It was dusk, and the evening sun had already set over the west. Along the main highway, two stallions were listlessly cantering ahead. In truth, both of these horses were prized steeds, but having had to gallop over a thousand li, even a prized steed would be exhausted. On one, a youth clad in blue with long sleeves lazily stretched his back and yawned. On the other, a red youth could be seen peering into the distance where the figure of a city loomed. “We’re here!” He shouted in a clear voice.
His companion was decidedly less enthusiastic, merely replying thusly in a bland voice, “right.”
“That’s the Snow Moon City! That’s the number one city in the martial world, don’t you feel even the least bit excited?” Asked the red youth, clearly not happy with his companion’s lackluster response.
However, the blue youth merely frowned. Irritated by the red youth’s overbearing excitement, he raised his feet and unceremoniously kicked the youth off his steed. “Scram!”
Needless to say, these two youths were Lei Wujie and Xiao Se. Ever since they sent off the monk, Wuxin, in Khotan, the two had resumed their trip to Snow Moon City. Yet what was supposed to be a leisurely trip, what with the head disciple of Snow Moon City and the very citymaster of said city being near them and all, ended up being anything but. Right after Wuxin left, that Spear Immortal who came crashing down on them in one mighty spear flight, left in a similar fashion with another flight of his spear -Lei Wujie didn’t even get the chance to say hi to the man.
His senior brother, Tang Lian, was a little more empathetic towards their cause, having given them a map at least before leaving himself. According to him, he had another important mission to handle so he had to return to Tangmen first. Just like that, their second guide left.
Wuchan, on the other hand, didn’t have some urgent matter that required him to leave. However, Snowy Peak Temple and Snow Moon City were in completely opposite directions. Just like that, this trip became a two men trip with just Lei Wujie and Xiao Se travelling together.
Two directionally challenged youngsters to be exact.
With a map that might as well had been a bible to them, they wandered around in circles for three whole months before Xiao Se finally took off his fur coat and put on a blue robe , having had enough of the sweltering heat. The only person who was more dismayed by this turn of events had to be Tang Lian. The head disciple had already returned to Snow Moon City for a month now, yet no matter who he asked within the faction, there were no sightings of two such teenagers. Worried that they might have met with some sort of mishap, he asked the other disciples who had just returned from the outside. However, all of them said that the martial world was relatively peaceful recently; there was no murder case involving a red youth from the Lei Clan that they heard of. After pondering on this matter for a long time, he came to the conclusion that the two were probably off gallivanting somewhere as teenagers were known to do.
Finally, in spite of all their hardships, the two youths finally reached their destination.
There were four great cities under the heavens: Revelations of the north, Snow Moon of the South, Exalted Frost of the West and Unparalleled of the East. Of these four, Revelations was the imperial capital where the fates of the world gathered. In contrast, Exalted Frost was a ghost city -only the Sword Immortal Luo Qingyang resided there. Unparalleled was a martial city; its inhabitants all trained in the martial way and outsiders were forbidden from visiting without business. To the common men, these three cities gave off a certain sense of distance and aloofness. Only Snow Moon City was different – they called themselves an ordinary city.
Back in the days, the city was named Everlasting Peace. Later on, several top experts upon falling in love with the scenic backdrop of this city decided to take up residence here. Their martial prowess was unmatched in the world and that led to many admirers arriving just because of their fame. With more and more visitors, the city slowly became their own as well. Thus, they changed the name to Snow Moon.
Yet upon arriving at the gates of the city, Xiao Se and Lei Wujie found that it wasn’t the two words ‘Snow Moon’ that was written on the gates. Instead, it was ‘Lower Pass’.
“Did we take a wrong turn?” Lei Wujie asked, slightly shocked himself.
Xiao Se reached forth and felt a cooling breeze brush his hand. “The winds of the lower pass, the flowers of the upper pass, the snow of its forbidden peaks, and the scenic moon cast over a lake.” He murmured to himself.
“What did you say?”
“Shut up!” Xiao Se gave him another kick.
