This chapter has been brought to you by me, and larkspur.
Chapter 76: All Warfare Based on Deception
Night covered Changling and the stars shone. A white frost formed around the mountains like they had come down from the stars.
Ding Ning laid on a hammock made from vines but didn’t feel cold at all. The cold energy he had endured in Falling Parasol’s wine shop was much colder than this.
He had a certain understanding of the cultivation methods of the Han, Zhao and Wei but he did not know much about the obscure cultivation methods and the pill medicines of the minor sects. Nangong Caishu’s Yellow Court Gold Pill from a minor Yellow Court Pill Sect that she had given him had taken him by great surprise.
He closed his eyes tightly, and looked within through his mental power. He continued to refine the rich medicinal power in his body.
Countless small silkworms seemed to have silently crept out of his flesh and were devouring the impurities in the medicinal power that was harmful to cultivators. They chewed on very slow and soft, without disturbing the silence around him Even the impurities that had blended into his flesh and physical energies were slowly eaten away.
As time passed, the remaining medicinal power in Ding Ning’s body grew cleaner to the degree that not even the best pills of the former South Sun Pill Sect could rival. The pure medicinal power and pure physical energy slowly fused. The physical energy in his energy sea grew thicker and heavier. The threads of physical energy flowing out of his energy sea passed through many formerly impenetrable veins in his body and seeped into his bones.
This was realm two second class, Bone Washing.
Nangong Caishu was correct. This Yellow Court Gold Pill was enough to have an Energy Refinement third class cultivator reach Energy Refinement second class. However, even in this moment, Ding Ning’s advancement did not stop.
After the feeding of the numerous “tiny silkworms” in his body, some of the beneficial medicinal power that had stuck together with the impure and detrimental medicinal power was cleansed. The power of this Yellow Court Gold Pill had been thoroughly utilized.
At the time, there was still a lot of pure medicinal power left in his body. So, he continued to refine it. The vital energies, by now more condensed and heavier, permeated deeper, and slowly nurtured the places that his mental power could not reach before.
Night passed slowly.
When the first rays of the sun touched the mountain peaks, the remnants of medicinal power had disappeared from his body. His mental perception stopped at what cultivators called the ‘marrow river’ of his bones.
Now, the realm two first class Marrow Conversion was close at hand.
Ding Ning opened his eyes. He took a deep breath of the fresh air as he faced the rising sun. He was quite satisfied with his progress in cultivation, or rather, satisfied with his controlled progress in cultivation.
According to the rules, the participants could start travelling after midnight but this was not the decisive third day and there was no meaning in leaving early. Also, no one knew how many dangers were lurking in the formations at night.
So, all those who hadn’t been eliminated chose to act only after the sun had risen.
A disciple of Green Vine Sword School was roasting a skylark. He had some dry wild oranges next to him. This was clearly the breakfast he was preparing for himself.
But at this moment, his body suddenly tensed. He quickly stood up, his right hand hastening towards the long sword at his waist.
“I advise you not to draw the sword.”
Accompanying this cool voice was Su Qin’s figure that gradually emerged from the thin mist.
“Especially when I may not want to fight you.”
He looked at this Green Vine Sword School disciple and slowly added. “If I remember correctly, you should be called Shi Xia. You are a new disciple, from Changshan Commandery. You use the Blue Frost Sword and only have Energy Refinement second-class cultivation. You have performed well to reach here and pass the night, but you are no match for me.”
Terror and shock intensified in the eyes of this Green Vine Sword School disciple with a youthful appearance who looked just likely taller than Ding Ning.
He was just an ordinary disciple of Green Vine Sword School. It would be a surprise that members of White Goat Cave would notice him, and even remember his name. But Su Qin remembered not only his name, but also his origin and cultivation status. Su Qin’s vast knowledge was as the rumors said.
“I am Shi Xia.” He swallowed hard and tried to make himself calmer. “But I do not understand why Senior Sect Brother Su Qin appears in front of me without wanting to fight. Does Senior Sect Brother Su Qin think that I am not worthy of your sword because of my cultivation?”
Su Qin smiled slightly, shook his head and said, “I mean that you may have a better choice.”
