Splashing water filled the air as both emerged from the river. Yan Yin, gasping for breath, looked back.

After swimming and diving several times, they had put a considerable distance between themselves and the battleground on the riverbank. The surroundings gradually took shape in the pale gray dawn, with sporadic gunshots mingling with the sounds of birds in the distance.

Yan Yin turned his head and asked in a low voice, “What happened to you—”

Before he could finish his sentence, he saw Jiang Ting’s face turn pale. Despite the cold weather, there was no mist coming out of his breath. He slumped and sank into the water.

Yan Yin gritted his teeth and reached out, struggling to pull him out of the water and onto the rocky shore.

Jiang Ting hadn’t swallowed water, but his body temperature was extremely low from the continuous underwater swimming that had exhausted his strength. Yan Yin didn’t have time to ask anything. He held Jiang Ting’s upper body in his arms and vigorously massaged his chest, neck, and arms. Jiang Ting’s face, drenched in water, appeared deathly pale, accentuating his pitch-black eyes that were chilling to behold. After a moment, he suddenly shivered a few times, coughed, and regained consciousness.

“Cough… cough…”

Jiang Ting pushed Yan Yin away, sat up with exhaustion, and rubbed his face vigorously, wiping away the soaked strands of hair to reveal a smooth, colorless forehead.

“I know what you want to ask,” he hoarsely said, “We can’t… stay here. Follow me.”

He got up unsteadily and walked forward, pushing through the bushes and entering the trees along the riverbank. Yan Yin followed closely behind. Neither of them spoke, and the tense silence persisted for about the duration of a meal until the world suddenly cleared before them, revealing a relatively open area in the valley.

The gunfire in the distance was no longer audible. Yan Yin wondered if A Jie had fallen victim to the internal strife or if reinforcements had arrived and eliminated the attackers. The dense forest enveloped the valley, and beneath the rustling of the wind, every inch of space brimmed with an unknown danger.

Jiang Ting finally staggered to a tree and sat down, leaning against the trunk. He asked with a bitter smile, “Why are you here?”

Yan Yin stood a few steps away, quietly observing him. There was no anger, nor any fire in his eyes. After a while, he calmly spoke, each word punctuated with deliberation, “Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that question?”

“…”

“Why are you here?”

Yan Yin was the type of person who would explode in rage and curse at suspects or reprimand his subordinates. However, that wasn’t when he was most furious. When his anger reached its peak, he would instead become calm, not revealing any emotions on his face, but making others feel the suffocating pressure from the depths of his being.

Jiang Ting looked away, staring fixedly at a floating point in the air. After a moment, he suddenly said, “You’ve been to that orphanage, haven’t you?”

Although it was a question, it was stated as a fact.

Yan Yin scrutinized him from above.

“…Don’t you have any questions for me?”

After Jiang Ting uttered those words, there was complete silence. Half a minute passed, and Yan Yin slowly asked, each word measured, “If I ask you, will you tell the truth?”

As the light grew brighter, the dark clouds gradually turned grayish-white. The mist in the valley finally dissipated, revealing the pale and rugged contours of the winter forest in the distance. Then, with the unfolding of the light, the vast expanse of the valley came into view.

The two stood and sat there, neither speaking again.

Although only a few steps apart, it seemed as if an invisible chasm had revealed its ferocious face.

“Yan Yin,” Jiang Ting raised his head and looked at him, his eyes seemingly flickering with fragmented light, difficult to discern. He asked, “Do you still believe in me?”

Yan Yin’s initial reaction was, How dare you bring that up now?

A surge of deceived anger collided with his heart, but before it could explode, it transformed into deep exhaustion. He shook his head and smiled, not knowing what else to say. Arching his eyebrow, he retorted, “What do you think?”

As if something had finally been settled, Jiang Ting took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and heard the reverberations echoing in the void, causing his heart to spasm with premature contractions. He let out a long, thorough exhale, and no one witnessed this action as he once again concealed his resolute and invulnerable soul beneath the guise of weakness. When he opened his eyes, he had returned to his icy and impeccable state:

“Not believing is the right choice.”

“I left Jianning because your Bureau of Lv found me while you were away. They asked me to cooperate in a ruse, infiltrating the Black Spade’s circle as an undercover agent and providing information to the police.” Without waiting for Yan Yin’s reaction, Jiang Ting calmly continued, “But this request was not only highly dangerous but also went against my own interests. So, I couldn’t agree to it. I wounded him and fled from Jianning… Don’t worry, Lv didn’t die. I definitely don’t want to experience the intensity of an investigation and manhunt for the murder of the Chief of Public Security firsthand.”

Yan Yin was dumbfounded by the consecutive heavy blows, but his professional instinct kicked in, quickly detecting the unnaturalness in Jiang Ting’s words. “…Your own interests?” he questioned.

