Chapter 101 Practising the Swordsmanship
Killing and not being killed used to be the disciples' daily actions, but it all changed after a ban on disciples and killers killing each other was passed. Now, casually killing others was a difficult matter and one could only make a move without being punished during the monthly test.
For Gu Shenwei and Lotus who were eager to learn the swordsmanship, once a competition every month was not only too infrequent, but also, a rather risky arena to test the new martial arts.
Wandering sabremen entered southern Jade City everyday. According to Tie Hanfeng's criteria, the best people for him to practice his swordsmanship would be these wanderers as they didn't have any 'connections' and. However, Tie Hanfeng hadn't taken his disciple down the mountain ever since Gu Shenwei's last fiasco.
Lotus's Master was a standard killer. Except for the sabre, there was nothing else worthy of entering his eyes. It was even more impossible for him to take her to the city.
The two could only try to find sacrifices at the castle.
It was exactly at this time that strange things started occurring at the castle, which provided them with a place to kill people.
It was a normal day at the end of February when a disciple killed his opponent during the monthly test before carrying the corpse to Afterlife Cliff and throwing it over. This was an example set by Servant Huan, and after the first occurrence, it had almost become 'tradition'.
Nobody knew exactly what had occurred at Afterlife Cliff, as people at East Castle had only heard a scream. When the guardsmen who heard the sound went over to investigate, they found two corpses lying at the edge of the cliff. Their eyeballs were dug out and only four deep bloody holes remained. Such a sight was enough to startle even the cruellest of killers.
Both corpses had several very deep wounds, like those formed when stabbed by a row of daggers.
At first the guardsmen thought that there was a foreign invasion, but it was soon discovered that the murderer was not a human being, but a beast with long feathers and sharp claws.
Only Gu Shenwei and Lotus knew the origin of that beast.
The red-crowned roc showed up again; it seemed to be capable of skilfully flying in the sky now. The reason it risked landing in a gathering place of humans was perhaps to find the familiar food since its childhood, or maybe it was to avenge its parents, or even possibly just to look for a person.
The news that a third golden roc had appeared at Afterlife Cliff not only shook the whole Golden Roc Castle, but also aroused Unique King's great interest. Shangguan Fa personally led people to patrol the area and place nets down at various locations. He even ordered experts with lightness skills to climb down the cliff and search for the bird's nest.
The killers who climbed down all left without returning, and except for the scream before their demise, no valuable information was sent back. On the steep cliff, no matter how formidable one's martial arts skill was, one couldn't win the fight against the large soaring bird.
Unique King had no choice but to change his strategy. He placed more traps near the cliff edge and also placed bait, hoping to capture the roc which appeared and disappeared mysteriously by strategy.
Because Servant Huan had contacted the golden roc before, he was called out first to be the bait. He stayed at Afterlife Cliff for a day and a night and became uneasy, worrying that the red-crowned roc would suddenly show up and get trapped. Surrounding him were top level killers and if it came, he wouldn't be able to save it.
It turned out that the red-crowned roc's intelligence was beyond everyone's expectation. It didn't fall for the trap, but instead circled around the mountain peak, looking for the weakest place to attack. Regardless of gender, age, or kung fu level, its first move was always to peck people's eyeballs. No one could survive under its long beak and sharp claws, and many people were brought into air and directly thrown into the abyss.
The roc had turned all of Golden Roc Castle upside down. The area beyond the stone wall became a forbidden zone for the living. Only those killers who were the most daring and most ambitious for a big reward dared to step outside. Even for them, they had to move in groups as no one was willing to face the 'flying killer' alone.
Unique King issued the order that anyone who could capture the roc alive would be awarded ten thousand liang of silver and a treasured sabre preserved at Shangguan family.
Gu Shenwei worried a lot about the red-crowned roc's fate during the first few days, but after he found that it was safe, he suddenly realized that it was a very good chance to practice the swordsmanship.
He and Lotus targeted those who were left alone at the end of the black market. After they were done, they directly pulled the corpses to the cliff at the end of wooden sabre alley and dropped them off the cliff to make everyone believe that it was the roc that caused the deaths.
The first person that Lotus killed was a servant who didn't know kung fu. He came to the black market to sell something but was killed unknowingly.
Lotus stabbed the hapless victim's heart with a single sabre move. They couldn't find a sword, so they used the narrow sabre instead.
This was another dispute between the two teenagers. Gu Shenwei thought they should strictly follow what was shown in the figure and stab at the target's neck. Lotus thought that the phrase 'neck stabbing' was just a metaphor, which actually meant the key parts of the enemy. Otherwise, the words besides the figure wouldn't stress the importance of 'Qi'.
The mysterious swords manual emphasized the existence of 'Qi'. With Zhang Ji's help, the two finally determined that the so-called 'Qi' was not their internal Qi, but actually 'Qi of life' that every living creature had. This Qi had a node, and if the node was cut, the enemy would immediately die. As for where this node was, they couldn't figure it out, and neither could Zhang Ji.
The two would immediately check the victim's status after the kill. If the victim didn't die right away, it meant that the move was not executed correctly.
The first couple of times, the two failed because they were too anxious and couldn't reach the mindset of 'must die' as required by the swordsmanship. They had to make up for it with a deadly cut, but they gradually they adjusted to the right feeling and their swordsmanship became more and more dependable.
