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Thus the three of them casually clapped their a.s.ses and beat it. Meanwhile, the Gao's Manor was a ball of chaos. Cao Weining was still indignantly informing those beside him that the Hua Shan sect was clearly being unkind in this matter when Mo Huaikong dragged him away and gave him a brief command. "Shut up."
Cao Weining turned to look at his shishu. Just as he wanted to ask "shishu, how could you yield to evil forces?", he saw Mo Huaikong point at Yu Qiufeng. "Didn't you see him go looking for death? Shut up, turn off the bulls.h.i.t, and take a good look!"
Cao Weining obediently shut up.
He took a moment to glance all around, then lowered his voice. "Shishu, you said that with Warriors Gao and Zhao here, how could Brother Zhou take away the Zhang's child so easily?"
Mo Huaikong's eagle eyes had been trained ahead, but at hearing that, they coldly swept over to Cao Weining. "Did your brain get eaten by a dog?" he squeezed out through his teeth.
Cao Weining had been harshly scolded by him for so long yet his face didn't display any redness, very sincerely waiting for his shishu to clear up his doubts. Against expectations, Mo Huaikong turned his face away and didn't pay him anymore mind. It took Cao Weining a short moment to suss out why, making the discovery that his brain really had been eaten for him to not even realize such a thing — his shishu also clearly had no idea!
Grandmaster Ci Mu quickly rushed over, a middle-aged man following behind him. The man was of gaunt stature with black clothes and deep laugh lines, the corners of his mouth cast downward, his sword-like brows shooting into the hairs on his temples and his eyes extremely clear; one look told that he was a master not to be trifled with. Upon witnessing this farcical scene, Grandmaster Ci Mu had no choice but to use the Shaolin's Lion Roar skill to make a loud bellow. Many of meager martial arts saw black before their eyes at his call, the crowd then settling down.
Gao Chong and Zhao Jing saw the man behind Grandmaster Ci Mu and both stood up, Zhao Jing taking the initiative to unveil his ident.i.ty. "Brother Shen!"
Cao Weining heard Mo Huaikong gasp in surprise, quickly taking the opportunity to question him. "Who is this, shishu?"
Mo Huaikong's brows furrowed. "That's the head of the Shuzhong's Shen family, Shen Shen. He's normally a big young madam-type and never steps foot out of his residence, getting a white face from being shut up in his house for fear that he'd get tan. Why would he be willing to part with all that soft skin to run a good distance over and see the sun in Dongting? Very strange."
Cao Weining had never heard of him, so he just made a dumb-sounding "ah". Mo Huaikong hated seeing that stupid look of his the most, so he sent him a glare and gave an explanation. "Most people your age don't know this. Back in the day, the five most famed major families of jianghu were Jiangnan's Zhang, Taihu's Zhao, Dongting's Gao, Shuzhong's Shen, and Taixing's Lu. Nowadays, though, apart from Gao Chong and Zhao Jing, the Zhang family has one member left, the Shen family has long since washed their hands of jianghu's affairs and ignored them, and the Lu family is gone. The 'Five Great Clans' have been more name than fact for a while now, and lots of young folk already don't remember them."
Cao Weining counted them on his fingers. "Something's wrong, shishu. Counting the Zhang's descendant, that's only four surnames here. Where's the fifth family?"
"That's because the head of the Lu family has been dead of illness for a decade now," Mo Huaikong replied impatiently. "He didn't acc.u.mulate enough merit in his last life, so in this one, his family line was cut off, and he left behind no sons or daughters. Because he'd had something of a friendship with Tai Shan Sect Leader Hua Fangling, who's since turned into a stiff, he entrusted his family property and few young disciples to the Tai Shan Sect. Hua Qingsong and the rest are here now, so don't they count as the Lu family? Why don't you understand s.h.i.t? Where are so many questions coming from? Don't go telling others I'm your shishu! You're a disgrace!"
Shen Shen was witnessed saying something in a low voice to Grandmaster Ci Mu, who then sighed, spoke the Buddha's name, and nodded. Soon after, Shen Shen stood up, turned to take a box held by a junior of the Shen family, and opened it. Within was a small bundle wrapped in silk, which Shen Shen peeled open; someone sucked in a breath, automatically crying out, "It's the Lapis Armor!"
