CHAPTER 3: AN AMBITIOUS GOAL
Cha Ming stared at the pile of scrolls. Looking through these hundreds of scrolls was a daunting task. Thankfully, he could rely on the red-bearded elder to provide him guidance. Otherwise, he would be here for days before deciding on a rudimentary plan.
Each bronze and silver scroll could be opened one to two feet, which contained an abridged version of the technique. Accessing the full techniques could only be done via an illusory scroll. Each scroll was affixed with a seal to prevent tampering.
First technique: Guardian Staff. Earth-attribute staff technique, requires small amounts of qi for support but relies on physical body strength. This technique is heavy and emphasizes brute force and reach to repel enemies. The technique was created by Tu Yan, a personal guard of the late King Song Liufeng.
Second technique: Shearing Staff Art. Wind-attribute staff technique. Used to repel foes as well as attack foes from a distance with shearing blades of wind. Formidable for group battles. The technique is rumored to have been developed by a monk, emphasizing the importance being merciful to the weak but fierce against evildoers.
Cha Ming tossed the second scroll into a reject pile after reading the introduction. He did not practice the wind element.
“Dummy, pick that one up, it’s not total garbage.” Unable to refute the bearded man, he dutifully picked up the technique with a puzzled expression.
“Exalted Teacher, I don’t understand. How can I use this technique if I don’t cultivate wind?” It made no sense to Cha Ming.
“Let your teacher worry about that. For now, keep reading these techniques, and I’ll tell you what to keep and what to throw away.”
Cha Ming continued sifting through the pile of scrolls.
Overbearing Staff Art—Trash
Lotus Staff Art—Trash
He barely opened a scroll called Spring Leaf Staff Art before it was deemed as trash. To his surprise, the least expensive scroll available, the Foundation Staff Art, made it into the keep pile after barely any consideration at all.
The same rigorous selection process was implemented for all the movement arts. In the end, Cha Ming was instructed to purchase twelve scrolls:
Shearing Staff Art—Bronze Level, Wind Element Staff Art
Foundation Staff Art—Bronze Level, Unattributed Staff Art
Flaming Wheel Defense—Silver Level, Fire Element Staff Art
Wading Through the Reeds—Silver Level, Water Element Staff Art
Quake Staff—Silver Level, Earth Element Staff Art
Sword Staff—Bronze Level, Metal Element Staff Art (very rare, disproportionately expensive)
Trapping Staff—Bronze Level, Wood Element Staff Art
Seven Cloud Steps—Silver Level, Wind Movement Art
White Willow Shade—Silver Level, Wood Element Movement Art
Three-Layered Burst Step—Bronze Level, Fire Element Movement Art
Mountain Stance—Silver Level, Earth Element Movement Art
Skating in Paradise—Bronze Level, Water Element Movement Art
The last item on the list made Cha Ming especially confused and frustrated. The introductory scroll indicated that it was made for fun by a core formation cultivator in the northern provinces. It had been made specifically for his female disciples to show off at parties on arenas made of ice! Despite his reservations, he accepted it without complaint. Prior experience indicated that it was no use fighting the bearded man.
It was nearing sunset now, and Elder Xiao was patiently waiting at the library checkout for Cha Ming to come down. If he needed an hour or two more, Elder Xiao didn’t mind. He was the guardian of the library, in charge of making sure that no one broke in and stole any techniques. As such, he was required to stay on the library premises for long periods of time.
Cha Ming approached the checkout desk and put down the twelve scrolls. “Elder Xiao, if you’d be so kind, I’d like to purchase these twelve scrolls.”
Elder Xiao almost fell to the floor in anger. “Little Monster, I know you’re confused about what you want to practice, but please be a little more reasonable. It’s not too late to come back after you’ve tried one of them…” By this point, the short man was massaging his brow with one hand.
“No need. I want to practice all of them and decide which one is best after successfully cultivating them.”
“I see, I see…” Elder Xiao nodded. An enraged look suddenly appeared on his face. “Practice all of them? Are you a pig? Do you think these techniques are all snacks that you can eat casually? I should report you for such behavior!”
Cha Ming spent some time reassuring Elder Xiao, and finally, his rage subsided. There was no rule on how many techniques could be taken out, after all. Depressed, Elder Xiao produced illusory scrolls for each of the twelve techniques and sent the young man on his way.
A maid flinched as her young master woke up suddenly in the middle of the night. He looked confused and exhausted. Eventually, he was doused with a cold shower of realization, and his gaze instantly became cold and aloof. He stared at the wall, brooding as he recalled the events that had led up to his incapacitation.
