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The atmosphere at the table became oppressive. Gua One and the others stopped concealing their emotions and openly glared at Old Ghost, their eyes murderous.
“Lian Jun, whether you believe it or not, though I wanted to capture him, I never intended to use him against you,” Old Ghost said, his tone sincere.
Lian Jun, however, wasn’t foolish enough to believe him: “But if my goodwill and connections were really all you wanted, you should’ve simply contacted me as soon as you got the information about him. This would’ve been much more favorable for you—you wouldn’t have to confront Nine Eagles and still would’ve earned my gratitude. And yet, you chose the much more dangerous option. Excuse me for being blunt, but I can’t see any good intentions in your actions.”
This shut Old Ghost up. He knew he could no longer pretend in front of Lian Jun. He recalled the brothers whose lives and deaths hung in the balance, and his always straight back suddenly hunched. He wiped his face with his hands and said, “Yes, you’re right, I admit it—I really intended to use him to get something. I even wanted to get the formula of your poison from him, since I know you need it.”
At the words “poison formula,” Gua One and the others became agitated.
Lian Jun waved to calm them down and looked at Phantom’s leader. “You know I need it, so what would you have wanted me to exchange for it?”
“Your help and resources,” Old Ghost replied glumly. “Though in recent years, the officials didn’t move openly, they’ve been acting in secret. I can more or less guess what they want to do, so I wanted to join you and look for the way out together. A small piece of information about the doctor’s whereabouts would’ve been enough to get your goodwill, but not something this big. To get a bargaining chip valuable enough for you to spare no effort to help me, I had to take that opportunity even if I risked antagonizing Nine Eagles.”
Lian Jun had to admit that Old Ghost really was smart—he could infer the government’s intentions based just on its small actions in the dark, and immediately decide to hitch Phantom’s wagon to Annihilation. But even smart people did stupid things sometimes.
There was no need to continue the conversation. Lian Jun turned his wheelchair a little to face Old Ghost, and said, “I acknowledge your goodwill in volunteering this information. I’ll try to find a way to rescue your people detained in the southeast. I’ll also help you to contact the officials, but that’s all—whether you get their help will depend on your own ability.” He glanced sideways at Gua One, who immediately rose and stepped forward to push the wheelchair.
Gua Two and the rest also got up and followed Lian Jun out, completely ignoring Old Ghost.
Shi Jin and Gua Nine were last. Just as Shi Jin was about to step out of the box door, he heard Fei Yujing’s voice.
“You shouldn’t be here, Shi Jin.”
The teenager paused and replied, without looking back: “No, it’s you who shouldn’t be here.” Then he left, not waiting to see if his brother would say anything else.
Xiao Si, somewhat confused, said, <JinJin, your progress bar fell back to 500.>
“Oh, I’m not surprised,” Shi Jin replied. He’d already more or less figured out what made his second brother tick. “Fei Yujing is a benefit-oriented person. He used to put on a play and be kind to ‘me’ because it was advantageous to him. When ‘I’ lost my value, he quickly and neatly cut ‘me’ off. This morning, when I met him, I showed hostility to him as a member of another underworld organization, which was a possible unstable factor threatening his business, so naturally, he was wary of me. Now, he knows I’m a subordinate of the person his employer wants to associate with. Our relationship might benefit him, so—what do you think is he going to do?”
Xiao Si hesitated. <He will try to get closer to you?>
“He has already begun—just now, that was him attempting to feel me out.” Shi Jin felt speaking of this further was meaningless. He recalled Fei Yujing’s attitude toward the original ‘Shi Jin’ in the novel’s plot and made up his mind: no matter what Fei Yujing did, he wouldn’t follow his script.
Lian Jun called Zhang Zhuoyuan as soon as he left the box and briefly described Phantom’s matter. Then he sent a text to Old Ghost, telling him to go directly to Zhang Zhuoyuan.
Gua One, somewhat puzzled, asked, “Jun-shao, why would you help Old Ghost this much? I can understand saving his people but helping him get a connection with the officials…?”
Lian Jun closed the satellite phone and answered, “Old Ghost is a smart man, suitable to become an ally, but needs a rap on the knuckles. Helping him get a connection with the authorities is doing him a favor but at the same time, distancing myself from him. The officials don’t want me to suddenly gain a helper. Don’t forget whose ship we are on now—they are well aware he approached me. To not rouse their suspicions, we must take the initiative to involve the authorities, to let them have control over this. That is what they want.”
Gua One sank in thought. He believed he understood what Lian Jun meant. To make a long story short: while they were on the government ship, whatever they did, it was the best to do it in the officials’ eyes and under their control lest they get in unnecessary trouble.
They walked a little further when Lian Jun suddenly looked back at Shi Jin, who followed at the end, and said, “Pay more attention to Fei Yujing.”
