Different Year, Same Thing (Part 7)
“How I wish to imprint this scenic view to memory. I shall nest myself here as a recluse, casting my eyes on the vibrant colours on Wulao Peaks in the southeast of Mount Lu that enamour me.” – Li Bai (Gazing at Mount Lu’s Wulao Peaks).
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary had the second longest history among the Seven White Champion Princes. Mount Sugu’s Cold Temple had the longest history, spanning over a thousand years, making it the only big sect that lasted the test of time. If Shaolin and Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary were included in the conversation, then, those two would be the two following after Cold Temple in Jiujiang.
For recent millenniums, Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary was used as the measure for what the best swordplay, swordsman and sword ideals should be. Never had there been a period in history where their swordsmen didn’t rank among the greatest swordsmen in all the land. If anyone wanted to speak on the theory of swordplay, they had to discuss Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary for their teachings had continued to be imparted from one generation to the next.
All of Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s swordplay research was stored away in their secretive Sword Immortal Grasshouse, which was why Sword Immortal Grasshouse was touted as one of Jiujiang’s three swordsmanship sacred grounds. Serene Sword Immortal Grasshouse was located below a waterfall and Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s shelter as per Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s founder’s wishes. With some of the greatest swordsman teaching there in addition to the materials to study and a reputation for producing swordsmen who went on to become household names, it wasn’t hard to see why swordsmen dreamt of having a chance to study there. Sure, there were the likes of Shaolin, Wudang and Luo Sword Manor, all of which were hailed as great schools to learn swordplay, but Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary was considered to be in a different league.
Sword Immortal Grasshouse only opened their doors once every twenty-three years and only accepted one disciple of whom had to pass their stringent tests. Once a disciple was accepted, it was mandatory for them to study there for the next twenty-three years before they were permitted to leave. Needless to say, their disciples were also given first priority for consideration. Thus, they always had one adept who stood above innumerous others. The reigning patriarch, Sword Sheath of the Clear Sky, Ling Hanzhong, is one of the disciples who was once offered the chance to study at Sword Immortal Grasshouse.
Despite it being Li Clan’s dynasty, Bainiao Palace (literally White Bird Palace) wasn’t part of Li Clan’s assets. The reason there was a palace in Hangzhou was because it was the former capital of a previous dynasty and was then renovated to provide luxury accommodation for prominent figures, turning it into a sojourn palace, automatically implying that any guest lodging there was an exalted guest of the imperial court.
Just as they were stringent when it came to selecting someone to study at Sword Immortal Grasshouse, Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary were also strict in every other aspect, demanding seniority be respected and enforced their rules with an iron fist. That, of course, meant that every patriarch had a lot of administrative work given the number of disciples they had – minus Patriarch Ling Hanzhong.
Ling Hanzhong prioritised merits over all else and only trusted family members, while previous patriarchs who were more lenient. While their sect was known for embodying tranquillity, he went to the other extreme, advocating aggression.
Over a hundred elite swordsmen from Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary assembled at Bainiao Palace. If someone not part of them saw the tension keeping them stiff in place, they would think they were preparing to squash Divine Moon Cult’s revival. Yet, the elder in charge was oblivious to the tension, ostensibly, and rhythmically knocked on the table with his finger and eyes shut. Though he was seventy years old, people would feel intimidated if they saw him; they’d even think he was about to blow another turbulent gale into the Central Plain’s martial world. If nothing else, the fact that he personally made a trip to Hangzhou would have the pugilistic world on its toes.
“The one the imperial court dispatched is expectedly an enigma. This old one has not gotten anywhere despite days of discussion, which hints that the imperial court is not publicly approving of our expansion into Hangzhou, but we knew that coming into this, so they don’t need to waste their breath on it. They are focused on the remnants of Demon Sect. They know what we want. They don’t have time to even deploy their forces here to manage Hangzhou. Consequently, speed is of the essence if we are to rule over all of the sects in here in Hangzhou.” Without giving his subordinates time to think, Ling Hanzhong added, “I didn’t summon you here to stand there as mutes but to assassinate.”
Ling Hanzhong’s aggressive expansion tactics would be labelled tyrannical if he wasn’t a flag bearer for the Seven Champion White Princes because it was exactly how the unorthodox sects would conquer and expand.
“When shall we take action, Patriarch?”
