Where Can One Go on these Relaxing Mountains?
While the green canopies and sun-dappled path may be medicinal in cooler temperatures, it wasn’t the case in Nanjiang’s spring season. Emperor Yuansheng and company changed into lighter clothing due to the sunshine in their bones, yet their sweat brought deeper hues to their clothing. If it weren’t for fear of snakes and the like lying in ambush, they would’ve preferred to let their skin have direct contact with nature.
Ming Feizhen asked that Dugu lead Emperor’s Entourage, Long Zaitian lead Qilin Guards, Abels lead Beijiang’s members, Beussent lead Heisina Tribe and Luo Siming lead Luo Sword Manor’s group. As for Su Xiao, Luo Mingzhu, Ye Luo and a number of others, they were to stay put at Xiuyu. One thousand members from Emperor’s Entourage and Qilin Guards were to stay at Baimu.
To ensure Emperor Yuansheng’s safety, ten elites were chosen from each respective group to act as his bodyguards. Three-man cells were subsequently created to act as forty to fifty merchant groups, ensuring he was safe from attacks from any direction. Needless to say, all of them had their eyes and ears working at full capacity to make sure no harm befell him – “all” not accounting for the several by his side.
Given Emperor Yuansheng’s internal strength, it was understandable for him to be lax on horseback, chatting away with the two beside him. After all, as long as he wasn’t sick or injured, the weather impacted him very little.
“They say there are no forests in Beijiang and no mountains in Nanjiang. Who would have thought they could be so wrong? Brother Bodhi, look how perilous it is to traverse the mountains here. Reading is truly not the same as seeing.”
Practically all of the tall mountains of Xiacang Anxi were located in Wanyu.
If Morcher wasn’t counted, Wanyu and Baimu interacted the most with the Central Plain, which was the reason they traded the most goods from the Central Plain and had been influenced the most. Accordingly, the group didn’t encounter a language barrier when travelling in Wanyu. As for directions, Beussent was a trusty navigator.
Bodhi smiled: “Not only are they wrong about Nanjiang but also Beijiang. Despite being famous for its deserts, Tiezhen is home to plenty of forests.”
Long Zaitian: “Haha, Hero Li, these mountains are as high as your character. The water is as clear as your mind. There as many green trees as y-”
“As your head! Shut up!” Emperor Yuansheng smacked Long Zaitian over the head.
Save for the one day of delay to enter Wanyu’s borders, the group had travelled for days on end already and still had more than ten days to go. They couldn’t be hasty, however, for they were in unfamiliar territory.
Emperor Yuansheng checked the time via the sky and then instructed, “Let us set up camp here for tonight. We will resume tomorrow morning.”
Just as on previous days, Beijiang and Heisina groups took care of cooking and so forth, while Emperor’s Entourage and Qilin Guards continued their guard duty. The Central Plain’s elites perceived Evil Spirits and Heisina Tribe to be motley crews since one was a group of bandits, while the other was a hilly billy tribe, which was why Emperor’s Entourage and Qilin Guards didn’t trust the two groups with protecting Emperor Yuansheng. As for cooking, setting up tents and the sort, Qilin Guards and Emperor’s Entourage wouldn’t deign to perform such “menial” tasks.
Abels, whilst keeping up a business smile, cussed under his breath as he watched his subordinates chop firewood. “I shall watch the rear to be safe. I shall entrust this position to you gentlemen,” he said prior to joining his friends.
Emperor Yuansheng was aware Abels cherished his subordinates as brothers and wasn’t happy to see the way they were being treated. Emperor Yuansheng just didn’t know how to improve the estrangement.
Often, thoughts slow down once the sky is amber. Hence, Emperor Yuansheng raised his vigilance in case anyone wanted to capitalise on that habit, especially considering they no longer had a big security detail watching over them from the shadows.
“Hero Li.” Tie Hanyi left his merchant group to rush over. “We have spotted traces of around one to two hundred bandits up ahead. They are only armed with wooden cudgels, rods and the sort. They must be local residents. Judging from the fact that they are not leaving their place, they must be waiting for nightfall to strike.”
