Return of the Renegade
“Ever since Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary was crushed five years ago in Hangzhou, they kept to themselves and remained untouched until Jin Wangsun decided he was above everybody. Gold and Silver Sect had to withdraw their forces not long after gaining momentum just as what happened with Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary back then, and Master Ming is still credited with Jin Wangsun’s mysterious disappearance.
“Had it not been for Qilin Guards, the imperial court’s representative, subduing Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary after Night Fortress crushed them overnight, Night Fortress would’ve been the head of South Ember Five Palaces instead of Qilin Guards.
“Since Patriarch Ling Hanzhong sequestered, renowned steward, Ling Yaoshi, also Ling Hanzhong’s son, handled everything in his father’s stead. Ling Yaoshi kept a tight leash on his people unlike his father, modifying their clan rules. Most notably, he raised the bar for leaving their sect grounds unbelievably high, thereby reducing their activity in the pugilistic world.
“Jiangnan’s martial world looked forward to feasting their eyes on Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary’s sword prowess again after many years at the tournament.” – Black and White Reflection, Second Press Release, Yuansheng’s 31st year.
“Young Master Dugu wins!” announced Jin Caitan, descending into the ring to get in between the two competitors before more damage could be done.
Though the two competitors wobbled, both were glad Jin Caitan stepped in. Contrarily, the audience protested Jin Caitan stepping in just when the fight was just getting exciting – their perspective.
“What sort of judging is that?”
Jin Caitan explained, “Both of them are injured as much as the other. Young Master Kuang took a heavy blow. Young Master Dugu is running on fumes. If they continue, even if one of them manages to kill the other, neither will be able to continue to the next round. How can this one let them die for nothing if it is right in front of him? Does that sound right to any of you?”
“Okay, explain how you declared him the winner? Young Master Kuang’s swordplay is spectacular. Had Dugu what’s-his-face not cheated, Young Master Kuang would still be fine. If neither of them can continue, why isn’t Young Master Kuang the winner?”
It’s not uncommon for people to think the competitor spending more time on the offence is a winner of a fight, disregarding the sound plays from the other corner.
“Please hear this one out!” Jin Caitian inhaled and belted, inducing brief headaches in some people. “Even this one can only say both of them are experts in their fields, making it impossible to say who beats who.”
“Exactly, so why not declare it a draw?”
“That would have been this one’s decision if Young Master Dugu did not enter the ring with existing injuries.” Jin Caitan gave politely smiling Dugu a nod of respect. “Young Master Dugu was hurt quite bad prior to this match. Surely you could tell with your experience. He entered this match ready to die. Regardless of what he was met with, he reserved enough energy so that he could turn the tables in one stroke. He even took a strike from someone of Young Master Kuang’s calibre to create an opportunity for himself. Hence, he demonstrated strategic thinking and courage. If the fight were to continue, he would have searched for an answer to everything offered and won. Since this one is here, that will not be necessary.”
Ling Ruoyun had done his best from a young age, travelling and learning in hopes of filling the shoes he would eventually have to fill. It still hadn’t occurred to him how much of his defeat was the product of him underestimating his opponent.
“C-, Brother Kuang, I shall help you,” Young Master Ling voiced.
“Sit down, Ling Mabi,” Long Zaitian derided. “If you get in the ring, I’ll whoop you back out!”
Ling Mabi: “You think you can handle my Flying Thrust Style?”
“Can you even catch me?!”
“Stop…” Ling Ruoyun pushed himself to his feet slowly and weakly, yet commandingly, asserted, “Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary… yields. We pull out.”
“Wait. W-we do not need to fear them. Worry not. That cat is no match for m-”
“Listen to me…”
Only Ling Ruoyun knew what he himself was thinking. His cousin’s swordplay wasn’t up to scratch yet. He couldn’t see himself beating Huan Laixing – not now that he was injured, at least. Prior to scrapping with Dugu, Ling Ruoyun was eager to test his four self-invented styles against Tai Chi, but one would have to be a ninny to not keep strength in reserve given where they were and who the people around were. It was better to take the loss than lose everyone.
Ling Ruoyun could no longer support himself once he saluted Jin Caitan and Dugu, requiring his cousin to help him. On the other hand, Dugu was able to walk over and expressed, “Brother K-, Ling, thank you for sparing my life.”
Ling Ruoyun barely managed to lift the corners of his lips: “Let us spar… again at another time.”
At this point, smiling subtly was the best Dugu could do.
Ling Mabi handed over their eight remaining weapons whilst grumbling to himself.
Xiao Huangquan handed over their eight weapons without being asked: “Hahaha, you can bite each other all you like, but spare this old man. We don’t have enough people, so we’ll pass.”
“Oof, that was dangerous.” A-Ji held out two bits of tablecloth to Emperor Yuansheng. “Look at your subordinate. Why so serious? I just wanted to let him see his master, yet he flicked the sword qi at me. Thankfully, I have quick reactions.”
When he saw Emperor Yuansheng’s predicament, Dugu redirected Ling Ruoyun’s sword qi at A-Ji’s face, resulting in the tablecloth splitting in two.
“Stop celebrating. Your Majesty, you want to know who else we have on our side?”
Following behind Feng Jian on the way down was another swordsman.
“Long-time no see, Your Majesty.”
“Tang Ye!” exclaimed Emperor Yuansheng, recognising the voice. The Flame Emperor strapped to Tang Ye’s belt caught Emperor Yuansheng’s attention when the former was finally in sight. “You…”
Tang Ye made no attempt to explain.
“And there you have it.” A-Ji draped on a cloak a size too big for him. “The three of us will be back in a jiffy. In the meantime, enjoy the show” – A-Ji’s white pearls suddenly seemed as if they were oozing darkness from them – “Your Majesty.”