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Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
"When I mentioned Daoist Ji last time, you said that you didn't know anything…were you deceiving me?" Su Li said as he looked at the expression on Chen Changsheng's face.
Chen Changsheng could only maintain his silence, given how he was not too skilled at making up lies.
Su Li continued to talk to himself. "Then just what are those old guys planning to do by pushing you out?"
These dialogues frequently occurred, and their conclusion often did not require an answer. Chen Changsheng could not find an answer, and Su Li only used up a short amount of time to think about it.
Confirming that the cavalry of the Great Zhou were truly far away, Chen Changsheng put Su Li on his back and passed through the black willow forest, continuing south.
As he walked, or perhaps ran, the climate began to gradually grow warmer, and the scenery that the two of them saw gradually began to draw closer to the true season. In the capital, it was most likely the peak of spring, while in Mount Li in the south, it was already late spring. However, it was still somewhat chilly here, and their eyes could still spy remnants of snow like little stars. Fortunately, there were also little patchy stars of green.
Seeing those grasses that had died in the previous year budding forth with green sprouts, Chen Changsheng recalled that it had already been one whole year since he had left Xining village. Far too many changes had occurred within this year. Even if he was just a youth in the midst of his spring, from time to time, he would turn back, and he would inevitably sigh with a regret more appropriate for a middle-aged man.
After they passed by a farmer village called Woli village, their situation changed somewhat. They now had a carriage, being pulled along by two hale and hearty furry deer.
Chen Changsheng sat at the front of the carriage, pulling on the ropes that had been tied around the necks of the deer. Every now and then, he would make a few incomprehensible noises, perhaps wanting to imitate the methods of the farmers. Yet it was very obvious that those two furry deer had no idea what he was saying. Thankfully, the general direction was correct, always heading south. The south was still very far away, but as long as they kept persisting forward, they would continue to get closer.
Su Li was lying down in the carriage, a thick blanket cushioning him from below while his body was covered by a thick but smooth animal hide. The Yellow Paper Umbrella was set down at his side, as well as food and drink. He held a bamboo flute against his lips, from time to time blowing a clear and elegant sound. He seemed contented to the extreme, with none of that miserable feeling of a heavily-injured person attempting to escape.
After proceeding for two more days, they could faintly make out an earth-colored city on the official road. Unlike that military stronghold they saw at the beginning, this was an actual city. Based on the size and perimeter of the city, it seemed like it could hold tens of thousands of people. Presumably, it was very bustling and lively within. If one wanted to reconnect with the human world, this was without question the most convenient place to do it.
Chen Changsheng turned his head and shot a glance at Su Li, using his eyes to ask whether he wanted to enter the city.
Su Li was just then using a piece of fur to carefully clean the holes of his bamboo flute, not paying any attention.
Chen Changsheng understood, but still did not quite understand. Shaking his head, he grasped the reins and had those two deer carry the carriage down the official road, passing by the slightly hard fields and bypassing that earth-colored city.
South of the city was a forest of birch trees. The several thousand birch trees were not at all thick. They seemed slender and straight, like swords growing up from the ground and piercing into the sky.
It was deep spring, but these birches in the cold ground had still not put forth any green leaves. The eyes did not encounter any sort of hindrance, letting one see the trees several li away.
‘When encountering a forest, don't enter.’ This was not something Su Li had taught Chen Changsheng from his experience traveling the world, but some old saying he had seen written many times in those miscellaneous essays.
Chen Changsheng lightly pulled on the reins, indicating that the two deer should stop.
He did not sense the slightest danger, only acted subconsciously.
With difficulty, Su Li sat his body up in the carriage. At some point, the bamboo flute had been stuck in his waist and been replaced by the Yellow Paper Umbrella.
He looked at the calm birch forest, then suddenly said, "They've come."
Who came? It was naturally his enemies. The people that wanted to kill Su Li had come.
Chen Changsheng's mood instantly became tenser. He leaped down from the carriage to the ground, using his fastest speed to untie the ropes around the necks of the deer. Then he used the sheath of his dagger to give them two strikes on their thick behinds. In pain, the furry deer ran off in the opposite direction of the birch forest. It was just that this sort of docile livestock actually did not run very far. They stood several dozen zhang away, looking at Chen Changsheng with expressions of bewilderment, as if they didn't understand why he had struck them.
"You care about their lives, but what about me?" Su Li said to Chen Changsheng angrily.
Chen Changsheng grasped the sheath of his dagger and asked, "Then does Senior want to go in or not?"
When they had just left the hot spring in the snowy ridge, he had asked Su Li this question. Back then, Su Li had not been willing, and it seemed like he had still not changed his mind. He only heard Su Li sneer, "If I go in, what will I do if you die? I have no desire to place all my hopes on another, let alone such a weak guy like you."
