Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
First elder Hu smiled and said, “That’s right, it is another year again but it still felt like the last New Year was yesterday. We have all grown old as the years pass in front of our eyes.”
Second elder Li Jian who was silent all these while interrupted to say, “It is because we are old that the outstanding people among the young ones can rise.”
Ou Peng smiled and said, “Second senior brother is absolutely right, weren’t we the same in our youth; However, I disagree with eldest senior brother that we have grown old, now that eldest senior brother’s inner energy is so profound, he can be considered an expert in Jianghu. As the saying goes, old steeds can have high aspirations, you can still achieve many things as long as you try.”
Fifth elder Liu Qingyang cried out, “Why does eldest senior brother have to worry about growing old, you can eat that whatever longevity extending pill when the time comes right?”
When first elder Hu heard his words, he wrinkled his brow and said in a stern voice, “Old fifth, what did I say at this same place last year? Have you already forgotten?”
Fifth elder Liu shirked his neck and said sheepishly, “This… about this, I naturally did not forget eldest senior brother’s teachings, but I was merely shooting my mouth.”
First elder Hu studied the entire hall and said, “I will say this again, our Piaomiao sect does not have what longevity extending pill, so whatever you know about it is only hearsay, remember this.”
Everyone chorused, “We understand, eldest senior brother.”
Sixth elder Xu Peihua asked, “Third senior brother, when is forth senior brother returning?”
Ou Peng smiled and said, “I have just received the news that old fourth and Shui Yupeng have already taken action, so I guess that he will return in two days’ time.”
Sixth elder Xu continued, “We six brothers have been passing the New Years together, but now that an additional Luoshui sect has popped up and fourth brother has to be assigned over, I am beginning to miss him slightly.”
Ou Peng said, “The situation in Luoshui sect is urgent so we naturally need someone over there. Shui Yupeng’s martial arts skill might be good but he lacks in the area of planning so old fourth is the most appropriate person to go over. Now that it is the new year, all the more must the sect master remain in the sect, and since I cannot go over to Luoshui personally, Shui Yupeng must be there. The two of them will be returning anyway, and it will be lively soon again.”
First elder Hu smiled and said, “Old third is right, the position of the sect master naturally carries some responsibility with it, and the time belonged to oneself would also decrease. However, old third-ah, even though it is the New Year again, this year is going to be quite different from last year.”
Ou Peng and the rest looked smilingly at first elder Hu while their hearts were busting with pride.
First elder Hu continued, “In a short year span of time, our Piaomiao sect has expanded quite significantly, and our disciples’ martial arts are out of the ordinary, not to mention that we have already acquired Luoshui sect causing our power to be adept in both land and water, this is indeed one good news after another.”
Fifth elder Liu suddenly interrupted and said, “Sesame blooms higher and higher!”
Everyone was surprised, and they laughed, “Old fifth words are right.”
Sixth elder Xu asked in a puzzled tone, “Fifth brother, when did you drop the mentality of not wanting to read?”
Fifth elder Liu glanced at him and said, “Can’t I listen to books if I don’t read them?”
So it was like this, and everyone laughed again.
After the laughter subsided, Ou Peng said to first elder Hu, “These fortunes are all due to the secret area. Hence, to our fellow remaining brothers seated today, we will need to discuss the matter of entering the secret area again.”
Upon hearing these words, fifth elder Liu and sixth elder Xu both stopped talking, they usually only listened when it came to such a serious topic, and their mouths were used for drinking wine instead. As for second elder Li, his expression was still like water and his eyes would twitch ever so occasionally, while the thoughts in his head remained hidden.
Ou Peng already knew that this was going to happen, he might have directed his words to everyone but his eyes were on first elder Hu.
First elder Hu smiled and said, “Old third, what are you thinking of? Let’s listen to your thoughts first since old fourth is not around. You can then have a good discussion with him when he returns.”
Ou Peng said, “It is actually very simple, eldest senior brother, my opinion is the same as before. We will not do things differently from before and continue to sneak in the dark to send an inconspicuous disciple over.”
First elder Hu wrinkled his brows and said. “Our sect has been expanding much during this period of time and our disciples’ martial arts have also improved greatly, there will definitely be people watching them if they make any actions. If we are only sending disciples over, then their safety would be an issue to consider.”
