After eight years at the bottom of the valley, the ninth lightest-wind day finally came. Sima Huai roasted half of the ginseng and assortment of herbs he collected from the slits in the cliff face for a big meal, then slept for two days. He ate the remaining half of his stash when he woke up on the third day and then started ascending the cliff in the middle of the night.
Sima Huai had a strong suspicion Ming Huayu would set a trap for him on the day the wind was most merciful, which was why he chose to postponed his ascent for two days. Would he still get caught in a trap if he deferred his climb for two days? Hell yes. That said, the consequences wouldn’t be so severe.
Twelve hours later, Sima Huai finally arrived at Mount Daluo, and he would never forget the scene he beheld that day. Having spent eight years keeping ravaging winds company, he forgot that sun rays and winds could be so welcoming, especially with the fragrance of flowers acting as their companion. He couldn’t really see the scenery because of the fog in his eyes, but he was ready to kiss the peak.
“Wait… Why can’t I open my eyes?!”
Owing to the eight years spent in darkness, Sima Huai’s vision had deteriorated drastically. It didn’t occur to him when he was climbing as it took all his focus; however, once his tension had evaporated, he discovered everything appeared as a blur.
“Umm… Excuse me…”
Sima Huai used his hands as binoculars and squinted. The teenager chained to the ground should’ve been in pain, yet he merely looked uncomfortable in his position.
“I got caught in this trap. Could you please give me a hand?”
Sima Huai’s eyes scoured the eighteen chains and nodded. “I knew my wretched shifu would try and catch me off guard. Had I been the one to come here first, I’d be the one down there. Should I be glad an idiot suffered for me?” Sima Huai gradually made out the teenager’s facial features. “Aren’t you Fourth?”
Tianfeng Xuanyuan wriggled his head up: “Third Brother?”
“It is you, Fourth!”
“Yeah, it’s me!”
Sima Huai shed tears of joy, having seen the kid grown into a teenager.
“Where have you been all these years, Third Brother?!”
“Don’t remind me. I’ve been to hell.”
Tianfeng Xuanyuan wailed: “Third Brother, did some villain bully you? I’ll cave his head in!”
“Thanks, bro. He’s a villain, yes, but you won’t dare to hit him.”
“Besides Shifu, Shinian, Grandmaster and First Brother, I’ll smash any punk!”
“Just suck it up, then.” Because Sima Huai kept wiping his eyes, Tianfeng Xuanyuan, after he was done crying, expressed, “Don’t cry, Third Brother! Be strong!”
“Don’t worry. I’m not crying!”
“Why are you wiping your eyes, then?”
“The sun stings.”
“Oh, I see… Third Brother!”
“Help me out!”
“I just climbed up the mountain. I’m starving and thirsty. Conversely, you’re perfectly fine. Should I get to eat and drink first before I rescue you?”
“Th-that’s how it works?”
“You’re doing fine, so tell me what happened these last few years while I eat.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll keep you company while you eat.”
For the next hour, the two cheerfully chatted away. Before they were separated, they were the closest brothers compared to their fellow disciples because Tianfeng Xuanyuan relied on Sima Huai the most. Though they had been apart for eight years, time didn’t put a dent in their relationship.
Done eating, Sima Huai declared, “I’ll get you out now.”
Tianfeng Xuanyuan saw one swing of Sima Huai’s arm, and the forearm-sized chains dropped right away. “Third Brother, that was wicked! What skill is that?! Teach me!”
“It’s nothing special. More speed equates to more force produced. On the other hand…” Sima Huai picked up one iron link with a six centimetre spike coming out of it, “did our wretch-, did Shifu tell you to do anything special?”
Tianfeng Xuanyuan rose to his feet, then stretched his limbs: “Nothing, really… Our seniors have been busy, so he told me to go spar with our uncles at the small house every day. The moment I step inside, they smash, slash and stab me with various weapons. They outnumber me, so I pretty much just take beatings, hahaha.”
Sima Huai shivered. “Second Brother was forced to go into the forbidden forest… Is he still alive?”
