Volume 5, Chapter 39: Enemies Meet on a Narrow Path
On an endless ancient trail a unit of elite horsemen in bright armor with countless, fluttering, fiery banners escorted a carriage on the official road. Both sides of the road thronged with millet and wheat. However, there was no sign of habitation. This wasn’t because all of the commoners in the area had fled. In fact , Yong Emperor Li Zhi’s blitz did not give the commoners any opportunity to flee. The reason there was no one present here was because two hours earlier the population on either side of the roadway had been sent away to ensure that no unexpected mishaps occurred.
I sat in the carriage with the curtains raised above the windows. Bathing in the warm, northern radiance of spring, I had no worries that anyone would seek to assassinate me under the protection of five thousand elite horsemen. Instead, I allowed my eyes to feast upon the passing scenery, feeling as relaxed as if I were out on a leisurely spring tour. When I set out north, Li Xian and Zhangsun Ji’s forces had already combined, beginning to advance on Jinyang en masse. At present, Northern Han did not have any way of dispatching any unit that numbered a thousand or more to pass through the Yong army’s layers of blockades. Once the Daizhou situation was resolved and the encirclement was closed, the final offensive would begin. Besides, with the Hanzhong region pacified, Great Yong could focus completely on Northern Han. With the difference in strength, victory was at hand. Thinking of this, even I could not help feeling proud of the achievements.
At this moment, I heard a soft sigh. Turning my head to look and seeing the faint glow of worry on Li Shun’s face, I could not help but shoot him a glare. Even when this fellow exchanged blows with the Fengyi Sect Master, he did not show any signs of worry. What was different today?
As if he had noticed my doubting look, Li Shun anxiously stated, “Young master, previously when victory was not yet decided, the Devil Sect Sovereign would naturally not intervene lightly. Now that the situation is decided, how could Jing Wuji continue to watch on with folded arms? Great Master True Compassion is protecting the Emperor. His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, is protected by the experts from the Shaolin Temple. As for the young master, you only have me alone. The young master didn’t even bring along Zhang Jinxiong and company. As for the Devil Sect, Duan Lingxiao and Qiu Yufei are both Xiantian realm experts. If they were to act, even if there were more than the five thousand elite horsemen escorting the young master, it would be difficult to prevent them from nearing and attacking. In reality, what would matter if young master were to defy the Imperial Edict? It’s better than to take such risks.”
Unconcerned, I replied, “You are overthinking matters. What kind of people are within the Devil Sect? Even if they sought to assassinate someone, their target would be His Imperial Majesty and His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi. After all, only if something happened to the two of them could the current situation be reversed. I am no longer so valuable. Even if they do succeed, they will only at most enrage His Imperial Majesty and the Prince of Qi. Unless they are doing so purely to vent their anger, they have no justification to seek my death.”
Li Shun smiled wryly and observed, “Young master, the actions of some people are without reason. How could the behavior of the Devil Sect be within anyone’s expectations?”
Just as I was about to try to mollify him, I abruptly heard three zither notes. To my ears, the plucking of the zither strings sounded like sudden claps of thunder. I felt blood surge up from my heart and my body trembled. Li Shun’s palm was already at my back, passing along his internal energy.
The twang of the zither was unending, as the player continuously plucked the silk strings. Although the music plainly wasn’t loud, it was clear and distinct to the ear. Where did it come from? It almost seemed like the zither player was nearby. From the beauty of the melody, there were undercurrents of melancholy, almost as if it were a frozen river—sparkling and shining in the sunshine with nothing more beautiful imaginable.1 However, underneath the frozen surface was hidden danger and a faint killing aura. As the music became increasingly intense, all five thousand horsemen ceased their advance, feeling the earth-shattering nature of the zither. Although they were a strong force, all of the soldiers felt like this troop was a lonely boat on the endless blue ocean with no one to rely upon.
At this very moment, mournful music sounded from within the heavily protected carriage in their midst. Though it wasn’t from any traditional instrument, it was clear and melodious. While the music of the zither was intense and resounding, the music from the carriage was continuous and unending as it twined above the pluckings of the zither, becoming stronger and stronger. It wasn’t long before the zither gradually came to a rest.