Gua One also cast a glance over his shoulder and nodded.
Not long after lunch, Old Ghost was invited to Zhang Zhuoyuan’s office and didn’t leave until shortly before the afternoon meeting. When he came out, his expression was serious, and his eyebrows slightly wrinkled, but he looked much less anxious and walked with lighter steps.
Lian Jun hung up the call with Zhang Zhuoyuan and said, “The government accepted Phantom’s change of sides. The officials will cooperate with his ‘economic crimes’ plan, and help him get his people back, but they won’t help Phantom wash white nor ensure its safety.”
The expressions of Gua One and the others eased a bit—thankfully, this time, the officials didn’t act foolishly. Since they were shown appropriate respect, they repaid it with a bit of sincerity and trust.
“It seems that if Phantom wants to get out of this mess, it will need to bleed almost to death,” Gua Two said. His tone of voice was serious enough, but there was a gloating expression in his eyes.
He was someone who tended to hold grudges. Old Ghost had schemed against Annihilation—he wasn’t going to forget that anytime soon.
Shi Jin sat beside Lian Jun, holding a half-peeled orange. Since it seemed the others finished talking about Phantom’s matter, he interjected tentatively: “This doctor taken away by Nine Eagles, and the poison formula…”
As soon as these words left his mouth, the relaxed atmosphere became tense again.
The others actually wanted to talk about this too, but they were worried it would upset Lian Jun, so they endured and didn’t mention it. Now that Shi Jin bit the bullet and gave them the opportunity they wished for, their gazes instantly focused on Lian Jun.
Lian Jun’s eyes swept over them. He said, “We’ll discuss this matter after the afternoon meeting. Nine Eagles’ leader, Zuo Yang, won’t miss this one. With his temperament, if he really thinks he has an ace up his sleeve, he’ll definitely try to test me. Let’s take a look at his attitude first.”
Gua One and others let out the sighs of relief. This topic wasn’t a taboo—on the contrary, it seemed Lian Jun already made plans, so they set their minds at rest.
Only Shi Jin still looked worried and at a loss.
Lian Jun saw it and let the others go out, leaving the teenager behind.
Shi Jin immediately acted like a good lapdog and stuffed the peeled orange in Lian Jun’s hand: “Eat it, it’s sweet and tasty. It’s said that people who stay at sea for a long time will lack vitamins, you have to pay attention to that.”
To be honest, Shi Jin’s hand-peeled orange was rather ugly, but Lian Jun thought it was lovely—perfectly round, like a ball, and giving out a sweet aroma.
“Vitamin deficiency happens due to an unbalanced diet. The government ship is well stocked, there will be no such problem,” Lian Jun explained. He ate the orange, praised it as indeed very sweet, and wiped the orange juice off Shi Jin’s hands with a paper towel. “Ask whatever you want, I’ll tell you.”
At this, Shi Jin forgot to pull his hands out of Lian Jun’s, leaning closer instead. “The doctor who betrayed you… Your legs are in this state because of him?”
Lian Jun nodded. “Yes. His name is Long Shi, he’s Uncle Long’s adopted son. He’s talented, but unfortunately, his character is not right.”
The traitor was actually Uncle Long’s adopted son?
Shi Jin frowned and continued, “Then the poison formula…”
“Like Uncle Long, Long Shi specialized in nutritiology and rehabilitation. Uncle Long intended to let him inherit his position and continue to take care of me. However, Long Shi wasn’t fond of such gentle subjects—he liked to see blood, and was particularly interested in studying all kinds of poisons. The poison he used on me was concocted from neurotoxins extracted from various organisms and refined; the few ingredients we know he used are snake venom and some kind of highly poisonous algae. At that time, though my life was saved, the poison hadn’t been completely neutralized. To do that, we need either the poison formula or the sample and conduct targeted research. However, Long Shi took everything with him when he left.”
The more Shi Jin heard, the deeper his frown was, to the point that even his expression became heavy.
When Lian Jun saw him like this, his heart softened. He reached out and put a finger on the wrinkle between the teenager’s eyebrows, trying to smooth it out. “Don’t worry, it will be fine even if we won’t get the formula. There are only so many neurotoxins in the world—even if we need to rely on dumb luck, we’ll find the right combination eventually. It will just take a little time.”
“I’m not stupid.” Shi Jin pushed his hand away, his eyebrows still wrinkled. “I might not know anything about medicine, but I still know medical substances react with each other in extremely complicated ways. Not to mention, reactions can change depending on their quantities. Finding the right combination by dumb luck is like looking for a needle at the bottom of the sea.”
“The sea isn’t endless, sooner or later, the needle will be found.” Lian Jun still tried to appease him.
Shi Jin gave him a glare in return. “Yes, the sea isn’t endless, but neither is your lifespan. Who knows when you can actually get the results? We can’t just wait—we must find a way to take Long Shi back from Nine Eagles, then carefully interrogate him.”
