After some time had passed, Fan Xian woke up groggy. A dark and foul-smelling liquid had trickled out beneath him. He looked at Wu Zhu, who stood beside him seemingly unmoved, and smiled weakly. "Thanks... looks like you really hit hard."
Although his body felt weak, he could feel his spirit flourishing. He closed his eyes and felt the conditions within his body, getting used to this new flow of zhenqi. He could sense that this once-ruthless zhenqi, though still powerful, was clearly flowing more smoothly and freely.
Fan Xian let out a sigh. It was hard to imagine that he had managed to master the zhenqi that he had only been able to read about in wuxia novels in his past life. He was gripped by a sudden and unclear urge, and unthinkingly, he slammed his right hand into the ground below him.
There was a muffled thud and a hiss, like a red-hot poker punching a hole through a rag.
A shallow palm print had appeared o
n the ground, its edges completely smooth.
Fan Xian raised his right hand and looked at it, then lowered his head to look again at the palm print in the rock. He measured it with his hand, making sure the it was truly his palmprint that had just made such a mark, and stared at it in amazement. Finally he regained his focus. "That's amazing," he said with a gasp.
"That's zhenqi leaking out," said Wu Zhu. "It'll clear up soon."
"Didn't you say you'd never trained with zhenqi? How do you know how to teach me?"
"I've watched others train, so I knew what we had to do today."
"So it's like you've never eaten pork, but you've seen a pig run before."
Fan Xian, realizing that he'd just insulted himself, smiled faintly. "That was really dangerous back there," he continued. "If you hadn't been here with your stick, I'd probably be a vegetable again."
"What do you mean, 'a vegetable'?" asked Wu Zhu coolly.
Fan Xian looked up at the sky and let his mind wander, paying no attention.
A short while later, he realized that Wu Zhu was an empiricist. If that blow hadn't brought him to his senses, and instead knocked him unconscious, then the ruthless zhenqi in his body would have scattered, turning him into a puddle of blood and guts...
He shivered, and put such terrifying thoughts out of his mind, looking at the wide sea before him. His mind was free, and he felt excited about his newfound mastery. He hand finally freed himself from his gloomy mood over the incident with the assassin days before.
In the days following the incident, Fan Xian could not understand why the assassin had chosen to use poison. Had all of Fei Jie's training led up to that day? It seemed too great of a coincedence. It had been a bold move from the Count's second wife. Even if she had the support of some high-ranking official somewhere, to use poison in such a way suggested that she didn't care about his grandmother's life in the slightest - even though she had been the Emperor's wet-nurse.
Could his father really have had no idea that this was going on in the capital?
As he pondered, the sound of distant singing came from far below the cliffs.
The cliff bordered the sea, far from Danzhou, and it was dangerous ground. There was a great reef in front of the cliff that prevented fishing boats from getting close, so it remained quiet and undisturbed. This was why Wu Zhu had chosen it as the best place to train Fan Xian in the art of killing—and was why hearing this distant song put Fan Xian on edge.
Though he was nervous, he made sure not to act rash. Lying on his stomach, he crawled toward the cliff’s edge, staying behind the rocks while looking down toward the source of the singing.
As he looked down, he saw a small boat drifting through the black reef, appearing and disappearing in and out of the sea foam. The boat weaved in and out, and it looked almost certain that it could smash into the reef at any time, killing its passenger.
But it carried on its way through the rocks regardless.
The person on the boat stood alone, wearing a bamboo hat and singing away. "Flowers fall once they appear, stones stand still a thousand years. But both must go just as they came, and floating clouds are just the same…"
The song was gentle, but perched atop the cliff, he could still hear it clearly through the roar of the waves.
When he heard the song, Fan Xian thought about a line by a poet from his past life named Teitoku Matsunaga: "Flowers blossom but for an hour in the daylight, but compared to the thousand-year pine, there is little difference." How this boatman seemed to be so free and easy was a mystery.
As he pondered, he heard Wu Zhu's voice. "Hide."
Fan Xian hid himself behind the rocks. He sensed the movement of a shadow next to him, and watched in horror as Wu Zhu leapt from the hundred-foot cliff.