Like a wisp of innocence in unbounded evil, or a ray of sunshine through endless darkness, her smile seemed greatly at odds with the city at large. It was the first touch of good since his arrival on Winterdraw.
Behind him, a voice boomed like muffled thunder as he returned her smile. “Brat, what are you looking at? Where’s your seal?”
The inspection had reached him.
Jiang Chen frowned in annoyance. It’s just an inspection, why do you have to put on such airs? He remained expressionless as he handed over the seal he’d received not long ago.
“Hmph!” The guard looked at him meaningfully. An almost imperceptible smirk stretched his lips. But no matter how minute, the detail didn’t escape Jiang Chen’s notice.
A bad premonition suddenly struck him. He looked at the guards. Intentionally or not, they just so happened to be surrounding him, cutting off any possible escape. It was an inspection in name, but their focus was entirely on him.
Alert snaked through his heart. These were very bad signs.
The guard took his seal and ordered coldly, “Wait here!”
He turned to leave, but Jiang Chen grabbed him. “Wait a moment. Where are you going?”
“Nonsense. I’m going to inspect your seal!” The man sneered back. “Are you interfering with the law?”
Jiang Chen responded mildly, “You can do that here, same as you’ve done with everyone else. If you take mine away, how can I be sure you’re not going to swap it out?”
“How dare you!” The guard recoiled as suffering from the greatest insult. “Contempt of the law enforcers, obstruction of the city guards. These are grave offenses!”
“Tsk tsk, how very scary. I just want you to enact the law fairly. Is something wrong with that? You’re just arbitrarily escalating things.” Jiang Chen had seen too much of people like them that swaggered behind borrowed authority.
Sneering, the guard shouted with a wave of the hand, “How dare you defy the law? Everyone else, go back to your rooms!”
Scared stiff, the order was all the excuse the guests needed to scurry back inside. Only Xing Tong and her father stayed behind. Fidgeting with worry, the girl hinted with her eyes for him to cooperate.
Disregarding her pleas, he transmitted to her, “Xing Tong, you two don’t need to be involved. Take your father back to the room.”
She hesitated, unwilling to leave at such a time.
Jiang Chen messaged again, his tone much sterner, “Go!”
Xing Tong bit her lip, but finally caved in. She helped her father limp back inside.
Jiang Chen didn’t let his eyes stray their way. He didn’t want the guards to think he cared about the pair. If these guards couldn’t handle him, they were certainly the type to act against Xing Tong and her father instead, or even use them against him.
Even so, he was touched by the girl’s courage in the face of danger. It would seem some kindness still existed in this city.
The guards weren’t interested in the others. With tacit understanding, they all locked onto him.
Jiang Chen merely tugged the corners of his lips upwards. “Is this really an inspection?”
“Brat, cut the crap. You’ve dug your own grave resisting the city guards.”
“Brothers, get him!”
Armed to the teeth, the guards were ferocious wolves and tigers, but in fact, their cultivation levels weren’t extraordinary. Most of them were mere initial great emperors. The uniform was what made them dangerous. Without this symbol, they were a simple a ragtag bunch that Jiang Chen could easily dispose of.
The young lord widened his eyes, channeling power into golden rays and shooting them at the guards. His tone was so cold it could freeze someone. “Are you sure you want me to slaughter you all?”
The soul-piercing Evil Golden Eye served a formidable deterrence. The guards’ body and mind shook uncontrollably as the golden light swept past them. An overwhelming force sought to imprisoned their souls.
The chain seal in Jiang Chen’s consciousness sea had undergone great changes after he’d broken through to great emperor. Instead of only stirring occasionally, it had become more active, strengthening his consciousness by an enormous degree.
The Evil Golden Eye had benefited the most as it combined overwhelming consciousness with its strong metallic properties in a two-pronged attack, sealing the opponents’ souls and solidifying their bodies.
His consciousness was now strong enough to rival an empyrean master, to say nothing of these initial great emperors.
“You…” The guard who’d thrown his weight around unchecked, now paled with dread. Shock and terror writ all over his eyes, he could feel his mind becoming increasingly blank under the confinement of a mysterious force.
