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Chapter 33: Step By Step
Bai Shanshui was silent in the black carriage.
She thought for a moment and slowly lifted her head. She whispered to herself, “In the battle of Fish Market and Wei River, four orphaned women gathered once again. Now, even the Eldest Miss Gongsun has appeared. Zhao Miao, where are you?”
Zhao Miao was Fourth Mister Zhao. Since the battle of Fish Market, Zhao Si’s lifebond sword had been destroyed and gone missing. But Bai Shanshui still felt that Fourth Mister Zhao, just like herself, would not be content when she looked at this grey-walled and black roofed city.
They were clearly enemies who had fought to the death, but when she thought of Zhao Miao now, she felt emotional, somewhat warm and anticipatory.
The caravan near the border of Chu finally approached the Yan lands.
Due to accumulated tiredness, most people in the caravan became more restless. Maybe, because of getting closer to his home, the old man Zhang Yi had been taking care of all this time seemed to be in better and better moods. He stopped speaking maliciously and demanding more of Zhang Yi. Instead, he spent more time in silence, his dim eyes seeming to reminisce about something.
When some villages in the Yan appeared in sight, the old man became alert. After eating the evening meal Zhang Yi brought over, he gave a rare smile to Zhang Yi. He said with slight disdain to Zhang Yi, “Young cultivators like you should not follow a caravan like a homeless dog. You must have committed a great crime in Changling to have to escape like this.”
Zhang Yi stilled and said embarrassedly, “Mister, you misunderstand.”
“If not for committing a great crime, then what?” The disdain grew on the old man’s face.
Zhang Yi stilled. He did not know how to answer this question.
The old man laughed. “You say you did not commit a great crime.”
Zhang Yi thought and said, “I offended an important person.”
The old man looked disdainfully at him and said, “You are a cultivator. It is too cowardly to not dare to stay in Changling just because you offended someone important.”
“I do not fear that person.” Thinking of the things he and his “little sect brother” had done during the Min Mountain Sword Trials, a rare look of pride flashed across Zhang Yi’s face. “But my choice can make the people I care about live better.”
“Sacrifice yourself for others sounds very grand.” The old man looked meaningfully at Zhang Yi and said, “Have you thought about yourself?”
Zhang Yi nodded seriously and looked towards the Yan. “I have to become even stronger… I can only protect others when I become strong enough…”
The old man smiled.
Zhang Yi was looking into the distance and did not see the old man’s expression was very gentle, and completely unlike usual.
“I am tired. Go get warm water for a foot bath.” He ordered Zhang Yi like usual.
Zhang Yi stood up and went to get warm water without thinking.
When he returned with a basin of hot water, he stilled on the spot.
The old man was gone from his sight.
At the place the old man had just sat, there were marks made with charcoal, forming three slanted words: “I have left.”
When Zhang Yi’s urgent calls were ringing out, the old man was lightly travelling in the night. There seemed to be a unique energy wrapped around his body so he floated over the long grasses like the wind.
His face was still wrinkled, but the feeling of weakness and age was expelled by a powerful presence from his body.
Under an old dead tree, a fire was burning red.
When he neared, he could see it was a fire red crane.
When the old man came close to the fire red crane, the crane spread out its wings. Once the old man had managed to mount it, soundlessly, it disappeared into the clouds of the night sky.
“I can see you are a very good person, but good people may not be repaid in today’s world.”
The caravan leader Luo Zhongjing walked in front of Zhang Yi who had searched nearby for a long time without any results. He looked at the latter’s worried and disappointed face.
Zhang Yi understood this caravan leader’s meaning and knew it was his goodwill.
But he still shook his head and said softly, “If everyone thinks like this, there will be only evil left, and no kindness.”
Luo Zhongjing sighed and said nothing else.
From the bewilderment at the start to the helplessness now, this humble young cultivator’s actions on the road and care towards the old Yan man, who repaid kindness with anger, had made them all understand what a true gentleman was.
But could a true gentleman really survive in this world where the strong ate the weak?
At this time, when Zhang Yi was worrying about the lost old man, he was worried about what this young cultivator, who had gained their respect through his actions, would encounter when he reached the Yan.
Ding Ning sat with a frown in front of the table.
The jade seal representing the Lonely Mountain Sword Hoard lay on the table in front of him. Some of the lines in his mind perfectly filled the largest missing corner of this jade seal and connected with its lines.
The Lonely Mountain Sword Hoard that Bai Shanshui could see was not as complete as his. But when his consciousness was moving along the almost-complete lines, Ding Ning increasingly felt that the speculations he had mentioned to Zhangsun Qianxue were correct.
When power above realm eight went along these lines, and the powerful primal energies of the universe flowed around Changling, what effects would be created?
Ding Ning seemed to feel that he had captured that line that could pull out the true answer. But he could not make actual contact, separated by the last veil.
He was in some chaos.
The sound of music came from a distance.
Hearing the song and laughter from the distant restaurants, Ding Ning knew that his mind was in chaos.
“Do not be like this,” he frowned and lectured himself.
Then his face started to recover his usual calm.
Since he was in chaos and could not think of a solution, then he would go step by step.
Palace Attendant Rong had always been Zheng Xiu’s fangs and claws. There were many new and old accounts to be settled.
The former carriage driver, the present Great General Liang Lian was going to go far from Changling.
If so… then he would kill Palace Attendant Rong first.
Truthfully, step by step was usually the easiest method to calm oneself.
He put the jade seal away on his body and walked out of the inner courtyard. Then he walked out of the gates of Ink Garden to Shao Sharen who was sitting on the bamboo mat under the tree. He bowed solemnly and said, “I want to kill Palace Attendant Rong.”
Shao Sharen’s expression did not change upon hearing such words. He only looked up slightly at Ding Ning and said coldly, “The empress will not give you a public chance to kill her. But you can kill her in secret.”
“That way, everyone will think Min Mountain Sword Sect helped me kill her,” Ding Ning shook his head and said, “I want to publicly kill her as a disciple of White Goat Cave.”
Shao Sharen was the cultivator best at killing in Min Mountain Sword Sect. This “killing” included many meanings. In his previous words, he had clearly expressed a certain meaning, but he did not reject Ding Ning now. He thought for a moment and said, “The empress will not give you a public chance to challenge and kill her. But you can force her beyond her limits of tolerance.”
“I want to know what she cannot tolerate.”
Ding Ning bowed again to Shao Sharen.
He knew that Shao Sharen may not know, but Min Mountain Sword Sect could definitely find a solution.