548. Spin-Off – A Journey to the South Ocean (6)
That envoy had finally told the truth. It was indeed true that not all those who had ventured into those waters had gone missing, but there were only a couple of survivors, and after making it out of that place alive, all of them had looked much the worse for wear and panic-stricken and kept telling people that there were monsters on the island in those waters, but they hadn’t been able to give a detailed description of the monsters and appeared demented.
It had been the king of this statelet who had been the first to have the survivors arrested and interrogated. During the interrogation, one of them had regained part of his sanity and claimed that there was a stone city and a magnificent palace on that island, the likes of which nobody had ever seen before, that there were countless treasures in it, but all those who entered the stone city fell prey to the defensive measures in it and got killed; those who managed to land on the island fought each other to get a bigger share of the treasure, and a lot of them died in the fighting; there were bodies everywhere; some who valued their lives more fled the island, but after leaving the island, they found themselves wreathed in thick fog and unable to find the correct direction; they were trapped in the fog for a very long time and afterward, in order to survive, they started killing their companions; when the last few of them were trying to kill each other, there was an earthquake which dispersed the fog, enabling them to find their way back and saving them from the fate of dying on the sea.
“The envoy said all the others who had come back with that man had gone crazy, that that man was the only one having enough sanity left to speak normally. Right now all of them are locked up in a dungeon beneath the royal palace. Their king, after hearing about the tons of treasures in the stone city, wanted to take possession of them all, so he pretended to cooperate with the monarch of the Fangcun Kingdom, planning to use the latter’s men to deal with those maniacs and defensive measures on the island while his own men transfer the treasures. The reason why he doesn’t dare join hands with us is because there are too many of us for his men to handle,” recounted Yao Yi.
It was exactly what Ling Zhang had conjectured. All the others were indignant after hearing the story.
“This king is such a wily old fox. We would sure as hell be hoodwinked by him had Brother Zhang not thought of this,” said Yuwen Jin.
“Right now our first priority is to figure out where that island is specifically,” said Ling Zhang as he looked at Yao Yi. “Does that envoy know anything about it?”
Yao Yi shook his head. “No. Their king and the one in charge of the flotilla are the only ones having knowledge of that.”
Ling Zhang switched his gaze to Yuwen Tong, who gave it some thought and then said, “We need to find that survivor. Here’s how we’ll work it out – we get ashore right away instead of waiting until night, and then Brother Zhang and I will pay their king a visit and distract him; Brother Ji and my grandfather-in-law will take that envoy to the royal palace, find that dungeon and bust that survivor out.”
Neither Ji Yanlai nor Ji Yin raised any objections, so the fleet slowly pulled up to the port.
“Welcome, welcome, Your Majesty. Please forgive me for not having come here sooner to meet you.”
The king of the statelet had been startled when informed that the fleet of the Great Wen had docked. Baffled as to why Yuwen Tong had suddenly changed his mind, he had promptly taken some men and come to the port to welcome Yuwen Tong.
Yuwen Tong and Ling Zhang disembarked from the vessel at a gentle pace, making towards the group of men welcoming them.
At the same time, Ji Yin and Ji Yanlai, pinioning the envoy, had quietly left the vessel from the other side. They were so fast none of those coming to welcome them noticed.
The royal palace was not very big. Ji Yin and Ji Yanlai, with their superb kung fu, soon made a circuit of it. The envoy, pinned to Ji Yanlai’s side, didn’t dare make a sound. Though aware that he was betraying the king, he was too scared to yell for help, knowing that his life was in Ji Yanlai’s hands.
The envoy being cooperative, Ji Yanlai and Ji Yin found the entrance to the dungeon beneath the royal palace when Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong, accompanied by that king, were halfway to the palace.
“Thi–This is the place. It’s guarded. Nobody can get in without the king’s authorization,” said the envoy tremulously.
Ji Yanlai snorted and, with a swift wave of his hand, a couple of leaves (nobody knew when he had picked them) shot out and hit the Mobility Acupoints of the five guards outside the entrance, immobilizing all of them.
“Let’s go inside,” said Ji Yanlai before he gripped the envoy by the scruff of the neck and swooshed through the entrance like the wind. The guards, panic-stricken from their sudden loss of mobility, saw two white figures flash past them like ghosts. They couldn’t even tell whether those were human beings or not, let alone see what they looked like. Though ghosts were believed to appear only at night, the guards still felt fine beads of cold sweat breaking out over their backs.
This dungeon beneath the palace was used for holding felons, but there were not many guards in it.
Like the palace above, this prison was also small. It didn’t even stack up against any of the prefectural prisons in the Great Wen.
Ji Yanlai, playing the same old trick, prodded the Sleep Acupoints of all the guards and, after they limply sank to the ground, had the envoy lead the two of them to the cells where the couple of local pirates who had escaped from the island were locked up.
Several of the pirates got scared and started shouting at the sight of Ji Yanlai and the other two, cowering into the corners of their cells, babbling on in a foreign language neither Ji Yanlai nor Ji Yin understood.
The envoy stammeringly interpreted for the two of them. “Th–They take you for monsters. They’re terrified.”
Ji Yin inquired, “Where’s the one of sound mind?”
The envoy responded, “I’ll need some time to find him. It’s my first time being here as well.”
It was true that the envoy had never had the chance to come here to meet that pirate, for he had been in their company throughout their journey to this country.
