Translator : Casualtranslator
~ Enjoy ~
The night sky was boundless, and the half crescent of the moon hung on its side. The white snowy ground reflected off some dim light, and within the quiet wilderness, a black dot suddenly appeared from afar and shot towards the snow covered mountains.
The black dot headed unhesitatingly through the tree branches, its feet seemed to skim over the thick snow on the ground, and wherever it passed, there would only be a gentle shake of the branches which would not shed the snow on it, and a very faint mark on the snow where its footprints should be. Evidently, this person was using a profound type of qinggong.
Actually, the dot was a person who was wearing black clothes while travelling through the night.
The black clothed man’s speed was extremely fast and not long later, he reached the foot of the mountain. After the black clothed man paused slightly at the base, he shot straight upwards to the top with a speed exceeding his pace while travelling on flat ground.
He soon reached a gradual incline, and paused for a moment to look at a black outline of something before sprinting towards it. As he got closer, the black thing showed itself, but wasn’t it the shrine where Zhang Xiaohua had taken up lodgings for the night?!
At that moment, the black clothed man suddenly stopped, and with a snort, he pulled out an object and walked stealthily through the shrine entrance. When he entered the shrine, the black clothed man scratched his head as he peeked into the room where Zhang Xiaohua was sleeping beside a soon extinguished fire. After listening for a while, he stepped forward and entered the room and borrowing the faint light of the bonfire, one could see a cold murderous aura emanating from the dull black dagger in the black clothed man’s hands.
When the black clothed man saw the youth who was lying beside the soon extinguished fire, he heaved a sigh of relief but kept the dagger in his hands, walked a few more steps, picked up a stone from the ground and threw it towards Zhang Xiaohua. The stone collided onto Zhang Xiaohua’s hands with a faint snap, but Zhang Xiaohua was currently sleeping in this moment so how would he be able to feel it?
However, his unaffected behaviour led the man to feel surprised, he carefully stepped forward and gave Zhang Xiaohua a kick, but the latter did not move at all like a dead pig. The black clothed man sighed in relief again, he thought that this person had already died so he placed his fingers under Zhang Xiaohua’s nose to confirm his suspicion. Why was there still breathing? The black clothed man was slightly confused and he rocked Zhang Xiaohua’s body violently, but the latter still had no reaction as he continued to sleep soundly.
Upon seeing the situation, the black clothed person ignored Zhang Xiaohua and casually threw more dried twigs into the dying bonfire, and the bonfire immediately fed on the additional fuel causing the shrine to become lit up and warmer.
Not long after, the black clothes man’s expression suddenly turned vigilant and he moved his sight from the bonfire onto the shrine entrance.
Indeed, another black shadow appeared from outside carrying a gust of chilly wind with it. The wind caused the fire to waver and after then man stood still, one could see that he had a small and skinny build similarly in black night attire that covered his head not letting one see his face. The new arrival studied the shrine and looked towards Zhang Xiaohua who was sleeping beside the fire, he wrinkled his brows and said, “Youngest Mei, who is this youth?”
The black clothed man who was called youngest Mei smiled and said, “I do not know either, he was already sleeping here when I came.”
The other black clothed man continued to ask, “So why did you not choose a different place?”
Youngest Mei replied in an unhappy tone, “Do you think it is so easy to find a hidden place, I have tried earlier on and this child would not wake up no matter what, and his body does not contain any inner energy, so he is most likely a village child who got lost in the mountains. Shopkeeper Liu, you are being too careful here.”
Shopkeeper Liu walked forward upon hearing this and he said, “Caution will allow one steer a thousand-year-old ship, how would I be able to live up till today if I were not careful?”
Shopkeeper Liu walked over to Zhang Xiaohua, studied for a while and gave the latter two kicks, indeed as youngest Mei had said, there was no reaction from the boy. However, he was still worried and used his fingers to press on a few acupuncture points on Zhang Xiaohua’s body before saying, “I’ll just let him sleep, but I will still feel worried if I do not lock his sleeping acupuncture point.”
Youngest Mei continued to feed the fire and said, “Alright, at least you are not worried anymore. Come over to enjoy some warmth.”
Shopkeeper Liu sat beside the bonfire and asked, “Youngest Mei, how did you find out of this place? I have been staying in Yanyu town for so long yet why did I not hear of this mountain shrine before?”
