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Zhao Jing and his crew had already come to stand below Fengya Mountain at this pivotal moment. Gu Xiang’s group stole into another road like thieves, hiding behind a big rock. She, having grown up on the Mountain, was infinitely familiar with this route; she had picked out an excellent spot where they wouldn’t easily be found, yet could easily see everyone else’s positions.
Zhang Chengling and the rest had never been in a place like this before. They had no idea that, under Gu Xiang’s leadership, they had detoured around the sign that said ‘those with souls, do not pass’, and were already treading upon the territory of Ghost Valley, one foot inside this awfully wicked, ominous land.
Thankfully, Gu Xiang had hid them well, and those major figures plus minor Ghosts didn’t have the spare time to notice them.
Right then, Ye Baiyi arrived. He traveled by himself on a lone horse, still in his eye-grabbing, strangely thick white clothes. There was a tiny jar held in his arms, and a sword borne on his back.
Zhang Chengling exclaimed, quickly getting his mouth covered by Gu Xiang. It was little wonder that he was shocked — it had only been less than half a year since he had seen him, yet Ye Baiyi’s head of dark hair had since turned half white. Looking at him from a distance, he had the same visage carved from stone that was immune to time, but with the gray hair crowning him, a scant, dead aura faintly permeated him.
It was like… the time that had stagnated upon him had suddenly gone into motion. There was nothing seen on his face, only a slight indication visible from his hair, preparing one for when this stone statue was eroded by the wind, and blown away in dust.
Cao Weining stretched out his neck to see, but his line of sight landed upon the sword on Ye Baiyi’s back. It was unclear where the man had gotten it from; if it was not carefully examined, one would almost think that he was carrying a giant anti-cavalry sabre, as it was extremely wide and long. From his broad shoulders, a slanted head and a tail were revealed, as a life-like dragon had been engraved into the hilt and scabbard, its back arching like it was about to fly off into the rolling cloud cover at any moment. Merely by looking at it, one could feel its ferocious air of wanting to move, which seemed to stretch over all the way from the end of the sky.
“That’s… that’s the Ancient Edge of the Dragon’s Back… it…” he mumbled to himself.
Gu Xiang narrowed her eyes, looking over. “What is it?” she asked, not too proud to ask a subordinate for knowledge.
Cao Weining was shaking a little. He gently tugged on her sleeve, barely managing to suppress his voice, but unable to suppress his excitement. “Legends say that there’s three legendary swords. The Spiritual Sword of No Name, despite having no sword inscription, is a celebrity amongst swords, extraordinarily bright and unmatched in the world. The Heavy Sword of Great Famine is a general amongst swords, solid and unsullied, unequaled in bravery and ferocity. Neither of them can compare to the Ancient Blade of the Dragon’s Back, though. It’s a soldier of great viciousness, said to be cast from divine iron, where not even divinities can withstand it… it’s hard to imagine that it’d actually be in the hands of the Ancient Monk’s descendant. All three of these famous weapons have been missing, so I didn’t expect to be able to witness the return of the king of all swords today.”
Hearing his muttering, Zhang Chengling untied Great Famine, which hung from his waist. He knew that what Lord Seventh had given him had not been a falsehood. Recalling his elders’ saying of ‘wealth is not to be revealed’, he had smartly wrapped a layer of tattered, inconspicuous cloth around the outside of the scabbard. “G-Great Famine… is here with me,” he said to Cao Weining.
The latter’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. He accepted the sword with both hands, trembling, reverently using the tip of his finger to push aside Zhang Chengling’s masterpi… old rag, thus revealing the treasured sword, its jewels coated in dust. Eyes practically brimming with tears of emotion, he shakily pointed at Zhang Chengling and babbled incoherently. “This is Great Famine! The General, Great Famine! You abuser of heavenly artifacts! You… peony-chewing cow! You qin-burner! Crane-cooker! You… y-you’ve… practically done the reprehensible sin of burning books and burying scholars alive!”
Gu Xiang quickly shushed him. The four looked over to see that the crowd on the other side appeared to be pressured by Ye Baiyi’s momentum, automatically making way for him so that he had a path straight to the front of Zhao Jing. There was no expression at all on Ye Baiyi’s face, and he appeared ever arrogant, never dismounting, being up at a high vantage point the whole time he pierced through the crowd.
Zhao Jing was astonished by his graying hair at the onset, immediately after which he could no longer keep his expression on… speaking of which, his skills of restrained self-conduct were far inferior to Gao Chong’s, but one had been protecting secrets, while the other had held the desire for murder. That was how the gap in superiority had been established.
