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This chapter was suggested by an Advisor Donor, as are the next eleven. The Donor is anonymous, so please don’t ask who they are – but feel free to thank them!
To make everything easier, I will be keeping to terms used by the previous translator. Enjoy!
After walking for a stretch of time, Cao Weining realized that Gu Xiang was being quiet. She had been, ever since that scene of turmoil from the start of the night.
Gao Xiaolian, a reserved young woman, was not especially familiar with them, and was just fine with not speaking on her own initiative, merely following behind them distantly while she carefully helped Zhang Chengling with leading the reins; the little guy was holding his new Great Famine sword in his arms while dozing off on the horse’s back. His drool was flowing onto its neck, dampening its hair and causing the little horse to shake its head the whole time.
Cao Weining gathered in close to Gu Xiang, leaned down, then tilted his head to take a careful measure of her expression. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Did you not sleep well, either?”
She looked at him listlessly, then lowered her head, the spitting image of a young wife. That only frightened him, though. Believing that she had eaten something spoiled, he quickly reached out to feel her forehead, thinking to himself, This woman that always jumps around and all about is being very docile… she couldn’t have fallen ill, right?
She leaned backwards, flung his hand away, then turned to look back at the pair that was a good bit away from them. “It’s a… you’ve always thought that honesty was a bit foolish, and normally, three kicks wouldn’t get one fart out of you. What anyone else said would just be whatever,” she said, sullen. “How did someone that’s apparently never grown a brain end up turning into a major devil that plots behind everyone’s backs?”
He chewed on her words a couple of times, then made a weird face. “Ah-Xiang, have you… misunderstood something about Xiao Zhang?”
Gu Xiang went mute for a short moment. “You who is surnamed Cao,” she started, sinister, “can go ahead and die.”
She then raised her hand and went to hit him.
Cao Weining smiled mischievously as he dodged her. “Ah, don’t. Won’t you be a widow if I die? To be widowed at a young age would be very pitiful.”
After thinking about that, she felt it to be true; she still didn’t yet hold the two-and-half streets of dowry her Master had promised, so doing this would be a loss. Glaring at Cao Weining, she took her raised hand back, deciding to fight with language, not fists.
She knew herself to not be any sort of highly capable. Many times, she couldn’t understand what her Master was saying, simply following beside him in ignorance, occasionally flapping her trap to entertain him in addition to her everyday life of attending to him. She, and he… and they… were not people going the same path. She couldn’t be considered a flower of considerate words, nor a close confidante of rosy cheeks.
Like a child, she had only a smidgen of deviousness and cunning, where she could approach benefits whilst shunning disadvantages. Even though all the people she had seen below Fengya Mountain had been nothing good, her Master had been there, and none of them had ever gotten the idea to dare strike her. Thus, extraordinarily uncommonly, she was able to preserve her naïveté; she wasn’t that great at fathoming peoples’ intentions, and in spite of knowing what evil was, she had no idea what genuine evil looked like.
Lao Meng, the Ghost of Impermanence, had been wearing old-farmer-esque clothes at Lake Tai when she had temporarily nabbed him. He had dug a hole in the ground to drag those two sorry-looking men out of it, and then, because of one word from their Master, specifically sought out the clothes of a butcher to wear, smiling happily at everyone. She had even heard people talking behind his back, saying that he was a dog raised by their Master.
Even dogs would have a bit of a dog’s temper, but he didn’t even have one of those.
Did he steal the key? Did he betray Ghost Valley? Where was the Hanged Ghost, Xue Fang?
There had been a fake Xue Fang, back when the Zhang family had been silenced. Was Lao Meng the impersonator? Starting from that point on, had Lao Meng been colluding with that Zhao guy?
Noticing that her brows were still furrowed, Cao Weining attempted to ease her worries. “Truthfully… I understood a bit of what Brother Zhou and the rest had said yesterday.”
Blinking her big, apricot pit-like eyes, she looked up at him. Once glanced at like that by her, he practically emanated a heroic aura, like he could do anything, and suddenly felt himself to truly be a purely manly man.
A purely manly man who, for the sake of cajoling his lady when she was upset, would suffer her blows whenever she was angry, and stand up to give her a thorough analysis whenever she didn’t understand something.