The two of them dismounted and led their steeds towards the city. Yet upon stepping into its streets, they found that the city was no different than any ordinary city. The streetsides were filled with hawkers and the roadsides were lined with inns and bars. At times, they saw tea serving ladies daintily walk past them before waving with a white handkerchief. “Sirs, are you two new to the city? How about trying a cup of tea from our store, come have a break inside.”
“You’re sure this is the right place?” Lei Wujie asked, still unsure as to their current whereabouts.
Yet all he got was a simple roll of eyes from Xiao Se and nothing more before he followed a nearby waiter into a tea restaurant. With no other choice, Lei Wujie followed him in as well. The two ordered a pot of tea and some snacks for themselves. Hands deliberate and practised, Xiao Se partook in the restaurant’s servings neither too slowly nor too quickly. Lei Wujie, on the other hand, wasn’t in the mood for snacks. Eyes darting left and right, he couldn’t help but wonder to himself whether or not the waiters here and perhaps even the guests were all some kind of hidden expert. He thought to himself, this city truly was a difficult one to see through…
The waiters in question seemed to have noticed the confusion in Lei Wujie as well. Clearly used to such a reaction, one of them answered thusly with a smile, “Sir, perhaps you might be wondering to yourself right now: why does the city seem so ordinary, did you perhaps take a wrong turn somewhere?”
“Exactly, exactly!” Lei Wujie nodded.
“Please look this way, sir.” The waiter pointed towards the distant figure of a towering structure. “Do you see that Tower of Ascension over there?”
“Of course I do, I’m not blind after all.” Lei Wujie answered, unsure as to why the waiter would ask such an obvious question.
“Once you pass that tower, you would have entered the Upper Pass -that’s the true Snow Moon City. Anywhere outside of that tower is for the ordinary folk, the mundane part of the city. Only by climbing that tower and entering the Upper Pass will you be able to visit the true Snow Moon. If not, this number one city of the martial world would be a little too easy to visit.” The waiter ended with a slight joke.
“So that’s why!” Doubts cleared away, he gulped down a cup of tea and said, “is it hard to climb that tower?”
“You could call it hard, or you could call it easy as well. If you have an invitation card, you may enter directly. If you don’t, you would have to climb the tower. The Tower of Ascension has sixteen levels, it has been said that if you manage to reach the sixteenth floor, you would be able to catch a glimpse of the world famous citymaster of Snow Moon City, Baili Dongjun.” The waiter laughed at this point, “if sirs would like to have a go at climbing the tower, how about first trying a pot of our restaurant’s own home brew, the ‘Dashing Snow Moon’, just to give yourselves that extra edge.”
“Dashing Snow Moon? That’s an interesting name. Well, that’s not really to my tastes but my debonair friend over there is more than suited for such a drink, how about getting him a pot.” Lei Wujie pointed towards Xiao Se who currently had his eyes closed.
“Gotcha.” Ignoring the obvious sarcasm in Lei Wujie’s words, the waiter hurriedly left to grab the wine.
“Winds of the lower pass, flowers of the upper pass. Snow over its forbidden peaks, and a moon cast over its scenic lake. Interesting…” Lei Wujie glanced at the distant tower and muttered, “this Snow Moon City truly hasn’t been a let down so far. What do you think, as the disciple of the citymaster, do you think that senior Tang Lian managed to climb all sixteen floors as well? How many floors do you think I’m able to climb?”
“Your Dashing Snow Moon’s here!” The waiter brought them a pot of wine.
Not at all shy, Xiao Se helped himself to cup of the wine. Downing it, a refreshing taste washed over his tongue that wasn’t a mellow, yet also had a refreshing coolness to its taste. Mood significantly improved by the wine, he even made the effort to talk to Lei Wujie. “Tang Lian is the disciple of a Tangmen elder, Tang Lingyue. He doesn’t even need to climb that tower. There are only two kinds of people who would have to do so: a person trying to challenge Snow Moon City, and a person trying to become a disciple. If one climbed up to the fifth floor, he would become a disciple. By climbing up to the tenth floor, he would come under the tutelage of an elder. By climbing up to the sixteenth floor, he would be a disciple under Baili Dongjun.”