Ou Peng smiled and said, “We have to do so precisely because people will be watching us. If either you or I went instead, won’t we garner more attention onto ourselves? If we send more disciples out, won’t it provide a better smokescreen and prevent the other parties from knowing our real motives? Actually, I feel that the matter of this secret area will be let out sooner or later, so we can only grab the opportunity in front of us now and gain as much benefits as possible.”
First elder Hu asked again, “And will sir Yanming be heading the operations this time round?”
Ou Peng smiled bitterly and said, “There is not much choice in this matter, he had gone the two previous times and is most familiar with the place. Furthermore, he is the only one among us four who do not attract the attention from the rest of Jianghu, so who would be a more suitable candidate than him?”
First elder Hu smiled and said, “This sir Yanming is an honest and outstanding person, but who would not be tempted in the face of such temptation? I hope that he does not do anything foolish this time as well.”
Ou Peng said, “Let him decide, he is the weakest among us four factions so he would have to consider carefully before pulling any moves.”
First elder Hu said, “In that case, I do not have any other opinions. What about the rest of you?”
First elder Hu turned his head towards the rest who were seated.
Fifth elder Liu and sixth elder Xu were currently partaking in wine and when they heard their eldest senior brother spoke, they quickly swallowed the wine in their mouths and nodded hurriedly. Second elder Li grunted softly to show his approval.
Upon seeing their responses, first elder Hu smiled and said, “Since we brothers have no opinions, you can first proceed with whatever preparations needed and discuss with old fourth later when he comes back. Oh right, about this matter, I think we should not let Shui Yupeng into the loop for now since we can only know a person and his face but not his heart, so this would be the safest thing to do.”
Ou Peng smiled and said, “Eldest senior brother can relax, the fewer people who know about the secret area, the better the secret will be kept after all.”
First elder Hu said, “Alright, then we shall do it this way. I will be assured if it is you who is handling the matter, so just do what you think is right.”
Everyone else was also of the same opinion as they expressed their agreement.
Ou Peng remained silent and his fingers pinched his nose as he smiled bitterly.
As for how Ou Peng arranged his men and dispatched his disciples to put up a smokescreen, it will be put aside for Zhang Xiaohua who somehow managed to enter a death honour list, and he still had no idea of what was being discussed of him as he continued to wait patiently for the search party who would never come!
It snowed outside the grass hut for the entire night and when the sun rose again, the snow gradually lightened and the sky turned blue while the sun shone its brilliant rays into the wide snow expanse. If one stood at the river side and looked at the frozen jade-like river, snow-capped mountains, he would become breathless from the beautiful scenery.
With such picturesque scenery before him, perhaps one could compose some good art if his heart was calm and settled. It was such a pity that what the anxious Zhang Xiaohua wanted to see was not the painting-like scenery but some movements in the form of people looking for him.
Unfortunately for him, there was no human figures in the snow covered desolate wilderness, and since the river was frozen solid, there were no boats to be seen. Zhang Xiaohua felt frustrated as he threw a rock onto the hard river surface, heard a “ka chang” sound, and watched the stone break through the ice and sink into the river depths without reappearing again. Zhang Xiaohua then realized that the layer of ice was not thick, and his forehead perspired when he thought of his previous intention of jumping onto the ice to play.
After becoming frightened, Zhang Xiaohua could not maintain his composure and returned back into the grass hut again.
From his rough estimation, it had been over a month since he separated from the carriage party, and since he had not seen anyone coming by to search for him, perhaps his previous view was too optimistic. Zhang Xiaohua laughed at himself, the entire party’s aim was to ensure Ou Yan’s safety and since they suffered under the attack of the black clothed men, everyone’s first priority was to protect Ou Yan so where would they find the extra manpower to search for him?
When he thought up to here, Zhang Xiaohua felt slightly miffed at being slighted by so many people. They were all people, and they all had mothers who gave birth to them, so why couldn’t everyone be treated fairly? Zhang Xiaohua would not blame them if he was born from some demon, but he had saved the villa master after all so why couldn’t they show some concern for him? Come over and look for him, and let Zhang Xiaohua feel a bit of warmth from the mountains!
This servant had wronged the mountain villa people, why did he not think of how far he had floated downstream, how could he expect the others to find him at all?
