3:8 – Imperial Slash
“Would you tell me again why you’re following me, Xiaomei?”
“Master insisted that if Lady Xinxin left the manor or her pagoda, I was to follow her no matter the circumstances.”
Xinxin sighed. Her father… while she understood the reasoning behind it, Xinxin still felt upset that he didn’t trust her to go around by herself. If she had been born as an ordinary clan member, or even as a mortal, would she be as constrained?
Xinxin shook her head. This wasn’t the time to be thinking about that.
It was the morning after Xinxin’s training and Zhan Yue’s reckless attack. She had fallen asleep in the pagoda last night, so the first thing the young beauty decided to do was head back to her room for a change of clothes and then a quick bath. When she finished, like Xinxin decided last night, she made her way to the Jade Pavilion to check on her Sifu.
Dressed in an emerald robe and a violet veil, Xinxin made her way out of the manor when she was intercepted by Xiaomei wearing a black combat skirt and armed with a sword at her side.
That led to the current situation, one young woman and a young girl making their way across the Zhan Clan Grounds towards the Jade Pavilion on the opposite side of the territory to the clan manor.
Xiaomei shook her head and said, “You need to relax more, Lady Xinxin. Try acting your age for once! A young lady like yourself shouldn’t be so serious. Even though your beauty is heaven-defying, you won’t escape early wrinkles if you continue as you are.”
“Does it look like I care, Xiaomei?”
The (currently) sword maid sighed. “…I suppose not. Still, why is the greatest beauty wasted on such a tomboy? Do the heaven’s not have eyes?”
Xinxin pulled out the bamboo stick she kept hidden in her sleeves and narrowed her eyes. “Should I smack you across the head?”
Xiaomei gasped. “See! That right there, Lady Xinixn, is the problem! If you’re going to marry Master Wang Tian, you need to be more demure, more polite!”
Xinxin rolled her eyes and tucked the bamboo stick back into her sleeves. “Again with this… can you drop it already, Xiaomei?”
“Big sis is only being concerned about you, Xinxin.”
“…I guess I can’t say anything against that. But remember that it’s not set in stone that I’ll be that guy’s wife, so stop pestering me.”
Xiaomei sighed. “If that’s what you want, Lady Xinxin.”
The young lady and sword maid pair passed the central plaza. Since it was still early in the morning, there weren’t many people around other than the patrolling guards and townsfolk.
As a result, the pair weren’t bothered on their trek across the grounds. But even if there were more people around, the result would probably have been the same since Xiaomei was there with Xinxin.
Realizing that, Xinxin frowned. “Why are you so concerned with the marriage anyway, Xiaomei? Your position won’t be changing even if I leave the Zhan Clan.”
“That may be true, Lady Xinxin,” Xiaomei said. “But can’t a big sister be worried about her little sister?”
Xinxin came to a stop and turned to smile at Xiaomei. “That’s a bit optimistic. If I remember right, you’re old enough to be my-“
“Lady Xinxin!” Xiaomei blushed and then sneakily glanced around at the surroundings.
Xinxin covered her mouth with her left hand and laughed. “Fine, fine. I’ll stop making fun of you.”
Xiaomei huffed. “Such a mean-spirited young lady. No wonder Master is so concerned about how to-“ The sword maid’s eyes grew wide and she suddenly cut off her words.
Xinxin frowned. “My father is concerned about something?”
“U-um… look! You can see the Emerald Pavilion from here!” After saying that, Xiaomei pointed to a building in the distance.
Xinxin stared at Xiaomei for a while, but the sword maid wouldn’t crack. Eventually, the young beauty sighed and turned towards where Xiaomei pointed.
“That’s the Emerald Pavilion?”
Xinxin had heard about the building from her readings and Uncle Hu ranting about how rowdy it got, but she had never seen it in person. Now, she saw it for the first time with her own eyes.
The building wasn’t that large, but it was tall and stretched towards the heavens.