Cao Weining also stretched out his neck to take a look, sighting the completely exposed object in the case. It was indeed an extremely delicate fragment of colored gla.s.s only about the size of a palm, glinting feebly under the daylight. Were it not said to be so, who would've known that it was exactly this little trinket that incited such great carnage? Yu Qiufeng gulped, then cleared his throat. "Is this really one of the five pieces of Lapis Armor?" he muttered.
"That is the truth," Shen Shen replied, turning his gaze to Gao Chong after he finished speaking. It was unclear what the expression on Gao Chong's face was, and it was only after a long moment of silence that he spoke to Deng Kuan at his side. "On the shelf to the left of the door in my study, behind the third tome of the Cla.s.sic of Rites, there's a hidden compartment. Open it and fetch the contents for me."
Deng Kuan accepted the order, not understanding the reason for this. He returned a moment later, a small box having come into his possession. Gao Chong took it, sighed, then opened it up for the crowd; placed side-by-side with Shen Shen's small case, two pieces of the Lapis Armor from legend thus made a public appearance.
"As things have gotten to this point, this aging old man has to make things clear to you all," Gao Chong announced. "The Lapis Armor… really does have five pieces altogether, and each of us five was holding one all these years. Brother Lu met his early death a few years back, thus delivering his piece to Warrior Hua, Sect Leader of Tai Shan. Unexpectedly, though… that would actually attract the calamity of death upon him."
Grandmaster Ci Mu grabbed onto the subject. "Amitabha. This old monk also knows a little bit about that incident."
Everyone's eyes turned to this kind-looking, entirely white-haired senior Shaolin monk. "I'm unsure if anyone present here still remembers that martial circle catastrophe of thirty years ago," they all heard him say.
As soon as that statement came out, the looks on some of the older generations' faces immediately underwent change. Even Ye Baiyi, who had seemed to be spectating the occasion on the side all this time, lifted his head up slightly.
At the same time, Zhou Zishu was also going along with his memory as he told the completely fog-covered Zhang Chengling of the Zhang family's past. Wen Kexing was pa.s.sed out at the side, having been kicked away by Zhou Zishu yet still tightly gripping his sleeve with no letting go, lying there sprawled out on his back and utterly unpresentable. At the time Zhou Zishu had been dragged out by Cao Weining in the morning, he had just been about to eat a little something, though he hadn't the time to in the end and had no choice but to bundle it up and put it away. He took it out for Zhang Chengling in this interim, watching the boy hork it down all at once.
"I only have general knowledge of what happened thirty years ago. It was around the time your father was still young. There was a martial genius in jianghu named Rong Xuan*; he was a hero that wielded a longsword, rarely met a worthy opponent within the four seas, and was fond of wandering around and making friends from all sides, reportedly having very confidential dealings with the younger generations of all Five Great Clans back in the day. The Five Great Clans are no longer brought up nowadays, but as a descendant of the Zhang family, you've always known of them, right?"
Zhang Chengling nodded, bits of snacks still around his mouth. "But dad never mentioned him."
"It wasn't just your dad that didn't; his name has been taboo for the past thirty years." Zhou Zishu sighed before continuing on. "Rong Xuan got married later on. His wife was a young lady far above the norm and very pretty, who came from the Divine Medicine Valley…"
His speech suddenly stopped at that point. He bowed his head to glance at Wen Kexing, thinking to himself: he was also born of the Divine Medicine Valley. Was this a coincidence, too?
When he raised his head, Zhang Chengling was in the middle of staring at him unblinkingly following his pause. Zhou Zishu had some doubts within, but was not going to reveal them in front of him. "The two were in deep spousal love," he continued on, "Dao companions for life. However, unexpectedly, there would come a day that Rong Xuan's wife was murdered."
Zhang Chengling froze, then asked a silly question. "Why?"
Zhou Zishu grinned. Was a justification needed to kill someone?
He thought it over before he explained. "Most likely… an average man is guiltless, but being talented is a crime. I never saw Rong Xuan's swordsmanship, only hearing that the words 'unprecedented and unreplicable' were truly loathed. He hadn't yet reached thirty when he made up his own sect, creating the renowned 'Feng Shan Sword' – not being able to witness the mountain-splitting, sedividing Feng Shan Swordplay in this lifetime is a huge regret. His Feng Shan Sword was split into two volumes; the first was a martial core method, and the second was a sword technique. The latter was his own creation, while the former was said to be an ancient book pa.s.sed down in secret that he happened to obtain, that which affected and weaved the heart. You should know… the words 'a peerless master' alone could make someone go mad."
