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Chapter 49: Assassination
Sitting in the carriage, Kong Hou also heard the ruckus outside. She lifted the window curtain and looked out. The troublemaker was a Base Building Stage male cultivator, dressed normally, with normal looks, and even his voice was not exceptional in any aspect. He was the type that if he was thrown into a crowd, no one would be able to find him.
Many people were entering and leaving the city. When the male cultivator shouted, he attracted many people’s attention. Hearing a major sect was bullying others, those entering and leaving the city wanted to stay and watch. Soon, the gates were completely blocked off.
The captain of the guard saw the situation and feared a stampede would occur. He hurriedly sent guards to maintain order. There were old people and children in the crowd. If they were wounded or stepped on, it would be a major incident.
“If you do not feel guilty, why are you trying to drive us away?” the man said furiously. “Ordinary people are not people?”
The captain ignored him and had the guards put up a rope cordon in the surroundings. “Fellow people, the gates are for entry and exit. Everyone crowded here blocks other people, and that is not a beautiful matter.” He pulled on the rope. “Everyone, please cooperate and stand outside this line. Pay attention to the old and young around you, and do not step on or squeeze them.”
When the people were all outside the rope, the captain turned and bowed to the man, saying firmly, “Transcendent, please forgive us. All those who enter Yan City have to prove their identity.”
Seeing all the people watching from outside the rope, the man felt as though he was a monkey on stage being looked at by everyone for their amusement. He steadied his mind. The man said coldly, “So many excuses—don’t you just want a fee?”
“Why are you so unforgiving?” Kong Hou saw these guards were all ordinary soldiers and worried that this Base Building man would wound others. She jumped off the carriage and ducked under the rope the guards had pulled together. The guards just wanted to say she could not enter, but when they saw Kong Hou reach the guard captain’s side with a leap, they swallowed their words.
“You say so much, but you are not willing to show your life token. I think that it isn’t the guards that are the problem, but you who have other intentions.” Kong Hou’s expression turned grave. “So many cultivators show their life token when entering Yan City—why can you not? Unless…”
Kong Hou’s gaze swept the man. “Unless you are an evil cultivator who wants to sneak into the city to harm the people. You are deliberately making trouble here to smear the reputations of nomad cultivators and sect disciples.”
“You speak nonsense. These guards clearly look down and disrespect us nomad cultivators, making things difficult for us.” No matter what Kong Hou said, the man still stuck on the topic of the Yan City guards bullying nomad cultivators.
Kong Hou was almost certain that there was something wrong with the male cultivator’s identity. In the last few days, she had seen nomad cultivators with all kinds of eccentricities, but none were like this one, making such waves and desiring for nomad cultivators and the sects to fight. She looked at the people watching. There were cultivators and ordinary people who were pointing and talking about the man. They did not believe his words, but were watching him making a fool of himself.
It seems that Harmonious Wind Study was very popular and trustworthy. No matter what the man said, they did not believe his words. Maybe the man was not doing this for the local people. If some among the cultivators who first came to Yan City believed him, they would spread the news.
This world lacked for everything except people who wanted to hear gossip.
“Master An He of Harmonious Wind Study has come!”
“Where is Master An He?”
Hearing the excited voices of the young women, Kong Hou turned and looked through the gates. Under the sunlight, a handsome young master dressed in white brocade robes embroidered in gold came on a black horse. The horse stopped at the rope cordon. He flew into the air. Half of the women in the crowd were looking at him.
Master An He seemed used to such attention. His gaze did not even waver as he asked the captain directly, “What happened?”
The captain recounted the events.
The man swore. “You people have numbers on your side, I cannot afford to offend you. Fine, I will not go into this Yan City.” He turned furiously to leave.
“Stop.” A green jade-ribbed fan appeared in Master An He’s hand. He shook the fan lightly and the man who was about to squeeze into the crowd uncontrollably flew back, and rolled on the ground.
“What do you want?” The man crawled off the ground. “Do not bully people too much.”
“Everyone should kill evil cultivators.” Master An He ignored the swearing man and bowed to the crowd. “My apologies. Today, an evil cultivator attempted to sneak into the city. Apologies for the alarm.”
