Chapter 5 Ambushed
The burly man who pushed the door open was around forty years old. His body was strong and firm, the clothes on him were slightly stained with iron scrubs and carried the stench of fire and smoke. And rather than saying that he pushed the ward door open, it was more appropriate to say that he was the one who dismantled it.
The man was accompanied by two youths. He recognized one of the youths as the little fatty named Su Chang, whom he had seen earlier after he regained consciousness. The other youth was slightly thinner in appearance.
The three of them were sweating buckets as they gasped for breath. They seemed to have run all the way here without resting.
"Liqiang! Are you alright? Where does it hurt? Do you feel any discomfort…"
Before Yan Liqiang could say anything, the forty-year-old man was already anxiously approaching him in large strides. His hands tightly grasped Yan Liqiang’s shoulders, and he made a thorough inspection. Upon seeing a lack of critical injuries, the anxious expression on his face eventually relaxed.
When Yan Liqiang saw this display of deep concern, and the look of worry evident on the man’s face, he felt moved beyond words, the feeling resonating from deep within his heart. In his previous lifetime, he had grown up in an orphanage, so from a young age he had never known of fatherly love. Never would he have imagined being blessed with such a father in this lifetime.
"Father, I’m alright. They’ve already tended to my wounds. I think just a couple day’s worth of rest should be enough!"
"It’s great you’re alright! It’s great you’re alright!" The large pair of hands that had been pressing down on Yan Liqiang’s shoulders were finally lifted, allowing him to heave a heavy sigh of relief in response. "If it weren’t for Su Chang and Qi Donglai coming to inform me this time, I wouldn’t even have known what had happened to you..." After he finished, the man turned his head, gazing at the two youths who’d come along with him. "Su Chang, Donglai, I’ll be sure to treat you two to some drinks the next time you decide to come over to my house again. It’s already quite late now. Your families are most likely still waiting for you. The both of you should probably head home soon!"
Su Chang nodded his head in agreement while casting a glance at Yan Liqiang. "Alright, Uncle Yan. Now that Liqiang is awake, we can head back now!"
"Just go! Just go!"
The two youths were about to turn to leave, when Yan Liqiang suddenly called out to them, stopping them right in their tracks. "Su Chang, Donglai, thank you so much for your help this time!"
The youth named Su Chang was slightly caught off-guard by this, as though he’d never expected to hear the word ‘thanks’ coming from Yan Liqiang. Chuckling, he scratched his head. "Um… Sure thing! You’re most welcome…"
Beside him, the one called Qi Donglai shot a peculiar glance at Yan Liqiang. He realized that this gaze was being returned by a pair of keen eyes staring right at his face. The youngster, Qi Donglai, smiled. "Alright then, Liqiang, you rest well!"
As he watched Su Chang and Qi Donglai leave together, a question couldn’t help but surface from deep within Yan Liqiang’s heart. He didn’t understand why, but he found that Qi Donglai looked slightly tense. When Yan Liqiang had looked at him just now, Qi Donglai had involuntarily reacted by lightly pursing his mouth, unconsciously gulping down a mouthful of saliva. Based on Yan Liqiang’s experience in his previous life, this kind of expression made it evident that Qi Donglai had been chock-full of nervousness at that moment.
Why had Qi Donglai been so nervous when facing him?
All of a sudden, Yan Liqiang recalled today’s situation when he was battling Hong Tao.
During that time, a mishap had certainly befallen him in the arena. When he was battling Hong Tao, there had been a split second when a sudden numbing sensation from his right leg had caused his entire body to freeze in place, slowing down his movements in turn. It was precisely why Hong Tao had been able to seize the opportunity to get close enough to use the Iron Palm. Both of his palms had heavily attacked Yan Liqiang’s body, immediately sending him flying from the battle arena, and causing him to suffer a great defeat as a result. Furthermore, he was now covered in injuries and it would take time for a complete recovery.
He was really in the dark as to how Hong Tao had managed to train himself to use the Iron Palm technique and somehow still maintain it in the utmost secrecy. But even if Hong Tao had been in training, it still shouldn’t have been for too long, so it was safe to assume that his Iron Palm had yet to attain a high level. Thus, if they’d really fought it out, Yan Liqiang shouldn’t have suffered such a shameful defeat.
