Different Year, Same Thing (Part 6)
Ming Feizhen narrowed his eyes once he cast his gaze on Jiu Shaozhang. Ming Feizhen wasn’t erudite in the bladed-weapons department. Instead, he could use his “Interlinked Hearts” technique to read internal styles of the living even if he couldn’t see them, making him one of three only people in all the land capable of doing so.
“Men, turn his corpse over,” Ming Suwen suddenly directed from behind Ming Feizhen, in a voice distinctly warmer than his emotionless voice. Once a subordinate flipped the corpse over, she elucidated, “The victim bore the brunt of forty-one attacks. Weapons in the Central Plain adhere to certain cultural specifics and styles. My eyes tell me the attackers stabbed him using blades used in Jiangnan. Remove an iron longsword, a long sabre and five longswords, all of similar style… They all match the wounds on the victim.”
Thank god she intervened. Her knowledge and wits really saved me there.
Ming Suwen slyly tugged up the corner of her lips and tapped Ming Feizhen on the nose with her index finger: “Why did you forget what you taught me? Don’t embarrass yourself in front of our guests… my dear husband.”
“Husband?!” Ling Qingshu blurted first without realising it, clearing his throat after to recollect himself.
Ling Qingshu wasn’t the only one who had a knee jerk reaction. Everyone had been wondering how to address Ming Suwen ever since she showed up. It went unnoticed, but the thirty-two guards in the hall stood with iron gazes, afraid they’d miss out on an opportunity to impress her. The other man they didn’t notice reacted equally shocked was her so-called husband, whose eyes were nearly three sizes larger.
The men present saw Master Ming in a new light, envying him, feeling jealous or admiring his taste.
One young master had a lecherous smile when he heard, “my dear husband”, prompting Ming Feizhen to gesture for his fourth brother’s ear. His fourth brother leaned in and nodded away, responding, “Okay, okay, okay, watch closely.”
Fourth Brother jogged down to the three young masters, yanked one over and fed him a hand. As a practitioner of strength-based styles, those hands of his were as tough as iron. The young master turned into a prawn on the ground, tears pouring down his face as if a dam broke.
The young master cried, “What are you nut cases doing?!”
“Eh? I hit you for your sake.”
“You hit me for my sake?!”
The young master noticed loose teeth when he touched his cheeks, scared out of his wits.
“Leader said to me, ‘He looks ugly. It seems to me that he doesn’t want his eyes, and manure grows in his brain. Either take his eyes or beat him into mental disability. Third choice: beat him until I can’t recognise him.’ I didn’t do any of those. I’m nice, aren’t I?”
Fourth Brother’s sincere tone stumped the young master.
Cha Hao ignored the skit and carried on with a cupped-fist salute, elaborating, “You are correct, Ma’am Ming. This one can confirm there are forty-one wounds on the victim.”
Proud of herself, Ming Suwen lifted Ming Feizhen’s chin with a finger and communicated with her eyes, “How did I do, Dear?”
“Ahem, uh, the w-.”
Ming Feizhen instinctively groaned as Ming Suwen helped herself to his lap and leaned on his chest, ignoring his drumming heart. Because she heard “Ma’am Ming”, her cheeks were flush.
“Why are you rewarding me, my lady?”
Ming Suwen didn’t expect Ming Feizhen to go along with her. Nevertheless, she turned aloof as she stared back at the three corpses.
”Besides the lethal gash, there are no signs the victim put up a fight against his attackers, which goes to show just how cruel the attackers were; there are even wounds intentionally aimed at his nerves. Judging from the traces of blood and width of the cuts, it’s clear that the culprit disabled him before continuing the torture.”
Ming Feizhen added, “That means they left him on the ground and hacked away for entertainment. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter put up a resistance inside the property, exciting the culprits even more. That explains why they would amp up the vicious attacks.”
“Based off the positions of the wounds and angles, there were, at least, eight different styles used. The culprits are weak and can’t aim, so I conclude they are the type who slack on training. However, the culprit who gashed through the victim’s forehead is considerably skilled. Only Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s Flying Thrust Style would leave that single red spot. Evidently, something triggered the executor, leading to him forgetting to mask his style.”
“He should’ve been skilled enough to not have to rely on his true skills.”
“That’s exactly why I said something must’ve triggered him. Additionally, we can see that the one responsible doesn’t have much for brains. That explains why he’d use a famous technique. As for what triggered him, that’s beyond me. Dear, you will have to find out yourself.”
“But I’m too stupid to. Why don’t you help me, Honey?”
