The Sage Who Transcended Samsara Chapter 470
Meng Qi froze, taken aback. A thin, weak smile appeared momentarily as he shook to recollect himself. He would meet the matter candidly, as a true warrior should. It would be unbecoming of him to fret and despair over the inevitable.
Putting his thoughts aside, he strode to the central light pillar. The absence of information on the next task, as well as his companions, hindered his debate over which artifacts he should redeem. He used five hundred Karma points for a Recover Pill, bringing his total down to one hundred and ten.
He sat silently as moments passed. Suddenly he was enveloped in rising fumes that whisked him away from the Samsara Square.
It was July when the cold set in as autumn approached.The days were still quite warm, but the nights were cooling down.
The Imperial Capital of Luoyang, the most famous city in beneath all Heavens. The entire city was ringed by five layers of fortification, where the Imperial Palaces sat in the center of the city, surrounded by the Imperial Palatial Complex, encircled by another level of fortification. The Inner and Outer Cities made up the outer two layers of dwellings which were clustered by the banks of the city moat. What a breathtaking view it would have been if the scene of the entire city were beheld from above. The intricate, inexplicable arrangements of the city centered on the imperial palace would have been utterly fascinating.
Such magnificent architecture and impressiveness demanded substantial crowds of people passing through, giving the greatest city under all the Heavens its due justice. All kinds of people came shuffling through the horde of mobs streaming through the sprawling city even if market day was still days away. Towering trees lined the pavement, their branches offering cool shade to people resting below.
As passersbys strolled around, everyone sauntered about tending to his or her business. One could stand among the flock people and bask in the pride and dignity of the people living in the Imperial Capital. There were but miniscule differences in how the citizens of the capital and those of the surrounding cities of Jiangdong adorned themselves. Beggars in tattered rags, however, remained impervious to any hint of majesty or grandeur as they were still readily seen in alleys and streets of Luoyang.
The residence of Prince Wei lied in the Duozi Alley, adjacent to the Imperial Palatial Complex. Rarely would people or horse carriages came by, as Prince Wei rarely accommodated guests, unlike his imperial siblings. Imposing trees rose over the courtyard of his residence, adding a tranquil shade to the placidity of his dwellings.
“Where are we going, My Lord?” Hu Dou asked his master before him. The eunuch with thick brows spoke in a shrill voice despite his attempts at muffling himself. Sauntering ahead without looking at his concerned manservant was none other than Zhao Heng, the Prince Wei of the Imperial Family who had disguised himself as a commoner of the city.
His master had behaved most peculiarly today. He was pacing back and forth, immersed in deep thought ever since a weird note addressed to him was received earlier in the afternoon. Presently, he had escaped the eyes of everyone in his household and quietly slipped away from his residence with only his trusty manservant in tow.
Dressed in green robes and a small hat, Zhao Heng still held an air of nobility, despite his simple presence. His eyes squinted in the cheerful brightness of the sun as he said to his manservant following behind, “You shall see.”
His tone was strong and determined. Hu Dou stooped in submission in obedient silence, questioning not his master’s will.
As approachable and amiable he may have seemed to everyone on his common days, his master was nevertheless a son of the Imperial clan. Even the most haughty of ruffians would cower in compliance before the stern wrath of the prince.
“He has the cunning shrewdness of one of kingly distinction indeed…”Hu Dou surmised in his stupor.
They walked wordlessly as they left the Duozi Alley and continued until they had reached the edges of the Inner City. They came to a small saloon selling local bites to eat. The gathering there was mixed and rowdy.
Hu Dou pompously ordered stewards to clear a table for them, shedding much of his disdainful poise in public. He attended to his master as the prince took a seat at the table.
“My Lord, are we expecting someone here?” asked the eunuch. He drifted off in search of a clean rag. Not long after, he ended up wiping the table top himself with a greasy wet rag, but not before gawking distastefully at it.
Zhao Heng gave no answer. Instead, he studied the hustle and bustle of the disorderly crowd around him with interest.