Afterwards, the zither resonated with the thrum of its strings from the open field ahead. Even though the soldiers present did not understand music, they could still distinctly hear the invitation from within the sound.
The expression on my face changed slightly. I could distinctly identify the zither player. However, there was a deep, hidden meaning in the music. The zither player was clearly being compelled, hence his great melancholy. Pulling aside the screen covering the carriage entrance, I serenely ordered, “Remain here for now. Xiaoshunzi and Huyan Shou will accompany me to pay a formal visit upon the Sovereign of the Devil Sect.”
Alarm surfaced on the faces of Xiaoshunzi and Huyan Shou. However, they had been expecting this and did not raise any concerns. Huyan Shou grimly said, “The Devil Sect Sovereign is unfathomable and our two countries are enemies. Daren, you cannot put yourself in danger lightly.”
Although Xiaoshunzi did not speak, his face was one of disagreement. Not tolerating their dissent, I refuted, “It is already too late for me to change paths. Even with five thousand horsemen, we can do nothing but defend. Besides, what kind of personage is the Sovereign of the Devil Sect? Since he has invited me to a meeting, he will not be so rash as to kill me. All right. Since I am firmly decided, there is no need for you all to speak further.”
The expression on Huyan Shou’s face trembled. The eyes of this usually mild-mannered and refined young man had flashed with unswerving determination and his tone carried an imposing manner that did not brook dispute. Steeling his heart, Huyan Shou thought to himself, If something happens to the daren, at most I will be buried with him. Having decided, he selected the eighteen Stalwart Tiger Guard with the best martial arts and best cooperative skills before issuing orders for the troop to surround the open field ahead. If there were any irregular signs, they would immediately attack and seek mutual destruction.
While Huyan Shou was making the arrangements, I played with the folding fan in my hands, composed. Opposite me, the icy Li Shun pretended he didn’t notice. Although all of this was a bit abrupt, meeting with the Sovereign of the Devil Sect had long been within my plans. The only difference was that I had assumed this meeting would take place after Jinyang had been surrounded.
Of the three grandmasters of the era, there was no need to speak of the Fengyi Sect Master. As for Great Master True Compassion, he deserved to be considered an eminent monk. Now what about this Northern Han State Mentor? What kind of man was the Sovereign of the Devil Sect? Of his disciples: Duan Lingxiao was impressive, staunch, brave, unyielding, and was deserving of being a direct disciple; Xiao Tong was capable, and although he had been repeatedly deceived by me, it was only because he had lost the initiative; Su Dingluan, who had died years ago in Chang’an, was unyieldingly loyal and brave, causing one to feel admiration; while Qiu Yufei was proud, aloof, and indifferent, his character and talents could be said to be exceptional, deserving to be a disciple of a prestigious master; even Long Tingfei, Tan Ji, Ling Duan, and company had only been given pointers by the Devil Sect and all could be considered heroes of the age. With such disciples, the Devil Sect Sovereign would definitely not leave me disappointed.
Seeing that Huyan Shou had finished making the preparations, I unhurriedly exited the carriage and began to walk towards where the zither music was coming from. Just now, Huyan Shou had sent two Stalwart Tiger Guard ahead to scout. With them leading the way, I naturally was able to head straight. However, as I didn’t know martial arts, my feet sank into the soft mud, making it difficult to walk. On several occasions, Xiaoshunzi sought to reach out to help me up but was turned down by me. I was going to meet the Sovereign of the Devil Sect and had to be sincere. Cutting a sorry figure would allow me to show my good faith.
Trudging along the small pathway through the farmland, I walked around a small hill. The side blocked from the wind had been cleared and smoothed. A tent had been set up. Unlike military tents that sheltered one from the elements, the tent was made from white silk. In the sunlight, it almost seemed transparent. The entrance of the tent was not covered, allowing me to see inside. In the several zhang wide tent, a warm and magnificent wool carpet blanketed the ground. The thickness was enough to shield the cold coming from the ground. There were no chairs inside and only four or five prayer mats made from brocade silk. In addition, there was a large, low table which was simple and unadorned. In the corner of the tent was a bronze incense burner releasing a delicate fragrance. Although the furnishings were simple, each item was extraordinarily fine and revealed that the master here was not someone of the mundane world.
