Chapter 1: A Famous Sword and a Fragrant Flower
Throughout the lands, unless they were deaf, there was not a single soul who hadn't heard of the "Jade Charmer" ,Jiang Feng, or Yan Nantian; Unless they were blind, there wasn't a single soul in the lands who wouldn't wish to catch a glimpse of Jiang Feng's debonair style or Yan Nantian's godly martial arts.
All that simply because they all knew that there was no girl in the world who could resist a mere smile from the charming Jiang Feng; neither was there a hero who could stand up to a mere prick of Yan Nantian's sword. No one doubted for a second that the gallant Yan Nantian was not only able to take the head of a general as he sat guarded by a million soldiers, but was also able to split a strand of hair in half. Jiang Feng's smile on the other hand, was able to shatter the heart of any girl so blessed as to receive it.
At this very moment however, this Adonis born of a wealthy aristocratic family was instead clad in an austere set of clothings and rushing along in a broken down horse and carriage. As he rushed down this road long fallen to disrepair, there was no throng of girls to be found trailing in his wake, instead there were merely clouds of dust left in his wake.
If anyone in the lands were to see him now, they wouldn't believe this shabby man was actually that head-turning beau who tossed out a thousand gold so casually.
It was now the seventh month of the year and even the setting sun singed the skin like an open flame, its residual rays still clearly as potent as before.
Man and beast were just as breathless as the other and yet the whip in Jiang Feng's hand never once stopped.
The rickety carriage tore through the roadway, flattening all the overgrown grass in its way, just like the hips of all those girls who fell for him.
Suddenly, the sound of a rooster crowing tore apart the pall of silence cast over the heavens and earth not too long ago.
However with the sun turning in for the night, where was a rooster to be found along such a dilapidated road?
Jiang Feng's face paled. His eyes sharpened but remained still under the ragged hat pressed down on his brows. All there was to be seen was a lone rooster perched atop the branch of a ruined willow tree. From the way it stood frozen to that same spot, resplendent cockscomb and luxurious feathers glowing ever so radiantly under the rays of the setting sun, it almost seemed as if it had been nailed to the branch.
Under the dimming light, its eyes seemed almost evil, demonic even.
Jiang Feng paled even further at that sight and suddenly halted his carriage.
A long, healthy neigh echoed in the otherwise silent surroundings and the carriage came to a slow but noisy stop. From within the carriage, a sweet, gentle voice asked: "What's the matter?"
"No--nothing, I just took a wrong turn that's all." Jiang Feng answered with a bitter smile on his face before performing a U-turn and galloping away at full speed. Yet as he did so, that long, clarion rooster crow rang out once more, as if it was scoffing at him.
He whipped his horse even harder. With the lengthy blades of grass all flattened, the carriage naturally was a lot faster than before. Even so, it barely galloped for another forty zhang (133m) before encountering another obstacle.
On this road long abandoned to the ravages of time; on this road which no one has traversed for what must have been years, there was now a giant, fat pig lying sprawled out in the middle of the road. Like that rooster before it, was there anyone who could guess where such an oddity sprung from? This was clearly the same road the carriage took not too long ago but back then there was clearly not even a jin (0.6kg) of pork to be found anywhere. Now however, there was an entire pig laid out before Jiang Feng.
Jiang Feng's expression changed once more before he made another emergency stop.
As he sat there eyeing the pig, all he saw was the critter tumbling about on the road and yet despite doing so, its entire body seemed immaculately clean. Its dense pig bristles were so finely brushed, they almost seemed like a golden carpet under the dimming rays of the evening sun.
From the carriage, windows sealed tightly shut, came that same voice: "What's the matter?"
Voice caught in his throat, Jiang Feng stuttered: "I...I…"
The gentle voice within sighed: "The pains you've taken to hide this from me, were they truly necessary? I knew from the very beginning."
Jiang Feng's voice cracked: "You knew?"
"From the moment I heard that rooster crowing, I knew that someone from the 'Twelve Zodiacs' had found us. You were afraid that I would get worried so you lied to me, isn't that right?"
Jiang Feng let forth a heavy sigh and said: "How strange...the both of us left under such secrecy so how did they ever find out? Even...even so, you need not worry, whatever comes our way, I'll handle it."