Youngest Mei said in a poor-natured tone, “It can still exist even if you have not heard of it. I chance upon this place last year when carrying out a mission in Yanyu town and was discovered by some enemies, and after being chased around into the mountains. When I came to find you, I naturally thought of this hidden place as the most suitable meeting point.”
Shopkeeper Liu smiled and said, “That is, I do not know this place so it is naturally an appropriate location. However, on a snowy night like this, only someone with your qinggong would be able to not leave tracks in the snow, I can’t do that so I cannot guarantee that no one will follow us.”
Youngest Mei “chi” in a teasing tone and said, “So what if someone else saw you? Would they know that you came to find me tonight? Will they be able to find your store?”
Shopkeeper Liu smiled and said, “Old brother is right, I am being too careful here.”
Youngest Mei replied, “There is nothing right or wrong in what you do, one must always be careful since Jianghu is full of unpredictable events and disasters. Oh, alright, let’s end with the chatter and get straight to business, has anything unusual appeared in Tan family clan?”
Shopkeeper Liu immediately retracted his smile and said, “The Tan family clan is headed in the style of a family clan, and my attempts to send spies in to infiltrate them have all failed. In order not to beat the grass and scare the snake, I did not make any further attempts. However, with my identity as storekeeper Yushi, I still have some dealings with their third young master.”
Youngest Mei did not respond, and when shopkeeper Liu saw the other’s party’s quiet countenance, he could not guess if he was happy or sad so he smiled obligingly and said, “I know that this differs vastly from your expectations, but I am indeed faced with many difficulties. Look, the low tiered disciples cannot go near the Tan family core and find anything useful, and as for the core disciples, not to mention the first and second young master, all of them are extremely sharp and smart. Even if it was Tan Wen, Tan Wu who are slightly sideliners, they have all received strict instructions since young and have made demanding requirements of themselves. Thus, it is quite difficult to pry anything out from them.”
Youngest Mei wrinkled his brow and said, “These are all facts which the superiors already knew which is why they called you in, wasn’t it because they looked up to expertise? Which is why they threw these blockheads to you? You have to demonstrate a fearless and tireless attitude to bring out the best offense and light up a “Kongming lantern” in this difficult place!”
Shopkeeper Liu asked in a surprised tone, “About this, old brother Mei, what is a “Kongming lantern”?”
Youngest Mei smiled and said, “Old brother Liu, you are too detached from the times. The “Kongming lantern” refers to a lantern that can be set to fly in the sky, which is much better than the results you have produced so far.”
Shopkeeper Liu cupped his hands and said, “Admirable, admirable, old brother Mei. As the saying goes, “Not seeing someone for three days is enough for him to surpass one’s previous opinion”, your standard has risen after undergoing training from the headquarters.”
Youngest Mei also seemed pleased as he cupped his hands back and replied, “This is due to the grace of our leader for which both of us have to be grateful for. If you perform well this time round, perhaps the leader will reward you accordingly.”
Upon hearing this, shopkeeper Liu quickly walked to the front of the other party and took out an item from his breast before placing it carefully in front of youngest Mei. He smiled and said, “Old brother Mei, this is a piece of antique jade that I found in the village, it keeps warm in the winter and cool in the summer, would old brother please accept it as a casual gift.”
When youngest Mei saw shopkeeper Liu handed over the object to him, he received it without hesitation and said, “Old brother Liu is so kind to pay heed to this little hobby of mine, just based on his fact alone, it is impossible for you to not advance.”
Shopkeeper Liu said humbly, “What does this little gift of mine count as, its brilliance is like a firefly compared to the moon that is this younger brother of mine, but I hope you can put in a few good words for me in the future.”
Youngest Mei caressed the object in his hands and smiled, he said, “The leader’s eyes are impartial and he could naturally reward when you make a contribution and punish when you fail. If old brother Liu has produced some results, perhaps this brother can shine more light on them?”
Shopkeeper Liu replied, “Wouldn’t that depend on our leader’s instructions and old brother’s recommendation?”
Youngest Mei smiled without saying anything else while playing with the antique jade in his hands.
Shopkeeper Liu saw that he had achieved his aim so he continued, “However, for the past few days, there seemed to be a spider silk thin lead according to what I heard from the Tan family third young master.”
Youngest Mei smiled and said, “Why don’t you say it, perhaps there will be something noteworthy this time.”
