Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Studying the middle-aged man, Lu Fan raised his eyebrows a bit.
This man had a familiar aura. His body was almost identical to the vague silhouette composed by the Spirit Qi on the Dao Imparting Platform.
The man in front of him must be Nie Changqing.
Ning Zhao stepped up in front of Lu Fan to protect him. Her charming face darkened slightly.
This rather grizzled butcher somehow made her feel threatened.
Was he a Grandmaster? He didn't seem like one. The man's flow of Qi and blood seemed to be overly knotted and clogged.
There was someone so mysterious hiding in Beiluo City?
Yi Yue's small, delicate hand reached for the long whip at her waist. Her whole stance grew tense.
Since Yi Yue wasn't as powerful as Ning Zhao, she felt the gravity of this man's presence more strongly. A single glance from the grizzled butcher sent a chill down her spine, as if all her pores had closed and the flow of her Qi and blood had suddenly clogged up.
As for Ni Yu…
She acted as if her life had lost all meaning. She leaned against one side of Lu Fan's wheelchair with lusterless eyes.
Just because she had led them in the wrong direction a couple of times, she would be forced to skip meals!
Ni Yu wanted to slap herself for volunteering to guide them when the butcher's shop came up in conversation.
If she really couldn't eat for the next several days, she would starve to death for sure.
Her Young Master had just praised her for having a good appetite as a sign of good fortune, yet it hadn't taken him long to decide to starve her to death...
The Young Master was becoming worse and worse.
Nie Changqing eyed Lu Fan as he took the boy in his arms to protect him.
His gaze was suspicious. What Lu Fan had said puzzled him.
Lu Fan's words were overflowing with arrogance, yet the way he spoke made every word sound so natural, making perfect sense.
"You were not sent by the Daoists?" the butcher's hoarse voice once again echoed between the buildings.
Ning Zhao addressed him this time. "This is the Young Master of Beiluo City. He has nothing to do with the Daoists."
Lu Fan, sitting in the wheelchair, was still smiling. One hand held his chin, and he used the other to lightly tap on the woolen blanket covering his legs.
He didn't look at Nie Changqing. His gaze fell instead on the boy in Nie Changqing's protective arms.
The boy's eyes were as clear as a cloudless blue sky. Pure and spotless.
As the boy held his gaze, Lu Fan, who had always been proud of his self-claimed purity, flushed with shame.
The big-headed boy buried his head deeper in Nie Changqing's arms. He looked a little scared.
Maybe this was because Lu Fan's gaze was too strong.
"Young Master Lu! I had no idea the Young Master would stop by our tiny shop. How can I help you?"
Once he learned who Lu Fan was, Nie Changqing felt a little more at ease.
But he didn't completely relax his guard. How could Lu Fan know that he was an outcast of Daoism? He had been hiding in Beiluo City under an assumed identity for five years. Nobody was supposed to know his whereabouts.
To protect Nie Shuang, he had even changed the boy's name to "Nie Rourong."
Yet here Lu Fan was! He had found him!
Nie Changqing wasn't sure if Lu Fan had anything to do with the Daoists.
"What's his name?" Lu Fan gestured to the boy in Nie Changqing's arms with a half-smile.
Alarmed, Nie Changqing clutched the boy a little tighter. The boy's head was buried in Nie Changqing's greasy, bloody apron.
"Young Master Lu, my son's vulgar name is nothing good. You don't need to worry about it."
It was pretty obvious that Nie Changqing didn't want to share the information.
Lu Fan's smile faded. He regarded Nie Changqing with a serious look in his eyes.
"As the saying goes, 'once you are part of the martial arts world, it's impossible to keep it to yourself.' You think hiding and taking on a different identity can bring you peace for the rest of your life? Even if you don't face the truth for yourself, can't you face it for your son?"
Lu Fan addressed these questions to Nie Changqing.
"Do you want your son to end up inheriting your butcher's knife and live as an ordinary butcher the rest of his life, reeking of blood and grease?"
Nie Changqing was stunned.
He hadn't expected Lu Fan to give him a speech like that.
But instead of arguing back, Nie Changqing fell silent. He patted his son's head, lost for a second.
"Living as an ordinary butcher... What's wrong with that? Isn't living a peaceful, stable life what parents want the most for their children?" Nie Changqing asked, his tone bitter.
Lu Fan squinted.
He didn't respond to Nie Changqing. Instead, he shifted his gaze to the boy.
"Hey, little buddy. Tell me, do you want to be a butcher when you grow up?" Lu Fan asked with a smile.
In Nie Changqing's arms, Nie Shuang turned around and looked at Lu Fan with his huge, bright eyes. A smart kid.
