To the east of the Black Cloud Mountains stood a mountainous forest just a few hundreds away from the nearby Crushed Stone River.
Dusk was already approaching. The setting sun cast an orange light over the forest and just barely illuminated the silhouette of a single person leaping nimbly from branch to branch.
This person was Jing Mingfeng.
He was no longer traveling with Bai Yunfei. Like the others, he left for his own journey in another direction. And it seemed that he was all alone in this vast expanse of a forest.
But the strange thing was, Jing Mingfeng wasn't using a flying soul armament to travel. He was traveling by foot.
Leaping over a tree top, Jing Mingfeng descended back down to the ground onto a hill and came to a stop.
That was because three people were blocking his way.
Three males, two of which were elders and one youngster. The elder on the left wore dark-gold robes and was slightly plump to the figure, giving off the impression of being an amicable person. The elder in the middle was slightly skinny, but facial expression was far darker than his companion. His eyes were practically venomous to the stare. And the youngster looked roughly the same age as Jing Mingfeng. He wore embroidered robes to complement his handsome features, though his eyes were staring at Jing Mingfeng with hatred.
Jing Mingfeng looked slightly surprised at the fact these three figures were standing in front of him. "Ah…? Is this a mugging?!"
He looked around himself wildly, as if to look for a savior of some kind. "How can there be a mugging here way out in the boondocks…" he lamented dramatically, "We can compromise on this, can't we? If you really want to mug me, then I'll fight back, how about it."
The three men in front of Jing Mingfeng were slightly speechless at his act, but then the elder in violet robes smiled 'kindly'. "Calm even under these circumstances, as expected from the sole survivor of the Jing. You're right. This is indeed a 'mugging'. Hand over the Soul Concealment Arte and Face Disguise Technique and we'll consider letting you live."
Jing Mingfeng was actually shocked this time. The muscles on his face froze for a second as he studied the two elders in front of him closely. An eyebrow raised, as if he remembered something, "I was wondering just who it was that was following me, but it's the old man of the Qi, Qi Duanbei. You've an eye on my family secrets, do you? Do you think your tiny family would be enough to intimidate me?"
His words were spoken mockingly, and Qi Duanbei's eye twitched once with anger at his words. That was the only noticeable change to appear on his face, though. "Were it like before, we would indeed never think to offend the Jing clan. But now…what 'clan' is there? Do you think the name of an extinct clan would scare anyone?"
Jing Mingfeng's eyes narrowed. He tilted his head and looked to the young man standing next to the elder. "He looks familiar, but I don't know him. Who is he?"
"Pah! There's no use putting up any bravado now!" The young man sneered at the impassive look on Jing Mingfeng's face, "But there's no harm telling someone's about to die. We're from the Dark Hand Sect!"
"The Dark Hand Sect?" Jing Mingfeng laughed. "One of our old 'neighbors' I see. We've never had any grudges between us before, so why now?"
He took a second look at the young man. "Oh I remember now," he snapped his fingers, "I think I remember stepping over you to get to the Extreme King Pills…"
"You—!!" The young man lurched forward in anger, "It's all your fault, you know?! If it wasn't for that ambush of yours, I would've made it to the center of the fragrance…I'll never forgive you for that!"
"Ambush?" Jing Mingfeng snorted, "Think you can pretend not to be the same? The Dark Hand is a killer group, everyone knows that. But the things you guys do…you've hardly dipped your fingers in the waters."
"Hardly dipped our fingers?!"
The scrawny elder sneered. "As expected from the best clan of assassins, their sole remaining son is an arrogant one. Hurry up and hand over the Soul Concealment Arte or else you're in for a great deal of suffering…"
"It's not like it's impossible for you guys to get your hands on it." Jing Mingfeng looked pensive, "But before that, I'd like to ask you a question…how did you know it was me?"
"How did we know? Hehe…do you think your disguise techniques are that powerful? You're not invincible, you know!" The young man mocked him, "Sure, I didn't recognize you at first thanks to your disguise, but the moment I felt your aura during the battle, I realized it right away. Did you think I couldn't figure it out?!"
"So you did know it was me?!"
Jing Mingfeng's eyebrows rose up on his face in confusion and skepticism. "I might not be able to multi-task and use the Soul Concealment Arte when I fight, but still, it couldn't have been that bad. Unless you're familiar with how our techniques work or fought us befo—"
Starting from the bottom of his feet, boiling hatred started to rise up to the top of his head. He glared at the young man. "Did you…were the Black Hands involved with what happened to my family?!"
The gray-robed elder furrowed his eyebrows. His young companion had let slip something he should've have. He was about to chide the young man to stay quiet when Jing Mingfeng suddenly burst out loud again, "I'm asking you if your Dark Hand had anything to do with my family's massacre!!"
"Haha!! You look as mad as a dog! How fitting now that you're a 'stray'…how does it feel? Are you angry? Want to know why we know things about your technique we shouldn't have? The Dark Hand once had a contract to chase after a group of soul cultivators. And guess what? They were survivors of the Jing! Haha! The best clan of assassins my ass, they weren't hard to kill at all! They might as well be just a bunch of hay bags! I killed ten of them myself; they were a bunch of trash, that's what they were!!"
The more he laughed and jeered, the more the young man seemed to enjoy the look of pure devastation in Jing Mingfeng's eyes. It seemed he couldn't get enough of making fun of Jing Mingfeng and the tragedy of his family.
But then while he was in the middle of laughing, the man immediately felt something cold pressed against him!
The hairs on his entire body shot straight up on his arms and legs. There was a jet-black dagger pressed against his nose and threatening to stab into his head if he took so much as a step forward!
Before he could even scream, the young man heard a muffled thud as Jing Mingfeng was flung backward as fast as he did coming forward. He staggered a few steps backwards before coming back to a stop where he was before.
Beads of sweat dripped down from the young man's forehead to his neck. He looked up to the elder who saved him, fear apparent in his eyes.
The elder looked surprised as well. He looked to Jing Mingfeng with a very obvious look of greed.
There was a loud roar as the wind squaller next to Jing Mingfeng suddenly exploded in size. Standing as tall as a lion, the soulbeast gave an ear-deafening roar to the three people in front of it.
"Xiao Feng, don't move."
Jing Mingfeng urged. His face was a nasty hue of pain and red as he tried to calm himself, but the murderous intent in his eyes and the fury burning away at his heart simply couldn't be stopped. "Excellent…I've been looking for clues all this time, but I guess I shouldn't have bothered if it was going to drop right in front of me. The Dark Hand Sect…"
He whipped his head to look over to the 'smiling' Qi Duanbei. "Then were the Qi a part of this too?"
Qi Duanbei didn't like the look Jing Mingfeng was giving him and glared back at him.
It wasn't a verbal response, but it was a response nonetheless. Jing Mingfeng snarled, a sadistic sneer curling at his lips.
"Haha!! I wasn't wrong to come here then! I finally found what I was looking for, the Heavens has been kind to me! Haha!!"
The three men looked on in surprise at his sudden outburst, though the young man thought Jing Mingfeng had snapped under the revelation. "What's wrong, has he gone mad all of a sudden?"
After a short bout of laughter, Jing Mingfeng leveled another glare at the three men still with the same smile on his face. "Alright then, if you old fogeys tell me who was it that told you to go after my family, I'll make sure your deaths will be just a bit quicker."
Again, this was a response they weren't expecting. Qi Duanbei glared at him, "Has he really gone mad? Let's spare this conversation and capture him at once!"