“Ranking List of the Young Masters! Fresh off the press!” A loud cry came ringing amidst the rambunctious crowd.
Freeing himself from the crowd, a scholar made his way to the landing of the stairs which led to the second floor. The curious eyes of everyone present landed on him. He took out a sheet of paper and proceeded to paste it on the wall.
“Ill-informed brutes!” Exclaimed Hu Dou contemptuously, looking at the crowd around him as if they were uncultured savages, “The shifts of the rankings in the List of Young Masters should have long been expected. There’s nothing to be amazed about.”
Loud murmurs and interesting debates began arose from every corner. A man holding a folded paper fan shook his head and asked a friend, “My most esteemed friend, how long do you think the brutality of the Wolf King will last?”
Citizens of the capital were accustomed to the use of honorifics while addressing friends and family. It was esteemed as having refined culture and decorum.
“The educated in the capital believed that Wolf King was but inches away from grasping the breakthrough that he has hungered for. I fear he has but only one more warrior to slay to reach his goal. One last warrior of the Exterior,” replied the friend assuredly, whose sword was on the table.
He felt wholesome, basking in conceited knowledge that the scoop on all warriors, pugilists, belligerents were at his fingertips despite not setting foot outside of Luoyang boundaries.
The edges of Hu Dou’s lips curled at the tone and words of the speaker as he feigned a lack of interest.
The large paper the scholar was trying to hang unfurled. Lines and lines of black writing on the notice were scrawled from top to bottom.
“My God! The Wolf King has been toppled off the first place!” The man with the folded paper fan cried aloud.
Dubiously, his friend with the sword nodded, his eyes intently scrutinizing the white sheet on the wall. Su Meng, the Killing Blade, had taken the highest spot on the list.
His probing eyes rolled downwards, then suddenly stopped.
There had been many differences on the information regarding Killing Blade Su Meng, save for the missing portion of his former achievements. It had been lengthy and detailed until now. It was but one short sentence that adorned the name of the champion of the Ranking of the Young Masters:
“Slaying of the Wolf King in the Bayan prairies.”
“He slew Wolf King in the Bayan prairies… He slew the Wolf King…” He murmured in a whisper with a distant gaze. He could not believe what he had just read.
Suddenly, the entire saloon became very quiet, almost pensive. It felt like a blanket of silence had descended upon them.
“This, this cannot be possible…”
“The invincible Wolf King has been slain?”
“Has the Killing Blade reached such greatness?”
Not even thousands of words would be fully adequate to render the awesomeness of Killing Blade. Yet, a mere sentence was all that was needed to deliver ripples of shockwaves across the entire land!
“Ignorant fools,” Hu Dou muttered disdainfully, pleased with himself. His memory of his own initial shock when he had heard Su Meng’s name had apparently disappeared.
It did not take long for the saloon to suddenly erupt into a constant stream of excited chatter. Screams of exclamation and loud debates began to roar in collective dissonance.
The scholar with the folded fan sat with his friend quietly, their gazes locked for mere seconds that could have just as easily been a year. The scholar broke his trance and laughed weakly. “Your words were true, my friend. The Wolf King is not in first place anymore. But not due to a breakthrough. In fact, he was slain.”
“Who would have thought that Killing Blade possessed such power? He reminds me of the Outer-Sky God Sword of old!” His friend laughed sheepishly. Immediately he steered the subject from the Ranking List of Young Masters by saying, “It seems the news will not go well with Fan Changmiao. Haha.”
“Now why would Fan Changmiao be distressed by this?” asked his puzzled friend, his hands still upon his folded fan.
The man with a sword asked his friend slyly, “You really want to know about him?”
“He’s the Martial Arts Scholar of the year and a Sliver-Badge Arrester of the Six Fan School. Is there a problem?” his friend asked quizzically, his curiosity rising.