“No, no, Master, it is nothing.” Hearing Master An He say this, everyone felt this man was even more suspicious. They were sure that he was an evil cultivator. While there was no spectacle to watch, there was a beautiful man to see. The surrounding people did not leave immediately after the man was tied up.
“This path friend is?” Master An He turned and saw Kong Hou. He bowed politely to her, his tone unaffected.
Kong Hou, who was used to Huan Zhong’s great beauty, was not very excited seeing An He’s handsome face. She politely returned the bow. “This one is just a passerby. Farewell.”
An He’s gaze swept across her eyes. “Thank you, Path Friend, for speaking up and helping.”
“A minor matter not worthy of mentioning.” Kong Hou had seen these guards were all around thirty or so. She had guessed they may all have children and seniors to look after, so she meddled. Since people from Harmonious Wind Study were already here, there was nothing left for her.
“Farewell.” Master An He watched as Kong Hou jump into the carriage. The carriage moved away. He showed a thoughtful expression.
“Eldest Shixiong,” a member of his sect said from behind him, “what is it?”
“Do you think…” An He said expressionlessly, “that young girl may have been a man crossdressing as a woman?”
“Ah?” His fellow disciple stilled. That young girl looked about sixteen or so, her body small, her voice sweet and soft. From any aspect, she was a woman, and moreover a beauty.
“Shixiong, you are mistaken,” the fellow disciple muttered. “How could someone not a woman look so good?”
When An He heard this, his brow furrowed even deeper. If she was a woman, why was she unaffected when she saw his face?
Seeing the man securely tied up on the ground and covered in dirt, An He showed slight disdain in his eyes. “Take him away.” Similar incidents had occurred several times recently. This was not a coincidence. Fortunately, the main sect had sent them a message beforehand and they had prepared. Otherwise, if this was allowed to continue, something bad would occur sooner or later.
Pointing at the sign hanging beside the gates, An He said, “When you return, have them put up a bigger sign. Everyone entering the city has to be able to see it to avoid other people crying for pity using a nomad cultivator’s identity.”
“Yes, Eldest Shixiong.”
An He was finally satisfied. He flew back onto his horse. “Return.” He had to report what occurred today to the main sect to avoid anything slipping by. He had only received Harmonious Wind Study from Master’s hands a while ago. After he took on the position of study master, Master had praised him many times in front of Sect Master Jin of the main sect. If he could not manage Yan City and Harmonious Wind Study well, wouldn’t he shame Master?
“Yan City really lives up to being the city of water.” Kong Hou leaned against the window and saw that there were bridges and streams inside the city. The water in the curving streams was clear, and some places had signs with “Littering into the river will be fined.” There were also outer sect disciples of Harmonious Wind Study who walked with bags along the shore and fished out any garbage.
“The scenery here is beautiful.” Kong Hou turned and said to Huan Zhong, “Huan Zhong, are we still staying at an inn?”
“Not at an inn.” Huan Zhong shook his head. “I seem to have a small residence here.” He lifted the curtain and asked Lin Hu. “Lin Hu, where is my residence?”
“On East Street in the city core. Someone has been cleaning and maintaining it all these years. Master and Miss Kong Hou can take residence at any time.” Lin Hu drove the horses towards the inner city. So this was still not the most prosperous part of Yan City. The carriage drove onto an enormous suspension bridge made out of chains. At the end of the bridge was an enormous gate. When they came near the gate, Kong Hou detected the nearby energy field was slightly unusual. Defensive formations must have been set up here.
After passing through the large gates, Kong Hou saw stands of blooming trees, young people walking and laughing under them. It seemed like paradise.
A disciple of Harmonious Wind Study saw an unfamiliar carriage enter, and bowed. “Noble guests, where do you come from? This lowly city has good wine and flowers, fragrant fish and wonderful song. Good wishes for a pleasurable stay.”
“Thank you.” Lin Hu gave the life token and property deed to this disciple. The disciple took a look and returned them with both hands. He took a few steps back with a smile. “So you are residents of Yan City. Please.” The address on the life token was Pei City, but they had property in Yan City, and moreover in the most prosperous area. This seemed to be a rich cultivator.
Lin Hu nodded towards him. “Thank you.”