He forced himself to clasp his fist, smiling. “It’s you, Young Hero Ye. You’ve really come just in time! Join us in our crusade—“
“The Lapis Armor. Do you have it, or not?” Ye Baiyi harshly cut him off, still not getting off his horse as he looked at him indifferently.
The crowd went into an uproar. Zhao Jing’s face went stiff.
Zhang Chengling and the others listened, hearts jumping in fear. Gu Xiang’s brows furrowed. “What’s going on?” she asked those around her. “Is he not with them?”
“No, Miss Gu,” Gao Xiaolian whispered in reply. “Hero Ye is one of the owners of the ‘Writ of the World’. The Writ’s three pieces, when collected together, can summon the heroes of the realm. Only one of those pieces was in the hands of the Ancient Monk, and he’s ignored worldly affairs for a long time. For Dongting, my dad had personally gone to the foot of Changming Mountain to ask for him, but he just sent a disciple of his down the mountain. Hero Ye only defends the Writ; he doesn’t associate with others at all, acting by himself always.”
After thinking for a bit, she added something on. “Truthfully, dad was surprised to get Hero Ye. Af… after all, there’s rumors saying that the Monk has already passed on.”
Those of jianghu only knew that the Monk existed, and nothing of his name, surname, age, or background. However, calculating the age of the Writ, at least a hundred years had elapsed. That the ‘Ancient Monk’ had long passed during such a long interim was not a very surprising rumor.
Zhao Jing looked annoyed, and needing to raise his head to see Ye Baiyi made him even more unhappy. “What do you mean, Hero Ye?” he asked with a cold smile.
Ye Baiyi squandered not much of an expression, paying him no mind. He merely swept his gaze over his surroundings, then slightly raised the volume of his voice. “It does not matter whether you all fight, or cause a ruckus. Anyone that wants to crusade can do so. However, there is one clause: as long as I am alive, no one should even think of opening the arsenal.”
This man still cared about no one, his tone like he wouldn’t care about the Heavenly Emperor, either. Even Zhou Zishu, one who had self-restraint skills, had repeatedly ground his teeth and wanted to beat him up, to say nothing of these folks that didn’t know of him in detail. Someone huffed coldly on the spot. “Hah, the successor of the Ancient Monk really does follow his name. He’s got a big mouth and a big ego!”
Ye Baiyi’s eyes swept on over. He nearly didn’t see who it was that had spoken — it turned out to be Feng Xiaofeng, who had never sat upon Gao Shannu’s shoulders ever since the latter went blind, instead acting as his eyes and constantly looking out for him. He still had the look of a thorntip that could explode with one bump, and gave no one any face. If ranking with the top in terms of mean words, he could be called a tyrant of jianghu, but he still held some affection for his Gao Shannu.
“I’m not joking around,” Ye Baiyi answered.
“He’s the one that stirred up this situation, right?” Gu Xiang asked Cao Weining, voice hushed.
Zhang Chengling had followed the others to the Puppet Manor in Shuzhong. He knew something of the sequence of events, and whispered to them. “That… Senior Ye… is not a ‘Young’ Hero. He’s really old, and said to be the master of Rong Xuan that had died thirty years ago.”
After that, he explained to them what he knew.
The other three stared back at him for a long time, after which Gu Xiang sighed. “By my own grandma… how long has he been alive? He’s like a tortoise!”
Witnessing her no longer speaking human language, Cao Weining quickly cut her off. “So, that’s to say that the most crucial object in the arsenal is actually… Elder Ye? He came down the mountain, heard about the Lapis Armor, and then went to inquire after the old truth?”
Gu Xiang tugged at him, pointing at the people below. “Hey, look. They’re starting to fight.”
The four moved their heads out from behind the boulder at the same time, carefully observing.
This squad of righteous martial artists all individually harbored their own ulterior motives to begin with; so, of course, there was also a subset incorporated within them that was particularly stupid. They had legitimately been duped by Zhao Jing, resolving to behead evil Ghosts for the sake of the common folk. Ye Baiyi’s words had been a rock smashing down, sending off a thousand waves.
Some people whispered in suspicion, while even more were instigated by those who wanted them to be. Ye Baiyi’s search for a beating roused the mob into rebuking him in a rage. “From how I see it, that guy’s a problem,” one said. “He had been sought out by Gao Chong, and was always following him in Dongting. He has to be his crony!”
Ye Baiyi had always been a gentleman that acted, not spoke. Hearing this, he pulled out a horse whip, and the one in question got a clear view of it coming towards his face, yet still wasn’t able to dodge. He got roughly whipped flying, which left a blood-red mark on his face —a symmetrical one.
