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Chapter 66: An Empty Street
Palace Attendant Rong walked quickly, casually entered a farm yard and changed robes.
Usually, it would be easy for her to find the tracks of a person in Changling. However, it would be hard for people to find her as long as she was fast enough. So as she walked without stopping, almost everyone was a step slower than her, and only knew where she had gone.
She walked into a deserted large courtyard. Originally, there had been a tall stage outside this large courtyard. Now, the top of the stage was gone. The stairs up to the stage had rotted away. The stage was covered in broken tiles and weeds.
She had seen that person and his brothers here. She had admired them greatly and wanted to become one of them. Then, she finally had a chance to become a retainer of the Jiaodong Zheng Family, and the personal attendant of the perfect woman from Jiaodong.
She walked past this stage and through a group of horse stables.
The horse stables was deserted and the grasses had grown all over. There was a mass grave by the river port in the distance.
She remembered she had done the first thing she did not want to do here, purposely delaying a military order so that a certain person would die in battle. That person had once been one of the people from the Ba Mountain Sword Field she had admired greatly.
She did not stop. Her figure quickly appeared in an apricot forest.
At the end of the forest were two small bridges facing two completely different directions. She walked over one of the bridges.
These were the two bridges she had lingered over back then. After crossing this bridge, she had discovered she started to grow further apart from the person she wanted to be. In the end, she became someone she did not like.
She took a detour and arrived at a lively market. These shops here were all those selling goods from north and south. Shade clothes were supported by bamboo poles. So even in the summer, it was extremely busy, and gave off the scent of all kinds of salted meat and species.
The thick odor could not conceal the blood scent in her mind. She thought of that day three years before Emperor Yuanwu’s ascension.
This place had been a mill of blood and flesh. Countless flying swords were broken easily like arrows and fell into the thick bloody mud. The corpses of realm four and five cultivators were piled up in mountains like they were ordinary soldiers.
All the buildings here had turned to dust. The swing of each sword carried along mountainous bloody waves and hundreds of corpses like a giant ship in the waves.
Most of the people she had seen on the stage back then had died here. She had watched from a distance. She was unable to stand, whether out of joy or terror, and sat on the ground trembling until her body turned cold.
After that, she grew cold and cruel. She followed the miss who came from Jiaodong Commandery until she no longer felt terror.
She knew she had completely become the empress’ shadow.
Palace Attendant Rong looked towards her shadow.
The shadow was very lonely. There was only one.
She had walked along the shore and was not far from the tea garden now. Back then, wooden and vacant, she had walked here until she encountered that quiet tea master.
He did not know her status. He thought she was a student from a cultivation place who had gotten lost, or one of the misses or retainers who had managed to survive from the bloody Changling households. He had taken her in.
But why, in the end, was he also gone?
She ignored the mud and sat down on the shore facing the tea garden. She hugged her head and started to tremble just like how she had when facing the mountain of corpses.
She felt she had returned to that time. Inexplicably, her thoughts became as clear as back then. She thought of what Ding Ning had done to her. She thought of what had happened all these days. She found it familiar as well.
But then she thought of where she had just walked past and those two bridges.
She quickly stood up.
She walked towards Changling’s streets and started searching for Ding Ning among them.
Jing Liuli followed quietly behind Ding Ning like an attendant. Ye Zhengnan followed suit.
Ding Ning passed through the streets faster than Palace Attendant Rong, and he would take many shortcuts. However, he would linger for a quick moment at certain places.
His first stop was an unnamed little alley. There was a broken stele next to an ordinary farmyard covered in moss.
Ding Ning stopped, and opened the metal box on his back.
Then a sword essence flowed out of the metal box. A part of the moss from the stele went missing to reveal a smooth cut. Then a very faint sword essence flowed into Ding Ning’s metal box.
Jing Liuli and Ye Zhengnan both suddenly stopped breathing.
They all sensed that faint sword essence they could not comprehend… If they could not comprehend it, it meant this sword essence was on a whole new level. But Ding Ning’s actions caused them to understand what he was doing.
Especially Jing Liuli. She could not believe that Ding Ning was able to master that sword manual in such a short time.
Ding Ning continued to walk past the streets and towards a mottled ancient wall.
The white powder on the ancient wall had chipped off slightly, revealing some traces that other people would not be able to detect even if they came to investigate.
He walked over a wide stone path that many carriages travelled across. A gust of dust suddenly shot out of the cracks in the stone.
He walked past a vegetable garden.
In the rainstorm last summer, when Ye Celeng and Zhao Zhan of the Zhao Sword Furnace fought, a sword energy had destroyed this vegetable garden.
Other than Jing Liuli and Ye Zhengnan, even the cultivators who closely followed him could not sense these energies because they were not close enough. In their eyes, Ding Ning chose a very short path to head towards a hall.
That hall was called the Gourd Hall, and was a large medical clinic. Among all of Changling’s clinics, it could rank second.
As Ding Ning appeared here, many people started to realize this clinic had been surrounded by the Guanzhong Xie Family. The owner of the Gourd Hall, Sun Xingtang, was one of the most famous doctors in Changling. He was from Guanzhong.
When Ding Ning came to the gates of the Gourd Hall, this old man in his seventies, was already waiting there.
“You have already reached realm five.”
Seeing Ding Ning bow calmly to him, this old man returned the bow and said slowly with unusual solemnity, “There has never been a cultivator as fast as you to reach realm five. So you have to take great care to not make mistakes.”
“I understand your meaning.” Ding Ning smiled and said, “You hope that I will not be impatient, but if one always thinks to be patient, they will be too late. Maybe after today, it will be someone else.”
The old man stilled and then bowed seriously. “I do not understand cultivation matters like you. What you say makes me feel that this is a truth of life.”
Ding Ning returned the bow again. “So I will trouble Elder.”
The old man nodded. He retreated to the usually lively but now quiet clinic where most of the doctors had been dismissed.
Ding Ning stopped, put down the sword box on his back and stood it straight behind him. Then he calmly looked faced the main street as he stood at the gates.
Seeing him stop, everyone understood he was waiting here for Palace Attendant Rong.
Jing Liuli and Ye Zhengnan exchanged looks. They were even more certain Ding Ning would not leave after stopping here. So the two of them walked behind Ding Ning into the shadows of Gourd Hall’s gates.
There was an inexplicable roar of thunder in the sky.
There were no black clouds, but someone seemed to be beating the drum for the drama about to start.
There were no black clouds in the sky, but from a side alley, a patch of black clouds floated out.
Everyone from that side looked fearfully over. Many people in Changling would use umbrellas on sunny days, but no one would have such black umbrellas.
Seeing the flow of black umbrellas, everyone who saw knew that Bureau Chief Ye Celeng of the Astrology Bureau had arrived.
There was a stone bridge not far from the clinic. A carriage was parked beside the bridge.
The carriage was ordinary but gave off a rotten odor. Many cultivators did not even dare to pass by. Only those ordinary people did not sense a thing and flowed in a tide towards the hall.
Looking down from the turrets, countless people were travelling in Changling’s streets towards that hall like ants.
Huang Zhenwei, who had just ascended the closest turret to the hall, had a gaze full of worry and admiration. It had been many years since the entire city coming out had occurred.
But at the same time, he was slightly stunned.
His teacher, Mo Shoucheng, had not come.
He did not know the reason.
Translator Ramblings: A gourd, in ancient China, can symbolize a doctor/medicine. A lot of times, a doctor would put up a flag with a gourd in front of their shop.