Ending – Distant Past
Long Cheng became a black haze the moment he poised his blades and made his killing intent known. The youthful man didn’t appear surprised in the slightest, nonetheless. His relaxed tone and suffocating murderous aura were contradictory. He remarked, “You must think very highly of me to use your ultimate technique right from the beginning.”
When Long Cheng reappeared in the darkness, he was merely three metres away from the youth. Long Cheng leapt up. His mist form vanished. However, there was no time to be concerned with whether or not his technique had been countered, for he would plunge into the water, if not die, if he lost his concentration. He held his breath as part of his way of concentrating. His quick and agile steps generated ripples on the water surface. The built-up momentum helped him move as fast as a tornado. The wind whistled as his blade parted the air. His attack came up from below at an awkward angle.
The Demon Sect’s adepts during their fifteen years of glory would leave the current martial world’s best martial artists’ mouths’ gaping. The qinggong art Freezing Running Water was enough to scare off adepts in this era. There were no more than three among the Seventeen Hidden Dragons who could execute the art. Among them, Tang Ye’s qinggong was decent, but he would fail to meet Grass-Bending Wind Realm’s standards, let alone Freezing Running Water.
Long Cheng’s skills with broadswords did his reputation as Blade Demon’s disciple justice. The swing should’ve led to his demise, yet he calmly adjusted to launch another attack from a different angle. The ability to adapt and switch at such high speed was praiseworthy. It all came crashing down, though, when he stopped just as his blade was going to land.
When the youth raised a hand, the blades seemingly froze. Long Cheng couldn’t command his limbs. He felt as though someone knocked his technique’s trajectory off from another angle. According to Long Cheng’s instincts, he had to retreat, or he would fall into the enemy trap the next step. He, therefore, twirled his blade in the opposite direction and retreated three steps. Upon looking down, he noticed some faint traces on his blade, sleeves and boots. He searched his knowledge and experience base then furrowed his eyebrows: “Silk… This is Fusang’s String Manipulation Technique. You are from Dongying Kingdom?”
“It’s not called String Manipulation Technique; it’s called Night Net Celestial Silk. I invented it two years ago. The principle it operates on drastically differs from String Manipulation Technique. There’s no need to set traps beforehand. That being said, it’s quite a bit harder to get the hang off. I found someone decent to pass the technique on to, since he’s talented and somewhat similar to my younger self. Unfortunately, he’s too upright; maybe I’ll have to wait a few more years.” The youth responded with a chuckle, but he didn’t follow up. He sounded friendly as if he was talking to an old friend. He then asked, “So, what’s that style called? Did you find someone to pass it on to?”
“It is nothing special,” replied Long Cheng, vigilantly watching the darkness and gripping his blade tightly. “This one’s skills are trivial. Before his teacher approves, this one shall not pass the skills on to outsiders.”
The youth laughed: “Outsiders? Do the fifteen behind you count? Come down.”
Long Cheng didn’t have many subordinates, but they were elites from the Demon Sect. After they lost the clash against the Emperor outside, his subordinates sneaked into Feiyun Hall and searched for Long Cheng. As elites, their internal strength was good enough to conceal them well enough Long Cheng wasn’t sure if they were around. It was startling to think how profound the youth’s skills were if he could sense them from such a long distance.
“His internal strength wouldn’t pale in comparison to our former leader if he’s capable of seeing them from so far away…. He’s exceptionally good for a young man,” thought Long Cheng. He commanded, “Come down. Let’s not embarrass ourselves.”
Long Cheng’s subordinates leapt down from the stairs in the darkness after he gave the command. The fifteen of them stood behind Long Cheng in silence.
The youth smiled: “I wasn’t done. You said you don’t pass your skills on to outsiders. What about them?”
Long Cheng resisted his impulses and raised his voice: “They’re not outsiders. They’re my brothers who’ve gone through life and death without wavering no matter how bloody or dangerous things have been. I’m blessed to have met them. Your sowing discord tactic is lacking in execution. I admit you are superior to me in combat; however, should you humiliate me, I will seek pointers.”
The fifteen men behind Long Cheng, in booming voices, exclaimed in unison, “Dark Wind Branch seeks pointers!”
Dark Wind Branch was the branch Long Cheng oversaw. They were primarily tasked with intelligence gathering missions. At their peak, where they were notorious in the pugilistic world, they had three hundred scouts. After the Demon Sect fell to ruin, their group scattered. The fifteen men were the last of them.
The youth still sounded amused: “Your so-called teacher must be Old Dao, huh?”