The wind blew some flower petals into the carriage. Kong Hou caught them with her hand and found they were fake.
“Right now is not the best time for the flowers to be in bloom. However, as the citizens of Yan City like flowers, Harmonious Wind Study set up formations in the city core to produce an illusion of blooming flowers for the people to admire.” Huan Zhong calculated the days. “In a few more days, the weather will warm up. At that time, all of Yan City will sink into a sea of flowers. Coincidentally, you have just reached Mind Activation Stage. You need to reinforce your mental state. You could stay in Yan City for a while and admire the unique song and dance of Yan City before leaving.”
“Will this delay you?” Kong Hou thought of Huan Zhong’s health and felt worried.
“No delay—two months early or two months late is the same to me.” Huan Zhong poured a cup of water for Kong Hou. “I also want to see what Yan City is like in a sea of flowers.”
“You’ve never come to Yan City before?” Kong Hou suddenly realized—no wonder Huan Zhong said he had a house here but he did not know where it was. So he had never come here before.
“Elder Lin bought the house for you?” Buying a house before even visiting—as expected of a rich disciple of Radiance Sect.
“In the past, I once did a person a favor, and they wanted to repay it. I told him to find me a small house here, with the excuse that Yan City has beautiful scenery.” When Huan Zhong spoke of past events, his tone was calm. If he hadn’t been bothered by this person repeatedly visiting him with gifts, and stopping him from practising the sword in peace, he would not have made a request like that.
Kong Hou did not continue to ask. She dazed out as she looked at the falling petals through the window. The flower trees made out of formations looked so beautiful. How beautiful would it be when the flowers were really blooming?
Then she found that some people would pay spirit stones to the disciples guarding the door, but some people did not. Seeing this, she felt some doubts. Did Yan City really bully people of certain identities?
“Elder Lin.” She walked to the door of the carriage and lifted the curtain to ask Lin Hu, “Why would the Harmonious Wind Study disciples ask for spirit stones from some people?”
“The formations are supported by spirit stones. Yan City is famed for its scenery, so many people come to visit,” Lin Hu explained. “Other than the locals and people with property in Yan City, everyone else who enters the city core has to pay spirit stones.”
Kong Hou: “…”
This was the first time she learned one could earn money through methods like this. Harmonious Wind Study’s name was ethereal, but they were clear in matters of money.
The carriage passed through the long streets and stopped in front of an exquisite courtyard. The courtyard was clean and enclosed with a boundary.
Lin Hu took down the boundary and pushed open the gates for Huan Zhong and Kong Hou to enter. The courtyard had pavilions, towers, lotus ponds and twisting corridors. It seemed like heaven. Kong Hou felt that the person who Huan Zhong had done a favor for must have had a great desire to repay him.
“The main hall and side halls have not been used much; servants live in the back row. We will stay in the inner yard.” Lin Hu introduced the layout of the courtyard to Huan Zhong, the owner. “Yan City’s city core is not large. This courtyard is refined, but does not take up much land, and there are no supplementary courtyards. Miss Kong Hou, you will have to make do and live with Master in the inner yard.”
“That is nothing.” Kong Hou touched the carved flowers on the wooden banister of the curving corridors. “Do we have to worry about ostentation between us?”
Lin Hu said, “Then I will lead Miss to the inner yard. There are hot springs that Miss can soak in.”
“All right.” Kong Hou nodded repeatedly. Lin Hu and Huan Zhong were surprised by her bright smile.
When she was young, her father-emperor had been obsessed with music and would not have taken her and her mother-empress to the hot springs. When Emperor Jinghong took over, he would take his consorts and children to the palaces in the suburbs or to the hot springs, but they did not take her along. Due to this, she always heard people say how comfortable the hot spring palace in the Jing suburbs was, but never had a chance to experience it.
Right now, this courtyard was so beautiful, and it even had hot springs. It was perfect.
When she came to the inner yard and learned where the hot springs were, Kong Hou left happily and left Huan Zhong and Lin Hu staring at each other.
