The carriage wheels of the entourage rumbled starkly against the silent night as they rushed ahead. Command of the guardsmen was temporarily handed over to the second-in-command in lieu of the commanding officer’s death.
In total, roughly 400 of the 500 guardsmen survived that attack. The accompanying eunuchs and palace maids suffered even heavier losses with over half of their numbers being killed in the short span of a day.
Who would’ve thought so many incidents would happen consecutively in a day. What made things worse was that they still didn’t know who had targeted them. In fact, why did the Divine Child of the cult appear in such an area?
Within a carriage sat the injured sword master; cross-legged in a meditative pose as he recuperated from his wounds. At his side, a shell-shocked Ning Chen leaned against the carriage walls quietly digesting the events of the entire day.
Compared to the assassination attempt during the day, the appearance of the Divine Child and the ensuing battle was what shocked him the most; he finally saw for himself the terrifying strength of the martial path.
Humans that could go against the heavens…looks like that wasn’t just a legend after all.
“How was it?” Said the Sword Master as he opened his eyes and peered at the silent eunuch.
“Unbelievable.” Ning Chen replied honestly.
He had severely underestimated the martial path; calling him ignorant or a frog in a well wasn’t too much either. Never in his wildest dream did he imagine that a simple battle could change his views so much.
(Frog in a well: Chinese proverb talking about a frog who being in a well, is only able to see a small circle of the sky and thus assumes that that’s the whole sky, not knowing that of the sky’s true vastness.
Refers to an ignorant person or a person who has no ambitions i.e satisfied with staying in the bottom of that well.)
Jun Shaoqing, the son of God…his abilities were every bit as his title suggested, Divine.
The sword master nodded at his response, satisfied with Ning Chen’s reaction. His first true encounter with the martial path had left him even more shocked than the eunuch.
“He’s the Divine Child, he’s worthy of whatever praise you lavish on him.”
He threw out that sentence before closing his eyes and returning to his meditation.
The road of a martial artist was one that had to be walked alone. While he could give him some pointers, there was no need to give a lot either.
Ning Chen carefully digested the words of the old senior. His meaning was clear, the greatest honor wasn’t his title but the peerless might the Divine Child possessed.
In other words, his fame was built upon a mountain of corpses.
For Ning Chen, feeling admiration was only natural as the Divine Child’s lofty existence was simply something he couldn’t fathom at his level.
With that in mind, he shut his eyes and began cultivating. He didn’t want to have to look up to someone, and so he cultivated harder than ever before. Without this bit of self-awareness, he would’ve been doomed to forever have the shadow of that youth hanging over him.
This change in mindset made him abandon his usual lackadaisical behavior and instead focus on cultivating the technique on that scroll.
Since he managed to sense the presence of the Scroll of Life within the entourage, Jun Shaoqing would never give up until he attained it. While he was able to mask its existence for now, he might not be so lucky the next time he broke through to a higher grade.
In the face of an expert like Jun Shaoqing, no amount of soldiers would be enough to stop him. If he truly wanted to protect the secret of his scroll, he could only rely on himself getting stronger.
Seeing the change in this youngster, a rarely seen expression crossed the face of this stone-faced sword master. If Ning Chen was a diamond in the rough before, the him right now was a diamond that was beginning to sparkle.
While talent was important in the martial path, the key to success was still determination and perseverance. His talent was at best average when he was young, but he still managed to persevere to this respectable stage.
He clearly wasn’t a lofty Xiantian expert, that realm was only for those with an inhuman level of talent. The majority of people were like him, possessing only an average level of talent. This was why there was only five known Xiantian experts in the world.
What Ning Chen didn’t realize was how talented the people he had encountered so far were. Whether it was Qing Ning, Mu Chengxue or even Xia Miaoyu, they were all rare geniuses who managed to reach the coveted level of ninth-grade peak at the tender age of twenty. Compared to them, his talent naturally fell short.
As long as one didn’t consider these inhuman geniuses, his talent was eye-catching in of itself. After all, not everyone had the fortune to receive the guidance of a ninth-grade peak expert.
With his second-grade level, he could easily get a post as a hundred-men leader. The only issue was that he wasn’t adept at fighting, which was to be expected, as both Qing Ning and Mu Chengxue coincidentally decided not to teach him any combat skills.
Putting aside this glaring weakness, he was in a sense, a martial practitioner.
As the entourage pressed on through the bone-chilling night, none of the thousand or so men had any idea that all this was merely because of a single eunuch.
The entourage pressed on until noon the next day, exiting the Desolate Plains and entering a mountainous region. It was then that the interim commander gave the order to stop for a break.
During their journey through the night, no one dared to disturb the princess as she rested quietly in her carriage. After the events of last night, everyone knew how strong this delicate looking princess was.
After an hour of rest, the heavily armored commander came up to her seeking orders. The rough terrain ahead was one of which they had to cross. However, if they were to attempt to do so now, they might have to set up camp within the mountains.
A melodious voice echoed out from within the opulent carriage, calm yet allowing no questions to her order.
The interim commander cupped his fists in assent and immediately turned around to give the order.
Half a day later, the sun had set and the weary entourage finally had a chance to rest their tired feet. Even if it meant camping out in the middle of nowhere, no one complained.
Right from the start, Xia Miaoyu retired back into her own camp and gave the order that no one was to disturb her. Naturally, Ning Chen wasn’t bored enough to defy that order either. After all, he had no desire to be a servant and wait on her. As long as she maintained this aloofness, he couldn’t be happier.
While pitching his tent, he made sure to pitch his nearer to the sword master’s own. The campfire roared within the makeshift base around which the members of entourage gathered for a meal of dried rations. Those who finished their meal retired to their own tents, ready for a good night’s rest after an entire day of rushing. All who remained were those on patrol duty.
