Ol’ Long is Coming
Young Master Ling re-evaluated Tang Ye after the latter defused the sword formation. Young Master Ling knew the ins and outs of the sword formation because it was one of his school’s best skills and could dismantle it. Accordingly, he realised there was a significant skill gap after Tang Ye defused it the first time the latter challenged the formation and empty handed, no less. Young Master Ling’s confidence evaporated from his face as a result.
“You are asking for a fight,” proclaimed Young Master Ling, giving everyone with the Emperor an accusation frown. Enunciation loud and clear, he added, “We have troublemakers starting fights. Please assist me!”
More people jumped through a window and from the hole in the roof. It was clear they were affiliated with different groups. One of them wrapped a red scarf around his head and strapped a ghost-head broadsword to his back. He surveyed the Emperor’s group through his large and seething eyes. Once he spotted Bai Laimu, he chuckled: “Heh, found me a broadsword user. He’s mine.”
There was also a stoic eighteen to nineteen year old girl armed with a weapon resembling a staff who entered. Her weapon was totally golden and appeared to be hollow, yet unusually heavy. She made no effort to hide the fact Ye Luo piqued her interest.
The quartet that entered via the roof consisted of a scholar carrying two young scholars on his back. One of the kids carried books and scrolls. The other carried a long sword and their luggage. Based on appearances, the youth was approximately twenty-seven if not twenty-eight years old. Until he saw Dugu next to Ye Luo and smiled, he gave off the vibe of someone level-headed. Dugu chuckled under his breath, as well. The last member of the quartet was an elder in his seventies, hair and eyebrows completely white. The elder gave the Emperor an amiable smile and said, “Greetings, Mister.”
Smiling sarcastically, Young Master Ling said, “Pitiful scoundrels don’t know how things work in Jiangnan and ended up in my hands. Remember today’s lesson: Jiangnan is no place for your wretched schemes. Heed my advice and surrender.”
“Are we going to fight?” questioned Tang Ye, holding the spear whisking white smoke with his left hand and goading the enemies in with his right hand gesture without a tinge of concern.
There was no way Young Master Ling wouldn’t have qualms about crossing blades with Tang Ye after witnessing the latter dismantle the sword formation. By the same token, Tang Ye’s splendid skills and courage also struck a wrong nerve. Young Master Ling’s sword flickered in his hands as he vigilantly observed Tang Ye, seemingly eager to take up the latter’s offer.
The other orthodox sects who decided to involve themselves also selected opponents for themselves and eagerly awaited the chance the cue to spring.
“Stop!” the Emperor demanded in his voice enhanced with his internal strength, dispersing the gradually intensifying atmosphere.
The Emperor sharpened his skills daily despite him residing in the most heavily guarded section of the palace. His devotion to training and innate talent helped him develop impressive internal strength in spite of the skills passed down in his family ending up fragmented.
Young Master Ling was surprised for the first time since his appearance, thinking, “He’s quite strong. He wouldn’t be easy picking even in a one-on-one fight. His friends are no pushovers. There’s no guarantee the one who defused the sword formation is the strongest among them, either. I don’t know of anyone who fits their description in the orthodox and unorthodox sects. What are they doing here in the middle of the night?”
Young Master Ling gauged his chances of winning were better upon recalling he still had subordinates downstairs.
The Emperor used his internal strength to keep the enemies at bay. Remaining composed, he explained, “My friends and I stopped here for the night on our journey. We never intended to start any conflicts. However, you have continued to harass us and forced our hand. You all claim to be orthodox sects’ martial artists, yet refuse to offer us a chance to speak. Do you not see yourself as being unreasonable?”
The elder responded before Young Master Ling could, saying, “You are right. You should have had a chance to explain yourselves beforehand. We cannot allow others in the pugilistic world to tarnish our names. Would you agree, Young Master Ling?”
“You are correct, Elder Shou,” Young Master Ling replied without the condescending tone.
The Emperor stated, “Yan Ling, come back. Release them. We shall re-evaluate the situation.”
“Yes, Master,” replied Tang Ye, flicking Pi Pixia over to Patriarch Xia with his foot and swiftly shifting back to the Emperor’s side to prevent anyone trying to attack the Emperor.
Tang Ye’s speed successfully impressed Young Master Ling yet again, but the latter decided to front: “Scared, are we?”
The Emperor laughed heartily: “What does a man with reason on his side have to fear? Had you not started a fight, would we have had to retaliate?”
Patriarch Xia, voice loud, fumed, “You’re the ones who held my disciple hostage. What do you mean we initiated the fight?”
In a callous tone, Tang Ye answered, “Your disciple was snooping around. He was outside our window for an hour when it is raining cats and dogs outside.”
Pi Pixia flipped out: “What do you mean I was snooping around?! You’re the ones who are snooping around. There can never be too much deception in war. Are you pretending you don’t have scouts? Don’t try and malign me.”
Ye Luo jumped in: “What, you think we’re an unorthodox sect?”
Pi Pixia: “After Master Luo sent out the heroes’ summon, unorthodox sects harbouring ulterior motives and orthodox sects are making their way to Huzhou. It’s only fair we look into you when it’s unclear who you people are.”
“Heroes’ summon?” remarked the Emperor, confused. The Emperor never heard of anything special from Luo Sword Manor.
In all fairness, Pi Pixia didn’t sneak attack them. He did make an imperious remark before he decided to attempt an assassination, after all.
