Editors: Cypress Venus Trap, Xu Xian
Chapter 26 Learning Kung Fu
That day, Gu Shenwei stayed behind and followed Xue Niang to practise kung fu.
Although the two of them did not have a true master-disciple relationship, nor were they friends, one taught carefully and the other learned diligently.
Gu Shenwei had a very clear mind, and thus understood that Xue Niang's and the Miss’s purpose was not a simple offer such as being a killer disciple to Golden Roc Castle. Furthermore, by safekeeping his secrets, they were certainly planning something in their minds, however, until they made their final request, he would, temporarily, be safe.
This was really a strange set of circumstances. Gu Shenwei called himself Yang Huan and moreover, even though his target of revenge was the eighth young lord Shangguan Nu, the eighth young mistress surprisingly didn’t mind it. Even Xue Niang did not get to the bottom of it, she easily believed his explanation. And he, a teenager with killing intent, had to rely on these two women who harboured evil intentions to ensure his own safety.
Another thing which surprised Gu Shenwei was that he was not the only one who was following Xue Niang to practise kung fu.
The way the maid servants were named was similar to the male servants in Golden Roc Castle. A character was also picked from the Thousand-character Classic, the only difference was that the character ‘Nü’ was added to it.
The one practising kung fu together with Gu Shenwei was called He Nü, she was one of the 10 virgin girls bought by Big Head God. 1
She was a silent young girl, she was a beauty if she wasn't serious all the time. Her expression always remained contemplative and she remained vigilant against everything. She always paid special attention to every word Xue Niang preached and carefully observed Xue Niang’s each and every move.
From Xue Niang’s perspective, Lotus was an outstanding disciple.
Gu Shenwei had never heard Servant Yao mention her.
That triangle-faced teenager had mentioned all the other virgin girls except Lotus. For a person who had liked to boast, this was quite unusual.
The way Xue Niang taught kung fu was totally different from the Gu family. Without even being taught anything, she ordered her two 'disciples' to fight on their first day under her tutelage, it was a full out fight and nobody held back in their attacks.
In just one exchange, Gu Shenwei was kicked to the ground before he realized that Lotus was fighting for real. At that moment he also understood why Servant Yao was injured so often.
Lotus didn’t have a martial arts base. Relying on her good understanding and tremendous fortitude, she followed Xue Niang and mastered a full set of fist and feet techniques over the past few dozen days.
Initially, Gu Shenwei had thought about hiding his strength, but gave up that idea and had to resort to all means necessary, including his first level of balanced power; even then the fight between him and Lotus barely ended in a draw.
Lotus had never learnt any types of internal energy before, she was just more experienced than Gu Shenwei at real fights.
In less than an hour's training Gu Shenwei had become wet with sweat, his internal Qi tumbled inside his dantian and he seemed to have run out of strength.
Xue Niang was standing to the side, mostly advising Lotus. As for Servant Huan, who had stayed back the first day, she only gave some advice or an order in the end:
“Forget about your poor fist techniques, focus on your internal energy. If you want to enter east castle and survive to become a killer, you have to practise all over again.”
That afternoon, Xue Niang went to serve the Miss, so she asked Lotus to teach Servant Huan the Tiger Subduing Fist.
Gu Shenwei had already lost face when he was defeated by a girl of the same age, but he felt even more ashamed when he had to learn fist techniques from her. Moreover, Lotus seemed to be cold and reserved in her manners and would not speak unless it was necessary, it was as if she was very reluctant to teach him.
However, on his return to Ji Xin Yuan at dusk, Gu Shenwei was unexpectedly subjected to special treatment.
The new overseer spoke with Servant Huan for the first time, encouraged him, and told him that he didn’t have to take care of the dying.
All the five teenagers wore an awkward smile, and welcomed the return of their ‘sworn brother’. Servant Lei even helped him to clean the dust on his clothes. Their change in attitude was so abrupt that Gu Shenwei eventually did not believe it.