“Then you know not of whom you speak. A cunning man of devious designs he can be, this Fan Changmiao. None had heard of him in the past.He emerged from the unknown and rose to Martial Arts Scholar the year before, becoming the first man to win the martial discipline examinations before achieving a spot on the Ranking List of Young Masters. He has had a rousing performance thus far, eager to push himself into the top ten,” the man elaborated, caressing the hilt of his sword.
“Still, this is great news for the man. Fan Changmiao has already made his mark at fifteenth place on the list,” answered the scholar, still baffled.
This was hardly of any concern to Killing Blade.
“It could have been. With his present rank on the list, Fan Changmiao required no further endorsement to quell the whispers of suspicion that rose among his doubters,” explained the smiling man whose fingertips continued to lightly graze the steel of his sword. “But Killing Blade was one of the many Military Selectees of the examination the very same year. His absence, due to his disinterest in claiming the glory of winning the examinations, was the very reason that Fan Changmiao won. Otherwise he would have been devoured by the sheer strength of Killing Blade that year easily, or so they say.”
The Scholar smacked his fan hard against his palm at the epiphany of this truth, “That must be it!”
“So, it would only be all the more unbearable for Fan Changmiao if the name Killing Blade is continually being lauded with praise and fear. I sincerely doubt that he would simply suffer being scorned in jest as the ‘Martial Arts Scholar of Chance’.”
“Be that as it may, this is Wolf King we are debating. The Wolf King who had slain, butchered and murdered with fierce brutality that struck fear throughout the land. Even he perished at the hands of Killing Blade. I am afraid Fan Changmiao would lack the courage to stand openly before him!” exclaimed the swordsman loudly, putting down his sword and emptying his cup in a jubilant gulp.
Their words did not go unnoticed. With great pleasure, Hu Dou had heard every word they uttered. The tale of strife between Su Meng and Fan Changmiao was news indeed to him.
A pageboy entered the saloon suddenly. He quietly made his way through the sea of people and stealthily slipped Zhao Heng a small note.
Zhao Heng stole a look at the contents of the note before grasping it tightly in his fist, reducing it to shredded strips with his powers. He swiftly rose to his feet and made for the exit.
“My, My Lord, wait just a moment,” Hu Dou mumbled hurriedly as he scampered behind.
Zhao Heng stepped out of the store and went through a string of turns and detours before he reached a secluded alleyway.
“Wait here.” Zhao Heng commanded his steward.
“You would imperil your most august person, my Lord,” warned Hu Dou gingerly.
“Are you unaware of my present strength and powers? Would I not be able to fend for myself adequately as you summoned for help?” Zhao Heng gravely remarked.
Knowing full well that his lord has privately trained hard and achieved a long-awaited breakthrough, he heaved a sigh as he relented. “Do be careful, My Lord,” he warned again.
Zhao Heng continued down the alley into the courtyard of an abandoned residence. There sat a man in green robes, chewing a blade of green grass, unmoved and uninterested in his entry. He leaned lazily on a broken wall, surrounded by clumps of wild grass and other lush vegetation. Scattered shafts of sunlight pierced through the dense leaves of the trees, speckling the ground like gold pieces.
“The world is trembling at the tidings of Wolf King’s demise in your hands. Countless excited and curious people are huddled together debating and discussing you and your heroics, praising your greatness and looking to you as their champion. Scores of people including Six Fan School are sweeping through fen and forest for traces of your whereabouts and here you are, resting and lazily enjoying the sunlight,” Zhao Heng nudged in jest. Still, despite his ridicule, he could not help but envy the freedom that his friend was lazing in.
He had traveled long and far. Thirty and ten days had passed since he departed from Northern Zhou and made his journey back to Luoyang. Still dressed in his green robes, Meng Qi came to the great capital.
“That hardly bothers me,” Meng Qi replied lackadaisically, “There would still be considerations and concerns about the specifics of a task before I decided on disclosing my name, right? Not even the rewards of Six Fan School would persuade me otherwise. Are the others not here yet?”