"That's where you're wrong again. From that fateful day onwards...I was already prepared for this. Remember what we swore then? "Life or death, we're bound together, no matter what comes our way, it should be us facing them together."
"But your condition…"
"It's all right, I'm perfectly fine right now."
Through gritted teeth, he said: "I got it. Are you still able to disembark yourself? Both sides of the road are already under watch, looks like we have no choice but to abandon the carriage and cut through the wilderness…"
"Why must we abandon the carriage? Their eyes are already on us so escaping is going to be hard either way. Rather than fleeing, we should instead wait for them here. While the 'Twelve Zodiacs' might have a vicious reputation, there's no guarantee that we would lose to them either!"
"I...I'm just scared that you…"
"Don't worry, I'm fine."
Suddenly, a warm smile was returned once more to Jiang Feng as he gently whispered: "To be able to care for you like this has to be my greatest fortune ever." As he stood there smiling with the sunset at his back, even the evening sun seemed to lose its color.
A soft laughter escaped the cracks of the carriage's windows: "The one who should feel fortunate is me. I know, even at this very moment, there are countless girls who envy me. Their jealousy is merely…" Before she could finish her words, their hale and hearty horse neighed a shocked neigh --even in the midst of this tumultuous storm, hope burned strong, and yet it was at that very moment that the horse suddenly let forth a warning cry! A gust of wind blew past and the pig was there once more, lying on the ground just as before.
It flipped itself over after which the faint crows of a rooster could be heard echoing over the horizon. As the overgrown grass danced in the wind, the setting sun...darkened.
Down beneath, an ominous pall seemed to descend on the earth all of a sudden. Under this setting sun in the middle of summer, and in the middle of nowhere, one could actually felt an indescribable sense of chilliness, of bleakness!
Color disappearing from his face once more, Jiang Feng exclaimed: "They've come!"
"That's right, we've come! Haha hahaha hah…" An incessant laughter made its sudden and jarring appearance from behind.
Amazingly, that laughter seemed almost identical to that rooster's crowing: shrill, ear-piercing and in short bursts. Jiang Feng had never heard of such a grating laughter in his entire life.
He spun his body around sharply and yelled: "Who's that!?"
The rooster-like laughter continued unabated as five to six figures slowly stepped out from behind the carriage.
The first man was less than five chi tall(approximately 1.5m),skinny to the point of being shrivelled up and wore a fiery red set of clothing. Yet in spite of that, his figure had a certain sense of secrecy to it, and a certain sense of wretchedness.
The second person however, was over nine chi tall (2.7m), had a hulking figure and was dressed in a set of yellow garments, topped by a yellow crown. With his expressionless Shurlike face, he was the picture of indomitability itself.
As for the remaining three figures, each sported garments stranger than the other. With the way their multi-colored fabrics were stitched together, they almost seemed like those fancily dressed beggars one saw in a stage play.
While the remaining figures all differed appearance-wise, there was one thing they had in common: their ferocious expressions and bulkiness. They were all hulking men that moved in perfect unison; as one moved, the rest moved as well, with the exact same speed, no one faster or slower than the other.
Yet there was one more person closing in from a distance away. Even after adding the weight of those five before him, their combined weight would most likely not even come close to that of his. Even an entire roll of cloth might not be enough to make a set of clothing for such a man. He was so fat, he was barely able to walk at all.
With every step he took, he panted heavily while constantly muttering to himself: "So hot, it's sooo hot." Head drenched in sweat, his blubber seemed to glisten and rain in tandem with their jiggling.
Jiang Feng leaped off the driver's seat and forced a calm expression on himself as he cupped his fists: "Is that the Ebony-faced Master and the Dawn Visitor of the 'Twelve Zodiacs' that I spy?"
The man dressed in red cackled: "Young Master Jiang sure has sharp eyes, but us two are nothing but a chicken and a pig. Dawn Visitor and Ebony-faced Master, such fancy names are just titles those of the pugilistic scene tacked on us. Us two aren't worthy of such grandiose names."
A glint flashed past Jiang Feng's eyes. "Your Eminence must be--"
The man dressed in red chortled, interrupting Jiang Feng in the middle of his greetings. "This red one is known as Cockscomb, the yellow is Chicken Breast, the showy ones are Chicken Tail. As for that one behind us, whatever you think he is is what he is."