Shopkeeper Liu explained, “According to the Tan family third young master, for the period slightly before and after the new year, the Tan family will be sending a few of their disciples for many different missions. The Tan family third young master also felt strange, even though there were tasks to be completed outside the family on usual occasions, most of them would be scattered at different times so the sudden influx of missions also led him to be puzzled.”
Youngest Mei asked, “Did you ask him if he knew what the missions were?”
Shopkeeper Liu smiled obligingly and said, “How would I dare ask such a sensitive question? However, from what he hinted, I believe that he is unaware and was scolded when he asked the family head. Hehe, if he was not unhappy with the scolding he received, I doubt he would tell me about it either.”
Youngest Mei continued to ask, “Since the third young master is kept out of the loop, does the first or second young master know about it? They did have any reaction? Were they also sent out in the mission?”
Shopkeeper Liu shook his head and said, “Not that I know of, they are both staying within the Tan family during this period.”
Youngest Mei wrinkled his brows and said, “In that case, this situation is indeed quite strange. If there was really a problem, the first and second young masters would go out personally to deal with it, but if they remained in the house, perhaps the family has suddenly encountered some earth-shattering problem from within. Carefully investigate this matter and let me know if you find anything useful.”
Shopkeeper Liu smiled and said, “Old brother Mei is eminent.”
Youngest Mei smiled as he replied, “Old brother Liu, there is no need to be so courteous. After all, we were once brothers who slept on the same bed, and even though our positions are different now and we each have our own responsibilities, this type of work still has to be done and you are still a stone in the foundation of our group. Therefore, there is no need to be so polite when we are together by ourselves.”
Shopkeeper Liu smiled and said, “I do not dare, this elder brother cannot run as far as you can, so I should still listen to your instructions honestly.”
Youngest Mei only smiled back without forcing his view on the other party.
Sometime later, shopkeeper Liu suddenly recalled something and said, “Oh right, old brother Mei, there seemed to be another matter but I do not know if it is useful to report about.”
Youngest Mei smiled and said, “There is no harm in sharing it, I can help you analyse the situation as well.”
Shopkeeper Liu said, “Sometime earlier, the Tan family third young master briefly mentioned that his two elder brothers would practice martial arts with him in the past, but since the coming of the year, they no longer practiced at the same place with the third young master and would not even exchange pointers with him. Sometimes when he tried to look for his two elder brothers for a match, they would find an excuse to reject him causing him to feel confused. However, he seemed to have heard from the disciples guarding the door that his two elder brothers’ martial arts have improved tremendously and have become the top and second leader of the Tan family younger generation.”
After speaking up to here, shopkeeper Liu sneaked a glance at youngest Mei and said, “However, the third young master felt that all this talk was hogwash as the three of them were already learning the best martial arts inherited from the family since young, so being the top and second top in martial arts among the younger generation was extremely normal. Old brother Mei, do you think this news is useful?”
Youngest Mei replied, “Old brother Liu, this news is extremely important, I will have to report it to our leader personally, and you should be rewarded accordingly as well.”
Shopkeeper Liu replied in an ecstatic tone, “Many thanks to old brother Mei in that case.”
However, his expression became slightly puzzled and he asked, “Does old brother Mei know something else, this news does not seem to be anything special to me at all.”
Youngest Mei laughed as he said, “Haha, old brother Liu, this is the difference between the intelligence in the headquarters and branches, the time we received the same news will differ from your branches. I shall be honest with you; do you know why you were dispatched from elsewhere to this Tan family’s village?”
Shopkeeper Liu shook his head blankly.
Youngest Mei whispered, “The leader has a friend whom he is not very close with, and the friend has some bad blood with Tan Yefeng. However, the gap between their martial arts was quite wide with Tan Yefeng being the weaker party so the latter could never vent his frustration. Who knew that just last year, our leader received news from that old friend of his that Tan Yefeng had beaten him sorely. Our leader felt puzzled on how Tan Yefeng’s martial arts skill could improve so vastly in such a short period, which is why he called us brothers to investigate the matter, and that is why old brother Liu was implicated in this matter.”
Thus, shopkeeper Liu became enlightened on the matter.
Youngest Mei continued to whisper, “This matter has to be kept in absolute secrecy, I have told it to you because I was afraid that you would throw away any useful information without realizing so. I hope that old brother will help me keep this a secret and to be more attentive in the future, after all if you can contribute more useful information, won’t it be easier for me to recommend more rewards to you?”
