A Man Who Sucks at Checkers (Part 2)
A-Lan, who needed to mediate between Mountain Monster and me ever since Mountain Monster woke up, shook her head to refocus on the still lake around us, uneasy about the smell of death saturating the atmosphere.
“I believe we’ve arrived,” A-Lan opined. “This is Lotus Root Ground. Based on what I know, this is supposed to be a physical manifestation of Luo Clan’s Repository Swordplay. The lotus leaves, fog, shadows of boats, sun and moon create a maze capable of keeping an army out. They call it the insurmountable formation. We’ll never be able to leave unless we know how to solve the formation.”
I wagged my hand, saying, “Being able to stop an army doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be able to stop mosquitoes, flies or birds. The larger something is, the more obvious its flaw. Even if a net can trap a fish weighing a tonne, can it also catch tiny fish? Haven’t you heard of the saying, fetching water with an iron net is a pointless endeavour?”
“Look, I may be a foreigner, but I’m not ignorant. I know the correct saying is, ‘Fetching water with a basket is a pointless endeavour.’”
Can someone explain to me how all the girls in Evil Spirits have glib tongues?!
“I’ve researched Lotus Root Ground and know some of their chinks.” Noticing Mountain Monster and I anticipating more, River Monster, with a flush face, carried on, “I-I never trusted Luo Sword Manor, so I prepared safety measures.”
Me: “Tsk, tsk, women.”
Mountain Monster: “A… A… A scorned woman is the most fearsome.”
“You two are so annoying! Shut up if you’re injured! Ahem, I only know about the first two gates, and there’s no guarantee my knowledge will be helpful. The Four Seasons Sword Formation is one of the toughest sections to cross. I’m hoping to figure out the architecture of the formation based on the third so that we can get through.” Since I didn’t comment in any capacity, A-Lan asked, “Master Ming, I suppose someone of your calibre would not care for my drivel?”
A-Lan was still angry about me pretending to be Zhong Ning – courtesy of Mountain Monster throwing a fit after she came to. Therefore, I pretended to be tuning in to appease A-Lan.
“Abels got stuck at the fourth gate. You may be skilled, but there’s no guarantee you can surpass his record, let alone an army. As long as you are willing to help study the formation, though, we will have hope.”
“Right, go ahead,” I responded.
A-Lan smiled: “You will be interested in solving the mystery because it is similar to checkers.”
Oh? Now you speaking my language.
A-Lan explained what she meant to me until I interrupted her, asking, “I distinctly smell pear flowers?”
“The smell of spring. It means Four Seasons Sword Formation has been activated. How did you row us into the first gate?”
“We’re surrounded by water. How am I supposed to tell where we are or going? You want to dive down to check for us?”
White flower petals rained onto the now rosy water upon entering the fourth gate as though we rowed into another dimension. There were fourteen swordsmen on each of the twenty-seven small boats arranged in a specific formation up ahead. It wasn’t a puzzle this time; we were going to have to fight our way through.
“They will come for us once they’re done reciting their rites. Be careful,” cautioned A-Lan.
Hmm, if the formation is based off the four seasons, I guess it means they’ll be repeating the four seasons just like they’re repeated year after year. Every move is about imposing their will so that their target moves according to their desire, so plenty have died. Since Abels experimented himself to find out its chink, he should be on the money.
Three hundred and seventy-eight swordsmen and twenty-seven boats certainly would give people a hard time to deal with simultaneously. I guess this is where the feints in checkers come into play, luring each boat in one by one instead of tackling them all at once.
I got up to get ready: “I’m going to get started.”
“Remember, use feints,” reminded A-Lan.
“Feints! I know! Just shut up if you’re injured!”
Standing at the bow, I visualised my past checkers games and then saw nothing but a checkers board upon opening my eyes.
A man broke off from the group and aimed his sword at me: “In Chun City, flowers sc-”
“Always capture the King first!” I vaulted over to the boat in front.
“What did you remember?! Ah!” A-Lan shrilled.
I grabbed the swordsman and hoisted him by the head off one hand.
“What are you doing? Have you forgotten the key?” yelled A-Lan.
Keeping the momentum going, I leapt over their boat with the swordsman in tow. I eyed a boat and then chucked the swordsman at it sending him through the boat and into a dozen of those on board. The boat designed with speed as its priority quickly sunk even though the hole wasn’t that big.
I twisted my body to descend, catapulting two swordsmen who happened to be on the way, sinking another two boats. I subsequently captured another swordsman and choke slammed him onto the deck of the boat I was on. Next, I launched myself to the next boat, abusing my strength to perform sloppy wrestling moves and shot put them.
Finally, I returned to our boat and wiped my sweat: “Checkers really is a profound game. Feints are a complex topic.”
A-Lan’s face: draw a dot between two zeroes.