“Is the sir over here actually familiar with Snow Moon City? So it’s not sir’s first visit?” The waiter’s curiosity was piqued as well. “But since I was young, the number of people who managed to climb ten floors are far and few between. As for the climbing up to the sixteen, I’ve only seen one. However, that person never managed to catch a glimpse of his excellency, Baili Dongjun.”
“That must be the beggar known throughout the martial world for his stick martial arts, Xu Wei of Beating Stick.” Xiao Se took another swig of the wine at this point.
“Sir’s a knowledgeable one, I see. It was exactly that same beggar with his worn out stick that climbed up the tower. Back then, he asked for a bowl of tea from this very restaurant. I thought he was mad then -here he was, unable to afford even a simple bun and he actually wanted to climb the tower. However, in one single try, he managed to reach the tenth floor, at which point he visited our restaurant once more for a bowl of wine. I didn’t dare to refuse him then, so I fetched him a pot. That old beggar had no intention of refusing the extra wine so he downed it all. After that, he proceeded to climb up another five more floors.”
“Back when he first tried to climb the tower, he was every bit a ragged and depressed looking beggar. Yet the moment he returned from climbing fifteen towers, the air about him changed completely. It was almost as if he emitted a golden glow around him, like an immortal. After his attempt, the beggar came to our restaurant, and it was that point that he ordered a pot of Dashing Snow Moon. Just like that, he slowly sipped on the wine, from noon all the way to dusk. Strangely, there was no news from the Tower of Ascension while he did that.”
“We were all thinking back then that the Snow Moon City was finally out of measures to throw at the beggar. Yet the moment that beggar finished his pot, a figure finally stood atop the Tower of Ascension. It was a man wielding a metallic black long spear and dressed in a black robe. At that very instant, it felt like the winds in the entire city stopped, only to revolve around the top of that tower. In my mind, I thought to myself: now that was a true immortal, not that old beggar.”
“The Spear Immortal, Sikong Changfeng.” Xiao Se blandly stated the identity of that figure.
“That’s right, the Spear Immortal, Sikong Changfeng, one of the three citymasters of our Snow Moon City! Yet when faced with that figure, the old beggar merely howled with laughter before rushing off with stick in hand…”
“Then what?” Clearly engrossed in the story, Lei Wujie couldn’t help but ask.
However, the waiter deliberately left him hanging there.
“Waiter, get me another pot of Dashing Snow Moon.” Lei Wujie declared.
“Are you sure you even have the money for that?” Asked a stunned Xiao Se.
“Aren’t we at Snow Moon City already?” Lei Wujie patted his companion on the back. “Don’t tell me you’re still afraid of me not paying? Waiter, what about the rest of the story?”
Beaming, the waiter continued, “all we saw was that the old beggar leaped up to the sixteenth floor in one bound, then…”
“Then…” Lei Wujie gulped.
“He was beaten down by a spear.” Xiao Se coldly finished the sentence.
Lei Wujie swiftly gave him a “rubbish!” before saying, “as if, he already made it to the fifteenth floor, how could he just get beaten down by a single spear swing?”
The waiter, on the other hand, was a little embarrassed. Compared to the red clothed sir, this aloof guest was truly a lot less likeable. “Sir is correct, he did in fact get beaten down by a single swing. However, that beggar seemed ecstatic about that outcome. Having survived the fall, he stood up, patted off the dust and left with his stick.”
“So he really was sent flying with a swing.” Lei Wujie was a little shocked by the outcome. Yet when he remembered how the Spear Immortal managed to fend off the disciples of the Unparalleled City and even send their head disciple flying back thirty paces without striking, he could understand how a single swing could defeat that beggar.
“However, there has been no sightings of the three citymasters ever since. Let alone the sixteenth floor, we haven’t had a person climb up to the thirteenth.” The waiter suddenly added.
“Forget that old Spear Immortal, how about the Sword Immortal, would you like to see him? Just wait, I’ll bring you something fresh to talk about.” Lei Wujie stood up with a smile, took a swig of the wine and said, “mellow, not at all like the fiery white wine of your inn.”
Xiao Se merely harrumphed at that.
“Let’s go, to overcome this so-called Tower of Ascension!”