“Master, that Energy Refinement female cultivator who was with Bian Hong of Willow Speech Sect has disappeared,” Lin Hu said. “Not long after Bian Hong lost the status of sect eldest disciple, the female cultivator known as Lu Yao disappeared. We found a female corpse where Lu Yao’s home was. It has been confirmed to be Lu Yao. I suspect that the woman with Bian Hong killed the true Lu Yao in order to take Lu Yao’s identity and get close to Bian Hong.
“A pity. That Lu Yao has not even spent a decade on the path of cultivation and died in the hands of an evil cultivator,” Lin Hu said with a sigh. “If Willow Speech Sect and Green Jade Sect had a marriage alliance, it would be of benefit to both. Now, while the two sides are not enemies, they are not as before.”
“A man that could change his heart will still change even after becoming married. For that female disciple of Green Jade Sect, not holding the path union ceremony is a good thing.” Huan Zhong did not understand social interactions sometimes, but he could see clearly at other times. “In this matter, Bian Hong is not innocent.”
“Master, I understand what you mean.” Lin Hu frowned. “Those evil cultivators are so disgusting to use such lowly methods.”
“They only dare to use such methods. This means that they have no bravery to face us openly.” Huan Zhong lowered his face, his expression cool. “The present evil cultivators cannot compare to the previous ones in either skill or gall.”
Lin Hu: “…”
Those words seemed quite reasonable. All right, he would go and buy food for these two to eat. He was suited for those matters that did not require much thinking.
Kong Hou leaned against the side of the hot spring. She took out tea and pastries from her storage ring, cast a floating spell on the tray, and then closed her eyes in enjoyment. The wind blew the light silk hanging outside the hot spring. The flower petals produced by the formations floated in. Kong Hou opened her eyes, and a flying message seal flew in.
She reached out and held it, putting her consciousness into the flying message seal. Master and the shixiong had sent this letter. The letter only asked whether she was eating well, sleeping well, if it was easy to interact with the disciple of Radiance Sect. If the other was not good, she did not have to worry about Radiance Sect’s face. She should just settle accounts.
At the end of the letter, they congratulated her on successfully reaching Mind Activation Stage and emphasized she did not have to work too hard on her cultivation. She had many shixiong and shijie in front of her, and should not feel pressure.
Other people’s sects worried their disciples were not accomplished enough. Her sect forever worried whether she was too tired.
She put the flying message seal into her storage bag. Kong Hou found an unused flying message seal and started to respond to Master and the shixiong. For example, how beautiful Yan City was, how shameless the evil cultivators were, how fun the hot springs were, how delicious the fruit wine she took from the sect was while she was soaking in the hot springs. Kong Hou was like a country girl entering the city for the first time. She impatiently shared to her nearest people the things she had anticipated for so long.
She wrote back a great deal, even the fact that Radiance Sect disciples had more money than she did. When the flying message seal was filled with spirit energy and she could not inscribe any more into it, she took out a strand of Master’s hair. She activated and sent out the flying message seal.
After sending the flying message seal, Kong Hou climbed out of the hot springs and went to change. A matron dressed in blue robes stood outside the door. “Miss, the food is ready. Please come with me.”
“Huan Zhong and Elder Lin have already left?”
“Master and Transcendent Lin have arrived already.” The matron turned sideways as she responded, her attitude respectful.
Yet Kong Hou suddenly stopped walking. She looked at the matron and said, “There seems to be a formation up ahead?”
The matron stilled and then realized what Kong Hou said. She answered, “Because the courtyard has been uninhabited for so long, Transcendent set up some formations. I do not have any great strength, so I do not understand the formations. However, I have never been harmed by them.”
“Really?” Kong Hou suddenly realized. “Then lead the way.”
“Miss, please follow me.” The matron smiled warmly and then turned to walk forward.
Yet in that moment, Kong Hou took out two protective seals and put them on her body. She flew backwards and shouted, “Elder Lin, help me!” At a dangerous time, there was nothing simpler or faster than screaming for help. She could not call for Huan Zhong; he was ill.
In this short moment, many thoughts flashed through Kong Hou’s mind.
Huan Zhong had been reading in his room. Hearing Kong Hou call for help, he flew out through the window, not even putting down his book.
The matron had not expected Kong Hou to suddenly change. She stilled for a beat before she attacked Kong Hou with a talisman, her movements fast like lightning. Yet when her blows landed on Kong Hou, Kong Hou was not wounded and she used the momentum to flee even further.
