Different Year, Same Thing (Part 16)
If Ling Hanzhong never knew what a nightmare was, he learnt what it was that day, and it would be one imprinted in his memories for the rest of his life. Watching Ming Feizhen march forward, he cried, “K-kill him!”
Because silence replied to him, Ling Hanzhong righteously shouted, “Be my scapegoat,” as, “I said, kill him! Have you forgotten who I am?! Are you disobeying me?!”
A swordsman advanced on Ming Feizhen, but nobody paid attention to who it was for the order didn’t matter. The rest of the swordsmen sallied forth; however, they didn’t fight to protect Ling Hanzhong even though it was their duty.
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s swordsmen could accept their patriarch being evil, underhanded and unskilled, but they couldn’t accept an irresponsible man as their leader. From the moment Ling Hanzhong cowered before Ming Feizhen, they no longer accepted him as their leader.
“Are you all crazy?! Why are you being so stupid?! What makes you think you could match him one on one when he defeated even Cong’er?! Don’t challenge him one at a time! Use your numbers, and hack him to pieces!”
Knowing how ruthless and unscrupulous Ling Hanzhong could be, it shouldn’t be any surprise that it eluded him as to why his men would challenge Ming Feizhen one on one when they’d clearly lose.
“You idiots, I said to h-”
“Shut up,” snapped a man behind Ling Hanzhong, eyes shining as he stared at Ming Feizhen.
“Y-you finally spoke?” stuttered Ling Hanzhong, unable to recall the man ever mentioned a word to him.
“You will never understand.”
Ling Hanzhong was never a swordsman, and he never excelled with a sword. His moniker Sword Scabbard Clear Sky didn’t refer to his swordplay but his ruthless tactics. He never spared a thought for developing his skills with a sword for he viewed it as just another tool in the toolbox. If poison could get the job done, he wouldn’t hesitate to use poison. The only reason he learnt swordplay was to harvest fame, something he decided on as a young teenager.
Ling Hanzhong couldn’t fathom the emotions of training until one was swimming in their sweat, sore, desire for progress and seeing progress. While his men genuinely had an interest in researching different styles and brainstorming ways to counter different techniques, he couldn’t care less. He, as a matter of fact, perceived them to be morons for choosing to dress and dine modestly, preferring to live out of the limelight to have more time for self-development.
To his credit, Ling Hanzhong was amazing at what he did. Once he was instated as the primary administrator of Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary, he started implementing changes and devoting his every fibre to building the sect. Instead of training, he spent all of his energy on packaging their swordsmen to market them and eventually conquer Changzhou. Those were things they didn’t enjoy, but he gaily did it all. As everyone knew, he never desired to train at Sword Immortal Grasshouse for a second unlike everyone else.
After decades at the helm, “You will never understand” plunged Ling Hanzhong back into the abyss of confusion he thought he had covered. He changed a lot of things to Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary, but the people that made up Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary seemingly hadn’t changed. It was such a vexing emotion that he hated it more than the dents Ming Feizhen put in his plans. What he failed to ever realise was that they weren’t offering their lives to him or some grandeur future for Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary. They believed they were Mount Lu Sword Sword Sanctuary. Only then did he notice that there wasn’t a vestige of his lifetime’s investment remaining.
Why are these men who can’t control their rods the moment they see money or women trying to be heroes against an insurmountable wall and not backing down?
Ling Hanzhong hurtled, not even bothering to pick up his sword, Five Elders, that fell from his belt. The man who was behind picked up “Five Elders” and held it as a treasure, sighing out of pity, though it would never be known if it was pity for the sword or Ling Hanzhong.
As Ling Hanzhong showed his clean heels with his qinggong, he could hear the nightmarish “clang” over and over that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Every time he heard the sound reverberating in his mind, he’d wish he was younger so that he could run faster.
In the end, Ling Hanzhong gave in to his urge to look back. As irony would have it, he couldn’t help feeling his swordsmen were true heroes as they bled trying to fight an enemy they didn’t have a diminutive chance of prevailing against. He was so astonished at the sight of Ming Feizhen marching forward without any pause, taking out one swordsman after another that he lost awareness of what he was doing.