Jiang Feng: "To what do I owe the pleasure of such esteemed company?"
Cockscomb: "Rumor has it Young Master Jiang has found himself a new pet. Us brothers couldn't help but want to see for ourselves how lovely that beauty had to be in order to capture the heart of the Jade Charmer. Besides, us brothers still wish to reclaim a certain object from you, Young Master Jiang."
Jiang Feng's heart sank but his voice maintained that same stalwartness it held before: "It's truly unfortunate that this one had to leave his home in hurry and thus has nothing on himself. What could this one possibly possess that would warrant so much attention from such esteemed personages."
Cockscomb cackled and said: "While us brothers might not know why Young Master Jiang has decided to sell off his entire fortune all of a sudden, neither do we wish to know, that bag of pearls which Young Master Jiang bartered his estate for...hehe, well, I'm sure Young Master Jiang knows that we 'Twelve Zodiacs' never leave a robbery empty handed, so how about handing over that bag to us."
Hearing that, Jiang Feng broke out laughing as well: "Very good, very good, so you've done your research I see. This one knows that the 'Twelve Zodiacs' do not act without good reason and should they act, they would never return empty handed, however…"
Cockscomb: "What do you mean however, you don't agree to our terms?"
Jiang Feng coldly laughed: "For me to agree, the only…" Before he even finished speaking, a flash of silvery light streaked across the air and reached his chest in an instant.
Such deftness from the Cockscomb! In the blink of an eye, a myriad of weapons, each shining with silvery light, appeared in his hands. Garden hoes, steel beaks, all manners of strange weaponry shot out towards Jiang Feng like lightning. In that short span of time, the man fired off seven strikes, each so bizarre it seemed like a rooster pecking at corn kernels. The corn kernel in question however, were the acupuncture points along Jiang Feng's kidney meridians: the Yu Fu, Shen Fa, Ling Xu, Bu Lang...and so on and so forth.
Jiang Feng leaped into the air, performing a somersault mid-air just in time to avoid those seven pecks. Yet now he had three pairs of chicken claw sickles to contend with on the ground.
Right in tandem with the Cockscomb, the Chicken Tail struck as well. The three who made up the Chicken Tail struck like lightning, each moving with a speed that was comparable to the Cockscomb and like the Cockscomb before them, the martial art they employed was a rare and truly strange one within the pugilistic world.
One peck, three pairs of swipes, all synchronized so perfectly, even a droplet of water couldn't escape their metallic fury. Even if one were to be born with seven hands, their coordination might not reach us sublime levels.
Jiang Feng was no small fry himself but against such unorthodox weapons, against such bizarre moves, he had no choice but to bring forth his best though it still left him grasping at straws and gasping for air. Yet even with all the trouble he was in right now, there was another opponent who hadn't joined in yet, one with a weathered face that had paying close attention to him since the very start, waiting for that exact moment when he let down his guard.
Suddenly, the Ebony-faced Master burst out laughing: "Brothers, put your backs into it, us brothers aren't girls after all, none of you had better not fall in love with that kid. This brother will have quick look see at our little beauty in the carriage."
"Stop!" Jiang Feng bellowed.
Though he truly wanted to rush over right this very second, those seven weapons had him cornered so tightly even a droplet of water couldn't pass through their blockade of steel. While all that was going on, the Ebony-faced Master had already started tottering towards the compartment door, heavy footsteps echoing in the background till the man finally reached out and pulled open the door.
Yet it was at that very moment that the windows of the carriage creaked open, and a dainty hand, as white as milk, revealed itself through that hairline crack. Its fingers were so slender and flawless, they almost seemed to entrance those who saw them, and yet all that was disrupted by a single object sandwiched between them: a stalk of plum blossom.
A black plum blossom to be exact!
For there to be plum blossoms at the height of summer was already miraculous in of itself, let alone the fact that this was a black plum blossom!
A pearly white hand and a flower as black as night. Such a juxtaposition almost had an indescribable, mysterious sense of beauty to it. From within the carriage came a string of words, as sweet as honey and as slow as it was deliberate: "How about you men have a look at what this is?"