Dark Wind Branch’s members looked baffled. Only Long Cheng remembered that only those close to Blade Demon – which was limited to the patriarch, the three Guardian Kinds and one more man – referred to Blade Demon as Old Dao. Long Cheng was positive the youth couldn’t have been one of them.
“You know why Wind of Death is lethal?” asked the youth, pulling Long Cheng back to reality.
The youth’s familiar voice had Long Cheng questioning his ears and memories.
The youth continued, “Wind of Death is incredible because the instant the blade qi numbs the enemy’s mind in combination with deft footwork, leading to the opponent hallucinating its user was a black haze. It’s impossible to execute the technique with subpar qingong. Back at Dark Moon Faction, you were the only one who pushed his qinggong to Grass-Bending Wind Realm. You’ve further improved your qinggong since then. Old Dao was correct to choose you back then, I guess.”
“How do you…”
“You should be well aware why your Wind of Death was defused. Those who understand the nature of the technique are cognizant it relies purely on footwork to gain the upper hand. What they don’t know is how integral the user’s win-and-lose mentality is to its success. When Old Dao came up with the technique, I told him an adept would be able to defuse it with a thought. Therefore, it was inferior to his Demon Blade. He argued nobody could master his broadsword techniques; he said he invented Wind of Death for someone else. He told me the one he invented the technique for spent more time with animals than humans. You probably didn’t know this aspect. He invented the technique for your Dark Wind Branch. If you don’t carry it forward, wouldn’t you have wasted his efforts?”
Long Cheng bowed: “Thank you for the insight. It has answered the questions weighing on me for many years. This is very important, nevertheless. Should I be lucky enough to meet Senior Blade Demon again, I must personally ask for his advice.”
The youth chuckled: “Personally ask him? You still have a one-track mind, huh?”
“May I ask who you happen to be?” asked Long Cheng, a little frustration seeping into his voice. Long Cheng’s frustration surged as a result of the youth spilling too many of Demon Sect’s secrets. It was hard to fathom how an outsider knew so much about the sect. Long Cheng then said, “Regardless of what connection you have to my sect, you are standing on our land… Please move!”
The youth fixed his gaze on Long Cheng but kept silent. Long Cheng couldn’t make out the details of the youth’s appearance from there or up close even with his visual prowess. It was as if the youth’s face was hidden in a mist. The youth’s eyes were particularly bright, though. The youth then questioned, “You meant to say, ‘Our sect’s sacred grounds,’ didn’t you?”
Long Cheng tightened his hold on his blade handle. His fifteen brothers pinned their gazes forward. Eventually surmising the youth wasn’t hostile to him, Long Cheng asked, “Would you… happen to be from Dark Moon Faction?”
The knowledge of the Demon Sect. The skills he possessed. The detailed knowledge of the sect’s past. These were all things Long Cheng couldn’t explain. He couldn’t recall who among Dark Moon Faction’s youths was of such calibre; there was no other explanation he could conjure.
The youth answered, “No, I’m not.”
“I guess so. Patriarch has departed from his world. Dark Moon Faction split up after his departure. I must be deluding myself. If we had a youth as formidable as him, he’d have been assigned many more jobs.” Long Cheng thought. He then said, “I cannot identify you; in saying that, since you know it is our sect’s sacred grounds, I suggest you do not stand in front of the door.”
Amused, the youth folded his arms: “And if I refuse?”
Voice calm, Long Cheng replied, “Then, for as long as I have a breath in me, I will not allow you to blaspheme my sect. Should you insist, Dark Wind Branch will fight you to the death here in spite of our gap in skill. That is all there is to it.”
“You’re a member of the Demon Sect, yet you surrendered your services to the imperial court for this place?” asked the youth, in a scathing tone. “I would surmise you have completely gone against yourselves serving under Kong Duan. I bet it’s more agonising and mortifying than death.”
The looks on Dark Wind Branch’s members made it clear they agreed with every word uttered. The youth then continued on, “You’re all skilled in your own right and can accomplish yourselves in the pugilistic world, yet you’re allowing yourselves to be Kong Duan’s puppets just for what’s inside. Is it worth it?”
Unsurprisingly, Dark Wind Branch answered without hesitation and in unison: “Yes!!”
Not used to loud voices, the youth covered his ears.
*Fusang and Dongying Kingdom are often used as a variety of entities in Chinese literature. One is a mythological tree, but we’re talking about a mysterious land to the East, hence “dong” in the name. It’s been interpreted as Japan in the past.