“What sort of question is that? Since when do you choose which day you kill someone? Today,” answered Ling Hanzhong, ceasing his tapping and adopting dead-fish eyes. “Nobody will expect us to strike before our discussions with the imperial court are complete. If you wait until tomorrow to strike, the chances of success will have diminished. After you complete your mission, conduct a carpet search here in Hangzhou for three days. You can do as you please with the losers’ wealth and women.”
Ever since Ling Hanzhong rose to power, he allowed his subordinates to indulge after any conquest. As a result, you had swordsmen, who invested so much time in their swordplay that they were deprived of everything else, burning to release pent-up desires and emotions. To top it off, they had their status as one of the Seven Champion White Princes as an impregnable shield. Within a matter of time, they crossed the line further and further, even casting the blame for their misdemeanour on Demon Sect.
Had it not been for the millenniums Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary spent doing right, there would be nothing to cover their abhorrent deeds. If it wasn’t for Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary and Sword Immortal Grasshouse, Ling Hanzhong wouldn’t be hailed as the leader of the Seven Champion White Princes. Without those shields, people would’ve probably invaded them instead of Lawless Cliff. Ximen Buxing embodied justice more than Ling Hanzhong ever did.
“Even if we wish to, there are not many women at the seven sects we are attack-”
“Take the women from the civilian homes. There’s plenty of wealth and beauties to go around. Are you still not satisfied? Didn’t Qingshu find a beauty the other day?”
The swordsmen were green with envy when they listened to the moans when their second young master raped Jiu Shaozhang’s daughter.
“There’s no need to be envious… Do well and you will have your share of joy.”
“Reporting, Patriarch, our elites have all assembled. We will arrive at the foot of Mount Chenghuang around one to three in the afternoon today. We will then spit up into teams to overthrow Hangzhou’s seven most influential factions. We are confident we will wrap up the fighting within ten hours.”
Ling Hanzhong tapped on the table in excitement. Once Hangzhou was in his hands, he planned to instate Ling Qingshu as the ruler of Hangzhou, creating a second base for their clan.
“Patriarch, your subject brings news of Young Master.”
The subject stammered his way through his report on Ling Qingshu being reported.
“How impudent of Master Ming! Where is Qingshu now?”
“Your subject believes he has been taken to a magistrate office.”
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s patriarch post would be passed on to grandsons or even outsiders but never to their female descendants. People futilely tried to break the rule before, of course. Ling Hanzhong was the textbook example of a man who made arbitrary decisions, but not even his sons were allowed to succeed him because he took the seat by force, and that was also how he earned the right to enter Sword Immortal Grasshouse.
Ever since Ling Hanzhong surpassed his uncle’s son – his uncle also being his shifu and his son being Ling Hanzhong’s senior – and seized power, his son’s fate was set in stone. Ling Hanzhong could never forget the day he was crowned as he loved the hatred written all over his senior, Wind Passing Dragon Hall.
Wind Passing Dragon Hall, Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s best swordsman in their era, isolated himself from others and became a man of few words, marrying himself to swordplay for the rest of his life after that day.
When Ling Yaoshi, eldest son of Wind Passing Dragon Hall, was born, the latter beamed. In contrast, Ling Hanzhong perceived that to be an avenger’s smile, a smile that threatened to remove him from power.
Ling Hanzhong spoilt his two sons in any way possible unlike his daughter, doting on his youngest son the most until the latter was rotten to the core. A man who downplayed morals as burdens wasn’t going to expect his son to abide by any of them. As long as his youngest son excelled as a swordsman, Ling Hanzhong left his son to his own devices.
The only reason Lin Hanzhong kept his daughter around was because the beautiful maiden could be useful in certain situations. Originally, he planned to marry her off to Emperor Yuansheng, ensuring his people were always in the monarch’s arms. Alas, Ming Huayu came out from left field and seduced his daughter. By the time Ling Hanzhong hunted Ming Huayu down, his daughter was already pregnant. Needless to say, he harboured extreme animosity to Ming Huayu ever since then.
“Please do not worry, Patriarch. Young Master has identified himself, so they will not dare to harm him.”
“Night Fortress… Night Fortress… Their leader is that maniac’s disciple, so I wouldn’t be so sure he’s any more normal than his mentor.”
“Send someone! If they dare to lay a finger on my son, I’ll chop him limb from limb!”
Wulao Peaks (literally translated as Five Masters) are five peaks often described with quite a bit of variance from person to person. The legend goes that Li Bai, arguably the most famous poet back in ancient China and the poet referenced numerous time through the series, used to live in seclusion behind it, citing the poetic romanticism of the area as proof of him residing there.