"No… I don't."
"Shuang'er..." Nie Changqing looked at his son in surprise.
The little boy looked up at Nie Changqing with a determined, serious look. "Father doesn't like being a butcher. If Father doesn't like it, Shuang'er won't like it either."
The boy spoke sincerely.
Gazing at his son's face, Nie Changqing felt as if his heart had been grasped tightly by an invisible hand.
Leaning back in his wheelchair, Lu Fan straightened the thin woolen blanket on his legs.
"He is a piece of true gold, yet you'd rather hide him and let him collect dust. That's a crime, you know?" Lu Fan said in a soft voice.
Neither Ning Zhao or Yi Yue knew what to say.
After all, their Young Master had earned the approval of the Imperial Advisor. Each word he spoke showed power indeed.
Even Ni Yu, who had been in low spirits the whole time, suddenly got her energy back.
"I am also a piece of true gold! My Young Master left me to collect dust! This is a c-crime!" Ni Yu's cute little face was flushed red with excitement.
The corners of Lu Fan's mouth twitched.
He glanced at Yi Yue. "Shut up. Talk again, and I'll smack you!"
Ni Yu shivered and hurriedly covered her mouth.
The Young Master acted so cruelly. It hurt her feelings so much, as if her heart had been pierced by an arrow.
Her eyes filled with tears.
Ni Yu pounded her chest and stomped futilely, sobs rising in her throat until she couldn't talk anymore.
Nie Changqing didn't say a word.
After a long moment, he finally started talking in a hoarse voice.
"So… You see something in my son and want to train him, Young Master Lu?"
The big-headed boy, Nie Shuang, was staring at Lu Fan with his bright eyes.
He had spent his life looking out at the outside world. He wanted to be strong and powerful, like an eagle soaring high in the sky, so he could go look for his mother!
Sitting in the wheelchair, Lu Fan raised one corner of his mouth, looking the boy up and down with appreciation.
A moment later, he spoke again. "Nope. The one I want is you."
Silence fell—sudden, chilling silence.
The big-headed boy's bright eyes were filmed with a sudden shock.
Now, he perhaps felt a bit more empathy for the sad little maid.
Nie Changqing was also surprised. He seemed to be confused too.
A moment later, however, his face twitched a little. "Young Master Lu, I'm afraid I have to say no. My heart belongs elsewhere."
Now it was Lu Fan's turn to be surprised.
"My little shop closes early today. I'm sorry," Nie Changqing said.
The next thing they knew, the meat hanging at the shop was quickly being taken down and put in a basket. Nie Changqing pulled the basket over his shoulder and headed out with his son. His footsteps, muffled by straw sandals, faded quickly down a little alley on one side of the street.
As she watched Nie Changqing run away, Ning Zhao hesitated. She turned to Lu Fan with a strange look on her face.
"Young Master, do you want me to catch him for you?"
Resting against the back of the wheelchair, Lu Fan lightly rubbed his beardless chin as the corners of his mouth curved into a smile.
"No hurry. Sooner or later, he will understand."
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The weather suddenly changed.
Heavy, depressing clouds were approaching. Huge drops of rain fell and hit the ground, splashing in the dirt and sending up steam.
Nie Changqing tied a rain hat on Nie Shuang's head, shielding him from some of the downpour.
He wiped the rain off his face and stepped back onto the road. He was holding Nie Shuang's hand and carrying the basket on his back. They walked on the street paved with black stones, heading toward a shabby little house deep in a small alley.
Suddenly, Nie Changqing paused.
The rain was getting heavier. The sound of raindrops kept being interrupted by the crashes of thunder. Newly-formed mist blurred the world. Everything grew more and more surreal.
In front of the shabby little house at the end of the alley, three men wearing straw rain capes and hats waited.
The mist blurred their shapes.
"Shuang'er!" Nie Changqing yelled into the rain. He kept his face impassive, lightly squeezing Nie Shuang's tiny, cold hand with his own. "When I tell you to run, you turn around and run! Remember, don't look back, no matter what."
Nie Shuang was a smart boy. He pressed his lips into a line.
A deafening roll of thunder cracked the sky.
Nie Changqing's voice was as loud as the thunder.
Without hesitation, Nie Shuang turned around and ran, his hands tightly holding his rain hat.
Nie Changqing dropped his basket, spilling the chunks of meat. The ground was covered in red and white. He lifted a sharp, shining butcher's knife from the bottom of the basket.
He stepped forward with his sandal-clad feet, splashing through puddles of rain.
At the end of the alley, one of the three men stayed still. The other two dashed toward Nie Changqing.
Under their rain capes, blinding silver blades cut open the rain-heavy air.
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