Huyan Shou and company did not have the mood for appreciation. Although Huyan Shou could not order the Stalwart Tiger Guard to approach the tent because of the tent’s master, he still ordered them to separate and surround the tent. I smiled faintly. Although I knew that this was all completely useless, I was unwilling to speak any words to dissuade him. It was better to allow them to feel some relief. Walking to the entrance to the tent, I glanced at the luxurious carpet within before glancing at my mud-covered silk shoes. After considering, I decided to take off my shoes. Without leave, I walked into the tent. To the refined and scholarly looking middle-aged man seated at the main seat who had a graceful bearing and wore blue robes, I clasped my hands and bowed deeply. I stated, “This young scholar pays my respects to the Sovereign. This youngster has admired senior for some time now. Meeting by chance today, I am honored to be summoned by senior. Truly a great honor.”
Jing Wuji gazed fixedly at the azure-robed young man before his eyes. The young man wore an ordinary set of azure robes, the hem of which was stained with mud. The young man’s silk shoes had already been shed outside the tent. On his head, he did not wear a felt cap and his hair was only bound together by a jade hairpin. By all appearances he did not seem to be a marquis of Great Yong or the emperor’s son-in-law, but rather like a wandering scholar without care or worry. Even though he was obviously facing a powerful enemy, who could take his life with a gesture, the young man’s expression was placid and wholly without fear of death, almost as composed and natural as if he had come to pay his respects to one of his seniors. The corners of Jing Wuji’s mouth curved upward a bit, while sighing lightly inside. Extending his hand and gesturing for Jiang Zhe to rise, he replied, “Sir Jiang, there is no need to be overly courteous. An honored guest has come from afar, travel-weary.2 I am merely acting as the host. Please sit. Yufei, please serve Sir Jiang tea.”
Straightening, I selected a prayer mat and sat down. Xiaoshunzi immediately stood behind me. Although I did not know martial arts, I could sense that the entirety of his person on a hair trigger.3 After I had gently elbowed him, I could sense the nervous tension suddenly disappear without a trace and he regained his usual serene apathy. In that split second, I sensed Jing Wuji’s eyes dart past with praise. Pretending to not notice, I lifted my lids and looked at the rapt Qiu Yufei in front of me on one knee and holding a cup of tea. My face beaming, I said, “Worthy little brother Yufei, I have not seen you for some time now.”
So speaking, I reached out to take the proffered teacup. I did not dare to slight someone like Qiu Yufei. If not for the fact that I was his master’s honored guest, how could I receive such great courtesy? Ignoring the affection and importance I attached to him, he could not be slighted based upon his status and identity.
An indescribable emotion passed in Qiu Yufei’s mind. This man was someone he had gravely betrayed, but now he knew that he was no more than this man’s pawn. After feeling like their gratitude and grudges had been settled, the only thought left in his mind was mutual appreciation. After he had returned to Jinyang, he had gone to his master to apologize humbly. Who knew that his master would only laugh it off without taking it seriously? The next day, his master had taken him away from Jinyang and had actually come to intercept the journeying Jiang Zhe. Qiu Yufei knew that he would not betray his master. However, if his master were to seek Jiang Zhe’s life, what could he do? His inner struggle showed clearly in his zither playing. However, who would have thought that Jiang Zhe had still come instead of rapidly fleeing with the army escorting him? Qiu Yufei was uncertain if this was their final meeting.
Jing Wuji gazed at the smiling Jiang Zhe who was sipping tea. Jing Wuji’s eyes fell upon Jiang Zhe’s silver temples and sighed, “Sir Jiang is not yet three decades old yet your hair has grayed early. Truly lamentable and pitiful. It is no wonder that the Yong Emperor can sweep away all those opposing him having someone of Sir’s faithfulness and devotion, an advisor who sheds his blood, sweat, and tears. However, I wonder if Sir has taken offense at having your position as Army Supervisor removed with the situation only initially settled? Further, Sir has been summoned without regard for the great distances. I wonder if it is because of the deep affection between monarch and subject, and wishes to urgently meet with you?”