Jiang Chen abruptly withdrew his consciousness. He asked mildly, “Do you have anything you want to say?”
In the wake of his consciousness, the Evil Golden Eye also eased its grip, relieving the guards of the pressure crushing them and the fearsome suction on their souls, leaving them trembling like leaves.
It’d felt like a savage predator had pounced on them and was inches away from ripping out their throats, only to open its maw at the last minute.
“Look carefully, is there a problem with my seal?” Jiang Chen asked with a supercilious smile.
With this narrow escape from the gates of hell, the guard knew that he’d bitten off more than he could chew. Pallid, he examined the seal with a miserable wince.
“Great gentleman, my apologies, we were the ones mistaken. The seal’s perfectly in order, there’s nothing wrong with it.” The man wished there was a crack he could crawl into.
These guards were partners with the ones at the city gates and had been given a heads up about a potential cash cow. Hence they’d grabbed a bunch of men to pay a visit, but numbers had proved useless at their cultivation level.
They’d wanted to swap out Jiang Chen’s residency seal and clap a certain crime on another on him to arrest and take all of his belongings. It was a routine they were most familiar with. But they’d been careless this time and targeted the wrong man, almost costing them their lives.
“Pardon the intrusion! We still have official business to attend to, so we won’t disturb your rest further, young master.”
These fellows were adaptable folks. The plan was dead in the water, so their only thought now was to make a quick exit. Otherwise, the young man might kill them all in a fit of anger. Their fellow guardsmen might take revenge for them afterwards, but what good would that be?
Dead was dead. Nothing could change that.
Jiang Chen watched them scamper with a cold smile. “I hope this the last I see of you. Remember, if there’s a next time, I won’t give you even a chance to regret things, no matter how many you bring.”
The men fled with their tails between their legs.
The innkeeper and associates sighed in relief. They’d been afraid both sides would come to blows. Business was done for once that happened.
Jiang Chen remained unperturbed despite the trivial annoyance. He glanced indifferently at the innkeeper in the corridor, then headed back to his room without a word.
Xing Tong and her father had remained in the aisle, peering around the corner. The little girl beamed with elation when she spotted him.
Jiang Chen waved them off. “Everything’s fine. You two go back and rest.”
Xing Tong nodded with a blush, afraid of looking into his eyes, but her father suddenly whispered, “Sir, may we talk in private?”
Jiang Chen glanced his way, thought for a moment, then nodded in the end. “Come on in.”
He opened the door, while Xing Tong helped her father inside and found chairs to sit in. Wall had ears, so the young lord arranged a soundproofing formation.
His cautiousness and practiced skill made the father sigh in admiration. He cupped his fist and saluted, “My name is Xing Hui. Thank you for saving my life. May I know my savior’s honorable name?”
“Well met, Sir Jiang.” Xing Hui nodded. “If I may be so bold, you must be a newcomer to the city?”
“Oh, you can tell?” Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
“I can’t, but the guards can. They mostly target new faces for extortion. They’re rarely wrong in that department.” Xing Hui sighed, “There’s no difference between the officials and bandits in this city. So-called guards are simply thieves dressed in guard uniforms. But they make the rules here, so no one dares confront them. Anyone they single out is sure to suffer. Fortunately, you’re strong enough to intimidate them. I shudder to think of the consequences otherwise.”
“Heh, I hope this matter stops here. Or else, even if I have to depart the city, I will drench its streets in blood,” Jiang Chen bit off, cold as frost.
Xing Hui nodded. “There won’t be further attempts. They aren’t stupid. They know who they can offend and who they can’t. Since you’re the latter, they won’t bother you again. It’s a shady business after all, so they have to weigh the pros and cons. They won’t take the risk if the cost is too high.”
A robbery that could easily cost lives was naturally not worth continuing with.
“That would be for the best,” Jiang Chen responded indifferently.
Xing Hui looked his way with a meaningful gaze. “Sir Jiang, judging by how you cured me, you must be a pill dao grandmaster?”
“I do have some knowledge,” Jiang Chen acknowledged.