Regardless, Gu Shenwei’s focus was still on Servant Qian.
Servant Qian acted as he always did, he also came to say his well-wishes, but he didn’t talk much, he only spoke to break the ice, leaving the impression that he was the leader of the small group.
Gu Shenwei decided to forget about the white silk for the moment and focus on learning kung fu, both to enter the east castle to become a killer, and also, to deal with those two women.
Golden Roc Castle was like a giant diamond mountain, when looked at from afar, it gave the impression of being indestructible; but if one looked closely, their cracks would be apparent. Gu Shenwei already found several cracks, but it was far from enough to exact his revenge. He decided to continue waiting patiently and observe until he found a junction for all the cracks.
Gu Shenwei could practise kung fu openly now. Except when eating and sleeping, he used almost all of his time practising kung fu. Even after he returning from Xue Niang’s place, he would go to Groaning Ghost Cliff to practise balanced power as he wanted to make up for the time he had wasted in the past years.
Xue Niang eagerly hoped that the two teenagers she recommended would become outstanding in east castle, so she was very strict. She even interfered with Gu Shenwei’s internal Qi practice to ensure that he would not end up in a miserable state like Servant Yao.
Xue Niang was not like Gu Lun, who had taught the internal energy slowly and focused more on safety rather than speed, she used almost violent means to force Servant Huan to improve his internal energy.
Gu Shenwei had to practise balanced power in front of her once everyday while she would poke his body randomly. Each time, she would poke a different acupoint, and transfuse a blast of hot Qi to help him to unlock his meridians.
This obviously held great benefits for practising internal energy, but it also caused a lot of pain. Within several days, Gu Shenwei was black and blue all over his body, he couldn’t even find a comfortable position to sleep in during the night.
What was more painful was the daily practice with Lotus. This silent young girl held an inexplicable hatred towards Gu Shenwei since the very beginning. She even treated the teenager as an enemy when Xue Niang helped him practise internal energy alone.
Gu Shenwei had never been hated so much by someone.
He was very confused, but what followed him was anger and recalcitrance, he wanted to surpass Lotus.
However it was hard to achieve this when he was learning Tiger Subduing Fist as, since he only started learning under Xue Niang nearly two months after Lotus, Gu Shenwei was not good at fists or feet techniques. But the situation changed 10 days later when Xue Niang started teaching sabresmanship.
The date when east castle would recruit new disciples was fast approaching, in order to catch up in progress, Xue Niang had to teach them more kung fu in the little time left while reminding Servant Huan and Xue Niang:
“For kung fu practitioners, fists and feet are the base, you will naturally master other weapons once you have a strong and light body, but since they are just the base, don’t rely on them while fighting others. No matter how good your fists or feet techniques are, holding a sharp sabre will make you more powerful. Someone can defeat an armed enemy with bare hands but that’s because of the big difference between them, it doesn’t mean fists and feet are better than weapons. Remember, if you want to be a killer and make a living on killing, your opponent is not chosen by you, but your employer, so never think about winning over an armed enemy with bare hands, fight and win with a sabre.”
Xue Niang herself practised the kung fu technique of the Iron Finger, which contradicted her argument. But she was not a killer and she didn’t want to become one. Additionally, she didn’t need a sabre or sword since she was always staying in the back yard and serving the Miss.
Gu Shenwei was very familiar with his family's inherited sabresmanship, but he had already said that he had only scratched the surface of it, so he had to hide it intentionally.
The good thing was that Xue Niang didn't actually care, the sabresmanship she taught was for real fights and there was no fixed format. In total it included 18 moves, each move was very simple, either a chop, cut, stab, or block, which subtly differed from each other. But once the teenagers became familiar with it, Xue Niang asked them to combine the 18 moves freely, which created numerous new moves.
Xue Niang said that this set of sabresmanship was called ‘Iron Mountain Sabresmanship’, one of the martial arts the Iron Mountain robbers relied on to tyrannize the desert.