Shopkeeper Liu quickly bowed towards the other party, he replied, “I understand now, since there is so much at stake, I will not try to catch fish with bare hands in the waters anymore. I believe that the Tan family’s third young master as the crack in their well, I will not let down the expectations our leader and old brother Mei placed on me.”
Youngest Mei nodded his head in approval.
The two men continued to chat for much longer until a sliver of white colour of a fish’s belly appeared in the sky, and the two men went down the mountain and departed from each other.
Even though the two men were exchanging information that was of utmost secrecy, they only sealed Zhang Xiaohua’s sleeping acupuncture point and treated him as a dead animal without sparing him any attention throughout their conversation. Even when they left, they did not clear the traces of additional firewood they fed the bonfire with and left unworriedly.
Actually, the black clothed person youngest Mei who entered the shrine earlier had no intentions of letting Zhang Xiaohua live until daybreak, but he ended up not even bothering to take a second glance at Zhang Xiaohua’s face. After all, the boy was only a lost village child who might die easily wherever he went, so what were the chances of him surviving through this ordeal anyway?
Nevertheless, the other black clothed man shopkeeper Liu was careful and he first sealed Zhang Xiaohua’s sleeping acupuncture point. He was well aware of the effects, the sealed point will not dissolve within twenty-four hours so the two men began to talk freely beside the bonfire and even when it was about to be extinguished, they did not feed it more sticks. After a whole day and night in this temperature where water would turn into ice, which normal person was able to survive through this time?
From youngest Mei and shopkeeper Liu’s perspective, no matter how this boy managed to come to this mountain shrine, his fate was doomed ever since he chose to lodge there for the night, and even if he did not silence to prevent word from spreading out, the boy would still perish under the chill of the winter.
Just when youngest Mei was about to clean up all evidence of their meeting, he was invited by shopkeeper Liu to leave first, so how would he not be embarrassed to instruct shopkeeper Liu to handle to matter properly? Hence, he departed first to let the other party know that he trusted the way the latter handled such matters.
As for killing the witness to remove all traces of their secret encounter, it was something as simple and trivial as killing a fly so they never put it to heart. However, it never crossed their mind that this youth who was lost in the mountains managed to find somewhere to stay for the night after much difficulties, and since he slept like a log without hindrance to any of them, why should they not spare his life? Instead, why leave him there with the sleeping acupuncture sealed causing him to freeze to his death? If they were going to kill him off that way, then they might as well silence him earlier to save the boy of his suffering.
Unfortunately for them, good people would be rewarded by the heavens and after the two men left, the sky began to brighten and a ray of sunlight shone into the shrine and over the Zhang Xiaohua whose sleeping acupuncture was sealed. When Zhang Xiaohua opened his eyes as usual, a bright flash appeared in his pupils and he stretched his body, sat upright and looked at his surroundings. The temperature in the room had already fallen quite low and only then did he remember the events of the previous day. He rejoiced in his heart for finding this mountain shrine for without it, he did not know if he was able to live through the entire night.
After he took some snow from outside to wipe his face, Zhang Xiaohua recomposed himself and began to practice his martial arts again until his body felt comfortable. Afterwards, he ate some of the leftover dry rations and went down the mountain to continue his search for the nearest town.
When Zhang Xiaohua exited the mountain shrine and looked at the snow white mountain, Zhang Xiaohua wrinkled his brows severely and thought, this master Jing Xuan had almost killed him, how was he supposed to find whichever place she described to him, and now that he had reached this mountain after a day of walking, where was he supposed to head to next?
Just as he was lamenting in his heart, Zhang Xiaohua’s eyes suddenly brightened because at the steps of the mountain shrine, he noticed several traces of footsteps!
The small footsteps naturally belonged to Zhang Xiaohua, but beside it was rather large ones that were probably left behind by some visitors to the shrine. Zhang Xiaohua felt a wave of excitement, since he arrived at the shrine in the night on the previous day, he naturally could not see the footprints but now that it was daylight again, these prints could point the direction of where he should head to. This mountain shrine has to be quite good at granting wished for people to come to such a desolate place to offer their prayers.
However, he did not seem to see any statues to offer prayers to in the shrine.
Even if there were no statues, why would Zhang Xiaohua bother about such a minor detail? He was grateful to the shrine for having believers who are devout enough to come all the way to such a desolate area to offer their prayers. Thus, Zhang Xiaohua kept his belongings and followed the footprints to look for the nearest town.
At the very least, he should be able to find some civilization.