“Backlash Seal?” The matron’s face was pale. She felt blood rise and almost spat out blood due to the backlash of spirit energy. Seeing her attack fail, she did not attack again. She turned and fled.
Fast, she had to be fast. Otherwise, she would die here today.
Yet her speed was not fast enough. She heard a dragon’s roar sound behind her. A silver light passed through her body. Like a stone, she fell from the sky.
“My Mind Manifestation, my Mind Manifestation…” The matron touched where her spirit platform was located. At this moment, her spirit platform had been destroyed and her Mind Manifestation was completely gone. She threw up several mouthfuls of black blood. The matron turned her head in terror and looked at the handsome man walking towards her with a sword. Her hands clawed at the ground as she crawled forward.
“Transcendent, please spare my life. I came with the orders of the Demon Sage to pretend to be a servant of other sects and assassinate disciples of famed sects. This is my first time; please spare my lowly life as I have not yet done anything.” The matron’s voice became rough and unpleasant. This was not a matron, but a male evil cultivator.
The sword gave off a blinding light. The sword rose and fell. The evil cultivator fell silent.
A drop of blood dripped from the tip of the sword. Huan Zhong put his sword back in the sheath. After his sword disappeared from his hand, he turned and looked at Kong Hou. “Kong Hou, are you all right?”
Kong Hou sat on the rooftop, holding a blackened Backlash Seal in her hand. She shook her head. A moment later, she said dazedly, “Huan Zhong, was that sword just now your lifebond sword?”
The moment the flying sword appeared, she thought it was a dragon coming out of the sea, the enormous spiritual pressure and sword energy almost suffocating her. Fortunately, she was not a person who would work against their own body. She had sat down immediately.
“This evil cultivator has completed Mind Manifestation Stage.” Huan Zhong’s face was extremely pale. “It was lucky that you found the abnormality in time. Otherwise, I fear you would have been injured.”
“I found it strange. With Elder Lin and your personalities, you would not have an unfamiliar servant come get me alone. Also, you and Elder Lin do not think much about this courtyard—why would you set up formations in the room? You are not so poor.” Setting up a boundary outside the gates was Elder Lin’s greatest frugality.
This evil cultivator underestimated the wealth of Radiance Sect disciples. If this was a courtyard of her shixiong or shijie, she would not doubt anything even if the place was covered in formations.
In conclusion, everything was a question of money.
“As long as you are fine.” Seeing Kong Hou still able to tease him about being rich, he knew she had not received too much of a fright. Huan Zhong smiled, and then coughed, covering his mouth. “I will go change.”
“All right.” Kong Hou nodded. She jumped off and walked a few steps before she felt something was not right. She turned back and followed Huan Zhong’s path.
When he turned the corner, Huan Zhong took his hand off his mouth and spat out a mouthful of blood. He expressionlessly took out a handkerchief and wiped away the blood at the corner of his mouth.
“Huan Zhong!” Kong Hou jumped off the opposite roof and said angrily, “You are wounded.”
“Not wounded. This is an old…”
“Do not speak.” Kong Hou gripped his wrist and transferred spirit energy into his body. As expected, his spirit energy was chaotic and his meridians unstable.
“Do not endure quietly if you are not feeling well.” Kong Hou glared at him and used spirit energy to sort the spirit energy in Huan Zhong’s body. When she used up all of her spirit energy, Huan Zhong’s spirit energy had also calmed down. She released his hand. “Someone who keeps everything inside is stupid. You are not someone without anyone who cares and loves you—why are you so hard on yourself?”
Huan Zhong said, “I…”
“Do not speak. Do you not know that girls are terrifying when they are angry?” Kong Hou pulled on Huan Zhong’s robe, pulling him down, and prepared to shove an energy condensing pill into his mouth.
Lin Hu who was coming through the door with fish saw Miss Kong Hou putting a hand on Master’s chest and that Master’s head was lowered. He silently moved a step back.
Huan Zhong turned his head and saw him standing by the door.
Lin Hu couldn’t help but think that he should go buy another fish, and not be here.
Translator Ramblings: The evil cultivators continue to haunt the story.