The Emerald Pavilion was modeled after a bamboo shoot and so stood out even from the distance. Ten-tiered, with a few windows carved into the side like cracks in the bamboo stalk, the building seemed to be naturally grown rather than man-made.
“It’s no wonder why it’s so popular,” Xinxin muttered. Both young masters and young ladies would be interested in the building, even despite the fact that it provided various services on each floor.
“Let’s go, Lady Xinxin. Your Sifu is probably anxiously waiting for you to get there.”
Before Xinxin could retort, Xiaomei had already grabbed her arm and started running towards the pavilion.
Because of Xiaomei’s enthusiasm, they soon arrived at the entrance of the Emerald Pavilion. A pair of swinging double doors greeted them.
While they were still on the outside, Xinxin could make out loud cheers and roars coming from inside. Somehow, she just knew that her Sifu was responsible.
“Hm,” Xiaomei said. “Are the young masters throwing a party today? They usually aren’t this rowdy so early.”
“Does it matter?” Xinxin shook her head and moved towards the entrance. “Let’s just hurry and find my Sifu so I can-“
A roar echoed, countless voices rising in excitement.
On instinct, Xinxin suddenly stepped to the side. The moment that she did, a young man flew through the doors and landed on the ground in front of them.
Xiaomei gasped. “Isn’t that young master Hua?”
The young man groaned but didn’t move after that.
Xinxin considered checking if he was still alive, but Xiaomei moved first. The sword maid took a step towards the young man. But before she could take another, the doors swung open again and three more young men landed on the ground in front of the ladies.
“Young master Bai? Young master Xiao? And that person… young master Fang?!” Xiaomei shook her head. “What is happening this morning?”
Xinxin didn’t respond. Instead, she directed her spiritual sense inside the pavilion. At once, her world expanded and she could see beyond where her body stood.
A young man with an average appearance, dark hair, and cold dark eyes stood in the center of makeshift ring made of overturned tables and chairs. Surrounding him were various young masters and young ladies from clans and sects all over the Xia Dynasty.
When Xinxin focused her attention on the young man, he turned his head towards the entrance and smirked.
Xinxin sighed. Why did her Sifu have to be such an aggressive character? Did he just like to stir up trouble wherever he went, or was troublesome events just fated to follow him?
Xiaomei stood up after examining the collapsed young masters and said, “They should be fine, Lady Xinxin. Just some minor wounds and a concussion for each of them, along with a lack of qi.”
Xinxin nodded and then walked into the pavilion.
The two doors swayed as they opened and shut to allow Xinxin in. A staff member standing close to the entrance, a woman in a violet dress, noticed Xinxin’s entrance and gasped.
Before the woman said anything, Xinxin raised a finger to her lips and shook her head.
Xiaomei followed Xinxin inside and glanced around the room. Seeing the makeshift arena, she frowned. “A competition?”
Guilao turned around from his place in the arena and swept out his arms. “Any other takers? Or does the latest generation from across the Xia Dynasty only amount to this?”
Xinxin sighed before walking to a table in a secluded area of the room and sitting down. If her Sifu was being that dramatic, it would probably be a while before he finished.
With Xinxin sitting down, Xiaomei did so as well.
Xinxin placed her elbows on the table and leaned her head against her hands, staring at her Sifu. As she did, she noticed a familiar figure standing in the crowd surrounding him.
Zhan Yue stood next to a muscular young man in a gray robe with a sword sheathed at his side. The young woman leaned over to the man’s ear and whispered something to him. Immediately after, the young man jumped onto the ring.
“I am Xiong Jie, from the Sword Mountain Sect.” He gave a salute to Guilao and then drew his sword from its sheathe. “I hope that brother will give me some pointers.”
Guilao scoffed. “To a shameless guy like you using a sword against an unarmed opponent, I have none to give.”
Xiaomei frowned and then poked Xinxin. “Is that your Sifu, Lady Xinxin?”
