Beauty in the Water
The three young swordsmen were old friends. Kuang Lu and Luo Siming knew each other from childhood. The three engaged in a lively discussion on various topics over drinks.
Slightly drunken, Young Master Ling expressed, “Fourth Luo, you’re a bad friend, man. We’ve been friend from our ancestors’ time. If you need weapons, you could’ve just yelled out. Your clan is home to an assortment of unique and quality weapons. My clan also has a decent number. Yet, you decided to send an invitation to my clan. You were distant in the invitation and constantly provoked us. You even added a bamboo sword to mock us. Sorry, but I don’t want it. You can have it back.”
Young Master Ling brought out aforementioned bamboo sword from his backpack. Calling it a bamboo sword was him being polite as it was merely something a panda from Sichuan would snack on.
“Are you here to scold me, Brother Ling? Haha, I can’t say I have any responsibility to take ownership for there.”
“What, are you going to deny it even in my presence?” fumed Young Master Ling.
“No, no. We dare not take the invitation lightly. We sent invitations to all the Central Plain’s sects that have been active in the pugilistic world for the last three years and wielded weapons. Your clan is not far away, but you are important guests. We would not dare to mock you.”
“Why don’t you explain what you were implying in your bizarre invitation, then? What is this bamboo supposed to signify? We’re friends, aren’t we?”
A curve came to Kuang Lu’s lips: “You know he can’t control himself when he’s drunk. Don’t take it to heart, Brother Siming. That being said, he’s brought up the most important topic. Luo Sword Manor has always been a clan that prioritised valour, yet you sent out challenges disguised as invitations all of a sudden and asked clans to bring their own weapons as a means of trampling on their pride. Even I want to know what exactly you and your clan are thinking.”
“You have misunderstood me and Luo Sword Manor,” Luo Siming asserted, unfazed at the accusation. “The invitation clearly stated we are not just searching for a weapon but are looking to forge the weapon’s heart and core. You are both aware they are hard to find, especially weapon cores. Nobody would be motivated to forge a weapon core in this peaceful era. We wanted to have a competition to forge an impressive weapon core.”
Kuang Lu reported, “I know what you mean, but why are you being secretive about it and ridiculing others with your clan’s weapons? I came across many sects and clans heading to the convention on my way here from the South. Everybody looked bitter about the weapons you sent them.”
“That is why I said you have misunderstood. Let’s start with the secrecy issue. We, of course, want to make a public announcement. The problem is we are inviting heroes with unique weapons. It took us all our resources and efforts just to coordinate things for them. If we made a public announcement, empty-handed pugilists and those of lower calibres would insist on coming. We don’t have enough hands on board for that many people.
“Secondly, the imperial court has built their forces over the last few years. The Qilin Guards are the head of the five offices; even the martial world is calling them the replacement for the White Princes. The imperial court didn’t start it, but it hasn’t stopped. There’s no guarantee the imperial court won’t ride the wave of momentum. We seven can’t be flamboyant at this rate.”
It was normal for Luo Siming to speak so calmly and concisely given his pedigree. With that said, his two friends knew he wasn’t the type to consider so much, nor was he the type to use terminology such as, “There’s no guarantee the imperial court won’t ride the wave of momentum.”
“Thirdly, to tell the truth, my second uncle thought of the first two issues. If I was the one who came up with the idea, I’d have announced it to the world already.”
Kuang Lu and Young Master Ling sent each other a smile, acknowledging Luo Siming’s characteristic honesty.
“As for the weapons, we did not mean to provoke anybody. It was our way of expressing our sincerity. As I mentioned, you will compete with each other using your weapons to forge weapon hearts and cores. You both should be cognizant the heart and core aren’t going to be for display purposes; we will forge a weapon using them. As such, it doesn’t matter whose weapon emerges triumphant if it’s going to be used to be destroyed in the forging and refinement process.
“As blacksmiths, we know every sect and clan values their weapons as highly as their life. No matter what sort of offer we propose, there’s no guarantee they’ll let us use their weapon for refining. We don’t want to impose our will on them, either. For those reasons, we are using our own materials to forge weapons for you in exchange. We chose to let you come to the convention with your own weapon or what we offered to show our sincerity. I don’t know how else we can express the greatest degree of sincerity.”