One person attacked while the other hid nearby, observed, and made suggestions about posture, sword movement, and sword speed. In this way, both of them improved.
They found many problems during the real fights, and the first one was the difference between the sabre and the sword.
Zhang Ji had described in detail the characteristics of the two weapons in one of his letters: a sabre was usually heavier than a sword, a sabre could be used for slashing and stabbing, a sword could only be used for stabbing. And even in the way of stabbing, the two had a significant difference. A sabreman focused all of his strength on the sabre when stabbing others, but a swordsman' strength was spread all over his own body. This made sabresmanship heavy and firm while swordsmanship was light and flexible. For sabres, there were average sabres and treasure sabres, but there were only treasured swords.
To Zhang Ji, those 'metal pieces' could only be used for decoration, juggling, and dancing. They couldn't even be called a sword.
Golden Roc Castle's narrow sabre was a bit lighter than a normal sabre, but it was still heavier than a sword. To compensate, both Gu Shenwei and Lotus secretly ground up a sabre for themselves, by shaving way the back of the sabre to thin the blade and sharpen the tip. They hid this sabre, never showed it in front of others and only used it when they assassinated somebody.
The two mastered the method of increasing their speed in the swords manual after several assassinations. They also discovered that the method mentioned in the swords manual for guiding the Qi and using strength could also be applied to sabresmanship. So in order to hide it from others, they used the swordsmanship style with their sabres. Although the power was greatly reduced, they wouldn't accidentally reveal it in public and it was enough for them to deal with the next several monthly tests.
After the assassinations, they didn't touch the victim's remains. They just carried the corpses to the edge of the cliff, took off the boot and socks, and disguised it as if the roc had attacked the corpse. Lotus was the better of the two at this.
These were real assassinations. The two spent a lot of time and effort in hiding their tracks. With an interval of about a week between each mission, they needed to find good excuses to leave their Master, and also regularly met disciples they were familiar with so that they had an alibi when necessary.
From winter to spring, in the past three months, they assassinated twelve people in total, six each. Amongst those killed, there were servants who didn't know kung fu, disciples who were buying wine for their Masters, and even a real killer. None of the assassinations caused any suspicion, and the black market was open as usual. It had just moved a little bit further from the cliff.
That killer was in his thirties, and was still serving his lord. Like the others, he was dressed in black as he wandered in the market. He was not tall, so he was mistaken for a disciple by the two teenagers.
Lotus stabbed into his heart with a single move. The two carried the corpse to the edge of the cliff. They didn't know it was a real killer until they found a yao pai with a character 'jue' when disguising the scene.
It was at this time that the two teenagers knew that their swordsmanship had a bit of an achievement and no longer had to risk killing in the castle.
Those two were each other's friend and Master during the learning process. Zhang Ji, who offered help to them, would never imagine what kind of killers he had taught.
Lotus focused more on 'killing others', which made her killing aura become heavier and heavier. Gu Shenwei personally saw that a disciple was frightened speechless while talking with Lotus. She changed so drastically that someone even put her on a par with Wild Horse.
Gu Shenwei concentrated on 'killing oneself' and his killing aura became less and less. Tie Hanfeng was puzzled about this, and he even became furious and adopted his old cursing method to irritate Gu Shenwei, hoping that it could help ignite his disciple's vigorous killing aura again. It was not until Gu Shenwei successively killed his opponents in the monthly tests, none of whom were weak, that Tie Hanfeng reluctantly accepted his disciple's change.
"What's wrong with you? You used to be like a born killer, a ferocious dog with sharp teeth. Sometimes even I was a bit frightened, but now you're like a pug, happy with just a bone. Well, I still think the way you used to be is better."
Tie Hanfeng kept on saying nagging words like these, that he missed his disciple of several months ago.
Gu Shenwei had seriously considered about whether to make a move on his Master or not after Lotus successfully assassinated a killer. Killing Tie Hanfeng would help him directly gain a killer's title. After some preparation, he decided against it. This Lame's martial arts skill was not average, and he was much more powerful than those normal killers.
But he became a bit restless and also wanted to fight with a real killer to prove that his swordsmanship was not weaker than Lotus and even more powerful than her.
The two decided to perform one last assassination at the castle.
The waited for another week before finding a person who seemed to be a killer at the end of the black market. This person came late. He swigged some wine that he bought and went to a dilapidated yard to pee before he left. When he came out, there was nobody else left.
The killing was very successful. Gu Shenwei used the specially made 'sword' to stab the opponent's neck. The killer felt as if his neck were bitten by a mosquito, and he raised his head to swat it before falling down. Gu Shenwei caught the wine gourd.
The two's swordsmanship was finally formed, but they hadn't fully mastered it yet. They would only be considered to attain mastery over it when the victim felt nothing while being killed.
The dead had a yao pai with a character 'jue', which meant that he really was a killer.
The misfortune came at the place they discarded the corpse, which was the cliff at the end of the wooden sabre alley.
Both Gu Shenwei and Lotus didn't know that Golden Roc Castle hadn’t even caught a feather of the big bird in the past three months and thus changed their strategy. Someone had calculated the time and place for each attack the big bird made, found the places it most frequently visited and then set traps at these places.
The cliff at the end of the wooden sabre alley became one of the selected important places because twelve people had died under the peak of the bird. Several killers had been hiding in the dark and waiting for the arrival of the enemy.