Suddenly, the Ebony-faced Master froze on the spot, his face contorting with fright at the same time. Even more surprisingly, the chicken sickles and steel beak all stopped mid-strike! These six bandits, whose notoriety shook the entire pugilistic world, they all seemed to fall under some sort of curse simultaneously. Whether it was their hands, feet, faces, all seemed to suddenly freeze mid motion.
"Jade Embroidery Valley...the Palace of Shifting Flowers...:"
"Your eyes are pretty sharp as well." Was the reply of the mysterious occupant in the carriage.
"I...this wretched one…" As the Ebony-faced Master said that, his teeth chattered audibly, and nothing more spewed forth from his tongue-tied self.
"Do you all seek death?" Said that soft, gentle voice.
"This wretched one doesn't…"
"If you all don't wish to die then why are you still here?!"
Before she even had the chance to finish her threat, all six of them disappeared. Whether it was the red bandit, the yellow one, the showy ones or the black one, who was neither out of breath nor waddling about any longer, all disappeared without a trace. Had it not happened not too long ago, no one would have ever expected that such a mass of blubber was even capable of such nimble body techniques.
With a stride, Jiang Feng came up to the window and asked: "You...are you all right?"
The lady within the carriage laughed gently: "I merely greeted them, that's all."
Hearing that, Jiang Feng heaved a sigh of relief before sighing right after: "I didn't think you would actually smuggle out that black plum blossom from the palace. To think even those dastardly zodiacs feared them to such an extent."
"Just from that alone, you can see how frightening they truly are. Let's make haste and leave, while bandits such as them are still manageable, should they ever find us…"
Suddenly, a barrage of whooshes stormed onto the scene and those who had just fled not too long ago, made their appearance once more with a speed even faster than they had used to escape.
"Hahaha, us brothers almost fell for your trick, if that person in the carriage is truly someone from the Palace of Shifting Flowers, would we even be able to leave with our lives just then? When have you ever heard someone surviving an encounter with the 'Palace of Shifting Flowers'?" Bellowed the rotund Ebony-faced Master.
"I spared you all and yet this is what…"
"Imposter, how about you show yourself!"
A punch, as quick as it was sudden, flew out and mere moments later, the entire carriage door was reduced to rubble!
Mysterious no longer, a sickly lady, with beautiful hair strewn about in a mess, sat in full view of the bandits. Yet despite all those flaws, her heavenly appearance didn't diminish in the slightest bit. Her eyes weren't particularly beautiful, neither was her nose particular straight, nor was her lips particularly dainty, yet when combined together, they seemed to draw you in and hold your gaze, especially the way how her eyes seemed to brim with emotions, understanding and intelligence as deep as the seas themselves.
However, such a beauty was marred by a bulging stomach...she was pregnant!
The Ebony-faced Master paused in surprise for moment before bursting out in laughter: "So it's just some pregnant b*tch, to think you actually dared to pass yourself off as one of the Palace's…"
Before he could finish that sentence however, that lady suddenly leapt into the air and before the rotund man could even react, his face was sent flying left and right by several resounding slaps.
The lady then returned to her seat as if that had never happened and laughed softly: "So what if I'm pregnant?"
"So what if you caught me off guard?!" The Ebony-faced Master yelled before throwing out a punch. While he might have been mostly blubber, the fist he threw out was quick, ruthless and deadly!
Yet when faced with such a force, the lady still had on a gentle smile. Her slender arm pulled itself in ever so daintily and then strummed the air as if activating some sort of hand technique. Just like that, the Ebony-faced Master's fist was sent flying back and with a thunderous bang, crashed onto the top of his own shoulders. Naturally, the rotund man knew to dodge, but no matter how tried, he could neither withdraw the force nor evade it. With a force that could shatter a carriage door in one hit, one could only imagine how powerful the fist was. Was it any wonder then, that the man was collapsed on the floor and howling in pain.
The Cockscomb and Chicken Tails initially intended to attack as well but as of right now, they were all too stunned to move. Eyes wide open and mouth gaping, they stood there watching that lady, not daring to even move a muscle.
"Shifting Flowers Reach for the Jade, Even Gods and Demons Falter…" Stammered the Ebony-faced Master.
"Since you know of it, then you should know that I'm no imposter as well."