Jiang Ting showed no intention to explain:

“The valley you are in is called Yuanlong Gorge. After multiple strikes on the drug industry in the Daliang Mountains, it has become one of the largest drug production bases in the southwest. Since twenty or thirty years ago, due to climate changes and government crackdowns, poppy cultivation in Yuanlong Gorge gradually became unsuitable. The locals turned to smuggling drugs from Myanmar through Yunnan, resulting in close ties with some major drug lords along the border. Among them, the most powerful is…” He paused and said, “Wu Tun, the father of Black Spade K, whose real name is Wu, which is not a surname for Burmese people but a prefix indicating an older person with a prestigious status. It seems that this prominent drug lord active on the Sino-Burmese border has only one name, ‘Tun.’”

“Wu Tun used to be flamboyant, emphasizing grandeur and loyalty. He was also fervently religious. When Black Spade K returned to China after growing up in the United States, his personality was completely opposite to his father’s. Due to power struggles within the organization, they gradually developed significant conflicts, to the point of nearly breaking ties.”

“I’m not entirely sure how severe their relationship has become, considering I was in a coma for three years. From my current speculation, it seems that they both want to kill each other and are well aware of it. However, in order to share smuggling routes and protect the family’s interests from the influence of other drug lords in the Golden Triangle, they haven’t completely severed their ties. They engage in secret battles while reluctantly maintaining a cooperative facade.”

These were secrets within the drug trafficking organization that Jiang Ting had never mentioned before, but now he was unusually open and unreserved.

Yan Yin had a faint sense of what was coming, but he didn’t show it on his face and only asked, “Do you know where ‘Grass Flower A’ Wu Tun is hiding?”

Jiang Ting said, “Yes.”

“But you’ve never mentioned it to the police.”

“That’s correct.”

Both of his answers were short and affirmative, without any change in tone.

Yan Yin stood there, subconsciously raising his hand to reach for a cigarette, but he immediately realized that the cigarette case had been soaked, and the tobacco had turned into a muddy mess. Indeed, nicotine couldn’t provide any substantial mental support. Yan Yin rubbed his forehead and let out a sigh before finally raising his eyes and saying, “Don’t tell me you have a good relationship with your foster father, Wu Tun.”

Jiang Ting opened his mouth, but swallowed back the words.

“Yuanlong Gorge is basically Wu Tun’s territory. That’s why Black Spade K is extremely wary of this place. The village of Yongkang at the foot of the mountain was built by him specifically to monitor this area,” Jiang Ting responded without answering the question. “I came here to find someone, and Jin Jie came with orders from Black Spade K.”

Yan Yin immediately asked, “To find whom, Wu Tun?”

Jiang Ting looked up and didn’t answer right away.

Gradually, faint sounds emerged from the forest, growing louder. The noise of footsteps approached, and soon, through the thin morning mist, a row of figures appeared, about eight or nine people. Two or three of them were bound, their heads pressed against the barrels of guns, advancing straight towards the clearing.

“Before Yue Guangping died, he called Director Lv and said he was sorry to the undercover narcotics officer who sacrificed his life in the 1009 bombing case, as well as to me. Qin Chuan, before he was arrested, said that Yue Guangping wouldn’t casually reveal intelligence to others, and that the real culprit behind the failed operation was me and Yue Guangping himself. If they weren’t lying, then I can only think of one possibility…”

Jiang Ting finally stood up from under the tree and looked at the approaching figures, squinting his eyes.

“I’m here to confirm this possibility, and today, the answer should be revealed.”

Yan Yin turned his head.

Aje and his two subordinates were bound with their hands behind their backs, each with a gun pressed to the back of their heads, stumbling onto the open ground. Behind them were the group of assailants who had ambushed them on the riverbank, led by a tall, thin old man with white hair. He was dressed in traditional Burmese attire and supported by a respectful bodyguard.

Yan Yin’s cheek twitched, at first glance mistaking him for Wu Tun, but then realizing that the old man looked different from the photo on Director Lv’s computer.

—Is he one of Grass Flower A’s subordinates or a relative?

Jiang Ting answered his question in the next moment: “Uncle Bo.”

The old man, referred to as “Uncle Bo,” glanced at him, stopped in his tracks, raised his hand, and pointed towards the open space, commanding, “Kneel!”

The Burmese subordinates immediately pushed the three captives forward, forcefully making them kneel on the ground.

Aje’s throat still bore obvious bruises, his eyes filled with undisguised ferocity, but he remained surprisingly restrained in his words. Apart from muttering a few clearly insulting words when he fell to his knees, he didn’t speak again. The Burmese subordinates, aware of his status as one of the most trusted henchmen of Black Spade K, dared not let their guard down. Immediately, someone pointed the gun at the back of Aje’s head.

Jiang Ting calmly watched the scene and asked, “Why not kill him?”

Aje’s desperate gaze immediately shifted towards Jiang Ting.

Ignoring his icy stare, Jiang Ting said, “This man is one of Black Spade K’s most capable subordinates. Eliminating him would be equivalent to severing Black Spade K’s right-hand man. He shouldn’t be allowed to live.”

“You…”

The old man known as Uncle Bo hoarsely interrupted Aje and pointed at Yan Yin, saying, “If it weren’t for him, we could have left Yuanlong Gorge last night and rendezvoused with Wu Tun in Myanmar. Why did you insist on saving him? What’s the reason?”

