Those standing on Elder Shou’s side looked Su Xiao and my way. Emperor Yuansheng contracted his brow and muttered under his breath, “Thank heavens I didn’t marry Hongzhuang to him, or she’d start living as a widow already.”
Pissoff! Don’t assume people are gay without evidence! Your nephew, Young Master Ling, is the queer one here! Fulfil your responsibilities as his uncle first! He’s even trying to steal a man from me now!
I wanted to sort the immediate issue out first, so I poured another cup and tossed it over to Lie Shang. He nimbly caught the cup and begrudgingly said, “I lost. Whatever it is you want me to do, just say the word, but don’t try and make a fool out of me.”
I raised a hand: “Please finish your drink first.”
Lie Shang dallied before having the drink. He then wiped his mouth and chuckled: “I drank the drink as you told me to. Does that mean I’ve kept my word?”
This man thinks he’s funny. This old bugger looks stupid, but the bugger sure is conniving! If drinking wine was the equivalent of a bet’s penalty, I must have thousands of accomplishments under my belt after all the time I spent in the kitchen, you ass clown!
With a helpless smile, I answered, “Nothing I can do, then. Consider it this one’s loss.”
What I said triggered a thought, leading to Lie Shang querying, “You offered Young Master Ling a drink because you two share the same sick taste. What did you offer me a drink for?”
“You are known as a brave hero of justice who hates evil with a vengeance. Years ago in Qingzhou, five criminals went missing overnight. That was thanks to you beheading them. You left without asking for any credit after helping the people, which is why few people in the pugilistic world know of the deed. Some may have the impression your hubris is annoying; however, this one has never bought into the rumour. This one hopes the drink will have erased the previous misunderstanding between us.”
Lie Shang nodded: “I am a man of my word, and I will keep my word this time as always.”
Lie Shang took the jug of Spring Fire Ice Burrow from me and chugged it before passing it back with both hands. He said, “This shall be farewell for now. Since your destination is Huzhou, we shall meet again in the pugilistic world,” and took off into the rain, quickly disappearing from sight in the curtain of turbulent rain.
I didn’t know the reason for Lie Shang travelling in a group with them since he was famous for being a solo hero until he implied he was also heading to Huzhou.
As Lie Shang and the biggest challenge, Young Master Ling, had fallen into place, I presumed the remaining three weren’t a big deal. I turned my attention to the scholar and gave him a smile: “May I ask what your esteemed name is?”
The scholar raised the corner of his lips: “You were able to identify Young Master Ling and Hero Lie. This one, therefore, thought you were informed of all things in the world. Do you not recognise this one?”
The scholar never revealed any of his skills since entering and watched from the sideline whilst assuming the demeanour of some profound being. He attired himself in clothing a scholar would when travelling, sporting a rectangle hat and simple clothing. He wasn’t as striking as Young Master Ling, but the scholar vibe was definitely there. He was relaxed and confident he could handle anything thrown his way without seeming full of himself.
“Since you do not recognise this one, this one will not need to accept a drink. This one travels the world as the world’s freest man. This one has no interest in you. He would prefer to exchange a few moves with the gentleman over there. Since we are not drinking, please step aside.”
The scholar was eager to go after Dugu. Both of them were the cool type of guys. Neither of them liked the other’s guts ever since meeting; it was crazy to think they wanted to punch the other’s face in upon meeting.
“It is not hard to put a name to your face,” I declared with a grin. “Could someone kindly lend me a sword?”
“Are you planning to test my swordplay?” asked the scholar, shaking his head with a wry smile. “Folly. Utter folly. There are more than a thousand swordplays in the world and eight realms in internal styles. There are some who are skilled with one. More talented individuals might have mastered multiple. Your friend there has grasped Divinatory Symbol, Gold and Instant Realms when it comes to internal energies. Perhaps you are underestimating the difficulty of what you are attempting.”
Tang Ye was surprised the scholar identified all three of his internal energies.
The scholar continued on, “This one’s clan trained him from a young age and has never been lax when it comes to swordplay. This one believes he will not reveal his background within a hundred moves, yet you wish to test this one in swordplay? You seem to be underestimating him.”
“Young Ming, judging from his gaze, I would say he has the skill to back up his words. I suggest letting Dugu take your place,” recommended Emperor Yuansheng.
“Is there anyone willing to loan me a sword?” I asked again with a smile.
Irate I persisted, the scholar forced a smile: “There is no need to ask for others for a sword. This one shall lend you one. Xiurong, lend Brother Zhong my Mountain Stream and Cloud.”
The scholar’s young assistant removed the box on his back and drew out a shimmering sword a hundred centimetres long from a scroll. I accepted the offer. The sword was made from some of the best metal I had come across. Its name, Mountain Stream and Cloud, was derived from the metal markings resembling a mountain stream and clouds scene on the blade.
“Nice, this is a good sword,” I praised.