"This...this wretched one deserves to die, to die…" The man raised his hand and instead of striking out, slapped himself a dozen times till that ugly mug of his turned even blacker and fatter.
The lady sighed once more: "I wish to accumulate some karma for my child, you all...leave NOW."
This time, they left with even greater speed than before. In half the time it took to blink, every of them disappeared without a trace. Yet amidst an ever-darkening dusk, a certain ghostly figure could be seen chasing after the fleeing bandits like a shadow.
Seeing them depart, Jiang Feng heaved a sigh of relief once more before sighing just like before: "Thank the heavens, you still have that move available to scare them off, else…
Suddenly, the lady's face paled and her body began tremble in sweat that came rushing like a waterfall. Her body began to spasm from the unbearable pain tearing through her body right that very second.
"What's the matter?!" Jiang Feng half-yelled in shock.
"My stomach is contracting...I think...I think...it's coming out…"
Before she could finish however, Jiang Feng's panicked voice cut her off: "What should we do?!"
"Hurry, move the carriage to the roadside...quick...quick...quick!" Came the lady's hoarse voice.
Still as panicked as before, he hurriedly moved the carriage off the road and into the tall grass, all the while ignoring the long neighs of his hale and hearty steed. Wiping off the beads of sweat on his forehead, he finally peeked into the carriage.
Thanks to the Ebony-faced Master destroying the carriage door, there was now a gown acting as a makeshift door instead.
In the time it took to brew a cup of tea…
The clarion cry of an infant suddenly echoed forth from the carriage.
A long while later…
"Two of them...it's a pair of twins…" Came Jiang Feng's ecstatic cry.
Another two cups of tea later…
A sweaty and excited Jiang Feng peeked out of the carriage but just as he did so, his entire body froze from shock!
The curs who fled with their tails between their legs not too long ago were now back and standing right in front of the carriage once more. Their eyes were icy cold and all focused unblinkingly at him!
Jiang Feng tried to calm himself down by force but his face betrayed him an instant later. "You...what are you all doing back here?" His voice cracked as he uttered that question.
"I bet Young Master Jiang is really surprised right now." Cockscomb cackled strangely as always.
"Do we really have to send you all to your deaths?!" Jiang Feng bellowed.
"HAHAHAHA, send us to our deaths…" The Ebony-faced Master laughed uproariously.
"You lot clearly aren't ignorant fools...do you not know of the Jade Embroidery Valley, or of the Palace of Shifting Flower's power?!" While Jiang Feng's bearing was normally reserved and elegant, there was none of that to be seen on the harried man facing off against six bandits right this very moment.
"You, Jiang Feng, how long do you plan on keeping up this farce? You know and I know that the two Palace Masters of the Shifting Flowers are out for your blood right now, not ours." The Ebony-faced man barked in a gloating fashion.
His sweat had already ran down his perfectly slender nose and onto his lips, yet for some reason, his lips felt exceptionally dry to the point of cracking. He gave his lips a light lick before laughing out loud: "I see now, you're all madmen, the Palace Master wishes to take my life? ...hahaha, don't you all know who is in the carriage right now?"
"Nothing more than a servant girl from the Palace, a traitorous servant who fled the Palace to be exact!" Came Cockscomb's cold response.
Jiang Feng shuddered there and then. He desperately wanted to force out another laugh but nothing came forth.
"Hahaha, I bet Young Master Jiang is just as shocked as before! I bet Young Master Jiang also wishes to ask how did we Brothers even know of that. Well, that's a secret, one which you will never find out."
Like the man said, Jiang Feng escaping from his home was, in fact, a secret. He did so precisely to escape from the diabolic clutches of those two Palace Masters of the Shifting Flower! However, that was a secret only he and wife knew about, and no one else. Yet at this very moment, there stood six bandits who knew of this as well. How did they ever uncover this secret? Jiang Feng simply couldn't figure that out, neither was he able to at the moment.
Behind him, his wife groaned in exhaustion while his newborn child cried. In front of him were mercilessly villains who didn't bat an eye even after killing someone! Faced with such a dire situation, there was only one thing to be done right now.
His body shot forth like an arrow, leaving behind only the flash of steel in his wake. Yet Chicken Breast, clad in those yellow clothes of his, was already waiting for him, twin blades drawn!