In his heart, Chen Changsheng truly felt that this was very reasonable. Although Senior could not fight, his battling experience and knowledge far surpassed his own by many times. Senior being at his side would always be some assistance to him. There was no activity from the quiet birch forest. He somewhat uneasily asked, "What should we do next? Should I be rushing into the forest?"
Su Li had no idea what he was talking about and asked, "And what will you do once you've rushed into the forest?"
Chen Changsheng replied, "Yesterday Senior said that the most important moment in battle was the instant in which one turned from defense to offense. If one could truly be caught off guard, then even the strongest opponent could lose."
Su Li stared at him and asked, "So you are prepared to rush into the forest, find that person, and then kill him?"
Chen Changsheng very earnestly nodded his head.
Su Li put his hands on his forehead and asked, "Do you know what level of cultivation that assassin in the forest is?"
Chen Changsheng very earnestly shook his head.
Su Li furiously bellowed, "And so just how are you prepared to charge in? Do you plan to throw away your life?"
Chen Changsheng was at a loss, not knowing whether he should nod his head or shake it. After thinking it over, he asked, "Is this…not according to Senior's teaching?"
Su Li dispelled his anger and helplessly said, "You must first understand that for those things I mentioned, you first have to establish that you and your opponent are on similar levels. Even if you're lacking, you can't be too lacking."
Chen Changsheng replied, "But Senior's original words were clear… even the strongest opponent could lose."
Su Li retorted angrily, "Rhetoric, this is rhetoric! Do you not understand that rhetoric and exaggeration are a part of the art of speaking!?"
Chen Changsheng lowered his head in silence. After a while, he could not help but raise his head back up and ask, "Then what do I do if I really do encounter an opponent that is much stronger than me?"
The answer Su Li gave was exceptionally concise and plain, straightforward and clear. "Flee, or kneel."
Flee? The speed at which Chen Changsheng could run with Su Li on his back was not necessarily faster than the speed of that assassin in the forest who had still not appeared. It must be known that the people who chose to take the profession of assassin would always possess body movements and speed faster than the average cultivator. Kneel? Chen Changsheng was like Su Li. Neither of them would place their lives completely in the hands of another, even if it was someone they trusted, let alone someone that had come to kill them.
Not being able to flee and not being able to kneel, in truth there remained still one other option: waiting.
Chen Changsheng took out his dagger and stared at the still and noiseless birch forest, gazed at the green buds which from a distance were gradually about to densely grow but from close-by were very difficult to see, waiting for that person to appear.
From start to end, the person never appeared.
Time slowly passed, and even the hand holding the dagger began to ache. He shouted out into the forest. "Come out already! He's already seen you."
Su Li had no idea he would do such a thing. He shook his head at the sky, giving off the feeling that he was ashamed to be associated with him.
There was still no response from that person in the forest. Chen Changsheng whispered, "Senior, it seems this method of enticing the enemy also doesn’t work."
That previous dialogue, even quarrel, he had with Su Li was naturally not a real quarrel.
Gazing at the quiet birch forest, Su Li thoughtfully declared, "The person has left."
"Eh?" Chen Changsheng was rather surprised.
Su Li once again lay down in the carriage, putting down the Yellow Paper Umbrella and taking up the bamboo flute.
The two deer, at Chen Changsheng's call, slowly walked back, then stood docilely as the ropes were tied back around their necks.
The clear sound of the bamboo flute once more sounded out.
In the ensuing journey, Chen Changsheng grew much quieter, or perhaps it was better to say that he was much more like his usual self—only when he was with Tang Thirty-Six and Su Li would he become more talkative.
His current silence was of course because of that assassin that could appear at any time.
Just as not speaking would sometimes be more powerful than speaking, an enemy that did not appear was always more frightening than one right in front of you.
Contrarily, Su Li acted as he normally would, and no trace of unease could be found on his body. He continued to blow on his bamboo flute, drink from his small wine bottle, and take care of his injuries. He was just like that day when he was lying in the hot spring, very content and serene. It was like he wasn't injured at all, just traveling on a normal trip.
Chen Changsheng's vigilant and focused sight encapsulated all things. There was a massive pressure on his mind, and when he thought about some things, his mood grew increasingly heavy.
In the military stronghold, they had encountered two assassins, and then the cavalry of the Great Zhou had been hunting all around for them. Perhaps it was just as Su Li had surmised, that Black Robe had calculated the direction of their escape and then spread this news to some powers in the human world. How would those powers act from now on? If it was the Divine Empress prompting this pursuit of Su Li, did she know that he and Su Li were together? If she did know, would she have those experts and assassins also kill him at the same time? If it was… the powerful figures within the Li Palace that wanted Su Li dead, could they possibly know that he was still alive? Or perhaps the demons had purposefully concealed his existence?