"Liqiang, weren’t you equally matched with Hong Tao before? And you’ve fought each other before this too. Even if he had been training the Iron Palm in secrecy for some time, he couldn’t have practiced it for long. On the arena today, you shouldn’t have lost as horribly as you did. What happened?"
After Su Chang and Qi Donglai left the room, Yan Liqiang’s father, Yan Dechang, began to interrogate him on what exactly had happened in the arena today. From the way he looked, it seemed Yan Dechang was taking Yan Liqiang’s defeat more to heart than Yan Liqiang himself.
"I’m not sure what happened myself, but the fact remains that within a split second, Hong Tao struck me before I had the chance to react. Maybe I was slightly taken aback by the fact that Hong Tao had learned the Iron Palm…" Yan Liqiang explained in detail.
"The outcome of one battle doesn’t prove much. Winning and losing are common occurrences in the field of military operations. As long as you work harder afterward and learn from your experiences, you will definitely be able to defeat Hong Tao the next time you meet him on the battlefield. You must become Qinghe County’s most formidable man for this generation! You have to defeat that Hong Tao! Do you understand me?!" Yan Dechang’s gaze glimmered with immense hope as he stared at Yan Liqiang, his tone putting a remarkable amount of pressure on him. His hands once again rested on Yan Liqiang’s shoulders, squeezing them tightly.
What else could Yan Liqiang say? He could only nod his head as he had done many times throughout the years. During that time, Yan Liqiang had developed a tendency of being submissive within the presence of his father. As for the ‘little life goal’ that his father entrusted him with, it was to stand at the top of Qinghe County’s younger generation.
Yan Dechang finally breathed a sigh of relief after seeing Yan Liqiang nodding his head.
For their remaining time, Yan Dechang had gotten hold of the physician from the medical hall. After relentlessly asking with meticulous detail about Yan Liqiang’s injuries, he found that apart from the bruise on his chest, Yan Liqiang’s body was quite fine. As long as he stopped his martial arts training for a month or two, as well as refrained from making any large movements, his body should gradually recover. After buying two bottles of healing medicinal liquor, Yan Dechang left the medical ward, taking Yan Liqiang with him.
The medical hall was situated inside the martial arts academy. By the time the both of them had departed from the medical hall, the martial arts academy was practically deserted. The training field and the arena were empty, completely devoid of the clamor that could be heard during the daytime. Only the medical hall remained bustling with activity, with people still waiting to see the physician.
As they left the martial arts academy, Yan Dechang’s brows knitted together, his facial expression as cold as iron. The moment the physician said that Yan Liqiang required around one or two months of rest, his expression had darkened considerably. Because if that was the case, then that meant Yan Liqiang would be unable to participate in the Martial Arts County Trial being held in two months...
Qinghe County Town was located just outside of the martial arts academy. Naturally, the county town was the most bustling place in all of Qinghe County. The street located outside the martial arts academy was about five zhang wide with a seemingly endless stream of horses and carriages moving through it, amid people scurrying about their daily lives. A great number of shops and buildings of lofty size stood by the street, which made this place extremely lively.
The sun had just set in the west while the sky was beginning to darken. Some of the shops had already hung a red lantern at their entrances to illuminate the streets, and the majority of the people were wearing long traditional Han Chinese robes with swords and blades hanging from their waists. Each and every one of them appeared to be treading on light air, full of heroic spirit. Looking at these surroundings, it felt no different from being in a dream.
Yan Dechang surveyed his vicinity and immediately instructed Yan Liqiang, "Wait here. The physician told me that you shouldn’t move excessively for the next few days, so I’ll call us a cart. It’s a couple of li to reach home from here. We’ll use the cart to get back!"
After he finished, without waiting for Yan Liqiang to respond, he advanced towards the end of the street to find a ride on his own.