He had been chasing a prey out in the woods for his younger brother. At the last minute, the small fox had released a large amount of power, which forced him to take a forbidden medicine to temporarily raise his cultivation.
Just as he was about to succeed, the young whelp from the Wang family and his chaperone had interfered, and he was forced to flee for his life with a teleportation talisman gifted to him by his brother. It would have been fine if he had either taken the medicine or used the talisman, but the combination had caused great damage to his body. Shortly after arriving back at the Zhou family mansion, he passed out and was transported to his bedchambers. One of the best spirit doctors in the city had presided over his recuperation, ensuring that no substantial damage had been done to his foundation.
“How long have I been sleeping?” he asked the maid.
“Young Master, you’ve been sleeping for two months,” she replied meekly, her voice laced with fear. The Young Master was notorious for mistreating his servants and shooting the messenger. It was her lucky day, though; Zhou Xian was too focused on his recovery and immediately ordered her to fetch food and pour him a hot bath.
At the crack of dawn, the fully recovered Zhou Xian walked to the other end of their massive mansion. The guard on duty swiftly opened a door and let him into a cozy office. His father, Zhou Tian, was a strict man. He always started his work at dawn. This was when his mood was at its best; naturally, this was why Zhou Xian chose to visit him at this hour.
Upon entering, he did not bow or seat himself, but instead stood just inside the door, awaiting further instruction. His balding father continued poring over documents, signing them as required. After a half hour, he finally looked up at his son.
“So, I see that you managed to wake up after your miserable failure?”
Zhou Xian kneeled in apology. “Father, I have failed you. Please punish me.”
His father didn’t pay any attention to the gesture and turned his attention back to the documents on his desk.
“I don’t have time to punish you. Please report what happened.”
“Father, I entered the woods with twelve friends from school. We journeyed quickly toward the location provided by Brother Li, where we encountered a strange force field. We were unable to penetrate it. Further, soon after we reached the force field, a large group of hounds, including two ninth-level spirit beasts, surrounded us. I was lucky to escape and awaited further instruction from Brother Li. My twelve friends all perished.
“After two weeks of waiting, I was instructed to pose as a wounded student for help at certain coordinates. I lured a snow leopard to the location at the appropriate time, baiting a man and a fox into saving me. The man was Du Cha Ming, who had recently disappeared in the spirit woods. A hefty bounty of 50,000 spirit stones had been offered for his retrieval. The fox was black and white in color.
“We returned to the campsite where they treated me. Since I had told Du Cha Ming of the ransom, it was going to be difficult to ambush him at any other time. Further, if we met any other groups in the forest, he would have quickly been alerted and suspicious. He would also have been suspicious if we avoided everyone. In the middle of the night, at the time that he should have been the most sound asleep, I attempted to stab the fox, which I perceived as the greater threat.
“The fox was expecting me, however, and so was the youngster. While I managed to kill the fox with a poisonous strike near his heart, it displayed extraordinary racial abilities, splitting into two clones. One of his clones was pure white and emanated a terrifying purifying power. The other was pure black and could hide in shadows. The black clone had terrifying devouring powers and could attack my shadow directly, which inflicted wounds on my physical body.
“Having been pushed into a desperate situation, I quickly took a forbidden medicine to forcibly raise my cultivation level, lest the target escape. I quickly overcame the fox, but before I could do anything, Wang Jun and Elder Bai from the Jade Bamboo Conglomerate interfered. They were unimpressed by any threats, and Elder Bai quickly attacked me with his mid-foundation establishment cultivation.
“In desperation, I used the teleportation talisman provided by Brother Li to escape. Unfortunately, I was not in the best shape, and the rigors of teleportation forced me to severely deplete my strength while still under the effects of the forbidden medicine. As a result, I passed out, and I am currently reporting to you two months later.” Zhou Xian stood silently while his father digested the report.
“You made three mistakes,” he replied after pondering.
“Your humble son begs for instruction.”
“The first mistake was the choice of a snow leopard. Not only was it very foreign to the area, but it was too weak to injure you. A peak ninth-level dire wolf would have been a much more appropriate and less obvious opponent. There was also a chance that your targets could have expended some energy or exposed their strength when saving you.
“The second mistake was when you threatened the Wang family. They would never have given in to your petty threats, since their influence in the continent is far reaching. You should have immediately retreated when they gave you the chance and informed myself and your younger brother.
“The third mistake: Du Cha Ming isn’t dead.”
“Impossible! I hit him with my poisonous sword at point blank range right beside his heart! How could he possibly survive?” Zhou Xian was livid. How was this twerp so lucky?