One notable exception was the sword master who didn’t return to his tent to rest but instead chose to stand guard by the fireside. The assassination and the subsequent attack by the Divine Child forced him to increase his vigilance; while everyone knew that this trip wasn’t a simple one, no one could have ever expected a string of attacks, more difficult than the other.
As long as they crossed this mountain range, they would be in range of Marquis Buyi’s city. Before that, he didn’t wish for anymore surprises.
With the sword master choosing not to rest, Ning Chen didn’t return to tent as well, choosing instead to cultivate beside the senior. His silent meditations continued till midnight when he finally opened his eyes.
“Senior, can you teach me cultivation?”
Ning Chen asked abruptly. Naturally, the cultivation he was referring to was combat skills. He had a cultivation technique already and it was in no way inferior to any others.
The sword master remained silent, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
“The princess is more suited to this,” came his raspy reply after long period of silence.
Ning Chen knew exactly what the old senior was referring to. Qing Ning had once told him that his True Qi belonged to the frost element, while on the other hand Xia Miaoyu’s combat skills had a bone-chilling feel to them. In terms of guiding his cultivation, she would be the best choice right now.
“She’s a princess.” Ning Chen replied blandly without adding anything more.
The old sword master fell silent once more as if pondering something.
Seeing that, he waited patiently by the side for the senior’s response. While he had only started cultivating recently, he knew that those of the martial path deeply valued their own sect and their teachings.
He knew how rude his request was but there was no one else he could ask.
“One move, that’s all the chance you’ll get. If you don’t collapse after taking my blow, I’ll teach you a skill.”
The sword master replied after a period of silence lasting for ten breaths.
He answered in solemn tone, rising to his feet immediately after, his eyes showing no signs of celebration. He knew first hand how strong the old senior was, and so he couldn’t bring himself to celebrate.
The old senior only gave him one chance. One chance to be taught by him or to be rejected by him.
Right after he rose to his feet, the old senior did so as well and then his face grew even graver.
Based on his actions, Ning Chen knew the senior wasn’t going to go easy on him.
A move for a move, a perfectly fair exchange that wasn’t in the least bit fair.
As the pair stood beside the roaring fire, the night winds seemed as chilly as ever. A distance away, the patrolling guardsman turned towards the pair, having sensed a stir in the surroundings.
At that moment, the sword master made his move, his sword left its scabbard with a cold flash of steel. By the time anyone could react to it, his sword had already made its move.
It was a stab born out of a void. Sudden, without a trace and devoid of True Qi, not that it needed it.
This was the only chance he gave to Ning Chen. If he were to activate his True Qi, the power of a ninth-grade peak True Qi, anything within a radius of 3m would be sliced apart. That would truly be unfair then.
And so, this battle was unfair yet fair at the same time.
The essence of his stab wasn’t particularly quick nor was it particularly accurate or focused, but it was just enough to ensure he couldn’t dodge it.
Ever since he came to this world, Ning Chen had adopted a fear of death and a more cautious attitude; especially towards Zhang Sun who he would subconsciously avoid by half a step.
Today, against the stab of the sword master, he also subconsciously retreated half a step.
However, he was no sword master and so his half-step was not good enough. Instead of dodging, it threw the finely balanced accuracy of the stab off.
As the sword stabbed into his body, he continuously retreated, all the while bearing the piercing hot pain. He employed the body technique taught by Qing Ning and dodged another three steps backwards. However, the sword was relentless in its pursuit, stabbing into his body without giving him any chance to evade it. Yet, he no longer needed to.
He had taken it head on, without fainting and without collapsing, thus it was his win.
“From tonight onwards, I’ll teach you the sword.”
The sword master pulled out his weapon and sealed Ning Chen’s wounds with a prod of his finger.
“Many thanks senior.” Ning Chen answered with a slight cough as he grasped his chest.
“There’s no need to thank me, you earned it.”
As he said this, he sat down by the fireside once more, cross legged with the sword resting atop his thighs as he closed his eyes in meditation.
Two hours later, Ning Chen and the old man opened their eyes simultaneously.
“Go swing a sword, don’t stop till I say so.”
With a wave of his hands, a black, iron sword flew over from a nearby carriage, stabbing into the ground in front of Ning Chen.
He picked up the sword and went off to the side to begin his swinging.
Without showing any reaction, the old senior closed his eyes once more.
However, Ning Chen didn’t ask anything either, instead he focused on his swings; one swing, two swing…
It was a simple sword swing that anyone could do. Yet, as he did more of it, as he did it longer, he began to realize that swinging a sword wasn’t as easy as he thought.
Each swing was unable to follow the same path and each swing was uneven in its force. Having swung like this for an entire night, his arms began to lose their sense of touch and yet he persevered.
As the sun rose, the entourage began its journey once more. As he walked, Ning Chen continued his grueling swings. His True Qi unexpectedly came in handy during this process as he used it to lessen the burning sensation in his limbs.
Night fell once more and it was time for his fireside lessons.
“Tonight, you’ll practise stabbing with the sword.” said the sword master continuing with yesterday’s style of not teaching any skills but merely practising the basics.
Ning Chen silently nodded his head and began practising, neither questioning the reason nor its outcome.
The mountainous path was an unexpectedly difficult one thanks to their heavy load and the cumbersome carriages. Yet, abandoning the carriages wasn’t an option, so the entourage had to slow down their pace. What would normally take one day to traverses ended up dragging past the third day without an end in sight.
During these three days, Ning Chen hadn’t learned any new skills, but he did learn how to swing and stab with a sword…