Witnessing Yan Dechang leave by himself, Yan Liqiang laughed bitterly. As a father, Yan Dechang was too strict on Yan Liqiang. In his memories, Yan Dechang was the epitome of a ‘tiger dad’. From an early age, Yan Dechang had paved the path for Yan Liqiang, and so there was no need for Yan Liqiang to worry about anything at all. The only task of importance expected of Yan Liqiang was for him to do his martial arts training—to do his martial arts training and become stronger, stronger and even stronger. And it was precisely because he had this kind of father, that caused Yan Liqiang’s life to be devoid of any livelihood or fun for someone of his age. Thus, he lacked friends and became an introvert as a result. His entire being was slightly reticent, without any knowledge on how to get on in the world. Due to his personality, nobody in the town’s academy was willing to get too familiar with him. Even if you were to disregard all of his behavioral issues, because there were a lot of training and battle courses going on in the academy, students that had been hit by Yan Liqiang in these classes tended to hold a grudge against him. Thus, there was no surprise that so many people had rejoiced in his misfortune after getting struck down from the arena. Or even when he’d purposely been thrown from the stretcher.
Needless to say, for the past dozen years, Yan Liqiang's personality had made him a bad example when it came to worldly and interpersonal relations.
As for Su Chang and Qi Donglai, both of them hadn’t yet spent much time in getting to know Yan Liqiang. It had barely even been a year. Speaking of which, their acquaintance had only started after an afternoon of a certain day last year; class had already ended when Yan Liqiang had caught sight of them getting bullied and extorted by a couple of people from the academy. Yan Liqiang had actively saved them at once. Hence, from then on, both Su Chang and Qi Donglai treated Yan Liqiang as a good friend and began to hang out with him.
When Yan Dechang’s retreating figure vanished at the end of the street, Yan Liqiang knelt down to roll up the right side of his pants and examined his leg thoroughly.
Not much effort was spent since Yan Liqiang was relying on his senses to find it. Exactly at the shank of his right leg, he discovered a small and bloody red dot just wide enough to fit a needle. And from that same spot, a small area could be found where his skin color was a tad darker, as though it had been stained by grease.
With such a small mark, had he not examined it as closely as he did, he wouldn’t have been able to discover it at all.
As Yan Liqiang fixated his gaze at the mark left on his shank wound, all of a sudden, a thought surfaced from his mind—ice ants.
Ice ants were a highly poisonous type of mystical creature. Once bitten, one would feel their entire body go numb.
Like the normal kind, the majority of these ants only lived deep inside the mountain forests. They lived in swarms and rarely appeared where people lived. But, it wasn’t as if this had never happened before, because nearly every year, Yan Liqiang would catch news of hunters and woodsmen getting bitten by ice ants while venturing into the mountains.
Ice ants were roughly the same size as ordinary ants. The difference was that their bodies were snowy white. Some of them were even nearly transparent and were quite difficult to be seen with a casual glance. The majority of those who ventured into the mountains would unknowingly bring some ice ants home with them. To most people, getting bitten by a few ice ants wouldn’t put their lives in any immediate danger, so other than feeling a sense of numbness from their bodies, there was nothing too dangerous about their bites. But the same could not be said if they were to be bitten by a swarm instead, in which case their lives would probably be in danger. Interestingly enough, once the ice ant released its toxins after biting a person, it would immediately die, similar to a bee after having stung someone. Its body would instantly melt like ice, transforming into a liquid indistinguishable from a water droplet.
The mark on his shank, along with the sensation he’d felt at that time, completely matched the distinctive trait of having been bitten by an ice ant.
But why would there be an ice ant on his body for no apparent reason?
Recalling the tense state Qi Donglai had been in just now, with Yan Liqiang’s intelligence, it only took a split second for his mind to figure out what had just happened.
Such a great scheme indeed!
Yan Liqiang didn’t want this matter to be discovered by Yan Dechang. Should Yan Dechang find out that the reason why Yan Liqiang had failed in the preliminary county exam was that he had fallen prey to a scheme, with Yan Dechang’s temperament, it wasn’t hard to picture him easily doing something irrational and regrettable.
And Hong Tao’s father was currently the Town Constable of Qinghe County’s Liuhe Town. A few of his family’s uncles were either stationed at the county government office or were stationed at Pingxi Prefecture. A number of them were even working for the government. In Qinghe County, the Hong Clan could be considered to be a fairly large clan. Regular clans could never compare to them. And in Liuhe Town, the Hong Clan was nonetheless, a clan that was second to none.
Yan Liqiang’s home was situated right at Liuhe Town.
Not long after, Yan Dechang soon came back, followed by a bullock cart...