“I heard them say ‘Lapis Armor’ and ‘key’,” he said. “They evidently want to get what’s in the Armor. Finding the five pieces of it alone isn’t enough, as it still requires a key, which is in the hands of that limping villain Xiao Zhang had spoken of. At the start, this villain and Zhao Jing were in the same group, so they set out together to do evil and steal the other pieces. Zhao Jing murdered Patriarch Shen, framed Hero Gao for it, then obtained all of them; now, one has the Armor, while one has the key, thus dividing the loot unequally, and making them start to fight.”
Gu Xiang pondered this, then nodded. “That seems to be so… who the one wanting to kill Zhang Chengling, then?”
“Think about it. Xiao Zhang saw the crook that’s been hiding all this time. Even if he had forgotten it for a time, that crook still feared that he would remember, then unveil his identity, so he hired people to hunt him down… ah, yes, Zhao Jing must have known about this, else he wouldn’t have allowed Brother Zhou and them to bring Xiao Zhang away amidst such a mess. Once he was brought away, he then wouldn’t be able to set about killing him so easily — but why is that Ghost Valley crook afraid of having his identity exposed? It took me half a night of thinking before I understood; he’s likely scared of the Valley’s internals discovering that he’s a traitor, then killing him.”
She looked at him in adoration, thinking to herself that his theory was like a blind cat bumping into a dead mouse.
Upon seeing her expression, he felt even more like he was walking on air, waving his hand in false humility. “I’m just randomly guessing, that’s all. Ahem. Let’s not worry over stuff like fools; we’ll go expose Zhao Jing’s plot, look for Hero Ye, then go back to live a good life, just you and me.”
“Your shifu disdains that I have no father or mother, and am a wild girl,” she pointed out. “What if he doesn’t allow it?”
Cao Weining made another big hand wave. “Then you’ll abduct me, and we’ll elope.”
“Pah! Am I that ravenous?” she fumed.
He thought some more. “Then I’ll pretend to switch roles to a flower-stealer, abduct you, and we’ll elope.”
Upon deliberation, she believed that that was a terrible idea, but also just good enough. She thus nodded, satisfied, and reached out her tiny hand to hook around Cao Weining’s. They rode side-by-side, which was simply sickeningly sweet.
In full contentment, he thought, So, this is what it is to have a wife… having one is really nice. She’s soft, smells good, and when she leans against me, even my heart melts after her. She smiles at me, and I immediately get dizzy. She’s someone who will know when I’m feeling hot or cold, or will make up the bed… in the future, we’ll build a little house with a little courtyard, have a couple chubby little kids, and I’ll hear her voice sharply calling for me to come home for dinner…
The more he thought, the more beautiful those thoughts became, until his desire to spout poetry was overwhelming. “Golden wind and jadeite dew meet once, superior to the countless meetings of the mortal realm,” he crisply recited. “In the Heavens, I wish for us to be birds of the same feather. On Earth, I wish for us to be conjoined trees…”
Those people scheming this and scheming that the day long, struggling to make others die while living themselves; what was the point of it? Practicing exceptional, divine arts, being number one in the realm through a thousand autumns and innumerable generations; what was the point of that?
They would still be old bachelors all their lives, never getting wives.
Cao Weining vaguely felt them to all be a bit pitiful.
When Lord Seventh and the Great Shaman returned carrying a bunch of medical supplies, they caught sight of Zhou Zishu sitting in the courtyard, whittling a flute. His craftsmanship was nothing great, and he was using materials from his surroundings, even having ruined a few prior, all sounds they made muted when played and producing a field’s worth of wood dust. As Lord Seventh drew near, he discovered that his latest flute had since taken shape.
The Great Shaman nodded at Zhou Zishu, then turned and went in the house, not having anything to say to him.
Lord Seventh conversely sat down at the side. “What are you doing?”
“Cultivating myself physically and spiritually,” Zhou Zishu answered lazily. He put his carved flute up to his mouth, then blew, finally getting it to make sound… when others played the flute, it was a heavenly sound that entered the clouds, but when he played it, it was a demonic noise that pierced the ears, sometimes shrill, sometimes hoarse, and not a single note in-tune regardless, crowing and twittering. This was clearly not self-cultivation — it was a cultivation of any listeners’ endurance.
Covering his ears, Lord Seventh took the carving knife and wood piece out of his hands. His fingers were extraordinarily nimble; in just a few motions, the flute was fully shaped. It didn’t look any different from Zhou Zishu’s craft at a surface glance, but after the latter took it back, brought it to his lips, and then tested it out, the change was audible. He played out a folk ditty from the wildlands, which was actually quite nice.