Shi Xia looked at the skylark that had blackened slightly on one side because it hadn’t been turned. He asked, “What choice?”
“Based on the rules of the sword trial festival, you must have a battle each day. You should not have fought yet today,” Su Qin said, coolly. “I will give you a choice. You can fight me, or you can fight Ding Ning who is not far from here. You should know that he has just reached Energy Refinement and you will be likely to win against him. I will even guarantee that you will successfully get close to him.”
Shi Xia stilled and looked in disbelief at Su Qin. Shocked, he said, “Why …”
“There are many reasons that I want someone eliminated, but I do not need to explain anymore to you.” Su Qin glanced at him and said, “You just have to make a choice; whether you want to immediately fall by my sword, or beat him and get more time in the trial. Disciples like you only join a trial like this to get more experience.”
“What does Su Qin intend?” A still sleepy Xie Changsheng, coldly questioned, as he looked at the situation in sword trial valley. He blinked hard.
“This is to herd the beast.”
Xie Rou glanced at him, frowned and explained softly. “Some hunters in the Ba Commandery can frequently capture prey that are several times stronger than they are. They surround some mountains or river valleys and herd in the wild beasts. Some vicious beasts fight each other when forced into a narrow path and encounter each other. Su Qin is being held back by Zhang Yi and thus cannot act. Now, he has chosen to restrain Zhang Yi while compelling others to fight Ding Ning.”
Xie Changsheng’s expression changed. He couldn’t resist cursing. “This person is so shameless.”
“All warfare is based on deception, the fittest survive,” Xu Heshan said, seriously from the side. “This kind of trial is a competition of deceit as well as strength. Su Qin is shameless, but he is as clever and quick-witted as the rumors say.”
Looking at Shi Xia who was getting closer to Ding Ning, Xie Rou’s brows furrowed tighter. For some inexplicable reason, Ding Ning gave off a very different feeling today.
Ding Ning was chewing on a few orange leaves.
There were many wild orange trees in these forests. The season of wild oranges was just around the corner now. While many oranges had shriveled on the surface, they still hung from the branches and an easy harvest. But wild mountain oranges did not taste good, especially on mornings like this. They were sour when used as a drink.
Ding Ning saw Shi Xia walking towards him with a lowered head as he rubbed his cheeks due to the acidity. He noticed the peculiarity in Shi Xia’s expression. So he did not speak and rubbed his cheeks as he looked at the trudging Shi Xia
“I am Shi Xia, a student of Green Vine Sword School who joined last year.” Shi Xia stopped a dozen meters away from him and said, “I have come to fight you … but I am being forced by your White Goat Cave’s Senior Sect Brother Su Qin to fight.”
Ding Ning immediately stilled.
Shi Xia then said, “I know this is not very good but I want more chances to gain experience. I want to fight more people in this trial and stay in longer … so I have no choice.”
Ding Ning smiled slightly and sincerely said, “You ought to. Even I would make the same choice.”
Shi Xia looked at Ding Ning with gratitude and said, “I heard that Junior Sect Brother Ding Ning has an extraordinary understanding of sword manuals but just reached Energy Refinement before coming to participate in the sword trial festival. So when we fight, I will do my best to control myself at Energy Refinement third-class.”
Ding Ning found this Green Vine Sword School disciple quite interesting. He laughed. “There is no need, but if you think so, I feel you may have more chances to gain experience.”
Shi Xia felt he could not understand Ding Ning’s words. But he had finished saying what he wanted to say. He bowed to Ding Ning, and revealed his sword.
His sword was completely blue and made from a hard kind of jade. The surface seemed to have complicated and dense seal scripts. As his physical energy channeled in, this sword started to emanate a cold aura and layers of frost formed.
Ding Ning’s smile was barely discernible. He too pulled out his sword slowly. Numerous small white jasmine flowers appeared on the blade, just like yesterday.
Translator Ramblings: I feel as though I am going to read all of the Art of War by the time I finish translating this. The chapter title refers to a line in the first chapter of the Art of War. The Art of War was written during the end of the Autumn and Spring period so it was several centuries before the present time in the story. But I’m not actually certain just how widespread the book was and whether people quoted it like they do now.