“We’ll definitely get him back,” Lian Jun continued to soothe. He thought for a moment and decided a forewarning was in order: “But don’t hold too much hope for the formula. Long Shi is cunning and slippery—whatever information we get from him is likely to be fake, or true but leading to a trap. You should keep a clear head, Shi Jin.”
Shi Jin fell silent. However, in his heart, he refuted: No, I have Xiao Si. As long as we get the man, it will have a way to get the real formula.
The afternoon meeting started on time. Shi Jin and Gua Nine stood in the same place they did that morning, but this time, instead of watching the sea, they watched Nine Eagles’ ship.
They didn’t attract much attention because most of the people on the deck were also staring at it, curious if Zuo Yang would skip the meeting again.
To everyone’s disappointment, however, at 1:50 p.m. Zuo Yang emerged from his cabin and sauntered up the gangway to the government ship.
Everyone looked away, disappointed—it seemed this time they wouldn’t see a confrontation between a top-tier organization and the officials, what a pity.
Three minutes later, Zuo Yang jumped onto the government ship. His eyes locked on Lian Jun towards the middle of the deck. He grinned and waved. “Yo, Lian Jun, long time no see. You’re prettier than last year—this ‘sick beauty’ look is truly tempting.”
Shi Jin’s face darkened, and he wanted to thrash the guy—he mocked the appearance of an organization’s leader, which was a really cheap shot. Sure enough, Zuo Yang was a bastard.
However, Lian Jun obviously wouldn’t put up with being ridiculed. He reached behind him and took the gun Gua One tacitly set in his hand. He reloaded it in one practiced move then, without an ounce of hesitation, aimed at Zuo Yang and pulled the trigger.
It was a tricky shot, targeting the place three inches under Zuo Yang’s navel. It wasn’t hard to dodge, but the evasive action tended to look quite ungainly.
Of course, to make Zuo Yang look foolish was Lian Jun’s real intention. As a result, Nine Eagles’ leader chose an extreme way to save face—he grabbed one of his subordinates and pulled him in front to block the shot.
This subordinate was relatively tall; the bullet hit the middle of his thigh. In an instant, his legs buckled, and he staggered, blood rushing from the wound.
The onlookers’ expressions became extremely ugly.
Starting a gunfight because of disagreement was nothing, but an organization’s leader making a subordinate take a bullet for him even though he could’ve easily avoided it himself, just because he didn’t want to look inelegant—this was spine-chilling.
“Zuo Yang, the way you hide from bullets is also pretty,” Lian Jun coldly threw the man’s words back at him. He returned the gun to Gua One, then looked at Zhang Zhuoyuan standing next to him. “Sorry, my hand slipped.”
The official replied in a reassuring voice, “It’s fine. As long as they don’t happen inside the conference room, we don’t care about private conflicts.”
It was plain he stood on Lian Jun’s side in this matter.
Lian Jun thanked him, then looked at Zuo Yang and offered kindly, “The doctors following me are all top-notch. Your subordinate’s situation seems to be bad—would you like some help?”
Zuo Yang was obviously annoyed but forced himself to keep a smile on his face. “No need. Take him back to the ship.” The latter sentence was addressed to the subordinates behind him.
They confirmed, lifted the injured man, whose complexion was dreadfully pale, and dragged him away, almost carelessly.
Everyone’s expressions grew even more ugly. Zuo Yang’s attitude clearly showed he didn’t treat his subordinates as human beings.
Lian Jun stopped paying attention to Nine Eagles’ leader and turned to Zhang Zhuoyuan: “Director Zhang, it’s almost time.”
The official nodded. He called the leaders still on the deck and urged them to enter the conference room. Gua One also pushed Lian Jun’s wheelchair in that direction.
After the bloody interlude, the air on the deck became somewhat dreary. People no longer chatted and, intentionally or unintentionally, kept a distance from Nine Eagles’ members.
This time Shi Jin didn’t dare distract himself with the scenery. He kept his eyes fixed on Lian Jun, worried that Zuo Yang opposite him would talk trash again.
The atmosphere of the afternoon meeting was less relaxed than that morning’s. Zhang Zhuoyuan held a document in his hand and said something; it seemed he was calling out the names of some organizations. The expressions of the leaders of every organization named turned unsightly. Some even tried to argue.
Lu Shan was the one who reacted most violently—she slammed a fist on the table and jumped to her feet, pointing at Zhang Zhuoyuan and shouting. But, though Zhang Zhuoyuan looked like a spineless middle-aged uncle, his attitude was surprisingly tough. No matter what Lu Shan said, his expression never changed. In the end, it was Lu Shan who yielded. She cursed and sat, forcing herself to calm down.