“Yeah, he is. He returned three years ago. Shifu has always been praising him; he even promised to crown him heir apparent if he could beat one of First Brother’s hands. Second Brother is awesome. Well, not awesome enough to even throw a strike before being dropped against First Brother. Still…”
“… It’s his calamity. What about Sixth?”
“Sixth? A few years ago, he said, since the moon is in the sky, it’s impossible to catch it.”
“Sounds like he’s finally grown up.”
“He says the only solution to the problem is to climb onto the moon, so he’s been training high jumping since.”
“… And Shifu let him try?”
“No, Shifu said he’s an idiot and sent him to Vast Sea Submerged Pearl Hall to train. Grandmaster and our uncles have been coaching him. I heard it was too confusing for him, though, so he’s busy w-”
“Wait. Who’s there?”
Next to the eighteen year old clad in white attire and gifted with a handsome face that appeared to never have greeted the sunlight was a thirteen year old girl. The young man pointed at Sima Huai and questioned, “Who are you? Who have you come to Mount Daluo?”
The young girl dimpled: “Yeah, and why are you kidnapping my fourth brother? You think it’s acceptable to trick him just because he doesn’t have a good head?”
Sima Huai wasn’t wearing the same clothes he wore when he went to the valley eight years ago, and he certainly didn’t look the same. In those eight years, Ming Huayu sent him necessary ingredients to cook and clothes on festivals and shared a meal with his disciple on the latter’s birthdays. As the last time Sima Huai received a new set of clothes was half a year ago, his current clothes were visibly too small for him.
“Our patriarch hates nothing more than antagonist characters disrespecting Mount Daluo’s rules. We are all part of the martial arts community; we can settle any issues with words. If you do not explain why you have trespassed, this one shall let his senior out as an expression of sincerity.”
“Sounds like Grand Master really has taken him under his wing,” Sima Huai thought.
The young girl chortled: “When he grabbed Fourth Brother’s shoulder, he pressed into accupoints and had his feet in a not nail, not eight stance. Evidently, he was prepared to attack or retreat. I doubt he’ll let Fourth Brother go.”
”That can be easily solved.”
The young man extended an open hand as he bound toward Sima Huai, dragging the latter toward him. Despite his speed, the young man only caught thin air because Sima Huai was already adjacent to him. Although Sima Huai had all the time in the world to stab his opponent’s accupoints, his opponent drew a sword on him, impelling him to retract his arm and jump back. The exposure to the fast winds paid off. When the swordsman saw Sima Huai again, the latter was yawning in the distance.
“Sixth, why is your hair white?”
There was only one of them who could be called a pretty boy, and his youth still shone. Even his speech and swordplay demonstrated he inherited his teacher’s styles. Thing was, he had the hair of an old man. From head to toe, he resembled the immortals portrayed in fantasy stories.
Tianfeng Xuanyuan whispered, “I didn’t get to finish saying was that Shifu had Sixth Brother learn Grandmaster’s swordplay. Sixth Brother found it so hard that his hair turned all white.”
Did Wretched Shifu put each and every one of us through hell?
Lian Zhuiyue ran his eyes over his white hair and remarked, “This is like… First Brother.”
“Don’t mention him,” grumbled the young girl. “He promised to play with me, but he only spends time with our uncles and grandmaster. I don’t want to hear any mention of him. If anyone does, I’ll tell Dad to punish them.”
Lian Zhuiyue: “Fifth Sister, step back. He is dangerous.”
“Relax. He’s one of us.” The young girl offered Sima Huai a smile. “You’re Third Brother, aren’t you?”
“Dad said an old friend would be coming today, so we were told to come meet them. We were told to call our visitor Third Brother if he squints. It’s you, isn’t it?”
There’s only one man I can think of who’d predict my return today.
“You are… Xia’er? Why’d you tell Sixth Brother to fight me if you knew it’s me?”
Xia’er clasped her head and cast her gaze on the horizon: “I wasn’t sure if it was you. We’d be in danger if you’re an imposter. Dad told me Third Brother is extremely skilled. Unless we test you, how would we know it’s you?”