Luo Siming passed the bamboo sword back to Young Master Ling: “This sword is a gift to your clan. You must show your invitation when you show up at the convention. Don’t return it to me now.”
“In other words, I have to look after it for you until then? I must owe you from another lifetime.
“You have your brothers with you wherever you go. I doubt you’ve even carried it for ten minutes, hahaha.”
The three resumed drinking merrily once the misunderstandings were clear. Once the sun came up in the West, Luo Siming gave his two friends a fist and palm salute: “I am not able to hold my liquor well and have business at night. We have plenty of time in the coming days to meet up, so let me provide you both with hospitality. Taihu Sword Island’s main island is currently cordoned for the convention; however, you can stay at my place there for the meantime, which is one of the islands. I promise you fabulous scenery of Taihu and my cherished sword you can feast your eyes on.”
Kuang Lu, a wanderer at heart, liked the idea, but Young Master Ling rejected, citing, “Swords and lake sceneries are boring. It’s more fun to stay in town. As for your sword, you can save it for yourself.”
“Haha, there are hundreds of quality wine jugs there, as well. You didn’t think I would forget about that, did you?”
Young Master Ling was finally sold.
The three went to the lotus garden, which was said to stretch dozens of kilometres along and be home other mystical claims. Its association with the White Princes led to further exaggerated claims. Those who knew the truth were aware that they were baseless claims, nevertheless. The interior of the formation confused those within using a mix of reality and falsehoods. It was the only barrier, or rather, entrance, to Taihu Sword Island.
The body of water at Taihu was enormous, taking around an hour to cross. All boatmen who crossed it were aware the southern body of water was exclusively Luo Sword Manor’s. Anyone who trespassed without permission was killed. Taihu Sword Island sat on the water and was strictly guarded. One had to pass through the formation and receive the guards’ approval to be considered Luo Sword Manor’s guest. In that sense, the garden didn’t protect Luo Sword Manor but outsiders.
Zha Pi showed up alone at the bank with a bitter look. Tailing the three as an amateur would be impossible – the same went for eavesdropping. The memory of Ming Feizhen slamming him into the ground when they first met was still fresh. Thanks to his time at Liu Shan Men, Zha Pi learnt to pick his fights.
Zha Pi found someone at the inn to question. Owing to Luo Clan’s fame, news on them was available anywhere at Canhu Town; locals knew about the lotus garden. Zha Pi then figured out he could tail the trio as long as he kept one and a half kilometres away. The issue was he that couldn’t keep up with their pace, resulting in the gap between them increasing over time. When he finally caught up, he lost his chance to be the highlight reel.
Zha Pi was about to head back in defeat when he saw a boat approach. He quickly took cover. Someone met up with Luo Siming as soon as the latter returned to shore.
“Young Master, Wutong Jin Yuxuan’s female heroes have arrived at are waiting for you at Canhu Town.”
“Who are our guests?”
“Matriarch Zi’s first and third senior disciples, Jinyu Feiyuan and Lengyue Qingluan.”
“That’s quite the show of respect. Let us go see our guests.”
“Wait, they’re female guests. I must be presentable. Luo Siming suddenly stopped in his tracks when he smelt the alcohol on himself. He moulded energy and excreted the alcohol from his pores then commanded, “Bring me water, and help me wash my face.”
The servant fetched water from the lake and lotus leaves.
“Th-there’s a monster in the water!” cried the servant, running back. “Y-Young Master, there is a monster by the water.”
“You’re embarrassing us. Step back!”
Luo Siming placed his hand on his sword and went to check. He couldn’t believe he found an entrancing female ghost, skin abnormally ashen. Luo Siming wasn’t convinced she was a ghost and pulled her by her arm. He was embarrassed, but not for long as he saw her grievous wounds.
Luo Siming hurriedly pulled the maiden out of the water. Her beauty was breathtaking, no doubt. Suddenly, she opened her eyes, revealing her violent glare that petrified Luo Siming. Underneath her violent glare was her barely-detectable grace and innocence. She started coughing blood and passed out again.
“Tell Jin Yuxuan’s female heroes I will be late. Take this girl into town. Her internal injuries are grave. Also call a doctor, the best doctor!”
Zha Pi bit his palm so that he wouldn’t cry out in ecstasy. In spite of the distance from her, he was absolutely confident he saw the gaze of Liu Shan Men’s vice-captain. He found Shen Yiren!