Bashfully, Ming Suwen pushed Ming Feizhen’s head with a finger, yet dimpled. He couldn’t complain for her touch was healing.
“Hmm, let’s see… As Jiu Shaozhang died with his mouth open, we can see that he died in a rage. There’s a bloodied fragment of clothing in his teeth. Surely nobody is going to tell me making people eat clothing is a new torture method. It’s impossible to tell what the material came from in the state it’s in, but it doesn’t belong to him. Hmm, he must’ve put up a desperate struggle before he died, thereby angering the one who finished him.”
Ming Feizhen started clapping, breaking the silence.
“We need a witness to verify my analysis, nevertheless. Boy, do you remember who barged into your house that night, shouting and hitting your mother?”
“H-him!” The boy pointed to Ling Qingshu and repeated, “Him!”
Behind his pursed lips, Ling Qingshu bit down on his bottom teeth a tad prior to fuming, “I killed Jiu Shaozhang. So what? I’m also the one who raped his wife and daughter. So what? Who cares about ants’ lives? How much longer are you going to keep making a fuss over this? Draw the line. Patriarch Cha, you want to shake my clan’s reputation with this case? I kill over ten times the number of peons a year and have never bat an eye. You’re out of your league. Ask that Xie what’s his name if he dares to touch me!”
Xie Duzhe juddered.
Seeing Ming Suwen and Ming Feizhen behave intimately, Ling Qingshu clicked his tongue quietly. He wanted to steal her from Ming Feizhen because she was the most beautiful women he’d ever set eyes on. Howbeit, he contained his lust for the sake of appearances. While he was sitting in his seat, he already planned to demand her from Master Ming since he believed nobody would oppose Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary for a woman. As she was Master Ming’s wife, though, he could only take her by force.
I want to beat him to his knees and pound that ripe flower of hers, letting him listen to her moan and our flesh slapping against each other. Yes, there’s nothing more I could ask for.
“Ants, did you say?” Ming Feizhen questioned, rubbing his chin. “Indeed, you also must think that way to sign his corpse with Flying Thrust Style. It’s the easiest way to establish dominance. Why not forbid anyone from touching the corpses to amplify the results and scare the peons in Hangzhou’s martial world? That will make it easier for Mount Lu Sword Manor to expand in Hangzhou. That’s very thorough thinking. We raise fifteen mad dogs on the mountain, and I doubt they could stoop as low.”
A young master unsheathed his sword and threatened, “Say that one more time about Brother Ling!”
Besides the son of Changzhou’s Recoiling Wind Blade, the others also followed suit.
“Can I interpret that as Night Fortress challenging us?” Ling Qingshu aggressed.
Ming Feizhen’s silence was more impactful than any answer would’ve been.
“I’m disappointed in you. I thought you were wiser than this and was going to offer you a spot in our ranks.”
“When did I ever say Night Fortress was submitting to anyone? You misunderstood.”
“You asked for this!”
The imperial court passed a decree that absolved Ling Qingshu of any penalties for murder when he was at Mount Lu. Besides his father and elder brother, their clan was riddled with unbearably arrogant people who were excessively cruel to the citizens of Jiujiang and Changzhou. None of them had blasted them the way Ming Feizhen just did. The hatred he had for Ming Feizhen for “stealing” his Ming Suwen only added oil to his fire.
Ling Qingshu ran qi down his sword and thrust, generating the sound of flowing water – Flying Thrust Style, the style The Black and White Reflection touted as the best thrusting style in the world.
Notably, even though there were four levels to Flying Thrust Style, someone who mastered up to the third level wasn’t necessarily superior to someone who only mastered the first level. Some focused on mastering just the four levels once and refused to learn other thrusting styles thereafter.
Ling Qingshu’s imperious nature didn’t hamper his ability to separate his skills from others in his age bracket, a claim that his personal instructor, Ling Fengxing, never doubted. Ling Qingshu, in fact, was heralded as Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s genius of geniuses in the last decades.
The section Ling Qingshu, the only disciple to master the third level before the age of thirty, performed was called “Flying Splash”, a flashy technique that was touted as the technique that could burst droplets of water flying about and the ultimate counter for the ultimate defences. The reason it was described as so was due to the user performing successive thrusts after the initial thrust, resembling an endless stream of water. At the highest level, one could perform one hundred and seventy thrusts in a single breath.
Ling Qingshu’s teachers spared no effort to groom him into a splendid swordsman, and their efforts weren’t in vain.
Bang! The loud echo disseminated the hostility permeated in the air and sword qi. From the second Ling Qingshu extended his arm to the moment the loud bang came, nobody had enough time to catch what happened in between.