Only Fouth would believe a word you say.
“Who else besides Xia’er would get in First Brother’s neck?”
A warrior stepped out from behind thickets and stretched out with the smile of a lazy man. Sima Huai didn’t need an introduction to identify the manly individual. “Second Brother?”
“Would you believe me if I told you otherwise? Third, we’ve been waiting for you to come back.” Hong Jiu put Sima Huai in a tight headlock. “Everyone is finally home.”
Lian Zhuiyue: I’m supposed to greet Third Brother, but I just spoke rudely to him, so I’m supposed to apologise, yet we’re supposed to be celebrating his return…
Xia’er, reading Lian Zhuiyue like an open book, thumped his shoulder: “Third Brother, I’m Xia’er. You probably recognised me from the beginning. Please take care of me from now. Mother will be hosting your return party tonight. Let’s drink until we pass out.”
Hong Jiu opined, “Don’t go along with her. Once she’s had too much to drink, she goes around picking fights.”
“Where is First Brother?”
Xia’er crossed her arms: “Hmph!”
Hong Jiu helplessly elevated his shoulders: “Not on the mountain.”
“He’s already graduated?” Sima Huai inquired in surprise.
Well, I guess it makes sense for First Brother to complete Shifu’s test first given his abilities.
Hong Jiu shook his head: “No, he goes out every year and comes back occasionally. I requested permission for us to leave, but Shifu refuses to let us venture out until we’re a tenth as good as First Brother. I got so ticked off I challenged First Brother with the condition that he can only use 10% of his full power.”
“And you won?”
“No. I still don’t know how I was dropped.”
“Let’s not talk about gloomy topics, shall we? You’re the star today. Now that you’ve also graduated, what are your hopes for the future?”
“Haven’t thought about it. Have you also graduated, Second Brother?”
“Naturally. I’ve been accumulating experience in the real world for a while. I’m now a household name in the pugilistic world. How about I point you in the right direction?”
“My ears are yours.”
Hong Jiu checked left and right to ensure nobody was within earshot, then whispered, “There’s a brothel in Yanjing City that needs an accountant. You used to handle the ledger, yeah? Since we’re brothers, I’ll only ask for 30% of your earnings to hook you up. How about it?”
“… If I could beat you, you’d already be cold in the ground.”
That was the touching (hilarious) recount Ming Feizhen shared with Shen Yiren. While she rolled around laughing, she hammered at Ming Feizhen, disputing its authenticity despite him swearing on his life the story he heard from his brothers was true. She never imagined the knowledge would come in handy.
Shen Yiren analysed the two brothers based on their behaviours and the information in Ming Feizhen’s story. She would’ve been a lot quicker if she didn’t stop to laugh every time she recalled their antics.
“We are not without leads,” Emperor Yuansheng pointed out all of a sudden. “Before Constable Ming departed,” he took out a thin handbook and waved it around smugly as his vassals looked on in bewilderment, “he wrote down his advice for tackling situations we might found ourselves in and even informed us about his juniors. While I have yet to read it, we will find a way of dealing with them if we follow his advice and leads.”
Shen Yiren bit down on her lip. The memories Ming Feizhen shared with her were stepping stones to bring them closer together. Therefore, learning that they weren’t a secret between them but public intelligence rubbed her the wrong way – notwithstanding being cognisant of the fact that Emperor Yuansheng’s wellbeing was at stake. If there was a comparison, it would be the same as a child feeling grumpy over having her toy taken from her. The toy loses its worth; the shared memory is no longer funny.
“The solution is simple now that we know they’re Mount Daluo’s disciples. Let us break down their objective to devise a strategy.” Ignorant to Shen Yiren’s feelings, Emperor Yuansheng turned to Sima Huai’s profile page and read aloud, “Sima Huai: hehe, name, Sima Huai. Not a bad name. Twenty-six year old citizen of Beiping. Tsk, tsk, very detailed.” He turned the page and continued, “End.”
Emperor Yuansheng: “Ming Feizhen, ..l.. ..l..”
Shen Yiren: 🙂