However, he didn't try to dodge the blades blocking him and instead rushed at them. Gritting his teeth, he charged through the steely blockade, blade flashing. Like a bolt of electricity, his arm zipped to the yellow man's wrist and gave it a forceful wrench and twist to disarm it just as another blade entered his peripheries.
Immediately, he sent a flying kick forward towards the yellow man's abdominal region before flipping his blade around to deflect Cockscomb's steel beak. Amidst all that, his body continued weaving through the chicken sickles sent towards him before finally finishing off with a swift twist that sent his blade swinging down upon the Ebony-faced Master!
If one were to describe Jiang Feng's moves, the words, quick, ruthless, precise and dangerous would be the first few to come to mind. Whether it was that blade, that steel beak or chicken sickle, every one of them only managed to graze his sleeves, missing his body by a mere hair's breadth.
Though the rotund man managed to dodge Jiang Feng's blade in the end, he couldn't help but break out in cold sweat as he hurriedly toss out two counter punches. "Watch it! The kid means business!"
These seasoned villains naturally knew how dangerous a desperate man was, so instead of facing him and his blade head on, they merely prodded at him from a safe distance!
Jiang Feng sent a slash flying leftwards and a strike flying rightwards, yet no matter how ruthless or reckless his strikes were, they all missed. Nearby, the Ebony-faced Master laughed maniacally.
While the yellow man might have only one of his twin blades left, the remaining left blade just so happened to specialize in obtuse attacks. At the most inopportune of moments, he would send his blade slashing outwards in an impossibly hard to evade trajectory. As for the three pairs of chicken sickles, their offense was as deadly as it was unblockable. Their defense on the other hand, was as closely knitted as a spider's web.
Whether it was their defense or their offense, either was enough to reap a person of his life! Yet Jiang Feng still had to deal with the ghostly Cockscomb whose steel beak homed in on his fatal acupuncture points with deadly swiftness and precision!
By now, Jiang Feng's immaculate hair was a complete mess and his throat was in just as bad of a shape. However, for the love of his life, this debonair young master turned into a frenzied wild beast!
Tragically, all that was naught. Now that the lion had been ensnared; now that the tiger had been caught, no amount of struggling would amount to anything.
The advent of dusk...brings with it a unique sense of desolation...
While this desperate battle was a thrilling one, of that there was no doubt, it brought with it a tragic scene that one couldn't help but avert their eyes from. His blood, his sweat, all they won him were the maniacal and scornful laughs of his opponents.
Once more, that lady's voice issued forth from the carriage, this time however, it was peppered with groans. "My dear husband, be careful...as long as you remain on guard, they are no match for you!"
Suddenly, the Ebony-faced Master took a bold stride forward, weaving across the battlefield in an instant and tearing open that flimsy piece of fabric obscuring the carriage's contents from the outside world: "Yo~ looks like the kid's a pretty fortunate one, it's actually a pair of twins!"
"Fiend, step away from the carriage!" Jiang Feng yelled in a hoarse voice.
He desperately charged towards the carriage but was rebuffed right away. Once more he charged, but once more he was rebuffed. By now, his anger reached such heights, his eyes began to bleed from the strain he placed on them!
The lady immediately reached for her two children and tightly hugged them before crying in a broken voice: "Fiend...you...you…"
"Don't worry, little lass, I won't do anything to you right now. Once you're better however...haha, HAHAHA…"
"Fiend, if you even dare to touch her…" Jiang Feng howled.
At that, the rotund man suddenly reached out and stroked the lady's face before laughing maniacally: "I touched her, what of it?"
"AHHHHH!!" Jiang Feng screamed. With his technique in disarray however, that blade, those claws and that beak, immediately swooped in for the kill. An instant later, his shoulder, chest and back were all peppered with countless wounds!
"Husband, watch out!"
"HAHAHA, your Jade Charmer is about to turn into a Jade Ghost!"
"Fiend, even if I were to become a ghost, I would never forgive you!"
Like that, the earth rumbled with the screams of vengeance, the cries of misery, a laugh of complacency and the cries of a pair of newborn infants. All four mixed together to form a cacophony of sounds that could even shatter the heart of the most stoic of men.