“In that case, who are you?”
“I am the disciple of Jiujiang’s Great Spear Academy and Patriarch Xia Shangzhou, Pi Pixia!”
The Emperor didn’t look surprised. Great Spear Academy’s patriarch was supposedly a man with a fiery temper, and he certainly proved the rumour justice. The academy was quite famous in Jiujiang.
Accompanied by a palm and fist salute, the Emperor then queried, “So, Young Master Ling, you are…?”
The man with the red scarf scoffed, “Hmph, you sure proved yourself a stupid scoundrel, not even knowing Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary!”
Funnily enough, the man had no idea the Emperor recognised Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s sword formation the moment he saw it. Among the Seven Champion White Princes, Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary had always possessed the most resources and strongest combat force. By all accounts, they qualified to be classified as the ruler of Jiangnan’s martial world.
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary relationship with the imperial court was incredibly complex. Though they owed each other favours, there were also grudges they had yet to settle. Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s support was compulsory to ensuring balance and peace in the imperial court when the Emperor was crowned. The reigning Empress was the daughter of Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s patriarch, Patriarch Ling.
The paradox was, despite the Empress having borrowed her clan’s influence and power to help the Emperor sort out headaches in the past, they were also his biggest headache among all the sects. Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary had over ten thousand disciples under their banner. Over a thousand of them were considered adept swordsmen. If all of the three martial world offices came together, they might stand a chance against Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary. Having said that, only standing a chance against one sect from the martial world despite the magnitude of the imperial court was insulting. More importantly, that was assuming all of Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary had been accounted for.
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary had been in Jiangnan for a millennium; they existed before the current dynasty. Their connections to Jiangnan’s other big sects were a massive and intricate web. Hence, there was no telling how much potential they really possessed under the exterior of a group of swordsmen. How could any monarch sleep in peace when he had such a dangerous snake wreathing around him?
Ling Clan was Mount Lu’s biggest clan. Young Master Ling should’ve been the Empress’ junior. That was the reason the Emperor wanted to put an end to the fight.
Palm and fist together, the Emperor said, “This one has always held Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary in high regard.”
Young Master Ling’s ire evaporated after the Emperor lowered himself, but he did smirk.
Once he identified Young Master Ling, Dugu decided to intervene as he knew the Emperor’s dilemma: “It is but a misunderstanding. My master was unaware you were from orthodox sects. We are an escort group.”
“Take the act somewhere else,” commented Pi Pixia, smiling derisively. “After Luo Sword Manor invited everyone to bring their famous weapons, I’m sure the unorthodox sects will send thieves after our weapons. Unsurprisingly, I heard your master drop a verbal tirade about the Seven Champion White Princes. Hmph, you clowns aren’t even savvy enough to collect intelligence. No evil will go unpunished in the White Princes’ territory.”
Dugu froze. Bailu Mu and Ye Luo exchanged eye contact. They, understandably, felt annoyed. Neither side was enemy or friend. Meaning they fought a pointless fight and turned potential friends into enemies.
The elder suddenly smiled: “I do not see any concrete proof.”
Pi Pixia: “Old Shou! Why are you siding with them? I heard him curse the Seven Champion White Princes with my own ears…”
“It’s commonplace for us pugilistic world folks to use profanity here and there. This old one has checked them all. They are users of orthodox styles, so they can’t be unorthodox sects’ members.”
The fact the silent elder could determine their internal style put his competence into question.
“They are not from unorthodox sects. This old one can guarantee that,” Old Shou said whilst caressing his beard and before looking over to Young Master Ling.
Young master Ling was stuck. He didn’t have a legitimate reason to apprehend them, while begrudgingly sparing them would bruise his ego. Not everybody present was his subordinate; ordering them was impossible. If he couldn’t convince them to stand with him, the repercussions of the fight could very well fall into his lap. Suddenly, he heard, “Master, Ol’ Long is coming!” The voice didn’t come from the door but from… outside the wall? He wondered if a retard was let loose.
Boom! Long Zaitian burst through the wall. He emerged with eyes on fire, the aura of a lion and fingers scrunched into weapons. Long Zaitian delivered a crushing punch straight into Young Master Ling’s handsome face. A squiggly trail of blood flitted through the air as Young Master Ling went reeling back until he was planted in the wall.
After driving his fist into Young Master Ling, Long Zaitian gestured for everybody behind him not to worry and maintained his knockout win pose. The room fell silent once everyone stopped moving. An awkward atmosphere gradually took over the room. The Emperor, Dugu, Bailai Mu and Ye Luo were lost for words. Only Tang Ye gave Long Zaitian a thumbs up for the punch. The man with the broadsword, the girl with the staff and the scholar began to curl their fingers into their palms…
Old Shou said, “This old one gives up…”
Meanwhile, in the head of Long Zaitian, who was still posing: “I thought long and hard to come up with a number of poses, but this one is the coolest. I’m looking forward to His Majesty’s reward, hehehe.”
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s disciples bolted over to Young Master Ling, crying, “Senior Brother! Senior Brother! How are you?!”
Young Master Ling’s injury wasn’t too severe, albeit nose looking a tad crooked… He gradually waded his way out of the wall. He grabbed the handkerchief his junior brother passed him and wiped his blood nose before handing it back. He then grabbed a copper mirror and caressed his artistic nose. He placed the mirror back and calmly declared, “This is war.”