Li Chengfeng had not expected the smoke from burning grass to be this suffocating. Both of them could not escape the smoke, wetting their clothes and covering their faces to catch their breath.
Both of them looked at each other to see ash streaks on each other’s faces, then laughed.
“Aiyo, looks like you’re in a good mood today!” An Tong teased when he appeared near Li Chengfeng. “And you’re putting in effort to clear the land too! But I’m afraid clearing the land today is too late!”
As if he did not hear anything, Chengfeng turned to Qiu Chuqiu. “Senior Brother Qiu, how will you calculate the tax in terms of Rainbow Sickle Senna flower?”
Qiu Chuqiu explained lazily, “You can plant a maximum of two hundred Senna plants per acre but considering your pitiful state, I’ll just make it a hundred and fifty. So forty percent of that is sixty Senna plants. However, you must be aware how frighteningly expensive sixty Senna plants are in the market. I think you should just stop dragging for time. Just pack up and leave.”
Li Chengfeng smiled and walked into his house. An Tong said impatiently, “Hey, hurry up! Don’t waste Senior Brother Qiu’s time! Do you know how precious his time is? He had to come twice too, and you made him go back empty-handed…”
As he spoke, his eyes widened. Qiu Chuqiu was equally flabbergasted, his open mouth so wide it could fit a fist.
Li Chengfeng held out sixty Senna flowers. “Senior Brother Qiu, here are sixty Senna plants. You want to count them?”
Qiu Chuqiu was speechless.”This… this is impossible!”
An Tong’s face turned purple. “You… you… you’re cheating!”
Li Chengfeng pretended not to understand. “What do you mean? Aren’t these Senna flowers? Could you please verify them?”
Su Yuehan next to him said, “Verify? Any person who is not blind can see the multi-coloured petals. Surely they can recognise it?”
Qiu Chuqiu glared at him viciously, his face turning from green to pale. “We’ll take it! Let’s go!”
An Tong was stunned, gasping, “Senior Brother Qiu?”
Qiu Chuqiu glared and roared, “Are you deaf? Just take it, let’s go!”
An Tong swallowed his words, took the bunch of flowers and turned. Li Chengfeng suddenly said, “Wait!”
An Tong raged, “What now?!”
Li Chengfeng plastered a fake smile on his face. “I’d like to ask, based on the precept book, how often do we pay taxes?”
Qiu Chuqiu’s expression turned sour, huffing as he wrung his sleeve. “Once a year!”
“So that means, within this year, no matter what I plant, I don’t have to pay anything else?”
“Of course!” Then, unwilling to linger a second longer, they both turned to leave.
Chengfeng and Yuehan looked at each other, then burst out in laughter. He held out a palm and they high-fived, laughing.
Qiu Chuqiu and An Tong, who had already left, were only acting on orders but this incident genuinely enraged them. Their blood boiled but they had nowhere to vent.
An Tong thought for a moment. “Senior Brother Qiu, that punk went into the house to get the Rainbow Sickle Senna flowers, do you think there’s more inside? What if we…”
Qiu Chuqiu paused, then they both looked at each other greedily. At least Qiu Chuqiu still had his logic intact. “No! This punk is no idiot if he could get so many flowers in a night! Looks like Senior Brother Qin was right, he must be a spy from Hidden Brocade Court!”
“Who else would be able to produce so many Senna flowers overnight? This is a pity, a pity!” An Tong nodded regretfully.
They went to report to Qin Mieqin, who was shocked. “They actually paid up?”
Qin Miewin scrutinised every plant and found them to be healthy and complete, so fresh they looked like they had been harvested just moments before!
“I...can’t believe Hidden Brocade Court is willing to spend so much money on this. What they want from us?” Qin Mieqin was now a hundred percent sure Chengfeng was Hidden Brocade Court’s spy now. But why would this spy have such a high profile? And why would he be so easily suspected? What did all this mean?
Qin Mieqin paced back and forth with hands behind his back. He already had a naturally melancholic expression but with his brows tightly furrowed, he looked extra depressed.