Respectfully, I answered, “Sovereign is praising too much. Everyone knows of Zhe’s indolent nature. The so-called blood, sweat, and tears are only a youngster’s ignorance and not understanding how to rest properly. I have made myself a laughingstock by having white hair at such a young age. As for the Son of Heaven’s deep affection, and the depths of emotion between monarch and subject, it is nothing. The Son of Heaven is the master of the common people. The distinction between monarch and subject is clear. How could there be partiality and affection? Zhe’s health is poor and His Imperial Majesty is unwilling to add to my burdens. Serving as the Army Supervisor was no more than a last resort. Now that the hearts and minds of the commanders are unified, there is no need for Zhe. It is inevitable and proper for me to be relieved. As for being summoned across the great distance, because it relates to the events occurring in Daizhou, it is inappropriate to speak of. Sovereign, please forgive me.”
Bewilderment flashed across Jing Wuji’s eyes as he replied, “I have long heard of Sir’s yielding exterior and firm interior. In the past, you chatted without qualms and fear while speaking with the Fengyi Sect Master. But today, why are you speaking so frankly to a powerful enemy like me and not hiding the things you know? Could it be that Sir was unafraid of the Fengyi Sect Master, but is afraid of me?”
Smiling tranquilly, I responded, “Why is the Sovereign speaking thus? The reason why Zhe answers all of the questions is because the Sovereign is worthy little brother Qiu’s master. Zhe and Yufei from out of blows did a friendship grow.4 Although we have had our disagreements, Zhe still considers Yufei as one of my closest friends. Because of this, the Sovereign is also Zhe’s elder. As long as they do not relate to military secrets, how could an elder’s questions go unanswered?”
Smiling and yet not smiling, Jing Wuji replied, “So that is the case. It is only that Sir Jiang advises the Yong Emperor and the Prince of Qi, and has spoiled my endeavors. The entirety of Northern Han gnashes their teeth in anger. If I can take Sir’s head, we will definitely be able to boost morale and throw the Yong army into chaos. This seat has come with intent to kill. Does Sir have no fear when facing death, because you believe I will be merciful, because of your thousands horsemen, because you attendant can protect you, or because I will spare you on Yufei’s behalf? Did you allow Yufei to return alive because you want him to dissuade this seat in order to preserve your life?”
Although Jing Wuji had spoken all of this gently, they were profound and ear-splitting in the ears of Xiaoshunzi, Huyan Shou, and Qiu Yufei. Ignoring the fact that Huyan Shou’s hands were sweaty, even the minds of Xiaoshunzi and Qiu Yufei, both of whom had entered the Xiantian realm, were thrown into confusion. Xiaoshunzi naturally was on his guard against Jing Wuji causing trouble, while Qui Yufei was hesitating and unable to decide. The atmosphere within and without the tent became heavy, making it difficult to breathe. There was only one individual who was as composed as ever—the capless and shoeless Jiang Zhe.
In front of the friends and enemies within the tent—a grandmaster, and two Xiantian experts—I spread my muscles and bones, stretching my entire body lazily. Afterwards, I did not keep my kneeling seated position and instead sat with my legs crossed. Smiling, I said, “Just now, it was this youngster paying my respects to a friend’s elder and naturally must respectfully abide by proper etiquette. Now that the Sovereign has said that we are enemies and not friends, then there is no need for Zhe to restrain myself. Sovereign, please do not blame me. Zhe is accustomed to being lazy and does not have the patience for those etiquettes.”
When I uttered these words, I could see Qiu Yufei adopt an expression of incredulity, while Jing Wuji’s own expression also softened. Although I could not see the expression on Xiaoshunzi’s face, having accompanied each other for years, I could tell that his hostility had also been reduced from the change in his breathing. Understanding me quite well, he naturally knew full well that I wouldn’t joke around with my life. There was definitely a reason for my behavior.
