Chapter 103 Exposed
After ten months of training at Diao Mu Yuan, a new wave of disciples entered Lian Huo Yuan. And on almost the same day that they were taken by different Masters, the order that prohibited private killings between disciples was repealed and a new round of slaughter began.
In order to distinguish between the two waves of disciples, people at East Castle called themselves either a Jia Chen disciple or a Yi Si disciple based on the year they entered East Castle. 1
After last year’s slaughter and the following several monthly tests, there were only about a hundred and thirty or so Jia Chen disciples left, which were also well-recognized as the strongest disciples throughout all these years although none of the teenagers had acquired the title of killer so far.
In an environment full of experts, it was as hard as climbing the heavens to kill the opponent six times in a row. It was easier to graduate as a formal killer in the years when most of the disciples were weak. Even if these disciples passed the test at the castle, they were like malnourished plants and could be easily destroyed in the bloody jianghu outside the castle.
The Jia Chen disciples’ fame aroused the Yi Si disciples’ ambitiousness to be the best. Some of them had a high opinion of themselves and didn’t put the killers in their eyes even at Diao Mu Yuan, not to mention the killer’s disciples who had only entered East Castle ten months earlier than them.
The slaughter was filled with the aura of rivalries between the old and the new from the beginning. The atmosphere of vengeful killing between gangs was not that apparent.
Even so, this slaughter had expanded from several small matters.
Jia Chen disciples still remembered the order of no killing allowed between disciples, so they acted more cautiously. Although the Yi Si disciples had challenged them several times, there was only some minor bloodshed and no actual deaths until one day, several angry senior disciples got the hint from their Masters. The order had never been openly cancelled; it was an unwritten rule that the killing would not be restrained anymore once new disciples joined.
Many plots were brewing amongst the disciples, and the tension grew until one day, an accident triggered the start of a war.
A Yi Si disciple had taken his monthly test on the fifth day after entering Lian Huo Yuan, in which he killed the opponent with one move. Following the tradition of his seniors, he carried the corpse to Afterlife Cliff alone. At the edge of the cliff, he was shot to death.
In order to hunt that red-crowned roc, Golden Roc Castle had built many archer towers that reached a height of several zhangs at the cliff edge and sent people to guard them. Because of the need of a large amount of people, the towers at near East Castle were guarded by disciples in turn.
On that day, there were twelve Jia Chen disciples in the archer tower at the edge of Afterlife Cliff. They saw the teenager who dropped the corpse. Out of boredom, one disciple turned the huge bedstead-crossbow while the others helped load a long arrow and aimed it at the unknowing wretch.
No one really wanted to shoot that Yi Si disciple. They just intended to scare the arrogant junior. One teenager on the tower shouted to demonstrate his dominance, but the teenager at the cliff edge waved his sabre to show his disdain, so one Jia Chen disciple released the string.
The iron arrow attached to a long rope flew out. Even if deliberately aimed, the shot would not be as accurate. The iron arrow pierced into the teenager’s body and continued flying. It carried the corpse and repeatedly hit the cliff until the remaining corpse was less than half of that when the disciples at the tower pulled the rope to take back the iron arrow.
The Jia Chen disciples were more experienced in this kind of matter, so someone recalled their Master’s hint that the order for prohibiting of killing between disciples would naturally end when new disciples arrived. Then all of them agreed that taking the initiative to attack was better than sitting there waiting for death.
That evening, when the angry Yi Si disciples were still discussing their vengeance, the Jia Chen disciples had already divided themselves into several groups and launched a large range of assassinations. Sixty eight people were killed overnight.
The Masters had already prepared for this and left East Castle the next morning. Before they left, they only had time to tell their newly-taken disciples one sentence, “You’re the winner as long as you can survive.”
Tie Hanfeng didn’t take anymore disciples. He was satisfied with Servant Huan’s recent performance, so he was longing for an excuse to go down the mountain to drink and sleep with women as well as take care of his small business.
Gu Shenwei naturally would not miss such a good chance to practise his swordsmanship. He worked with Lotus and killed six people in a single night. As usual, they carefully examined the wounds after the kill and analyzed the pros and cons of each other’s moves before dropping the corpse off of the cliff.
This slaughter lasted many days, and those two teenagers killed more in that time than the whole last year, which caused both of them to rapidly improve their swordsmanship and sabresmanship. It was from this killing experience that they came to the conclusion that there was no so-called twenty nine sword moves. Since it required killing with one shot, it meant that there was only one move.
The twenty nine sword moves in the mysterious swords manual were just different descriptions of a single move. Thinking like this, the two’s swordsmanship reached a new level. But they were also very clear that they had stepped on a martial arts road which had no way out. If they were a bit careless, or met a real expert and couldn’t kill the enemy in one shot, they could only wait to be cut.
Gu Shenwei and Lotus’s practice process was destroyed by a teenager called Servant Zi.
Servant Zi was also a disciple recommended by the eighth young lord. Gu Shenwei and Lotus had a small impression of him. He was smart and bold and started practising kung fu in the eighth young lord’s courtyard even earlier than those two. But he was not valued by Xue Niang and thus the three had very little contacts.
A lot of new disciples joined the old disciples, hoping to find sanctuary. Especially after most of the outstanding Yi Si disciples were killed, the boundary between new and old disciples disappeared.
In order to stay alive in the slaughter, Servant Zi went to Servant Huan and Lotus and asked to join them as soon as he entered Lian Huo Yuan. He continued begging them after the initial refusal. The two had seriously considered killing him, but decided to spare him to avoid causing trouble at Shangguan Nu’s place. They didn’t expect that this teenager would bring so much trouble to them.