Xinxin sighed and covered her face. “Don’t remind me.”
Xiaomei’s frown deepened and she turned back to look at Guilao. “It seems that the true geniuses really do have oddities about them, don’t they?”
“Tell me about it.” Xinxin sighed again. “Sifu is definitely…”
Forcing her to eat a pill that could have killed her, miraculously granting her Late Foundation Establishment cultivation, forcing her to overcome the pain and fear of death by continually facing a Shadow Panther… which may or may not have been an illusion.
“…Unique.” Xinxin nodded. “He’s unique.”
Xiaomei smiled. “Oh? So Lady Xinxin is the type who goes for the personality rather than the appearance, is she?”
Xinxin blushed. “That’s not it!”
“Of course not, Lady Xinxin. Most definitely not…”
“A-anyway,” Xinxin said. “That Xiong Jie is the son of the Sword Mountain Sect’s Disciplinary Leader, isn’t he?”
Xiaomei nodded. “He should be. That sword in his hands should be the Black Iron Sword.”
Zhan Yue really snared a big catch. No wonder she was so impertinent the other night. She must have thought that her new backing would be enough for her to bear the circumstances.
At that time, one of the staff members, an older gentleman with graying hair and a neat black suit, stepped to the ring and raised his hand. “Ready!”
Xiong Jie raised his sword.
Guilao simply smiled.
The staff member swung down his arm. “Begin!”
Xiong Jie made his move. Stepping forward, he raised his sword to the sky. Suddenly, the air grew heavy. An immense weight and pressure filled the pavilion.
Xiaomei gasped. “That’s the Mountain Sundering Slash! If Xiong Jie uses that with the Black Iron Sword, it could cut down even a Core Formation cultivator!”
The crowd seemed to share her surprise as an uproar spread through the room. Gasps, worried cries to stop, and other exclamations filled the air.
The entire pavilion seemed to be filled with concern for Guilao… except for two people.
One was Zhan Yue. The jealous flower of the Zhan Clan smirked as she watched Xiong Jie step forward. As the instigator of the fight, she eagerly anticipated seeing Guilao struck down.
The other was Xinxin. Instead of being concerned about her Sifu, she was concerned about that Sword Mountain Sect person. Her Sifu wouldn’t kill him, would he? Sifu seemed to be fairly rational. He wouldn’t do something like slaughtering a person trying to kill him out of spite, would he?
…No, Xinxin was fooling herself. Considering how he acted towards her when they met and she had done far less, the fate of that man was already set in stone.
Xiong Jie stepped forward again and shouted, “Take this!” With a roar, the sword chopped down with the strength to shatter a mountain.
Guilao didn’t take a step back or to the side to avoid the attack. Instead, he simply stared at the sword.
Some of the ladies in the pavilion covered their eyes. Some of the young masters in the pavilion jumped out of their seats.
Zhan Yue smiled, her eyes gleaming with malice.
As for Xinxin, she jumped out of her chair and shouted. “Don’t kill him!” Her beautiful voice filled the pavilion and drew the attention of everyone there.
Zhan Yue was the first to react. She turned her head to Xinxin and sneered.
Other people began turning towards Xinxin as well, surprise on their faces.
“Lady Xinxin!” Xiaomei grabbed Xinxin’s sleeve and pulled her down. “You can’t-“
Whatever Xiaomei was going to say was cut off by the sound of screeching steel.
Everyone’s attention was drawn back to the stage.
Xiong Jie had finished his attack. The Black Iron Sword was swung and struck Guilao. Steel met flesh and bone. Yet, instead of blood splashing to the ground, the sword was blocked.
Guilao raised an eyebrow. His left hand was raised, grabbing Xiong Jie’s sword. The powerful Black Iron Sword and the Mountain Sundering Slash was stopped.
“What?!” Xiong Jie gasped and tried to wrench his sword back. Yet, caught in Guilao’s hand, his efforts were futile.