However, the kind hearted Zhang Xiaohua immediately turned his grievances into concern for Ou Yan and Qiu Tong, he wondered if the two had managed to escape from the life-threatening situation? Perhaps because they were still in danger that no one else had been dispatched to look for him?
This is the kind heartedness of a village youth who had already learnt to provide excuses for other people!
When he thought of all these, Zhang Xiaohua decided not to stay in the grass hut any longer. When he thought of the day, he guessed that it must have been the New Year and the desire to huddle with his family around a stove crept into his bones. Zhang Xiaohua hurriedly returned to the grass hut, packed his belongings and prepared to leave the place.
When it came to packing, the first thing he found was the crutch. Zhang Xiaohua was washed ashore with nothing on his body apart from the small sword, and now he was going to leave the place with an additional money pouch he picked that more importantly, contained some money. If not for the slippery snow, Zhang Xiaohua would be too lazy to bring the crutch along.
Zhang Xiaohua carefully covered the firewood storeroom in the grass hut and looked around at the place he had stayed for over a month, he felt some reluctance as the memories of time spent with master Jing Xuan and the arrogant but pitiful little Meng drifted into his mind.
Were they doing well now? In the sea of crowd, he did not know where they were at, and perhaps would never meet them again in this lifetime. Zhang Xiaohua shook his head and his left hand felt the small sword which already had a new owner, he smiled bitterly and turned around to talk out of the courtyard.
On the left of the grass hut were several small roads that trailed along the river, their paths were still clear when it had not snowed but all traces had been covered then, and Zhang Xiaohua could not possibly shovel away all the snow so he had no choice but to walk along the slippery bank of the river.
When master Jing Xuan left, she had clearly explained the exit path to Zhang Xiaohua who memorized it clearly, but unfortunately, the details she described were not taking into account the snow, and now that the entire place became snow white wonderland, whatever landmark or whichever direction Zhang Xiaohua should follow became indiscernible. Zhang Xiaohua felt some regret, what could he do now? He could not possibly return to the grass hut and wait for the snow to melt right?
Now that it was winter, if he wanted to wait for the snow to melt, then wouldn’t he have to wait until spring?
When Zhang Xiaohua imagined himself sitting alone in the grass hut, he immediately pushed the idea away and continued to walk along the river bank.
The small path did not follow along the river all the way, when Zhang Xiaohua reached a certain point, he pondered for a while and immediately walked to the opposite direction of the river for half a bell of time before seeing a forest in front of him. Zhang Xiaohua secretly felt thrilled, the scene was exactly how master Jing Xuan had described to him so he was probably on the right track. Hence, he continued to walk in the same direction and brush though the forest.
However, the moment Zhang Xiaohua stepped into the forest, he could not help but lament, the snow in the forest was not a bit less than outside, and there were much dried grass and bare branches so walking on the forest ground was inconvenient. Even if there was no snow, the path was still difficult to cross, so could this still be the road master Jing Xuan took when she left?
A large suspicion grew in Zhang Xiaohua’s heart.
Actually, master Jing Xuan’s descriptions were accurate, and Zhang Xiaohua’s memory was even more so. However, master Jing Xuan might have forgotten that when she took this route, she had used her qinggong to travel on the canopy so how would she know what Zhang Xiaohua would face if he walked step by step on the ground?
Since master Jing Xuan forgot about it, Zhang Xiaohua was even more ignorant as he secretly admired the former as he walked. Old ginger was still spicier, and she was able to endure more hardships than the generation younger than her. If the master had walked such a torturous path every day and night, then he must have been living a too pampered life so far.
However, after walking for another bell worth of time, Zhang Xiaohua no longer felt any admiration or hope, and indeed, no one would be in a good mood after walking in the snowy forest ground for such a long time. When Zhang Xiaohua was experiencing the same thing the previous day, it was with anticipation for a delicious meal so he did not spare much thought to his discomfort, but to experience the same thing again that day without any distraction was a painful experience for him. How did master Jing Xuan found such a desolated area, could she have floated from the river as well?
Actually, the scariest part was Zhang Xiaohua did not realize that each and every step he took was deviating more and more from the correct path in the dense forest, and when he reached the end, he was surprised to see that there was a flat plain in front of him instead of a small mountain range as master Jing Xuan had described.