I of course would not go overboard with my presumptuousness and unflinchingly continued, “The Sovereign has come this time with Yufei alone. If you wished to assassinate this one, why would you have invited me with the zither? If the Sovereign and Yufei launch a lightning strike, the five thousand horsemen are practically nothing, and there is a chance of escaping alive after succeeding. At present, although Zhe has walked into the trap, there is an army surrounding us on the outside and I have Xiaoshunzi’s protection in here. If the Sovereign were to act now, it would be easy to take my life, but it would be extremely difficult to leave this place alive. Even if the Sovereign is unharmed, it will be nigh impossible for Yufei to escape. Worthy little brother Yufei has been respectful and obedient to the Sovereign. Presumably, the Sovereign won’t condemn Yufei to death.”
When I reached this point, I could see that although Jing Wuji did not speak, the look on his face appeared permissive. Thus I continued, “Moreover, ever since the Sovereign entered Northern Han, you no longer attached importance to assassination. It is no wonder. The Northern Han population is brave and heroic, and is not fond of crafty plots and machinations. It isn’t a problem if something like assassination happens now and again, but if frequently employed, the Devil Sect’s position in the eyes of the Northern Han population would inevitably be considered treacherous, becoming vile characters. The Sovereign is revered and cannot lightly undertake an assassination. Yufei and eldest young master Duan have both attempted to assassinate this one. First, it is acceptable to the Northern Han population because of my sinister reputation and the fact that I am no hero. Second, with the ominous nature of warfare, I am still an important figure and it would be beneficial to have me killed. That is why no one has objected. Now that I am no longer the Army Supervisor and no longer play a major role in war, and since Sovereign’s identity is vastly more important than eldest young master Duan’s and Yufei’s, an attempt on my life by the Sovereign would not only fail to motivate the Northern Han army, it would also be beneath your dignity. In addition, aside from infuriating the Yong army, you would gain no practical benefits. That is why the Sovereign has come, not to assassinate me. Besides, if the Sovereign were to suddenly assassinate me upon inviting me, wouldn’t the entire world find it ridiculous?”
A smirk vanished as quickly as it appeared on Jing Wuji’s face as he indifferently replied, “You have spoken all of these reasons, but none of them are the reason why I won’t kill you.”
I was delighted inside. I had finally been able to get Jing Wuji to speak the truth. Since I did not need to worry about my life, I promptly respectfully inquired, “Sovereign, please reveal the reason.” I had completely forgotten about the way I was sitting and the sorry state I was in.
Smiling slightly, Jing Wuji replied, “I have already climbed down from the Orchid Terrace and cast aside my identity as the State Mentor. If I wanted to kill someone, what need would there be to have any misgivings? Even if you had countless reasons, I would not frown in the slightest if I killed you. What need do I have to consider Yufei’s feelings? It is even more improbable for me to worry about my status and position. I further wouldn’t need to seek any benefits. Killing you can vent the fury inside me. There is no one who can change my mind. The only reason why this seat won’t take your life is because I don’t want to kill you.”
Hearing this, I felt myself sweating profusely. What a close call! From the genuine manner in which Jing Wuji had spoken, it was clear that everything he had said was the truth. The only reason he wasn’t going to kill me was because he didn’t want to. Although I didn’t know why, it was truly the Heavens’ blessings that I was able to preserve my life. Reaching this conclusion, I promptly returned to a kneeling seated position. Adopting a courteous decorum, I acknowledged, “Many thanks to the Sovereign for the benevolence of not killing me. Since that is the case, why has the Sovereign come? If Zhe can be of any service, I will not disobey.”
Jing Wuji sighed lightly inside. He had long since heard of Jiang Zhe’s name. Although he had once fought the Fengyi Sect Master to the death, the two of them did not have any enmity and actually had appreciation for each other. Afterwards, although they were separated by vast distances, Jing Wuji had never forgotten that peerlessly beautiful woman and her bloodstained white clothes. Ever since he had learned of Fan Huiyao’s death in the Hunting Palace, Jing Wuji had done everything to thoroughly investigate what had happened. Although there were some things nobody could know and had not been divulged, he knew the majority of the general outline. By himself, the young man before him had forced the Fengyi Sect Master to die. However, strangely enough, Jing Wuji did not hold any hatred, simply because this young man had already employed his strengths to the limits. At heart, all Jing Wuji wanted was to beat this young man in a test of wits. Even when he dispatched Qiu Yufei and Duan Lingxiao twice to assassinate this young man, the reality was that Jing Wuji was engaging in a battle of wits and courage against this young man, not fully using tyrannical and unstoppable martial force. It was unfortunate it all resulted in failure.