An Tong asked cautiously, “Senior Brother Qin, what if we just forget about everything and solve the problem straight?” He then made a gesture that implied murder. “Let’s finish him!”
Qiu Chuqiu slapped his head and scolded, “Are you stupid? All Hidden Brocade Court lacks is an excuse to attack us. Are you dumb enough to give them the knife to kill us? You’re acting more like Hidden Brocade Court’s spy now!”
He smiled apologetically. “I was just saying!”
Qin Mieqin was one of Hidden Sword Court’s most intelligent members. He was the most influential member of the court just beneath Grand Senior Brother. He thought for a moment, then said, “We do have a solution but it’s risky.”
Qiu Chuqiu said, “Just give us the order. This time, we must chase the spy out and regroup ourselves!”
“Tomorrow is Crescent Valley’s open day. And it’s Hidden Sword Court’s turn to…”
Qiu Chuqiu’s eyes lit up. “Senior, you mean…”
“When you all go to the valley to capture magical pets, find a way to trick him. If he encounters a fierce beast, we’ll just say he got unlucky.”
“But…” An Tong asked curiously, “What if he doesn’t? Or if he meets an animal weaker than him, and instead he tames it? We still do not know how strong he actually is.”
Qin Mieqin nodded. “You’re right, that’s what I’m most worried about.”
“I have an idea though.”
Qiu Chuqiu slapped his head. “Your head is as empty as a wooden fish, what good are your ideas?”
An Tong clutched his head and grinned. “Senior Brother Qiu, even idiots have their moments! While I am not very smart, I am good at spells!”
Qiu Chuqiu laughed as he scolded, “Enough with the nonsense, tell me about your idea!”
“What if I turn into a magical beast, then let him capture me on purpose? When he goes home, I’ll wait until he’s sound asleep and bite him to death?”
“Hey…” Qiu Chuqiu clutched his head in surprise. “Not bad! That’s a great idea! Finally, a good idea from you!”
Delighted with himself, An Tong looked at him. “What do you think?”
Qin Mieqin thought for a moment and smiled. “It’s good! If Hidden Brocade Court investigates, at least we have an alibi. We can say he was careless and was bitten to death by his pet. They can’t blame anyone then.”
“I won’t disappoint!” When he finished, his fingers flew into mudra after mudra, changing to himself. His chest, dantian and crown glowed, rays of light shooting through his robes and spreading to his limbs.
His bones crackled as his skin rippled, fur growing across his entire body at an alarming speed. He fell onto the ground and turned into a four-legged wild animal, his robes torn to shred. In a few moments, he turned into a ferocious tiger about half a man tall!
He looked up at Qin Mieqin, bragging, “Do you think this will do?”
Before he finished, Qiu Chuqiu slapped his head. “Are you stupid? Have you seen a tiger in Crescent Valley? That’s a spot where newcomers are brought to capture magical pets! That’s literally announcing to the world that it’s a trap, you stupid! Tell me, are you sure you’re not Hidden Brocade Court’s spy?” He kept slapping An Tong’s head.
Humiliated, An Tong roared at Qiu Chuqiu, causing his sleeve to flutter and his hair blown backwards.
Qiu Chuqiu was so angry he laughed and slapped An Tong so hard his head almost hit the floor. “How dare you roar at me? Do you have a death wish?”
Although furious, An Tong knew he could not defeat Qiu Chuqiu in a fight so he lowered his head and looked at Qin Mieqin.
“But this is a good starting point. Shrink a little, maybe a cub. Then he would not be suspicious and it will be even easier to bait him.”
With a few crackles, his body shrank and he turned into a… large cat. He was barely the height of a man’s knee, and less than a metre long.
“Not bad, this works.”
An Tong shook his head and flicked his tail. “This is not dignified at all for me!”
Qin Mieqin smiled. “This size is just right!”
An Tong grinned, revealing a row of razor-sharp teeth. “You’re right, this size is enough to kill!”