Zhao Jing issued a signal with his eyes. Several people pounced at Ye Baiyi at once, and the crowd could barely see how he was moving; the several flew out to encircle him, but in the blink of an eye, each of them were sent rolling back out with missing arms or shortened legs. Meanwhile, the horse-riding Ye Baiyi seemed to have not moved a bit, still steadily holding the tiny jar in one hand and the horse whip in the other.
The man’s martial arts were horrifically high-tier. Zhao Jing’s eye twitched. “Let’s all calm down, first,” someone else was heard to say. “The Ancient Monk has been someone of virtue for a long time, so his descendant certainly can’t be worse. Regardless of whatever happened with Gao Chong, the Writ is infallible.”
Cao Weining’s eyes widened when he heard that voice — the speaker was his shifu, Mo Huaiyang. He couldn’t help but get nervous, one hand clenching into a fist as he sweat. He simply listened to the man use an amiable tone towards Ye Baiyi.
“Hero Ye, what you say must have foundation. You cannot blurt words out at random. We’d be happy to believe you, so I ask that you be blunt and let everyone to know: is the Armor actually in someone’s hands, and are we being used?”
Gu Xiang surveyed with a cool eye, noticing that at this moment, the group had already vaguely split into two factions. Mo Huaiyang had kept silent the whole journey, very subdued, yet had been able get power equal to Zhao Jing’s at some unknown point in time.
This bunch of heroes had gathered up, turned into a rowdy mob, and, before they had even reached the Mountain, began to fight amongst themselves.
She snuck a peek at Cao Weining, even more certain in her heart… that the shifu of this dumb bloke had high ambitions for this trip.
Zhao Jing hadn’t expected that Mo Huaiyang would turn traitor, pretty much itching to tear the man’s skin off. Still, he couldn’t stop Ye Baiyi from talking. Wouldn’t that be a guilty conscience?
Ye Baiyi wasn’t buying Mo Huaiyang’s stuff, though, only speaking coldly. “Opening the arsenal requires two items: the Armor and the key. I’ve investigated for a long time, and can guess that the key is probably in the hands of someone from Ghost Valley. If they also have the Armor, would they have bode their time in wait to fight with you all now? If they vainly attempt to open the arsenal… hah. I’ll have to take on the role of an exorcist, then.”
“The Armor had been in Gao Chong’s hands,” Zhao Jing defended. “Prior to his death, he wanted to join forces with the Hanged Ghost to kill me, failed to achieve that, then died himself. Xue Fang’s whereabouts are unknown, so the Armor is presumably with him…”
Ye Baiyi sneered. “I’ve actually heard that Ghost Valley has constantly been sending people to hunt down Xue Fang, but the Delighted Mourning Ghost, one of his hunters, died a few days ago. If Xue Fang has that kind of remarkable skill, why hasn’t he opened the arsenal yet, instead of hiding away?”
“What the Delighted Mourning Ghost did was the evil of murdering someone for their property. Why would I know anything about these evil Ghosts? More likely than not, the spoils were split unevenly, and both sides are suffering for it. In any case, Gao Chong was sly, and had lots of henchmen; how would I know who he gave the Armor to?”
“Oh. The Armor that the five major families once watched over together has been lost, yet you’re not investigating that like everybody else, instead bringing people to attack Fengya Mountain. Where’s the logic in that, Hero Zhao?” Ye Baiyi countered.
His speech was getting increasingly menacing. Zhao Jing was dumbstruck for a moment, then bit back. “In light of your implication, those nefarious, evil demons that everyone needs to catch and behead… shouldn’t be killed?”
Mo Huaiyang frowned, then meandered behind Ye Baiyi, immediately after which almost half of the crowd followed him away from Zhao Jing’s side.
“Sect Leader Mo, what is the meaning of this?” the latter questioned.
“Don’t speak of other things, Hero Zhao. Let’s just get a clear explanation, then judge things from that.”
Zhao Jing had long been aware that Mo Huaiyang was disloyal. This old devil that’s taking advantage of a fire to loot will be a liability from now on, if I don’t get rid of him here and establish my might, he thought, a fire in his heart.
While he thought, he made a small gesture with his fingers. The people on-scene were in disorder, so none of them noticed, but Gu Xiang’s group caught the abnormality via their vantage point, after which they saw a very plain person behind Zhao Jing slip out of the crowd after seeing his gesture. They kept staring the entire time, then witnessed the person retreat to the outside of the group, and make another gesture in one direction. Inside the dense forest, a black shadow flitted past, holding a tiny crossbow in their hand.
At once, Cao Weining no longer had time to think. He jumped out from behind the rock, his moves of transport reaching their pinnacle. “Shifu!” he shouted, “Look out!”
Gu Xiang wasn’t able to hold him back, feeling a chill in her heart.