News of the defeat at Hanzhong had reached his ear and the situation in Northern Han was irreversible. Although Jinyang could still fight, it was just struggling at death’s door. The loser this time was no one else but himself, Jing Wuji. The arrangements he had made throughout the world had already become hollow. Even his beloved disciples had all been defeated at Jiang Zhe’s hands. This time, although the Devil Sect’s strength was unharmed, it had been utterly defeated. How could he not be tempted to personally meet this feeble scholar who had toyed with countless heroes?
Nothing could compare with meeting someone in person. Meeting him today, Jing Wuji finally felt that this young man’s reputation was thoroughly justified. Even though the young man was clearly in a grandmaster’s presence, the young man would suddenly, and apparently at random, turn respectful or boorish. All of the changes made Jing Wuji feel as if the young man was completely unfathomable. Indeed, the young man seemingly acted natural, making others believe him earnest and sincere, and cause people to not have the slightest bit of wariness. At times, it was like imbibing sweet wine, while at other times felt like the cleansing spring wind before suddenly finding oneself trapped in a dangerous situation. At this moment, Jing Wuji completely understood the desperate situation Qiu Yufei had experienced within the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery.
Glancing with sympathy at his beloved disciple, Jing Wuji stated, “It was quite difficult for us to meet here today. Since the Marquis of Chu has repeatedly considered the feelings of the Devil Sect, you definitely have some words for this seat, no?”
I placidly answered, “Since the Sovereign has spoken of this, Zhe won’t try to conceal anything. If Zhe has held malice for the Devil Sect, I would definitely not have allowed the Sovereign’s chief disciple, Duan Lingxiao, eldest young master Duan, to escape. At the time, we were enemies with the outcome of battle undecided. As a result, Zhe did not say anything extra. Now that the Sovereign has come personally, we can discuss this matter. In fact, if the Sovereign did not bring this matter up, once Jinyang had been surrounded, Zhe would have asked for worthy little brother Yufei to introduce us.”
“Do you wish to persuade me to surrender?” questioned Jing Wuji coldly.
I smiled slightly and responded, “What kind of figure is the Sovereign to be forced to bend your knee and surrender? Please do not speak of being persuaded to surrender. Zhe is only making a proposal on His Imperial Majesty’s behalf. The day Jinyang is surrounded is the day Northern Han falls. In the past, when the Sovereign lost in the Central Plains, the Devil Sect retreated north. His Imperial Majesty only hopes that when Northern Han falls that the Sovereign does not go to Southern Chu.”
Pensively, Jing Wuji said, “I understand the Yong Emperor’s intentions. The juncture of unification is at hand. If I went to Southern Chu, although the Yong Emperor could resolve it, it would be troublesome nevertheless.”
“In fact, there is no need to speak of this condition,” I replied with a smile. “What kind of individual is the Sovereign? The Northern Han King could be said to be sagacious and he deeply respects the Sovereign. That is how he was able to get in the Sovereign’s good graces. Southern Chu’s population is weak. Its monarch is young, its officials muddled. How would it be a suitable perch for a phoenix? As long as the Sovereign agrees, the Sovereign will be free to travel throughout the entirety of Great Yong. Once the Devil Sect’s disciples have returned to civilian life and gone into seclusion, they will not be considered as dregs of Northern Han. Although the orthodox sects probably still won’t excuse the Sovereign, how would heroic figures who are the disciples of the Devil Sect be afraid of this? Once the world has been unified, the Sovereign will be able to live a life of leisure and relaxation.”
A harsh gleam shone in Jing Wuji’s eyes as he replied, “The conditions are quite generous. However, you have also said that the Northern Han King has treated my Devil Sect well. I am untalented; how could I abandon His Royal Majesty and the countless Northern Han soldiers? Meeting you today was merely hoping to see Sir Jiang’s elegance. As for the matter we just discussed, it is all within my expectations. That is why I had you speak it, because after separating today, we will be enemies. This seat does not want to see you exploit the affection Yufei has for you when the Yong army arrives before the walls of Jinyang. Could it be that you truly believe that this seat would fear death?”