With the obvious tension in the conference room, the people on the deck were growing edgy. Shi Jin, for whom this was his first attendance, was a bit affected, and his nerves were stretched to the limit.
About two hours into the meeting, a tall figure suddenly stood in front of Shi Jin, blocking his view of the conference room—clearly on purpose.
Without hesitation, Shi Jin pushed the man to the side and said, “Don’t stand in the way, thank you.”
Only then did he notice the intruder was his brother. Frowning, he asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I came to talk,” Fei Yujing answered, patting the sleeve Shi Jin just pulled.
Shi Jin noticed his action and secretly rolled his eyes, fed up. He moved his gaze back to Lian Jun and said bluntly, “I have nothing to say to you. I won’t encourage Jun-shao to give your employer a hard time, nor will I ask him to help you because you act like a good brother again. You wanted us to be strangers who have nothing to do with each other? Great, because I happen to feel the same way—I hope we have a tacit understanding about this. Now I’m ‘Gua Four’ and you’re somebody else’s hired lawyer. We have no personal relationship, get it?”
Fei Yujing leaned on the railing beside him and said, “No, I don’t get it. Shi Jin, you’ve changed too much.”
Shi Jin ignored him.
He’d already said everything he wanted to say. He had no intention of listening to any more nonsense from Fei Yujing.
Because of his position, Fei Yujing faced Shi Jin’s side. He looked at the teenager’s profile, and his eyes narrowed slightly. He said, “Shi Jin, I don’t like your current attitude.”
This actually got a rise out of Shi Jin. He gave the man a sideways glance and asked coldly, “Did you ever ask me if I liked it when you played a good brother in front of me for the sake of benefits? Fei Yujing, don’t be such a hypocrite, I don’t like it.”
Fei Yujing didn’t avoid his eyes and was unperturbed by his accusation. “Hypocrisy is in the nature of people like me. Shi Jin, I don’t like how you are now. You’re smarter and not so easy to fool.”
“Tch.” Shi Jin really disliked Fei Yujing, this “intellectual villain.” If you blamed him, then whether he was in the wrong, he would neither be ashamed nor try to refute—he would calmly accept all accusations and be completely unaffected by them. You could try to reason with him, but he wouldn’t listen—he acted according to his own code of conduct and wouldn’t be easily shaken. Then maybe you would play emotional cards? Sorry, he had no emotions. Oh, and by the way, congratulations—you just fell into his trap.
Fei Yujing, as if he couldn’t see the look of dislike on Shi Jin’s face, continued, “You’re quite good at finding backers, Shi Jin. It used to be Shi Xingrui, now it’s Lian Jun. Maybe I don’t know you as well as I imagined.”
“No maybe about it—you don’t know me at all.” Shi Jin turned to face him, took out his gun, and aimed it at Fei Yujing’s heart. His voice was icy: “Either leave immediately and don’t bother me again, or I’ll shoot you right now since you’re so desperate to use me again. Fei Yujing, I hate being used, and I hate when people try to deceive me by pretending to treat me with affection. Don’t make me waste my breath again, my patience isn’t good right now.”
Fei Yujing’s expression did not change. He said, “You won’t shoot.”
Shi Jin was equally calm. “I will certainly try not to, in order not to cause trouble for my boss. However, if you keep bothering me, then even if I don’t use my gun today, I may use it in the future. For example, on your mother.”
Fei Yujing’s expression finally changed. He reached out and grabbed Shi Jin’s hand holding the gun, his voice sinking: “You dare.”
“I dare. Do you dare to try me? Fei Yujing, let me warn you—so long as you have a weakness, you should stop hurting others so casually. Otherwise, sooner or later, the pain you caused will be repaid by the people you care about.” Shi Jin tapped Fei Yujing on the chest with the muzzle of his gun, then broke away from his grip. He gave his brother a sneer and turned away, no longer paying attention to him.
Gua Nine, who had been watching silently, moved at this moment, stepping between the two of them.
Fei Yujing’s eyes were dark. He touched the place hit by the gun, took a look at Shi Jin, partially blocked by Gua Nine, and finally walked away.
In the conference room, Lian Jun stopped looking in their direction and turned his attention back to the documents in front of him.
Zuo Yang, sitting across the table, noticed his actions and asked the same question Lu Shan asked in the morning, but in much more vulgar tone: “Is that your new subordinate, Lian Jun?”
The underworld leaders were reviewing the new documents distributed by Zhang Zhuoyuan, and no one spoke. In this silence, Zuo Yang’s voice immediately attracted everyone’s attention, and many people looked outside in the direction he indicated.
Expressionless, Lian Jun set down the file and looked at Zuo Yang. He didn’t answer the question but said instead, “Zuo Yang, you and Pegasus’ leader snatched a subordinate from me last year. I haven’t yet settled the score with you, and you’re already eyeing another one? Why, are all your Eagles useless?”
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