The scholar, maintaining his smile, questioned, “What are you waiting for?”
“You don’t have to fight just because you have a sword in your hand. It’s quite fun playing on your own, too.”
I took a step back. Before starting, I decided on a swordplay. I swung right then swung left. I wasn’t a sword expert, though, so I was an unbecoming sight. All of my left and right swings were aimed upward. I never moved my feet beneath me. Basically, I was performing movements a jitong, a type of shaman, did. I learnt it from Wudang’s absurd style.
Emperor Yuansheng exclaimed, “What are you doing?!”
Long Zaitian nodded: “Probably scared to the point he lost his mind.”
Tang Ye: “I think he had too much to drink.”
Su Xiao sounded confident: “I think he knows sorcery!”
“Yes.” Su Xiao touched his face and narrowed his eyes. I was waiting for him to say, “There is always only one truth,” but he said, “He’s performing Spirit Possession. He’s channelling a deity to his body!”
“You guys believe him?”
Tang Ye: “…”
Long Zaitian: “…”
“How about you, Teacher Li?”
Teacher Li: “You think I’m mentally demented?!”
The calm smile on the scholar’s face was gone. Noticing his reaction, I began mumbling, “The night sky, the clear sky and the clouds at dawn are ever changing and impossible to illustrate! Ho!”
I imbued the sword with my qi and hurled it back, almost crushing the assistant, who fumed, “You trying to kill me?!”
“My bad, my bad. My swordplay is not very good, but I do have clues to help me identify you now.” I giggled.
The scholar turned hostile and wrathful: “You know now? Please surprise me.”
“This one believes your surname is Kuang. Would that be correct?”
The scholar took a moment to respond, “I want to know how you managed to guess that.”
The startled reactions the maiden in green and Elder Shou revealed upon hearing the scholar’s hinted they didn’t know his name despite travelling with him.
Tang Ye: “Why Kuang?”
Long Zaitian: “What the hell? He has a cheat skill to curse people and summon deities now, too?!”
Emperor Yuansheng: “Wh-Wh-What?!”
Su Xiao smugly raised his chin: “I told you Big Brother Ming knows sorcery!”
Scholar: “This one is Kuang Lu. You have impressed, Young Master Zhong. Goodbye.”
Kuang Lu gave me a fist and palm salute before departing. I heaved a breath of pent-up tension. I was glad we didn’t have to fight; they weren’t fodder.
Young Master Ling was unable to hold his liquor, resulting in him loudly saying, “Brother Zhong, since we’ve cleared the air, I’ll be taking my leave.”
I did have the idea of getting Young Master Ling drunk if I couldn’t convince them to stop in the back of my mind. Surprise, surprise, he frequented brothels most, yet was also the worst at holding his liquor. Lie Shang was perfectly fine after so much! Anyway, I said, “Take your time, Brother Ling.”
“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Young Master Ling’s juniors helped him out of the inn.
Long Zaitian approached Young Master Ling’s group and, in a respectful tone, said, “Young Master Ling, I did not hear your conversation properly from afar, so I have a question I hope you could clarify for me.”
Young Master Ling barely enunciated, “Was eez it (what is it)?”
Long Zaitian touched his chin: “I just could not figure out what your name should be.”
“Oh, dat (that).” Young Master Lin waved: “My father saw a phenomenon when I was born, so he wrote, ‘Ice akin to agate. The thousands of clouds break through the wall’ for mah (my) name. Mah name is bashed off dat (My name is based off that). As for my nickname, it’s…”
“Senior Brother, it is raining cats and dogs; let us get a carriage.”
Young Master Ling’s junior martial brothers were on edge because they couldn’t afford to let their patriarch’s only son suffer in the rain.
“Ah, we have to go? Figure it out for yourself, then. I’ll tell you next time, next time when we meet in Huzhou.”
Young Master Ling climbed into a carriage with the help of his juniors. He continued mumbling in his drunken stupor, “Mm… You think I, Ling Ruoyun, Like Sword Juntian, would tell you my name so easily…?”
Long Zaitian analysed the name and nickname. He was the kind of man who was curious about a lot of things and was hungry for knowledge. He would mull on things he didn’t understand until he comprehended it. This time, nevertheless, he wasn’t so happy despite finding out the answer to his burning question. He thought, “His dad must not like him. That name sounds horrible. That nickname… You call that a nickname?”
Long Zaitian walked back. Tie Hanyi inquired, “What’s his name? Is he Master’s nephew?”
“I don’t know. His name is ridiculous,” replied Long Zaitian, still touching his chin. “His name is ‘Like a Piercing a Chrysanthemum’ Ling Mabi. Who calls himself Ling Retard?”
*Internal style realms – Not to be confused with realms as in levels. These realms are simply classes. For example, Attack Class and Defence Class are replaced with Attack Real and Defence Realm.
**Juntian – Another term to refer to the jade emperor in Chinese mythology