Chapter 179 The Immortal
The dirty snow of late winter piled up in the corner like rotting corpses in the pale moonlight; spring would be born again from this decay.
As he sat on the wall of City View Alley, the teenager finally understood why he had to come see Immortal Peng.
He held the newly-forged sword in his arms, as if he were holding a long separated lover. He still didn't know how to love people, but he had already felt the truth of loving the sword. The sword was everything to him.
Like a child who had just learnt to speak, he liked to speak whenever he could, to prove he could.
He suddenly realized that what Immortal Peng had asked Xu Xiaoyi to convey was not a prophecy, but a challenge. A challenge from one swordsman to another.
Gu Shenwei rose to his feet again and jumped from one wall to another like a wildcat, soon reaching the back of the Essence Pavillion. When he looked back over the wall, the peach grove of the Gui Garden was vaguely visible.
The first and second floors of the Essence Pavillion were pitch-black, and there was a solitary lamp on the third floor.
The teenage killer was trying to figure out a way to climb up the pavilion when a small window opened on the third floor. It was at this window that someone had once shown up and stopped Chu Yangjun from competing in swordsmanship with the teenager.
A head stuck out of the window, one whose face was pitted and pockmarked. His eyelids were folded outward and his nostrils were half missing, as if he had been burnt in hot water. He was so ugly that even the moonbeams shook.
"Why did you come so late?" The ugly man jumped out and landed lightly on the top of the wall, his legs slightly bent and his arms outstretched, showing two short swords.
There were many strange people in the Essence Pavillion. Gu Shenwei had seen them before, so he asked, "Immortal Peng?"
Gu Shenwei was surprised that Immortal Peng was such an ugly and ungraceful person. He had imagined that this fortune-teller would somehow also have an outstanding behaviour like that of immortals.
The killer had come for a swordsmanship competition, so he concentrated on his sword without saying anything. Since Immortal Peng was the Master of Ye Silang and Chu Yangjun, he must be highly skilled in martial arts. Gu Shenwei would step on his corpse to further improve his swordsmanship.
Lotus was pressed against the wall like a spider. She and Servant Huan had made the decision that one of them would show up while the other hid in the dark. They would then both make a move to hunt the expert at the same time.
They were killers and only wanted to kill the opponent and improve their swordsmanship, by any means both fair and foul.
"You're not his match," A voice rang out upstairs. Another ugly face showed up.
The second ugly man leapt out and landed behind the killer, also revealing his two identical short swords.
"You are?" Gu Shenwei was a little confused and became alert. If this was a trap, he and Lotus would carry out the second plan: jump into the peach grove and flee.
"Immortal Peng," the second ugly man said with an impatient tone, as if the killer was asking a question while knowing the answer.
Gu Shenwei became more perplexed. Could it be that this Immortal Peng was intentionally making fun of him? But what was the point of this, a trick of fortune-telling?
A series of thoughts flashed through Gu Shenwei's mind, and then he suddenly realized how foolish he was to still be dwelling on this when he was confronted with a formidable enemy, so he took the simplest solution.
Gu Shenwei unsheathed his narrow sabre and stabbed at the first ugly man. The ugly man's 'life Qi' was clearly visible, even more so than those of Ye Silang and Chu Yangjun. Gu Shenwei was sure that he could kill in one shot, so he didn't even need Lotus's help.
He would jump over the head of the first ugly man and use his corpse to block the second ugly man, so he could take a breath and prepare his next move.
Everything went as he expected. The black-robed teenager leapt over the ugly man like a raven and landed exactly where he had planned. It was just that his sword was gone and the ugly man wasn't dead. The ugly man turned around and lowered his arms, with a look of admiration in his fierce eyes, as if he had just seen a monkey performing the actions of a human being.
His sword had been taken away. Gu Shenwei retreated three steps in shock.
It was not one of the two ugly men who had snatched his sword, but a third who had appeared at the third-floor window. He had a square face, thick dagger-like brows, and a long beard. He was dressed in a white moon-like robe, held a silk rope of the same colour in his right hand, and the killer's sword in his left hand.
"Come up," the white-robed man said with a commanding voice. He didn't mean to intimidate anyone, but his words were hard to resist.
"Who are you?"
Gu Shenwei had made up his mind that he would escape as soon as the other side was distracted answering him. The Essence Pavillion was more complicated than he had imagined. It was a rash move for him pay a visit this time, but the white-robed man's words made him stay.
The teenage killer no longer saw it as a game. He felt angry, but no danger.
The two ugly men jumped from the top of the wall, pushed open a back door, and walked inside.
The door was left open for the killer.
Gu Shenwei was a suspicious person, but for reasons unknown to him, he fully believed the words of 'Immortal Peng'. He was like a scholar who had solved half of a riddle and would continue moving forward no matter whether if the road ahead was a mountain of swords, a sea of flames, or the tiger's den.
Gu Shenwei stamped down and also jumped off the high wall and entered the Essence Pavilion. Lotus should have gotten the hint and would secretly leave. It was enough for him to break in alone if it was a trap.
There was no one in the teahouse on the first floor. The tea accessories were in order, and the second floor was similarly empty, with only a circle of chairs placed near the wall. The third floor, however, was crowded with people.
The room was large. A slender bronze statue stood in the middle, vaguely resembling a flying female celestial. One arm of the statue was raised high and it held a small lamp.
All the light in the whole Essence Pavilion came from it.