“In a little while, I belive. Sister Yushu, especially, would require more time. They are hardly free of familial burdens and responsibilities like you, my friend,” replied Zhao Heng.
That would imply that it would still be quite some time before the task commenced.
Meng Qi looked up into the sky above. His eyes squinted at the brightness of the blazing sun as he asked, “You made a breakthrough?”
Zhao Heng sighed lightly. “I don’t have the ambition of great feats like you and Lady Jiang,” he said, “I will take the slower course uphill.”
“Well, fret not, my friend. Each of us has our own course and future to follow. Who’s to say if you could even defeat me in a duel…” said Meng Qi, laughing lightly.
“Our own course…” Zhao Heng’s voice trailed off, suddenly melancholic at Meng Qi’s remark. “I envy you, Little Meng. Weariness sits upon my shoulders with such great weight. The title of the Crown Prince, the hidden and grotesque fight for power in the Imperial Court, the transitional shifts of power… Everything is toilsome and exhausting. How I would have loved to be able to wander freely around the country like you…”
He had long been worried that the forthcoming task in Luoyang foreshadowed woeful premonitions that would not fair well with the various conflicts within the Imperial Court.
“Would you be willing to forfeit your birthright and all its riches? The Imperial Throne that would be graced by the presence of lovely beauties that would obey your every beck and call?” asked Meng Qi, casting him a look. “Perhaps one day you might be Crown Prince, climbing up the stairway to sovereignty.”
Zhao Heng shook his head. Tugging up his clothes, he sat beside Meng Qi in a crude fashion, “Only the people of the outside would jealously peer in and envy those such as myself, living within the trappings of grandeur. I would have elected to exchange my life for one such as yours if given such an opportunity. You be the prince, and I will be a carefree wanderer, a swordsman of Jianghu.”
Meng Qi turned to him. His eyes twinkled with elation, “Really?”
“What?” Zhao Heng spluttered, taken aback by Meng Qi’s sudden question.
“Really? Hahaha! I have desired to become a prince! To enjoy the great power of treading the world under my feet, an illustrious life of extravagance and luxury, including a harem of beauties surrounding me day and night!” Meng Qi exclaimed, ardent and passionate. His eyes gleamed with longing. “I can use the Eight Nine Mysteries technique to disguise myself as you! No one would be able to tell the difference!”
Zhao Heng did not expect Meng Qi to pounce on his proposal of a life of luxury and comfort. Shocked and at loss for words, it took effort to muster the words from his lips, “I was merely joking.”
“I know. Would you have given up all that power and comfort?” Meng Qi replied, leaning back against the battered wall again as a grim look took him over.
Zhao Heng watched his friend with a heavy heart.“It is true,”he thought to himself,“Little Meng’s temperament can be quite unpredictably erratic and capricious…”
Still, the banter they had shared earlier had soothed and relieved him of the gloom thatanguished lately. Laughing lightly, he shooked his head recalling the absurdity of their chat and rose to his feet. He patted his robes lightly and began to leave.
“How is it? Feeling better now?” Meng Qi’s voice came suddenly from behind him.
He was astounded. He turned and look back at his friend who remained seated by the broken wall. The glaring sunlight bathed him in radiance. The foggy illuminance obscured the view of his face. Only the grass he was nibbling and his chin were clearly defined, as well as the bristles of his growing beard.
“You…” Zhao Heng stared at his companion, deeply moved.
Meng Qi’s gaze did not leave the branches of the overhanging trees as he said, “I need help uncovering the whereabouts of two men. Help me when you are feeling better.”
“One of them bears the name Yang Wuliang, a Half-Step from the Exterior Scenery. I believed he now serves Prince Jin.”
It was a task assigned to him by the Immortals. His objective was to avenge the death of Yang Wuliang’s father, whose son was one of the probationary members of the secretive fellowship.
“Very well.” Zhao Heng nodded faintly. “And the other?”
“The name is Gu Changqing…” Meng Qi revealed hesitantly.
Three winters had passed since the day the name had slowly became buried with the passing of time…