At the end of it, he put the flute down with a smile. “You’re worthy of having been the number one capital dandy that could pick up and put down anything, from poetry, to songs, to dining, drinking, hustling, and gambling. All that playing around gained you a couple of tricks.”
Lord Seventh grinned. “He left?”
The other nodded.
“You didn’t go with?”
“I wanted to, of course, but there’s too much of a mess on their end. One praying mantis is hunting a cicada while having a hundred siskins behind it. I’ll wait a little, then go take an assessment. I’ll go fish him up when the time is right.”
“You’ll only fish him up? Nothing else?” Lord Seventh gave him a look. “If he was Jiuxiao, you wouldn’t be so unworried.”
Zhou Zishu smiled, shaking his head. “How could he be compared to Jiuxiao? He was just a kid, while he… knows what he needs to do. I can’t meddle in his affairs, either. He has to solve them by himself.”
As he talked, he stood up to stretch out his muscles. Sticking the short flute Lord Seventh had carved and his hip flask both into his belt, he turned away. “Thanks a bunch for the flute — if I haven’t guessed wrong, that Scorpion is the first siskin. I’ll go out, grab a flower-engraved pot, and get ready to take flight with him.”
Lord Seventh lifted his head to look at him. Zhou Zishu’s back was against the light; the look on his face was unclear, yet his cheeks appeared to be bordered with gold. “Go quick and come back quick,” he thus said with a smile. “Don’t neglect your healing time.”
Zhou Zishu waved, then strode out.
The other lowered his head, whittled out another little flute, blew the sawdust away, then put it up to his lips, as if to send him off.
That clear, rich sound echoed like the rousing tone of the wind, its trailing notes gently roiling. Despite this being no more than a crude flute made of weeds, it allowed him to play like the natural grace of a seeming flourishing age, as well as its splendrous noise, was coming.
What a shame that before the song’s end, the flute petered out, and Zhou Zishu’s figure had long since vanished.
Lord Seventh lowered his eyes, chuckled, and tossed the flute to the side. Standing and gathering up his sleeves, he then turned to head inside.
Long ago, when Zhou Zishu and he had still been in the capital, when he was still that Prince Nan’ning who would get a hundred answers for his every call, and when Zhou Zishu was still the head of Tian Chuang that warped and weaved in the dark, he had believed that the two of them were the same type of person.
Yet, coming to this day, he realized that they weren’t the same at all. He had never had the man’s same kind of jianghu spirit, where one rolled with the punches. He had never been this open-minded before. Seeing Zhou Zishu live so honestly… actually made him faintly jealous.
Zhou Zishu stayed on a flower lane roof for two days, completely downing about ten jars of wine, after which he finally managed to wait until the Scorpion brought out his entire flock of Poisonous Scorpions.
Sure enough, bitches had no hearts. That lame-legged evil Ghost, who had tried to kill Zhang Chengling, had likely called for him to go gang up on Wen Kexing, then come back to deal with Zhao Jing. He had also deliberately made a lame-legged youth provoke Zhang Chengling, as if he was afraid that the boy wouldn’t remember, or that Wen Kexing didn’t know who was behind the Long-Tongued Ghost.
Both sides were collecting money and selling out, and after that, they still intended to take advantage of the devastation after their fierce battle to cook these people all together in one pot. It was really quite shrewd.
Zhou Zishu was not in a rush. Extracting a human-skin mask from his lapels, his handsome visage was gone without a trace via one swipe of his hand. He mixed into the crowd, tailing after them from a moderate distance.
Following three-ish days of following, he noticed that they weren’t going straight for Fengya Mountain, seeming to have actively taken a detour in the middle, as if they were specifically going to handle some kind of nuisance. Very quickly, he came to learn that this ‘nuisance’ was actually Yu Qiufeng.
The man had previously exploited the Green Vixen in order to flee calamity, but he had no such good luck this time around. He was face with a team of Poisonous Scorpions that was chasing him like cats hunting a mouse, and all he could do was desperately scramble away, currently even more overwrought than Zhang Chengling. Now, he had no one protecting him — there used to be a woman who might have done so, but she was dead.
He wore only rags, looking way more like a beggar than Zhou Zishu had when first entering jianghu. Where was even an iota of Sect Leader Yu, who had grasped a lightly-dancing fan?
The Huashan Sect had since re-established its Leader, and no longer acknowledged him. He had become akin to a stray dog.
Eventually, Yu Qiufeng’s route of escape reached its end, and he was captured alive before the Scorpion.