There were about thirty or forty people sitting or standing around, most of whom were ugly and physically handicapped. Amongst these people, Gu Shenwei had seen several of them on the first floor of the teahouse before. There were four or five other people who were very handsome, such as the white-robed and long bearded rope wielder whose elegance and artistic style were not inferior to Ye Silang and Chu Yangjun in any respect.
In short, there were no ordinary-looking men on the third floor. They were all either extremely ugly or extremely handsome.
A huge screen was placed at the far end of the room, full of characters. But Gu Shenwei couldn't clearly read any of them, which reminded him of Luo Ningcha who had never shown her true face.
The white-robed man came forward, bowed slightly while holding the sword with both hands, and returned it to its original owner.
Taking the sword, Gu Shenwei hesitated for a moment before putting it back into his scabbard. No one spoke, and he also didn't open his mouth. But in his heart, he began to doubt whether his decision was right or not.
"Your swordsmanship is very good, who did you learn from," asked a one-legged man.
"My swordsmanship is not good, or my sword would not have been immediately snatched away."
"No no, the swordsmanship is good. It's just that you're not learning it right and you also don't have a strong will. That's why your sword was knocked out of your hands." The speaker was a hunchbacked man.
"You … who are you all?"
"I've said it many times. I'm Immortal Peng." This time the one who spoke was a handsome young man.
Gu Shenwei felt that there was a reptile crawling around in his heart, disgusting and creepy. He had seen broken corpses and mounds of dead people, but he had never felt uneasier.
"You … " Gu Shenwei's eyes swept over the faces of dozens of people and finally fell onto the screenwall. The real Immortal Peng was behind it and the others were just his mouthpieces. As he realized this, although he still felt it was incredible, Gu Shenwei wasn't as afraid now.
"Heh, Your Excellency is really good at making a mystery of simple things," Gu Shenwei said while he was actually thinking about Xu Xiaoyi. That kid had gone up to the third floor before and inquired for several days, but he didn't report this important information.
"Those who know me say I am sad at heart. Those who do not know me say I am seeking something."
Gu Shenwei stared at the screen, ignoring whatever strange man was talking this time, replying, "You seem to have expected me to come."
"Hmm, I thought you'd be here long time ago, but you were too suspicious and wasted a lot of time."
"Couldn't you tell a fortune for yourself?"
"If you believe it then it is true. If you don't believe it then it's nothing. Others believe it when I tell their fortune. I don't believe it, so I never tell my own fortune. "
Immortal Peng was frank. Gu Shenwei felt his vigilance constantly declining. As long as he relaxed a bit, he would unwittingly feel at ease. Although he was surrounded by dozens of people, all of whom seemed to be top-notch experts, he was not nervous at all. He was very sure that no one would hurt him.
"Well, I'm here. What do you want?"
"You killed Ye Silang and Chu Yangjun."
"Humph, were they your disciples?"
"No, they're just people who learned swordsmanship from me and then left me."
In Gu Shenwei's eyes, Immortal Peng was deliberately being mystifying again. But he soon understood that he had learnt a lot of martial arts skills from Xue Niang, but they had no master and disciple relationship.
"So you made use of me to kill them." Gu Shenwei always speculated at the thoughts of others with the worst malice and he seldom got it wrong.
"I didn't want to kill them, and also didn't want to take advantage of you. It was just a contest between two styles of swordsmanship. I just wanted to know the result."
It was an eerie conversation. Each time Immortal Peng talked he used a different voice, which might come from any direction. Gu Shenwei stared at the screen and imagined that the other side was a first-class ventriloquist so he could feel a bit more normal. "The murderous sword trumped the duelling sword."
"To me, the emotionless sword surpassed the passionate sword."
"Ha ha." Gu Shenwei raised his head and laughed. Then he suddenly leapt forward at the screen before his laughter ceased. He wanted to know Immortal Peng's true face.
A man appeared from nowhere, blocking his way.
Gu Shenwei immediately retreated. He should have changed his direction and rushed forward again, but the look of the person in the way startled him. His internal Qi stalled a bit, and he lost his chance of a surprise attack.
The one that came out from behind the screen was a teenager whose face appeared to be immature, but eyebrows and eyes were strikingly similar to that of Chu Yangjun's, as gentle and quiet as a woman.
"You are … Chu Yangjun's younger brother?"
"I am Immortal Peng." The teenager repeated the same thing.
Gu Shenwei was startled and puzzled. His wrist was quietly gripped by one hand. Gu Shenwei shook it hard but it seemed to stick. He wanted to draw his sabre with the other hand, but it was also held down.
The man who was gripping his wrist held hands with another. One by one, they joined each other and finally connected with the teenager.
Once again, the killer had lost his ability to detect danger as if he knew everyone was harmless and that Immortal Peng was helping him.
A pitch-black cane, which seemed to be made from either iron or wood, slowly showed up from behind the screen, and was gently laid on the teenager's shoulder.
A current of gentle internal Qi went in his left arm and exited his right three times before everyone let go. The cane retracted and the teenager went back behind the screen.
"No wonder, no wonder." Immortal Peng used someone's mouth and said again. "It's really rare to be able to master such a swordsmanship with the suppression of Desolate Finger Energy."
"Can you remove it?" Gu Shenwei blurt out, his voice trembling. The Desolate Finger Energy was both an internal injury and a sore spot. He tried not to think about it, but the three-year period set by Xue Niang was coming up and he needed a miracle.
"I can." An old voice full of authority rang out, but Gu Shenwei was startled for no reason.