I had long since expected that Jing Wuji would speak in such a manner. I solemnly stated, “These words come from the bottom of my heart. His Imperial Majesty and I have had a discussion through private messages discussing the Devil Sect. His Imperial Majesty has frequently said that both the Sovereign and the Fengyi Sect Master are grandmasters of this era. While the Fengyi Sect disciples only know how to stir up havoc in the court and the harem, the blood of the Devil Sect disciples soak the battlefields in order to obtain glory and fame. Although the Sovereign was defeated that day, it is the Sovereign who holds the complete advantage over the Fengyi Sect Master.
“His Imperial Majesty has long known that the Devil Sect disciples would never abandon their comrades. Even so, he still made this proposal because His Imperial Majesty truly views the Devil Sect disciples favorably. Sovereign, please, you only need to remember today’s words. After parting today, His Imperial Majesty will have no grudge for the fighting that is to come. Regardless of when, this proposal will never expire.”
Hearing this, Jing Wuji could not help being touched. He had suddenly wanted to meet with Jiang Zhe and yet tried to prevent such a meeting. At present, he did not know whether to rejoice or to regret. Hearing the generous treatment afforded his sect by the Yong emperor, he himself could not help being tempted, let alone the disciples of the Devil Sect. Once they had a way out, would they still fight to the death? Perhaps this minute difference would change Northern Han’s fate. However, whatever the case, Jing Wuji also felt grateful. The Devil Sect wouldn’t be completely exterminated for offending the unifying Great Yong. For him, this was already the best news.
Reaching this conclusion, Jing Wuji calmly closed his eyes and spoke, “The hour is getting late. Sir Jiang, you should be on your way. Yufei, perform a piece to see the Marquis off.”
In a low voice, Qiu Yufei consented to the order. Walking to the corner of the tent, he placed that beloved zither, Welcoming a Guest from Afar, upon his knees. His ten fingers began to move and clear, melodious zither music began to resonate. His artistic expression made the mood lofty and distant yet pure, towering but sweeping. All kinds of sorrow at parting vanished into the air like smoke.
I rose to my feet and saluted. I had already achieved my goal in today’s meeting today. This was the time to bid my farewell. Walking out of the tent, I put on my silk shoes. This time, I wouldn’t walk back on my own. Instead, Xiaoshunzi helped me return quickly to my carriage. With an order from Huyan Shou, the five thousand elite horsemen rapidly traveled north with no intention of remaining.
Only when we had gone thirty li5 did I suddenly realize that I actually had no thoughts about attempting to eliminate Jing Wuji. Although the losses would be disastrous if I had committed to such an action, even potentially leading to my own death, I hadn’t given up because I had determined that the chance of success wasn’t high, but in actuality I fundamentally did not have a shred of killing intent. In the blink of an eye, I realized that the Sovereign of the Devil Sect was definitely worthy of being a mighty individual in the current era. With only the faint power in his manner and words, I was enchanted. How could the Fengyi Sect Master compare to this kind of character? It could be assumed that if the two fought today, the winner would definitely be the Devil Sect Sovereign.
I could not help but glance at Xiaoshunzi. Would he be affected by the power of Jing Wuji’s cultivation and harm his own cultivation path? I never expected that, when I glanced at him, Xiaoshunzi’s face would be completely radiant. He was truly, silently comprehending some profound secrets. It seemed like his cultivation was not only unharmed, but actually improved.
Relaxing, I gazed out at the millet and wheat on either side of the road, giving a perfectly satisfied grin.
Footnotes:美不胜收, meibushengshou – idiom, lit. nothing more beautiful imaginable; fig. a feast for one’s eyes, too beautiful to be absorbed at once 风尘仆仆, fengchenpupu – idiom, lit. covered in dust; fig. travel-worn and weary, suffer the hardships of travel 剑拔弩张, jianbanuzhang – idiom, lit. with swords drawn and bows bent; fig. a state of mutual hostility, ready for a fight 不打不相识, budabuxiangshi – idiom, lit. don’t fight, won’t make friends; fig. from an exchange of blows friendship grows; without discord, no concord 16.2 kilometers (about 10 miles)