“An interesting attack. Channeling all of your qi into the sword and relying on nature’s power to imitate the force of a mountain… but really, isn’t that just a knock-off of the Zhan Clan’s technique? I bet one of your ancestors stole a manual from them in the past, didn’t they?”
Guilao let go of the sword. The moment he did, Xiong Jie staggered backwards.
As Xiong Jie staggered back, his sword swept through the air. When the light reflected off the sword, it showed that the blade had been twisted and cracked as if some beast had torn into it.
Xiaomei gasped and stood up. “Impossible! How did he damage the Black Iron Sword?! It was made from a meteorite! Even a Late-Stage Core Formation cultivator would have trouble damaging it!”
Xinxin rolled her eyes. “Sit down, Xiaomei. No one’s asking you to narrate the fight.”
Xiaomei blinked and then realized what she did. The sword maid blushed and then sat back down. “Apologies, Lady Xinxin. But… your Sifu is formidable. Very formidable.”
Xinxin simply nodded and went back to watching her Sifu. She already knew that her Sifu was strong from the fact that he corrected the clan’s manual as well as changed her cultivation. But she also knew that he was someone with a short temper.
Would he hold back because she asked him to, or would he ignore her and cut that Xiong Jie down?
Xinxin didn’t know and waited with bated breath.
Guilao stared at the man in front of him and smiled. Despite the happy expression, the air seemed to drop a few degrees in temperature.
Xiong Jie recovered his stance and raised his sword. “Accusing my Sword Mountain Sect of stealing techniques, have you no shame?”
Guilao didn’t respond. Instead, he took a step forward and raised his left hand. “Let me show you a real ‘Mountain Sundering Slash’.” The moment he said those words, an invisible aura rippled around Guilao’s left arm and a pressure even greater than when Xiong Jie prepared his attack descended.
Standing there with his arm raised, Guilao looked like an untouchable immortal standing atop Mt. Tai. Then, like an executioner’s blade, Guilao’s arm fell.
Zhan Yue gasped. “No!”
To Xiong Jie’s credit, the Sword Mountain Sect disciple managed to bring his sword up to block.
A crisp snap echoed through the pavilion as Guilao’s hand chopped through Xiong Jie’s sword. But his attack didn’t stop there.
Blood sprayed and Xiong Jie flew through the air towards the pavilion’s entrance.
“Senior brother Jie!” Zhan Yue screamed and ran after him. As she passed Xinxin, Zhan Yue scowled, but she quickly turned her attention back towards her senior brother.
When Zhan Yue ran through the pavilion doors, a cheer erupted. Countless young masters ran up to Guilao while some young ladies coquettishly walked closer.
Despite all the attention, Guilao didn’t react. Instead, he turned towards Xinxin. In the next moment, he leaped through the air and landed next to her.
A hush spread through the pavilion.
Xinxin sighed. Was her Sifu oblivious to the repercussions of his actions, or did he just not care?
Guilao frowned. “Did you finish your training already, girl?”
“No. But did you have to cause such a ruckus, Sifu?”
Guilao shrugged. “What’s the saying…? They have eyes but couldn’t see Mt. Tai?”
Xinxin covered her face and shook her head. “Sifu…”
Xiaomei coughed. “I don’t want to interrupt you two, Lady Xinxin, but is this the best place to have your chat?”
Xinxin looked up and saw that they were the focus of everyone’s attention. The young masters stared at them with awe and respect. The young ladies glared with envy and jealousy.
Guilao glanced around and nodded. “Your maid is right.” He grabbed Xinxin’s right arm with his left hand and tugged her out of her seat. “Let’s go, girl.”
Xinxin’s wrist started to burn from the force of her Sifu’s grasp. “S-Sifu! I can walk by myself! Let go!”
Guilao glanced back at her and then turned around. “Hold on tight.”
“What are you-“
Guilao kicked off and flew through the air at rapid speed. With his tight grasp on Xinxin’s arm, she was dragged along like a kite.