This statement carried significant information, causing Yan Yin’s mind to explode in a sudden realization: he really was going to Myanmar…

He turned his head to look at Jiang Ting, but only saw Jiang Ting’s face still calm, his expression even casual, as if the old man’s question wasn’t even a problem. “Because of the temporary alliance, I can’t bear to see this man die before my eyes. Is there a problem?”

No one expected him to give such an answer. The old man was immediately stunned, and the atmosphere became extremely strange.

Suddenly, Aje sneered, “Uncle Bo, do you believe his words?”

The old man scolded, “Shut up!”

“I thought you were an old man in front of Grass Flower A, so you should know that Jiang is most famous for making lies sound more real than real gold, right?”

The Burmese man who had his gun pressed against Aje’s head started yelling, presumably telling him to shut up, but Aje ignored him. “This person is Yan Yin, the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Investigation Brigade of Jianning City Public Security Bureau. A dignified third-grade police supervisor. Do you think Jiang Ting would return to being a lackey, doing whatever you tell him to do? If you give him the gun now and let him kill this police officer, do you think he would do it?!”

Several Burmese men looked at each other, while the old man’s expression changed, carefully examining Yan Yin from head to toe.

The situation became extraordinarily bizarre, with a faint smell of gunpowder in the air, as if it could ignite at any moment. Just then, Jiang Ting chuckled in his nose, seemingly absurd and filled with emotion. “Since when are you able to speculate about my thoughts?”

Immediately after, he stepped on the gray, damp grass and walked forward. No one dared to stop him. He casually pulled out a gun from one of the Burmese men, took a few steps back, returned to his original position, and aimed the gun at Yan Yin’s temple!

The old man’s facial muscles twitched, Aje looked at him incredulously, and Yan Yin suddenly froze.

But Jiang Ting’s face showed complete indifference.

“Uncle Bo, after the incident three years ago, most of you should have realized that I have a grudge against Jin Jie. I can’t bear to see this person die before my eyes, so how about this? If you kill Aje, I’ll let go of my anger, and I won’t care about this man’s life or death anymore. What do you think?”

The old man’s weathered face twitched slightly, as if weighing something.

“I’m already on the wanted list of the Public Security Department. I don’t care about the life of this deputy chief. But between us, it’s a cooperative relationship. You can’t just make me do whatever you want, kill whoever you tell me to kill. This criminal police officer named Yan Yin can die, but you have to give me something in exchange.” Jiang Ting’s black and white eyes stared at the old man, and a hint of a smile seemed to appear. “So, Uncle Bo, how about it? If you kill Aje, we can immediately leave for Myanmar and meet with Grass Flower A. Don’t you want to set off soon?”

Silence lingered, and finally, the old man turned slowly to the Burmese man supporting him, nodded heavily without saying a word.

Aje’s face turned pale, and the Burmese man understood. He took out his gun from his waist and aimed it at the two subordinates who were tightly bound—bang!

A bullet pierced through the center of a subordinate’s forehead.

Bang!

The second subordinate also fell to the ground.

The winter soil cracked, stained with fresh blood. The Burmese man aimed the gun at Aje—

Bang!!

The sniper bullet traveled over a hundred meters, the sound of the gunshot echoing incessantly. The Burmese man’s head had a bloody hole, and the pistol fell to the ground.

Uncle Bo’s cloudy old eyes widened suddenly. The Burmese man staggered a few times before collapsing with a loud thud.

The sound of waves continued endlessly, and the engines of off-road vehicles gradually filled the air. Uncle Bo abruptly turned his head to look, seeing more than ten vehicles appearing around the valley, quickly approaching.

Aje blurted out, “Boss!”

—Black Spade K!

The off-road convoy came to a stop, and the well-trained bodyguards jumped out of the vehicles, surrounding the open space. Uncle Bo’s eight or nine subordinates instantly became the weaker side. The newcomers forcefully pushed them aside and disarmed them in a few moves.

The old man’s face turned purple, but he dared not speak. He watched as two people rushed forward, helping Aje up and cutting the ropes that bound him. Then, several others pulled Yan Yin away without a word, keeping a vigilant eye on him to prevent him from moving.

Jiang Ting seemed oblivious to everything around him. He stood in place with a strange expression on his face, gazing ahead.

Behind him, a figure descended from one of the off-road vehicles, crossed the grassy field, and approached him until stopping behind him.

“I told you that I would be the ultimate winner in this gamble. One day, you would have to admit defeat. But I didn’t expect you to figure out Qin Chuan’s clue so quickly.”

Black Spade K placed a hand on Jiang Ting’s shoulder, smiling gently. “This time, I won’t blindfold you. Don’t you want to turn around and look at me, Heart Queen?”

Yan Yin’s pupils suddenly contracted—

Jiang Ting’s neck seemed rusted, and after a long time, he slowly turned his head, inch by inch, to closely examine the smiling face behind him.

Black Spade K looked at him with gentle eyes, even a hint of encouragement.

“…You maggot in the gutter,” Jiang Ting enunciated each word near his ear, “—‘Rivet.’”