“What’s the response?”
“I have sent orders to have a defence system exercised. The two teams ahead are elites, so they should not shy away from bandits. Having said that, we may need to strike them from the side owing to their numbers. That is why I have come to report.”
“Hmm… Okay, have everyone prepare for battle.”
Tie Hanyi and Luo Siming took the left wing. Beussent and Mountain Monster led the right wing. Abels was charged with bringing up the rear. Everyone else was to stay in the centre and react based on the circumstances.
Once the dark walked in, the whistle to commence battle was blown. Surprisingly, the indigenous locals were able to last quite a while. Tie Hanyi’s concern eventually proved to be warranted when over a hundred more people arrived as reinforcements, outnumbering Emperor Yuansheng’s group of thirty-odd people.
“Hah, I heard Nanjiang’s mounted bandits had banded together to commit crimes. They might have led these locals astray, or they may even be an outpost unit. They must be sick of living if they want to rob me. Gear, weapon and boots.”
Lyu Yaoqin fetched Emperor Yuansheng’s battle robe, broadsword and boots from his tent and helped him get dressed.
Once prepared, Emperor Yuansheng, weapon drawn, casually rode forward alone. “Who wishes to die first?”
The indigenous folks didn’t halt their advance – probably due to the language barrier.
Dugu voiced, “Hero Li, are you done playing? If you are, let us take over.”
“Tch!” Emperor Yuansheng dismounted.
Dugu acted as Emperor Yuansheng’s personal bodyguard. Meanwhile, Long Zaitian and Mount Daluo’s disciples acted as the first line of defence.
The closer the group encroached, the more Long Zaitian’s muscles contracted. Whether it was the group’s heavy and steady footsteps, their dilated pupils or pace, the group showed signs of a highly-trained group.
Sima Huai folded his arms: “All of them are decent fighters. Some should be considered advanced.”
Long Zaitian: “You can see them, Four Eyes?”
“No, but I can hear them.”
The group suddenly accelerated, catching the first line of defence by surprise. Long Zaitian’s advance was cut short when a lanky, tall woman thrust her palm at him, forcing him back three steps in a strength contest.
“You’re actually right!” Long Zaitian said to Sima Huai.
Lian Zhuiyue almost defeated a burly boxer on several occasions using his speed, but his opponent seemingly predicted what his intent was to evade.
Other members of Emperor Yuansheng’s group were trapped in three-on-one or four-on-one matches, throwing any semblance of a formation out the window.
Sima Huai, frustrated, yelled as he jumped over to Tianfeng Xuanyuan and uncorked a palm. Tianfeng Xuanyuan retaliated with his own palm strike. With each trade, the two sped up further and further.
“You one, me one. Tiger eats the hen. You two…”
Long Zaitian: “… What in god’s name are you two doing?!”
Emperor Yuansheng couldn’t believe his subordinates went down so fast. His team wasn’t weak. Their mistake was underestimating their opponents and missing their timing, allowing the enemy to advance all at once. In addition, besides the numbers advantage, the enemy demonstrated far superior teamwork.
Nobody detected the big man sneak past their defence lines and attempt to harvest Emperor Yuansheng’s head. Had Dugu been distracted, he wouldn’t have shielded Emperor Yuansheng in time. The slash was silent, yet it was so heavy that Dugu’s wrist ached despite having a shield.
Emperor Yuansheng had an epiphany from his brush with death. “That silent, undetectable slash was Tiger Night Cicada Forest, which means your signature discipline is Dao Destruction Zen Cicada Broadswordplay!”
“I’m shocked to know somebody still recognises it after I’ve sequestered for decades.”
Dao Destruction Zen Cicada Broadswordplay was the signature discipline of none of than bandit King Gu Wuzhu. The twelve disciplines he devised were collectively referred to as “Ultimate Counter Token”. Ever since the last Emperor passed away, Gu Wuzhu’s whereabouts became a mystery, and his skills were entrusted to his twelve top subordinates. Among them, the one who inherited his broadswordplay was Yinhu Tengji.