“He is in very good health,” his father replied. “He was treated by the best spirit doctor in town and was observed walking around the streets in the city one week after your arrival. He is also accompanied by a small ordinary-looking fox. You should never assume your opponent is dead until you cut off his head. Dismissed.”
An angry Zhou Xian walked out of his father’s office. Just as he was exiting, he passed by a beautiful lady, his older sister. She was nineteen years old this year and was currently betrothed to the crown prince.
“You got beat up again, I see,” she said, ridiculing him. “Why don’t you ever measure up to our little brother? At least he can get things done properly.”
“At least I can do something other than whoring around. How’s that working out for you, seducing men for a living?”
“Oh, it’s going very well! Seduction is an art that requires a lot of practice and a lot of… innate talent.” She leaned forward coquettishly while exposing her cleavage. “Would you like a lesson, dear Eldest Brother? You might not be the most attractive man I’ve ever seen, but a little makeup can definitely make you more successful than you currently are. After all, there are a lot of plump noble ladies that need loving, too.”
Zhou Xian pushed her away and started walking toward his room. “I’ll show you what success is, and when I do, I’ll have you indecently moaning underneath me, begging me to please you.”
Zhou Jia shrugged and proceeded to the door to their father’s study. Meanwhile, a slightly less enraged Zhou Xian went back to his room. The verbal jousting had let him forget his bitter hatred for Cha Ming for a few moments.
Upon returning to his room, he sat down in front of his brightly lit desk. He then removed a small black book from his bag of holding and prepared to write a message. Just as he was about to write, a message appeared.
“Are you awake now?”
Zhou Xian shifted his pen down to reply.
“Yes, I’m up and about, and I’ve just reported to Father.”
Zhou Xian then reported what had happened in detail. Shortly after, a message appeared.
“Thanks for the hard work. I’ll tell Father that the information you obtained was worth the price paid. I now know what type of spirit beast the fox is. I also speculate that they formed a life-and-death contract, which allowed this Du Cha Ming to survive the initial poison, in conjunction with his strong mortal body.”
“How is this good news?”
“My dear elder brother, it’s good news because we now have access to potential leverage for the fox. If we capture Cha Ming as a slave, the fox will have no choice but to obey our commands, lest he and his owner die.”
“I see. You’re smart as ever, brother.”
He was tired and wanted to continue resting. His fully hale appearance in front of his father was just for show.
“Do you want revenge?”
Zhou Xian’s heart palpitated. His hand trembled as he wrote out a reply.
“I would die for revenge, what do I need to do?”
“I’ll coordinate with you, Father, and Sister for a three-pronged approach. What I need your help with will raise your power by a large margin, giving you the opportunity to defeat Cha Ming. Remember, I say defeat because we can’t have him die. However, that doesn’t mean that he can’t suffer a fate worse than death.”
Wang Jun was busy looking over documents in his courtyard on campus. It was much easier to work in the courtyard, where he was able to have Elder Bai and two other assistants aid him while removing himself from everyday business. His presence at the school was partial ruse and partial utility. Since a young age, he had been a perfectionist and obsessed with getting involved in everything, from management to day-to-day tasks.
On campus, he was not directly confronted with business-related activities and could dedicate more time to cultivation. A dull bronze badge was affixed to his chest. However, no one would accuse him of being untalented. He had been attending the school for less than six months and was already a seventh-grade student.
His desk and fireplace had been moved to this new courtyard, of course. He had also replaced the cultivation array with a much higher class array. The crumbling walls surrounding his cottage had also been reinforced with a defensive array, ensuring that no one below core formation would be able to force their way in or eavesdrop.
While Wang Jun was in the middle of signing an important document, Elder Bai swiftly entered and delivered a report.
“What’s this?” Wang Jun inquired.
“The Alchemists Association in Green Leaf City has officially informed us that they are terminating the existing pill supply contract, effective thirty days from now,” replied Elder Bai.
“Have they indicated that they are open to negotiations?”
“Yes, they also supplied this letter that states that the current contract price of seventy-five percent of market value is too low, that their alchemists are overworked and require two weeks to supply any orders instead of the current three days, and that they need to be paid on delivery.” Elder Bai was not new to these business dealings. He understood that the proposed conditions were not only unfair but completely counter to what Wang Jun had been attempting to accomplish.
“Elder Bai, let’s pause for tea.” The news was not unexpected to Wang Jun, but he had not been expecting it so soon. The duo sat down in front of the cinnamon-scented fireplace, listening to the merry crackling of slow-burning cedar logs.
“Elder Bai, it seems like Zhou Xian has woken up. We should both get used to sleepless nights—the Zhou family’s revenge has finally begun.”
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