"What happened after?" Zhang Chengling asked.
"After, Rong Xuan's immense grief was enough to put him into a qi deviation; his nature changed greatly, and he began to slaughter innocents at will. With no other option, the Five Great Clans took the lead, even requesting aid of Shan Heling, wanting to join forces to hunt him down —— even though the last time Shan Heling had been in worldly affairs was about thirty or more years. Then, Rong Xuan fled to Qing Zhu Ridge of Feng Ya Mountain, and there, with the people hunting him that were headed by the Five Great Clans, a fierce battle broke out. It was unknown how many died, and purportedly, the dead can still be heard to weep there at night. Who would've ever expected that they'd be crossing forces with someone they had been through thick and thin with in the past, not stopping until annihilation?"
Was 'affection' in this world truly so fickle?
He paused for a moment, nodding. "That's right. Qing Zhu Ridge is Ghost Valley. No one can understand to this day why the Ghosts stood by Rong Xuan's side back then. It's unknown how many days and nights the battle took, but it ended with Rong Xuan's suicide. Over half of the realm's heroes had been impaired, and the Five Great Clans also took a stumble they would henceforth never recover from. As both sides sustained great losses that time, it was only after its conclusion that the Ghost Valley made the rule that those that entered couldn't leave, buying thirty years of peace."
Having spoken up to that point, Zhou Zishu frowned. He'd merely heard of this tale and hadn't added in his own conjecture, but talking like this left many areas of unknowns. What happened at Feng Ya Mountain then, for example? How did Rong Xuan's wife die? How did a such prodigy that should have been the master of a generation fall into the Ghost Valley, keeping company with its people? Thankfully, Zhang Chengling was not an astute child, merely listening on in ignorance and not having epiphanies at all.
The details of this, buried for so many years… how many could be brought to light?
Those who partic.i.p.ated had either died or kept their lips sealed. Even all of Tian Chuang couldn't gather together the truth. Zhou Zishu had a suspicion… that the Lapis Armor was a relic of the day of the battle on Feng Ya Mountain.
In the evening, Zhou Zishu finally managed to pry open Wen Kexing's hand that was tugging firmly at his clothes. He shot a few wild animals and brought them back, roasting them for eating. He mulled over how no matter where he went, bringing such a little thing along was c.u.mbersome.
But he didn't want to force him, only letting Zhang Chengling think of what path he should take himself.
Wen Kexing was so very drunk that the day had darkened and he was still not getting up from his mud-like paralysis. Zhou Zishu taught Zhang Chengling a few mnemonics, told him to catch onto them himself, then leaned to the side and closed his eyes to rest, falling into a dazed sleep an unclear amount of time later. He then suddenly sensed a single hand feeling about his body, very sneakily trying to undo the b.u.t.tons on his upper clothes.
Zhou Zishu grasped the person by the wrist, opening his eyes.
Wen Kexing was still a bit drunk at the moment. He didn't panic upon noticing that he'd been caught, simply smiling towards him in the darkness and then justifying himself. "I only wanted to see what the fabled Seven Aperture Nails look like, not to grab you in whatever way or deliberately act like a felon."
The phrase went, 'explaining is just concealment, concealment is just the beginning of a mistake' — and this vulgar Wen man had given one specific elaboration. He'd been grabbed by Zhou Zishu on one wrist, the other hand propped up against the ground, and he was nearly half-stooping over Zhou Zishu's form. Zhang Chengling was already dead asleep at this time; they breathed and spoke very lightly, and in the dark, that had a sort of indescribable ambiguity. Wen Kexing abruptly got closer, taking off his own outer robe and bundling the other in it, stirring up the hair on his temple as he spoke in a low voice. "Ah-Xu, is 'Zhou Xu' really your name?"
Zhou Zishu flung the man's hand off and pushed him away. "What kind of joke is that, Brother Wen? As if 'Wen Kexing' is your real name," he said with bold confidence.
Wen Kexing raised his brow at that, replying with another, even lower and softer question. "Then, according to your view, what should I be called?"
Zhou Zishu went quiet for a moment before he whispered back. "Brother Wen, is your surname really Wen? I feel like you ought to be a Rong."
The translator says: Pinyin is great until you get names like ‘Shen Shen'…
*'Rong Xuan' backwards, xuanrong 炫容, means “to show off one's looks”.
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