Though he didn’t scowl, the wrinkles by Emperor Yuansheng’s eyes were enough to establish his domineering presence. “Where is Gu Wuzhu?”
Tengji had been asked that question more times than he could possibly keep count of ever since Gu Wuzhu disappeared. Sometimes, he’d lash out at the questioner. Sometimes, he’d laugh hysterically – which was the perfect moment to ask him for any favour. His mood determined whether they were a dead man or someone about to be rewarded. This time, Emperor Yuansheng was offered a chance to lighten the load on his shoulders.
Dugu circled his arms holding a small circular shield, fortifying it with his qi. He thought he was secure when qi blitzed his shield as though it was being fired rapidly. Nevertheless, Dugu, who had been trying to measure Tengji since his opponent showed up, calculated that he could stop the cleave thanks to deceleration.
Tengji took a step forward that Dugu didn’t see coming, whipped his broadsword behind him and then cleaved again once he reduced the distance between them. “Take my brother’s name out of your unworthy mouths!”
Dugu pulled his shield back to his chest to block the attack directly, yet Tengji nigh halved the shield and sent Dugu airborne. Dugu never judged himself to be the inferior fighter; however, he had never seen anyone unleash consecutive hard hits in a combo in the same manner as Tengji.
Emperor Yuansheng pointed out, “The discipline boosts the wielder’s output based on their morale and wildness. You can’t fight him head on.”
“Too late!” Tengji made a quick change in direction using his unique internal discipline’s internal style, getting within cutting range in a flash.
Had it not been for his innate might and fast reflexes, Tengji wouldn’t have been able to perform those kinetic movements after force feeding the manual into his head. He even erased his original internal style to pick up Gu Wuzhu’s broadswordplay out of reverence for his brother. Thirty years later, he was a new man inside and outside – in a better way.
Clang! Tengji hit an aerial metal shield, but he skid back this time to his surprise. He chose to immediately disengage and covertly ease the numbness of his right arm using his qi. Meanwhile, he flicked his left thumb up. “That was solid. What’s that discipline now?”
“Soaring Shield is this one’s creation.” Dugu caught his shield as he ambled back to Emperor Yuansheng, corners of his ups pulled up as though the blood he projected vomited before was just a prop he spat.
Dugu’s rank on Seventeen Hidden Dragons came as a result of him transforming his defensive shield into an offense weapon. Through training and experience in real fights, he developed a different perspective on countering attacks.
For all intents and purposes, Dugu collects his opponent’s discharged energy into his shield and then adds his true qi into the mix. Hence, he called the skill “Shield Cultivation”. Once he collected enough energy, he could increase his defensive parameters or weaponise it for offensive goals. Accordingly, Tengji couldn’t withstand the impact when he hit the shield a third time.
Although Dugu eschewed utilising Shield Cultivation because it’d reveal his true identity, he had no qualms employing it in Nanjiang, where he was less likely to be known.
“It is this one’s honour to meet you in person, Elder Teng. His Soaring Shield still has many imperfections. If you do not mind, please share some advice.”
“I’ll share my balls on your forehead. I might not even be able to beat you. Consider yourselves lucky today, but I’ve put a target on you. Don’t expect to escape me, hahahaha!”
Maybe Tengji’s laughter that billowed branches and whipped up foliage was a signal. Maybe it wasn’t. Whatever the case, the others with him retreated along with him.
Emperor Yuansheng assembled everyone once peace was restored to the forest to check for casualties. Despite expecting casualties, nobody even had a scratch. In other words, the enemy planned to stall the frontline from the beginning, focusing their best fighters on Emperor Yuansheng.
“What a mortifying embarrassment!” Emperor Yuansheng erupted. “While they aren’t weak, they’re no match for our trained elites. They almost killed me just by working together and capitalising on an opportunity. This is an egregious embarrassment!”