Ji Yanlai let go of him. “Find him,” he instructed.
Not daring defy Ji Yanlai, the envoy immediately started searching and soon found that pirate in a separate cell.
The pirate warily sized up Ji Yanlai and Ji Yin and then, holding the bars with his hands, babbled to the envoy for a few moments, agitation written all over his face.
“What did you say to him?” Ji Yanlai asked the envoy.
The envoy twisted his head around and started trembling all over as he met Ji Yanlai’s gaze, his eyes becoming unfocused. In a monotonous voice, he said, “I asked him if he knows the specific location of the island.”
“What’s his answer?”
Ji Yanlai exchanged a glance with Ji Yin before giving the envoy another instruction. “Tell him we’re here to bust him out of this place, that he is to go with us and lead us to that island, otherwise we’ll kill him.”
The envoy turned on his heel and spoke to the pirate in the same dull voice. The pirate perceived that the envoy, who had appeared normal only a moment ago, was now acting weirdly. He looked at Ji Yanlai, the expression in his eyes turning fearful. At this time, Ji Yanlai casually held the lock on the cell door, gave it a gentle pull and with that the chain broke, which further appalled the pirate who then gabbled something to the envoy.
“He wants to know who you are,” said the envoy, being a dutiful interpreter.
“We’re from the Great Wen and hold no personal grudge against him. All we want to know is where that island is. Tell him to be cooperative,” said Ji Yanlai.
The envoy conveyed it to the pirate, who, after several moments of apparently painful internal struggle, clenched his teeth and walked out of his cell before he said something else to the envoy.
“He agreed,” said the envoy.
“We should have him give us the location of the island first, in case anything unexpected happens on our way out of this place,” said Ji Yin.
Feeling that he had a point, Ji Yanlai had the pirate tell them the specific location of the island. The envoy translated it in a dull voice, and Ji Yanlai and Ji Yin had to memorize it first. As for whether or not the pirate was telling the truth, they would have to take him back to the vessel to find out.
Ji Yanlai’s ears suddenly wiggled. “There’s movement at the front gates of this palace. They’ve come. We need to get out of here straight away.”
With that, he and Ji Yin, pinioning the envoy and the pirate respectively, left the dungeon.
They did not unblock the acupoints of the guards at the entrance when leaving. Their blocked acupoints would spontaneously return to normal in two hours, by which time Ling Zhang and Yuwen Tong would have departed. Even if the king found out that the prisoner had been taken away, there wouldn’t be anything he could do about it.
No sooner had Ji Yanlai and Ji Yin left the royal palace than a secret bodyguard of Yuwen Tong’s informed the imperial couple of it.
Having come to know that they had got the job done so soon, Yuwen Tong perfunctorily talked with the king for another few moments and then quickly returned to the vessel with Ling Zhang.
“Set sail.” Yuwen Tong gave the order for the fleet to unmoor and depart the moment he boarded.
The armada sailed off when the king of the statelet was still wondering why Yuwen Tong, who had previously said he wouldn’t visit the palace anytime soon, had suddenly come and then taken his leave after merely exchanging some banalities with him. It was not until the fleet had gone far away that he was informed that one of the pirates in the dungeon was missing.
The guards either had not seen the faces of the intruders clearly or had been put to sleep. None of them knew who had broken the prisoner out.
However, Yuwen Tong and Ling Zhang’s appearance at the exact time of the prison break was too much to be a coincidence, so the king eventually became suspicious of the two of them, but firstly he did not have any proof; secondly the two of them had already left; thirdly the two of them had an armada at their service, which his men did not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of defeating. Furious and anxious as the king was, there was nothing he could do but watch the fleet of the Great Wen disappear from view.
On the vessel.
Ji Yanlai and Ji Yin brought the pirate over. The envoy, still under hypnosis, resumed interpreting for the pirate devotedly.
After being informed of the location provided by the pirate, Yuwen Tong unfurled a map, studied it with the others for a while and then had the pirate point the location out to them on the map before they finally reached a conclusion as to where the island should be.
The pirate’s legs had been shaking since the moment he had set eyes on this large vessel. He fully believed Ji Yanlai’s words now and was very obedient, not daring keep anything back from them. However, his face still registered fear as he talked about that island.
“He said there’re demons on that island which kill and eat people, along with countless monsters, that although there’s treasure, nobody would be able to get any of it off the island alive; it’s a very dangerous place. He doesn’t want to go back there. He begs you to let him go,” said the envoy monotonously.
The pirate, kneeling on the ground, kept kowtowing to them, manifest horror and panic in his eyes. They could tell that he was not lying.
“Tell him we want to know more about the demons that kill and eat people, and those monsters too,” instructed Ling Zhang.
The envoy translated it to the pirate, who haltingly said, “There are terrible-looking monsters on the island which eat people. And there’s also a tribe of cannibals. It’s those scrambling for treasure who kill people. The whole island is strewn with dead bodies.”
“Didn’t that island emerge from the sea only two years ago? How come there are living things on it?” Ling Zhang was bewildered.
Theoretically, this island should have been underwater for a very long time before its sudden emergence, and it should be basically uninhabitable after that. Yet somehow a tribe had settled on it already? And it was a tribe of cannibals who seemed to exist only in rumors? And what were those monsters that ate people?