Servant Zi gradually became the two’s boot-licker and little minion. He was ready to be called upon and even came without being called. He knew it clearly in his heart. Only by following these two well-known mass murderers of East Castle would he avoid countless assassinations.
Gu Shenwei and Lotus’s fame gradually surpassed all the other disciples because they killed too many people and never left a corpse in the killing scene. Even Wild Horse and Liuhua couldn’t catch up with them now. Many former members of the Bi Nu gang were surprised by the two’s change. So the two had no choice but to restrain themselves and reduce how frequently they killed.
‘Blades of Fury’ was just one common nickname they had received.
After the blood oath, those Jia Chen disciples had to pay respects to the lords every ten days. This even included the period of slaughter except that they were not allowed to leave East Castle with a sabre.
Sometimes the lords were not in the courtyard, so they would kowtow in the yard and leave after finishing.
The eighth young lord Shangguan Nu often went out of the castle to do business, and at this time the person Gu Shenwei and Lotus kowtowed to would be an assigned killer who guarded the courtyard. This person was usually Liu Xuan.
Gu Shenwei still remembered Liu Xuan. When he first entered the castle, there was one time where he had randomly rushed around at night and was caught by Liu Xuan. It was Servant Yao who helped talk him out of it.
For this killer, Servant Yao once stole a comment from Xue Niang to describe him, “This guy Liu Xuan’s kung fu is not high, but he likes showing off. He will lift his right hand up and shake it before holding his sabre.”
Liu Xuan showed an obvious interest in Lotus after several meetings.
In the process of forming a gang together, studying the swords manual together, and practising swordsmanship by killing together, Gu Shenwei and Lotus had a deep friendship. Their mutual trust even surpassed the ones between lovers, families, and partners. This made Gu Shenwei often neglect the fact that the one who always accompanied him was a pretty teenage girl.
Lotus could easily gain others’ trust. She had friends in all the places she had lived, and even her enemies were willing to keep in touch with her. This was mainly due to her calmness, keen insight, and appropriate manners. However, it was not to say that it had nothing to do with her appearance.
There were not many female killers at Golden Roc Castle, and usually the number was less than one fifth of that of the male killers. The proportion was even lower after the draft, of which very few could be called a beauty. And Lotus was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful ones amongst them. She was not inferior in any respect even when comparing to those women of the inner chamber.
Beauty had brought many benefits to Lotus, but it also caused her trouble.
One day at the end of the slaughter process, Gu Shenwei and Lotus came to show respects as usual. Shangguan Nu was again not there, but Liu Xuan suddenly said something strange after helping his lord to organize the kowtowing ceremony, “I’ve heard that you two’s sabres are special. When can I have a look?”
Those two teenagers immediately knew they were in trouble.
The two seldom showed the ground thin narrow sabre in front of others, and the sabre they used for attending the monthly test were normal sabres. Just who had discovered the abnormality and revealed it to Liu Xuan? The first person they suspected was Servant Zi.
Lotus had a good relationship with the maidservants of Miss Luo Ningcha. After a bit inquiry, she knew that their suspicions couldn’t be wrong. Servant Zi was an acquaintance of Liu Xuan, and before he entered East Castle, Liu Xuan could be considered as a half Master of Servant Zi.
The two regretted not killing that boot-licker in the beginning, but now they had lost that chance. Killing Servant Zi could only arouse Liu Xuan’s revenge. What they were most worried about was what else Liu Xuan know.
Neither Gu Shenwei nor Lotus decided to hand out the mysterious swords manual even if it might count as a contribution. Since they had learnt the secret of the swordsmanship, they were obsessed with it. The more they killed, the stronger their swordsmanship would be, and the more they were obsessed with it. Now that the two had kept the swords manual in turn, they valued it more than their own life.
That night, Liu Xuan came without an invitation. He let Servant Zi ask Lotus to meet him at a deserted yard south of the wooden sabre alley. This wasn’t in the range that allowed slaughter. Liu Xuan was cautious. He didn’t think that two disciple’s kung fu could be better than his, but he was afraid of a group of disciples attacking together as he couldn’t handle that.
Servant Zi pretended that he didn’t know anything and was reluctant to pass the message, “You two just met him in the morning. Why would he ask me to pass the words along, seriously, huh.”
Gu Shenwei suggested killing both Liu Xuan and Servant Zi with this chance, and moving the corpses to the north side of the wooden sabre alley. Within a mere alley’s distance, murder would not be investigated.
Lotus didn’t agree. They didn’t know what Liu Xuan actually knew and how wide the news had spread. Rashly making a move could alert someone further up.
Lotus brought back the bad news the next day. Liu Xuan had participated in supporting the mission to capture the roc at the cliff near the end of the wooden sabre alley. At that time, the failure of the action was blamed on a drunk killer, but there were two strange narrow sabres that had aroused attention. The owner of the sabres had not been determined, but because of the anxiousness to close the case, no one had bothered looking into it.
Servant Zi had accidentally discovered that Servant Huan and Lotus’s sabres were special, and he thought it was funny and told Liu Xuan. So Liu Xuan inferred that the ones who had ruined the mission of capturing the bird not only included that drunk killer but also these two disciples.
Liu Xuan’s speculation wasn’t accurate, but it was not far from the truth.
- Translator’s note: Jia Chen and Yi Si are year names according to the Chinese sixty year calendar cycle, which is also known as the stem-branch cycle. It is based on the combinations of a cycle of ten heavenly stems and twelve earthly branches. Each year is named by a pair of one stem and one branch. For example, years like 2024, 1964, 1904 are Jia Chen year, which are also years of the Dragon. Following Jia Chen year is the Yi Si year, which is the year of the Snake. ↩