Clip! Snow plum blossom petals. The fragrant branches hit the ground, while the tree vibrated. The scene added an eloquent touch to the courtyard scenery.
Martial artists from Beijiang liked sophora japonicas, while martial artists from Jiangnan liked plum blossoms. Plum blossoms were resilient against cold weather and exuded a more prominent scent after snowfall. They were a favourite among poets because they complimented each other as per the saying, “Plum blossoms are the gentleman among flowers as the sword is among soldiers.”
Jiangnan citizens believed plum blossoms was a symbol of their cultured characters. It was common to see many swordsman growing plum blossoms in their courtyards. They were also pedantic about having artistic vases. Luo Sword Manor was the most enthusiastic clan when it came to plum blossoms. They grew them anywhere they could and even proudly used a plum blossom petal as their clan’s crest.
A gardener was at work, trimming the plum blossoms as usual. There were unique patterns on the white petals. The unblemished white colour was an indication of the premium quality they were. An alternative name for them was snowflakes reflecting water, which described the scene of residue snowflakes reflecting clear water after winter.
The gardener was meticulous, able to use a pair of small and thin clippers to boldly trim branches. He wasn’t quick, but he moved gracefully as would be befitting of the scenery and adding a tranquil vibe. It was highly doubtful anyone could tell the white petals were the same petals from yesterday. Anybody who recognised him would be startled to see him there because he shouldn’t have been there as if there was nothing that could trouble him no matter what the reason. Him trimming plum blossoms was an even more inconceivable sight because he was Beijiang’s Evil Spirits’ King of Bandits, Abels.
Since he never ran into any plateaus he couldn’t overcome when learning martial arts, Abels was said to be a master of eighteen arms of wushu, a saying commonly used to refer to those who excelled at every style or weapon. Though it was an unverified rumour, his skills with the clippers were undeniable. The surprising part was clippers and plum blossoms didn’t fit his physique’s stereotype. His tall stature, bulky physique and the corns on his hands had people categorise him as a brawn head.
Abels gradually slowed down as he went. Suddenly, he heard, “Reporting in!”
The booming voice broke the peaceful atmosphere in the courtyard. A man knelt before Abels upon landing. The man was Mountain Monster’s deputy, Plague Demon. Each of Abels’ four sub-leaders had their own deputy in addition subordinates who could be considered henchmen. Owing to Mountain Monster killing the most among the four, his subordinates were also cold-blooded killers. Plague Demon inherited Mountain Monster’s bloodlust more notably than anyone else, which was why Plague Demon was instated as the latter’s deputy.
Plague Demon strapped a bloody and large ghost head broadsword to his back. He still had his bloodthirsty aura about him. By the time he looked up, the tranquil atmosphere had erased the bloody aura, startling him. If his aura was vanquished without his opponent even budging, he would be flattened in a fight. He said in his mind, “I can’t believe Master has found a way to suppress bloodlust with the scent of flowers. The flower scent is practically a weapon that defeats enemies without even fighting.”
It took a while for Plague Demon to snap out of it. He lowered his head again and reported,” Master, my leader has news from Changzhou.”
Abels continued pruning the trees as he mulled over something to himself, frowning and relaxing alternatively as if he was visualising himself in combat with another adept. It took a while, but he eventually relaxed and focused in on something. It looked as though the sunlight, his shadow, the plum blossoms, the clipper, wind and he entered a dimension together.
Plague Demon was sure Abels was before him, yet it appeared as if Abels wasn’t there. It was his first time witnessing Abels’ Ghost Deity Scripture in action. He, himself, deemed it impossible to even qualify to fight Abels, citing the latter could destroy his fighting spirit without even moving a finger.
Plague Demon patiently waited until he heard, “Did you know plum blossoms are considered the gentleman of flowers? Book of Changes consists of originating and penetrating, advantageous and firm. Those four traits also happen to be plum blossoms’ unique traits.”
Plague Demon and books didn’t belong in the same sentence, so he had idea what those things meant or why Abels was suddenly an avid fan of barbaric southerners’ culture. Shaking his head, he replied, “I did not know.”
Abels, yearning gaze on the plum blossoms, continued, “Hengzhi, Slanted Shadow, Sunder and Proud Snow, the four swords Luo Sword Manor are proud of are impressive, indeed.”
Plague Demon had no idea what a hengzhi, slanted shadow or whatever was. What would a thief care for those terms for? He loudly responded, “If you like them, we can take them from Luo Sword Manor. They would not dare to oppose us. If they do, we can steal. With your skills, you could take them whenever you decide.”
“If they could be stolen, they would not be worth their reputation.”
Abels chortled as he shook his head. As Abels’ image from Plague Demon’s perspective improved, he saw the four sub-leaders in even better lights. After all, the fact that they could understand Abels was unfathomable to him.
Mountain Monster and Feathered Serpent were the schemers in Evil Spirits, so they usually had a pulse on what Abels had in mind for the most part. Ox Demon was the only one labelled Demon Deity, their best vanguard. River Monster… her status as Abels’ woman was an open secret. All that was left to do was for them to say their vows, and seal it under the blankets, and the entire group would celebrate. They had been eager to call her “Sister-in-Law” for a long time.
Abels smiled when he noticed Plague Demon spacing out: “Go on with your report.”
“Roger! Leader Mountain Master has arrived at Bishui Town in Changzhou. He is carrying out the plan to force Night Fortress’ leader out of Jiangnan.”
“That’s worth discussing. Night Fortress’ master is rumoured to be an adept above many others. He hasn’t been ranked due to the scarce records of his fights, but there are a copious amount of rumours linked to him in Jiangnan. Tell Mountain Master to stay on his toes. Tell him to pull back and seek another opportunity if he fails after one attempt. Don’t be rash and sacrifice men. The most crucial task is to lure Night Fortress’ master away from Jiangnan so that he’s not in my way.”
“Master, is he that great?”
The corner of Abels’ lips curled up ever so slightly. He placed the clipper down and answered, “I don’t know myself.”
“His rise in Jiangnan six years ago was a meteoric rise. There is nobody who even claims to be his match. The Seven Champion White Princes far-reaching power could influence Hangzhou, yet they allowed to him head it. Moreover, he was able to grow Night Fortress to the point that their name shines. It’s bizarre that there are no detailed records of any of his fights.”
“Forgive me for not comprehending how that is of any concern.”
“I’ve never heard him lose.” Abels began to stroll: “It is never easy to be invincible in the pugilistic world. I lost more fights than I could count when I was younger. Remember, underestimating your opponent is digging your own grave.”
Plague Demon didn’t understand why Abels needed to be worried when he was so formidable. He suddenly suspected the internal injury Abels suffered in his clash with Shaolin’s monk was aggravating him again. Both of them coughed blood after they traded. Abels managed to withstand the pain for several days before he couldn’t take it, and his condition worsened. He surmised the last few days weren’t enough time for a complete recovery.
“Tell Mountain Monster to be cautious if he’s going after him. What’s his plan?”
“He plans to…”
After hearing the plan, Abels frowned: “Making someone else the instrument certainly is his style. That plan alone won’t be enough, though.”
“He has another plan in addition to it.”
Abels felt relieved after hearing the second plan: “Clever. He’s disguising himself again, isn’t he? What’s his new character?”
“Yes, I heard he has disguised himself as a man with the surname ‘Wang’.”