Zhang Xiaohua immediately blanked out, this, obviously meant that he had lost his way. However, this result was not entirely out of Zhang Xiaohua’s expectations, the boy was pretty confident in his lack of sense of directions, and after walking for such a long period even without any awareness of his current position, it was unlikely for him to not get lost.
After reflecting quietly for some while, Zhang Xiaohua chose a direction and decided to walk straight in the same direction for the rest of his journey. After all, as long as he was patient enough, there would come a day when he reached a village or town.
Perhaps it was due to Zhang Xiaohua’s luck, or it was simply fate, but in the other direction of the dense forest which master Jing Xuan pointed out, there was indeed a small mountain that was shorter than the one behind the grass hut. However, it was currently covered in snow and crossing it would be difficult, whereas the path Zhang Xiaohua headed to was precisely to the other side of the mountain range, and to cross the mountain range by ascending it was not just as simple as how master Jing Xuan said casually, “After you cross the mountain range, you will see a forest of fruit trees and if you follow the path through the forest, you will be able to see end of the route.”
Evidently, the word “cross” which master Jing Xuan used probably meant if the said person was using qinggong, and one might wonder if she ever thought of how Zhang Xiaohua would cross the mountain range when she carried little Meng while crossing the mountain range herself?
As if he was a road-dumb idiot who had not stumbled on an easier path, Zhang Xiaohua continued to trudge step by step in the direction he decided upon earlier. Fortunately for him, his injuries had mostly healed and his body was also unordinary so he did not feel tired despite walking for so long.
Hence, Zhang Xiaohua walked like this for the other half of the day and when he saw the sun beginning to set, he felt anxious. Even though walking was not a problem, what should he do when the sky darkened? He could not possibly continue to walk since one still needed sufficient rest, and when he thought of his own habit which required himself to sleep by midnight, Zhang Xiaohua shuddered as he looked at the uninhibited surroundings.
Zhang Xiaohua stopped his tracks and faced the setting sun, his hands covered the top of his eyes and he looked to afar. There seemed to be a mountain in the distance, and perhaps he would find a cave to rest his body for the night. Thus, after coming to this conclusion, Zhang Xiaohua kept his crutch and took a deep breath before running in the direction of the mountain.
As the sky turned darker, Zhang Xiaohua’s steps became quicker and his heart jumped faster when he saw the mountain nearing himself. When he reached the front of the mountain, there was only a line of hazy light left in the horizon, and Zhang Xiaohua’s body was in a pretty good condition as well as he breathed heavily to catch his breath.
The mountain path was quite even so it was easy to climb up, so Zhang Xiaohua seized that there was still some light in the sky to hurry up and find a cave. However, the higher he climbed, the more Zhang Xiaohua’s enthusiasm cooled off, as he still had yet to find a suitable accommodation for the night despite the sky about to turn dark soon.
At that moment, Zhang Xiaohua had already climbed up quite high and when he raised his head, he could not help but feel joy, there was a black shadow ahead which was obviously taller than its side, Zhang Xiaohua increased his pace and when he closed in to the area, he felt a stone fell off from his heart. If it was not an abandoned hut, that what else could it be?
Zhang Xiaohua continued to walk towards the structure, he took out the fire starter from his breast and lit it to see a dilapidated temple. The plaque at the front above its door was already broken in half and slanted but one could make out the words “Mountain god shrine”. Zhang Xiaohua was stunned, how could there be such a shrine in the middle of wilderness?
It was still good as well, now that Zhang Xiaohua’s wish was fulfilled and he did not have to sleep in the wilderness that night.
Hence, Zhang Xiaohua carried his fire starter and walked into the shrine first to do a simple search before picking up some branches from the surroundings and starting a bonfire within the main hall of the shrine.
After a tiring journey for the entire day, Zhang Xiaohua leaned towards the warm bonfire and ate some dry rations that he brought in his body, his mood improved tremendously after his stomach was filled. After his meal, Zhang Xiaohua collected his feelings and entered a stance, and he began to practice nine cycles of the dipper heavenly fist in the empty space of the shrine until the cooling sensation appeared and flowed throughout his body. Zhang Xiaohua stretched his limbs comfortably, the day had passed pretty well for him.
Of course, now that his injury was better, Zhang Xiaohua did not neglect the sword martial art which elder Yu imparted to him as he practiced it once over. Only after then did he gather some straws behind the temple and placed them beside the fire before falling asleep contentedly.