Maybe… Maybe this could’ve been avoided. If I didn’t loosen my reins on them too much… If I didn’t change Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary… Maybe we wouldn’t have lost… No, no! It’s not my fault!
The one to snap Ling Hanzhong out of his daze would be the demon he never wanted anywhere near him.
“It’s your turn now.”
“Y-your shifu is m-”
“Oh yeah, my shiniang did mention you,” interjected Ming Feizhen, flashing a corner of his pearly whites. “She said to do her part and beat you up if I ever met you.”
“Three days ago, a defenceless and hapless man shrilled the same way, but he roared with out of anger and determination. That is a roar we ought to respect. Just one left,” verbalised Ming Feizhen, casting his eyes over to the woods.
The one man still standing was older than Ling Hanzong. Howbeit, calling him an elder would be rude. To speak more accurately, one should call him a man who had aged. He still had his chest out and head high.
“You’re the only one from Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary who can last more than one strike from me.”
“It is an honour to hear you praise me.”
Seeing the man draw “Five Elders” from its sheath, Ming Feizhen opined, “I’ve always wanted to see Sword Immortal Grasshouse’s touted swordplay.”
“Is that a sabre?”
“What makes you say so? Isn’t it a piece of firewood?”
“A sabre will always be a sabre. This one does not know the reason the craftsman decided to craft the sabre in that odd shape. In saying that, the weapon he desired to forge is plain to see. This one has familiarised himself with countless weapons over his lifetime and has seen four of the seven swords wielded in the quest to carve this dynasty, but that is a first. If this one was to hazard a humble guess… it is not intended to be a bladed weapon.”
“It’s just a piece of spare iron that I’ve decided to swing around.”
“Yet you chose it. You are the only one who can wield that sabre.”
Ming Feizhen’s eyes sparkled as though he finally found someone he could feel motivated to fight: “They say Ling Fengxing is Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s best swordsman, a swordsman who dedicated his entire life to honing his swordplay. It appears they should have also noted your knowledge of weapons.”
“One’s weapon is part of them. It is my greatest pleasure to cross blades with you.”
Ling Fengxing coated “Five Elders” in golden energy.
“I hope I will not let you down!”
Nobody knew the result of the duel, but they claimed it was an epic fight that ended with a “clang”.
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s invasion of Hangzhou was declared a failure after Chinese Valentine’s Day during Emperor Yuansheng’s twenty-fifth year reigning. Though over a hundred swordsmen were sorely defeated, no lives were lost. Rumour on the streets that it was thanks to their harsh training that none of the swordsmen lost their lives…
Nobody knew what the injury or death toll for Hangzhou’s martial world was. As for Night Fortress, they were deemed the immovable mountain, the strongest sect in Hangzhou, and granted ultimate authority over Hangzhou’s martial world.
Ostensibly, Ling Hanzhong’s injuries sustained during his fight with Ximen Chuixue plagued him again during his campaign, forcing him to retreat from the frontlines, hence the failure. The imperial court found the story convincing. That being said, there were some other absurd rumours going around, proclaiming Ling Hanzhong had a severe case of diarrhoea that was diagnosed to last half a year, forcing them to call off their campaign.
Ling Qingshu was declared missing after the fight, breaking Ling Hanzhong’s heart. The elder decided to seclude himself at Five Elders Peak and leave Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary in the hands of his eldest son, Ling Yaoshi, henceforward.
Ling Yaoshi was a totally different man from his father. Upon rising to patriarch status, Ling Yaoshi enforced a rule that stipulated all of their disciples had to undergo a decade of serious training and pass seven tests if they wanted to descend the mountain. Surprisingly, despite him being the strictest patriarch in their history, no disciple took issue with it.
Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary was almost inactive in the pugilistic world during Ling Yaoshi’s reign. Thus, Ling Hanzhong’s retirement saw the curtain close on Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s era of glory.