior wouldn't let him play dumb, either. An oath to one's inner demons wasn't something to be casually broken. Lying about it would bring about backlash very quickly, with the consequences being likely lethal.
In that instant, Beigong Ming's heart was a morass like a pot of congee. He was as dejected as could be, and wanted very badly not to answer, but… doing that would upset Cong Taiyan as well. Silence in this case was tacit admission, after all. More importantly, not answering was another chance for the other man to kill someone.
A bizarre smirk drew itself across Liu Zhen's face. "You can choose not to answer," he laughed unconcernedly, his eyes still trained on Beigong Ming. "I can kill someone else instead. But remember, his blood is on you!"
"Second brother, just tell him. What're you worried about?" The fourth of the Heavensworn Four was a frank and single-minded sort. He had never thought about taking over any of his brothers' positions. In his perspective, the Heavensworn Four were as good as real brothers. Since big brother was stronger than everyone else, didn't it make sense to listen to him straight up? How could anyone think otherwise? Thus, he assumed that Beigong Ming would share his line of thought.
Cong Taiyan tossed a distant look at Beigong Ming. "That's right, number two. Just tell him."
The same words were spoken with very different tones and emotions.
After lengthy internal debate, Beigong Ming finally decided not to risk his oath after all. He'd prefer to anger Cong Taiyan rather than bet with his life. He nodded with some difficulty. "I admit that I've had thoughts like that. However, I've never remotely considered doing anything of the sort. Big brother is far stronger and more charismatic than I am, and that's why he's the most fitting boss of the Society."
As expected, Cong Taiyan's expression frosted over at those words. The fourth brother was agape as well. "Beigong Ming," he yelped, "you two-faced animal! How could you entertain ideas like that in the first place?"
The third brother shook his head as well. However, his look towards Beigong Ming lacked some genuine indignation. It was filled instead with something more complicated. Simultaneously, his gaze darted around the room, eluding Liu Zhen at all costs.
Roaring in cheerful laughter, Liu Zhen clapped in resounding applause. "Alright, alright, I won't kill anyone this time. I can see that you told me the truth."
Beigong Ming couldn't share the happiness. He didn't dare lock eyes with Cong Taiyan any more. The other man's hatred was almost like a condensed ball of flame, able to burn him to ashes if he looked in its general direction.
Liu Zhen smiled smoothly, his eyes coming to rest on the third of the Four. "It's your turn to answer the same question. I know you haven't made an oath on your inner demons, but I can just kill you if you lie."
The third's body shook, and his heart let out a cry of despair. He hadn't dodged calamity after all. Cong Taiyan's gaze was sharply fixed to the third brother now as well. He seemed like a violent beast about to erupt at any time. The intensity of the gesture made the third brother thoroughly uncomfortable. The cold edge of steel was already at his neck.
"Answer," Liu Zhen declared coolly. "I only want to hear the truth. If you'd like to try lying about it, feel free."
The third wasn't willing to risk his life over it. He suddenly raised his volume. "I think the same as second brother."
Beigong Ming let out a sigh of relief at that. He had a compatriot now.
Cong Taiyan nodded again and again, bristling with fury. "Good, good, good. What good brothers you are! It's hard to know a man's heart, and I'm glad that I know yours now."
"Big brother, I can explain. I've had thoughts like that, but they're just thoughts. I've never ever acted on them! I know you're the best leader among all of us." The third brother was grief-stricken, begging Cong Taiyan to listen to his excuses.
Cong Taiyan snorted in response. His dictatorial nature meant that he couldn't accept any kind of betrayal. So what if it was a passing thought? So what if it was entirely psychological? For him, even these were entirely unforgivable.
Jiang Chen gave Liu Zhen a big thumbs-up, then motioned for him to continue questioning. The origin realm cultivator coughed loudly. "Back to business. Next question. You gave my friend over to the Moon God Sect, but who did you give him to? Who was responsible for the proceedings?"
Everyone looked at Beigong Ming. This was enough to already answer part of the question.
Beigong Ming knew to be honest now. "I gave him over to the guys at the Bleakmoon Hall of Punishment. Specifically, one of their captains called Gu Xintang."
"What importance does the Bleakmoon Hall have within the sect? How about Gu Xintang within the Hall?"
"The Bleakmoon Hall is a sizable hall within the Moon God Sect, responsible for handling disciplinary action, punishment, and torture. It has great prestige within the sect. The Moon God Sect has four factions: The Purples, the Indigos, the Blues, and the Reds. Members of these four comprise the entirety of the sect. The Moon God Sect has eight large halls, each hall being responsible for a different aspect of affairs. Naturally, everyone who is part of a hall is also part of a faction.
"As for Gu Xintang, he's one of the captains of Bleakmoon Hall. The Hall has four lords and twenty captains. Gu ranks in the top three in his hall, but obviously can't hold a candle to his lords." There was nothing off-limits for Beigong Ming to talk about now.
"Which faction does Gu Xintang belong to?" Liu Zhen pitched another question.
"The Blue Moon." Beigong Ming answered truthfully.
"What about the holy maiden lost many years before? What faction does she belong to?" This question had clearly been asked on Jiang Chen's behalf.
Beigong Ming paused a moment. The answer to such a question was taboo, restricted by the Moon God Sect from discussion. But this wasn't the time to care about said restrictions.
"Can we… not answer this one?" The second of the Four offered cautiously.
Liu Zhen cackled. "Sure, and I can kill people too."
As he said so, he moved behind yet another executive. A swipe from his saber was enough to lop the man's head clean off. He tossed the gruesome object right in front of Beigong Ming. Beigong Ming was ashen with unease. He'd never been so desperate before in his entire life. They were being toyed to death! He wanted to cry, but didn't have the tears to.
Emperor Peerless inclined his head approvingly to the side. "Liu Zhen's cultivation isn't great, but he's pretty capable. If he can reach emperor or great emperor realm, he will most certainly be able to realize his doubtless remarkable ambitions," he sent to Jiang Chen.
Jiang Chen had experienced much in his meteoric rise and met no shortage of people. Just because someone's cultivation level was low didn't mean that they lacked in wit and guile. The four great sects' ancestors back at Skylaurel Kingdom and the sixteen kingdom alliance had all been extremely cunning men, wily as foxes. Given his grassroots origins, it was not unexpected for Liu Zhen to be reasonably crafty.