Gu Shenwei felt the Iron Mountain Sabresmanship was not as subtle as the Gu family sabresmanship, but it was easier to learn and varied from the Gu family techniques. He occasionally added one or two moves of Gu family sabresmanship into the 18 moves and found that it was surprisingly smooth and sometimes yielded unexpected results.
But because she had never touched a real sabre before, it was a hurdle for Lotus. It took her several days just to get familiar with the gestures of holding a sabre and the ways to use her strength while holding it. So during the real fights, she fell behind all the time, sometimes the gap was so huge that Xue Niang had to jump in and compete with Servant Huan herself.
Lotus became more silent and solemn due to this. Every time Gu Shenwei arrived at the yard, he would see that she had already started practising with her sabre and would continue to do so even when it was time for him to leave.
Gu Shenwei also made lots of progress in practising balanced power, within only two months, he had passed two breakthroughs and both his yin and yang energy had reached the second level.
It was the first time since Gu Shenwei entered the Golden Roc Castle that he had felt this good and confident. Even though his goal was still far in the future, he felt that he was slowly moving towards it, step by step.
He wanted to be the best killer and then get his revenge on the killers.
Big Head God’s daughter would come and see Xue Niang teach kung fu when she was bored, from behind the screen of course. She was forced to abandon many of the habits she had in Iron Mountain, but she insisted on keeping this one. Not only did she forbid men, except her own husband to see her, but also the general women in the castle could not see how she looked.
It was said the Miss wore several layers of veils even while bowing to her mother-in-law. If the rumours were true, then it would not be hard to understand why the relationship between her and her mother-in-law was strained.
Sometimes, the Miss would make some comments when Gu Shenwei practised Iron Mountain Sabresmanship with Lotus, then the four servants, ‘Chen, Xin, Sui, Yi’ would pick up where the Miss left off and recall their previous good times together with the Miss.
From these long-winded memories, Gu Shenwei found out that the Miss didn’t know kung fu at all; that the Iron Mountain was not a real mountain, just the site where the robber's camp was located; and that Xue Niang was not a real wet nurse, she had joined the robbers’ gang when the Miss was a few years old.
It was the beginning of autumn when the east castle started recruiting new disciples. The weather was frosty the previous night, so the sky looked gloomy, but the air at the peak was very fresh.
Xue Niang personally brought Servant Huan and Lotus to east castle .
There were many buildings in the castle, and countless roads intersected each other like a maze, outsiders could not take a step forward without being guided. Although Xue Niang had not been in the castle for a long time, she was very familiar with the roads. This might have surprised many people, but not Gu Shenwei.
Similar to west castle, the east castle also had numerous courtyards. Xue Niang led the two of them to a small yard. Like many yards in Golden Roc Castle, the yard was dilapidated after centuries. But the pedant, who was recording names behind the long table, wore a majestic look which made people feel that Golden Roc Castle’s strength was in its people, and not its buildings.
The pedant raised his head and glanced at the newcomers. They were the first wave of new recruitments and he hadn’t written anything down yet.
“The eighth young lord.”
The pedant asked many things, even the kung fu they had learnt was recorded. It was Xue Niang who helped them answer all these questions, Gu Shenwei and Lotus just had to wait quietly to the side.
All was well and Lotus became the first recorded killer disciple of the year.
Now came the second and third waves of new disciples, the yard appeared to be crowded.
Finally, it was Gu Shenwei’s turn. Everything went smoothly and the name Servant Huan was also recorded onto the notebook, just the last few questions were left. But trouble started when he was asked about the kung fu he had learnt.
“He has learnt internal energy before?”
“Hmm, a little bit of the basics.” It was still Xue Niang who helped him answer, but her eyebrows frowned a bit.
The pedant looked down and crossed out Servant Huan’s recordings one by one, then looked up, and stated:
“He can’t enter the east castle.”Translator's note: Literally He Nü means Lotus Girl, to make it simple, Lotus will be used instead from now on. ↩