On a certain day at dusk, in a place eight hundred li from Tianliang County, the deer carriage stopped to rest for a while, the twilight rich as blood.
Chen Changsheng took all his unease and poured it out to Su Li. Right now, regardless of what disputes remained between them, since he had not abandoned Su Li back in the snowy mountain ridge, he would not abandon Su Li midway. At present, they were sitting on the same carriage, so they would naturally have to confront the coming violent storms and massive waves together.
"There shouldn't be many people that know of my being heavily injured, the reason for which I already told you a few days ago. We already analyzed that assassination in the military stronghold… if that clumsy and ridiculous action could be considered an assassination. Together with those several hundred Zhou cavalrymen, we can clearly see that neither those guys who want to kill me nor I, being hunted by those guys, want the entire continent to know."
Su Li took up a tree branch and began to draw out a map on the ground. Pointing at a straight line, he said, "They have no need to besiege a stronghold so that they can strike at reinforcements, so the reason we have seen no activity can only be that our speed is too fast. After we broke through the line of the northern army, the people did not have enough time to muster up enough strong people to come kill us. If we were to view this as a war, then their main force would just be rushing over…"
Chen Changsheng squatted on the side, listening closely.
Over the past few days, this sort of scene had occurred many times. Su Li would normally put forward a very indecent appearance, but on these occasions, he would always be exceptionally serious. He taught Chen Changsheng how to distinguish between the tracks of humans and beasts, how to tell which plants were edible, which mushrooms were poisonous, what was the most important part of battles, and even tactics and marching.
Besides swords and cultivation, he taught Chen Changsheng many things.
Chen Changsheng once again asked, "Senior, why are you teaching me these things?"
Choosing a future Pope for the southerners? This might have been the real answer, but it was not enough.
"Because, I taught Qiushan before."
Su Li tossed aside the tree branch and said, "He studied from me for one month. If there's enough time on the road, I will also have taught you for a month. You returned the Yellow Paper Umbrella to me, I took you away from the snowy plain. Both sides are even, but you did not leave the snowy ridge, so I owe you a favor. You can just act like I'm returning the favor to you!"
"In the future, you and Qiushan will inevitably compete. I hope that you won't be lagging too far behind, that it's as fair as possible. This is my favor to you."
This was the first time after leaving the hot spring that Chen Changsheng felt Su Li possessed the demeanor of a worthy senior. Then he very seriously said, "The Yellow Paper Umbrella is not me returning it to Senior, but me lending it to Senior."
Su Li calmly looked back at him, then suddenly smiled, "You're not used to this warm scene, so you intentionally spoiled it?"
Chen Changsheng replied, "Yes."
Su Li said, "I'm also not too used to it, so in the future, don't ask me any similar questions."
Chen Changsheng looked at him and sincerely declared, "Senior, you truly are a good person."
Su Li looked back at him and very seriously said, "In the future, don't say these sorts of words either."
"Because in the future, you will know that I was never a good man in the traditional sense. I'm temperamental. If there's a single word that I find unsuitable, I'll explode and kill someone."
"But you really can't tell! Fine Senior, although those words I said before were on purpose, it's a fact that the Yellow Paper Umbrella really is mine."
"Yeah, it seems like you really don't believe that I might explode and kill you!"
“Senior, if you could suddenly kill someone, we wouldn't need to wait until the middle of the night to dare to continue our journey."
Since the conversation was no longer agreeable, they no longer needed to say anything. In the ever-darkening twilight, Chen Changsheng began to prepare dinner and the equipment needed to sleep outdoors.
Su Li gazed at the youth bustling around the fire and slightly squinted his eyes. He slowly stroked the bamboo flute in his hand, thinking about something.
The twilight gradually retreated. After a simple meal of roast meat, Chen Changsheng extinguished the fire, ensuring that it would not become a beacon in the night.
After a wordless night, the morning arrived. The morning wind was somewhat chilly, bringing with it the smell of dew and grass. It made one feel carefree and relaxed, and the two deer had a lively step as they marched, traversing more than ten li in a short time.
Many green plants grew in this vast stretch of plains. They might have been sorghum, but these sorghum plants were just budding, not at all like the legendary green curtain of crops, much less able to cover up a figure.
So it only took a glance for Chen Changsheng to see the person standing in the field.
It was a handsome man, covered all over in armor. On his back were seven long blades, shining gloriously in the morning light.
No matter how one looked at it, he did not seem like an assassin.