Ming Feizhen held onto a black object of some sort. Meanwhile, Ling Qingshu, who wasn’t too far away, was incapacitated. Well, incapacitated didn’t really do justice as a description. Judging from Ling Qingshu’s facial expression, he looked as if he had his wits beat out of him.
Ming Feizhen took his time stowing away his “weapon” and mumbled, “… Same thing different day… The martial world and pugilistic world never changes.”
“What are you five jokes doing?”
The five young masters with Ling Qingshu attempted to jump Hong Jiu, but two guards behind Hong Jiu bound forward and dished out a pounding, hence the five rolled up zongzis on the ground. Oh, they even had time to tie all five up them up.
“Of my thirty-two guards here, my worse one is good enough to be in the imperial court’s jia ranks. You five need to learn to choose your opponents before you learn to fight…”
Recoiling Wind Blade’s son suddenly sprung off the ground and tried to ram a hand in Hong Jiu’s face. Hong Jiu casually flicked his hand, knocking the young master to the ground. Upon looking to his chest, the young master saw an iron bindii in his chest.
Hong Jiu understood what Ming Feizhen implied and got excited when his senior brother flipped out. Hong Jiu decided to keep going, reproaching, “You sons of dogs listen up. I’ll give you all one free shot each, and then I’ll smash your faces in with one smack. Don’t just lie there. Line up.”
“Wait,” interjected Ming Feizhen. “Not yet.”
“Third, what do you say we do with them?”
Sima Bei was the man you would want to receive guests because he was the most approachable and the brains behind Night Fortress. Nobody ever argued against him because he possessed a trait that nobody could beat – being a miser. In the looks department at Mount Daluo, nobody could hold a candle to Lian Zhuiyue. The wild card and veterans were Hong Jiu and their crafty fifth sister. Trying to get along with them wasn’t wise. In terms of stupid, Fourth Brother took the trophy, no questions asked.
Unlike his generous parents in Beiping’s martial world who travelled, Sima Bei would chase you down for half a copper coin. As a mentor, Ming Huayu helped his disciples amplify their strengths – that was meant to imply he made Sima Bei stingier than he was born. In order to remember every loss, Sima Bei had to develop his memories, resulting in his practically photographic memory.
“Can’t kill them,” answered Sima Bei.
“There are two. First, Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary has their eyes on Hangzhou. Hangzhou’s representatives are Heroine Zi Wutong and an imperial court representative. There are thousands of people this visit, with over a hundred adepts and over twenty elites. If we kill Patriarch Ling’s son here, that gives them an excuse to declare war on Hangzhou. Second…” Sima Bei whispered, “His second eldest sister is our first shiniang.”
“… Understood,” responded Ming Feizhen.
Hong Jiu didn’t hear the last part, but he could tell what had to be done. He was a man who could put things aside whenever needed. Hence, he asked, “Leader, don’t waste your time troubling yourself. We can’t kill him, but we can smash him, right?”
Ming Feizhen replied after thinking, “No need. Just do what must be done.”
“Got it. Killing him is the best option, after all!” Hong Jiu enthused.
“No, report him to the local official.”
“Y-you’re joking, right?”
“What else would you do if not report a murder?” Ming Feizhen tilted his head. Nonetheless, it wasn’t hard to discern where his gaze was cast. “You must be Officer Xie. The seven of them violated women and took three lives in Hangzhou. Please take them to a law enforcement office and see that they are punished for their heinous crimes.”
Oi! I came here to talk you out of this! Why are you dragging me into this mess?!
“Fine. The county magistrate can interrogate and deal with you scumbags. That saves me the trouble of getting my hands filthy.”
Hong Jiu hauled Ling Qingshu off his feet and tied him up with his six friends. He then grabbed Xie Duzhe and bolted off with his two juniors.
“Well, that was quite the headache,” commented Ming Feizhen. “Patriarch Cha, I would like to ask for a loan.”
Stories romanticise the pugilistic world with gallant heroes, but that was all fiction. Hence why Cha Hao wasn’t the least bit surprised he was being asked to pay. Cha Hao subscribed to the notion that solving problems with money was always the best solution.
“As long as you are satisfied, this one has no complaints.
“Just a hundred and twenty taels will do.”
“That is all you are asking for?”
“Please purchase three quality coffins and find a place with nice geomancy near Mount Chenghuang to put the three to rest.”
Cha Hao jolted and spent the next few moments in deep thought. Suddenly, he offered the ground his knees and pledged, “Should we ever meet again in the pugilistic world and you believe I can be of service, you need only say the word, and this one shall immediately lend you a hand.”