Time flowed on like water, silent and soundless. In the blink of an eye, nearly five years passed.
Serpentwing Lake. Brightheart Island.
Brightheart was the name which Ji Ning had given this island in the center of the lake. The island had multiple buildings constructed atop it, and the formerly desolate island had been made into a beautiful place, like an unearthly utopia. It was currently at the changing of seasons from spring to summer, and all sorts of flowers were blooming and eye-catching. After careful arrangements by some servants, they appeared all the more beautiful and captivating.
“Big Sis Autumn Leaf, Big Sis Autumn Leaf.” A youth dressed in blue clothes ran over while shouting.
Autumn Leaf, who had been boiling a kettle of tea, turned to look. Laughing, she said, “Bluestone, your archery lessons have concluded? Did your Master Blindfish rebuke you?”
“This…” Bluestone rubbed his head and said resignedly, “How can I not be rebuked? Each time I practice archery, Master Blindfish will always lecture me. He’ll also often compare me to Big Bro. But how can I compare to Big Bro? You know what a genius he is!”
“You need to treasure this chance.” Autumn Leaf viewed Bluestone as she might her own little brother. She said seriously, “Young master himself said that although Master Blindfish had his dantian destroyed, that just made him become even more focused on archery…and his archery abilities have risen to a whole new level. It’s only because Master Blindfish is living here on Brightheart Island and because the young master asked him to do so that he is willing to teach you. You need to work hard. If you master it, it will be a consummate technique for you.”
Bluestone immediately nodded. “I understand.”
Bluestone’s life on Brightheart Island was quite carefree. Ning whole-heartedly treated him as he would a little brother, and acted towards him as an older brother would. One could tell how close their relationship was, just by the way Bluestone addressed him; generally speaking, a younger individual would address a more senior one as ‘Elder Brother’. Only someone who grew up together and thus were very close to each other would use the term ‘Big Bro’.
“Right.” Autumn Leaf laughed and nodded.
“Where is Big Bro Ji Ning?” Bluestone asked. “Training with the sword?”
Autumn Leaf laughed, “He’s not training the sword.”
“Oh. Then he’s sleeping on Serpentwing Lake.” Bluestone laughed. After having lived on Serpentwing Lake for five years, he had become well acquainted with Ning’s habits. Ning, aside from training with the sword, spent most of his time casually drifting on Serpentwing Lake aboard a small boat while napping.
“Right. He’s sleeping.” Autumn Leaf turned to look towards that boundless lake as well.
Bluestone couldn’t help but say, “Originally, I asked Big Bro Ji Ning why he is always sleeping on Serpentwing Lake. Big Bro just said…he is training. I don’t get it. How can sleeping atop Serpentwing Lake be training? But Big Bro Ji Ning’s swordplay really is becoming increasingly more powerful. Two years ago, Commander Yichuan acknowledged that he didn’t believe he could beat him!”
“Right. The young master’s swordplay has reached an unfathomably high level.” Autumn Leaf sighed. “I once watched the young master train with the sword, and when I did, I saw some aquatic birds flew over en masse, then fly around him in a circle for some time, unwilling to leave.”
“So bizarre!” Bluestone was surprised.
“In the past, Commander Yichuan would spar once with the young master every year. Two years ago, when he felt he wouldn’t be able to win, he stopped coming. Unfortunately, the young master forbade me from watching, so I don’t know how what the battle scene between the Commander and the young master was like.” Autumn Leaf felt a hint of longing. In her eyes, the swordplay of Ji Yichuan had reached a mythical level long ago, but her young master’s swordplay had apparently reached an even higher, deeper level.
Yichuan lived on Brightheart Island as well. However, it was on the other end of Brightheart Island. He normally was a solitary, arrogant figure, forbidding anyone from approaching him, and without any servants serving him. Only Ning was permitted to go to his residence to accompany Yichuan, his father.
“I’m truly curious. What level has Big Bro reached in swordplay, exactly?” Bluestone’s eyes were filled with veneration.
“Look.” Autumn Leaf suddenly looked towards the lake.
“Huh?” Bluestone turned to look as well.
In the distance, a single boat could be faintly seen. At first, a look of delight appeared on Bluestone’s face as he took it for the boat on which Ning slept, but when he looked more closely…he saw that this was a large ship, the one which often delivered people to and from the shores of the lake. After all, quite a few people were now living on Brightheart Island, with nearly a hundred servants being present. Large amounts of food would often be delivered to the island, and some outsiders would come visit. Naturally, they had to have this ferry.
Atop the ferry.
There was a group of youths atop the ferry, and they were chatting and joking amongst themselves.
“The Central Prefecture Lord told us to come pay our respects to Ji Ning.” A big, burly-chested youth had a hint of disgruntlement in his eyes. “We are the Central Prefecture of the Ji clan. We are far more powerful than the other four Prefectures! The six of us are the most powerful members of the younger generation of the Ji clan of the Central Prefecture. To have us come spar with this Ji Ning is one thing, but he actually said that we were to come ‘pay our respect’ and have this Ji Ning ‘provide guidance to us’? And that we had to be reverential towards him?”
“Shut your mouth.” A handsome looking youth said. “The Central Prefecture Lord stated that we must be respectful and that we must address him as young master Ji Ning.”
“Fine, fine. Young master Ji Ning.” The big youth couldn’t refrain from adding, “That’s fine for the rest of us, but Ji Mo, you are the number one, ultimate genius amongst the younger generation of our Ji clan of the Central Prefecture. You became a Xiantian expert at age fifteen, and reached the level of mastery long ago in the ultimate technique of our Ji clan, the [Melody of Ten Thousand Swords]. That Ji Ning…although that young master Ji Ning became a Xiantian expert a few years earlier than you, the two of you will simply spar at most. How can you be asked to ‘pay your respects’ to him and have him ‘provide guidance’ to you?”
“Ji Mo.” A black haired woman said. “Tongzhan speaks the truth. The instructions the Central Prefecture Lord gave us, none of us will openly oppose, but in our hearts, none of us truly submit either. We are the most talented youths of the Central Prefecture, while that Ji Ning…that young master Ji Ning is only the most talented youth of the West Prefecture. No matter how much of a genius he is, at most he’ll be a bit more powerful than us. How can he be qualified to have us ‘go pay our respects’ to him?”
“Enough, all of you.”
The handsome youth’s gaze was like water. He swept everyone with his gaze, and the other five youths all fell silent.
Ji Mo was, without question, the number one figure in the younger generation of the Ji clan of the Central Prefecture. In addition, ever since he had been young, he had followed by the side of Granny Shadow, and thus Mo’s status was all the more unique…many people were certain that Mo would be the next Prefecture Lord of the Ji clan of the Central Prefecture.
“You all know that I follow Granny Shadow.” Mo said slowly.
“Right.” Looks of awe appeared in the eyes of the other five.
In the entire Ji clan, there were two people who stood at the very pinnacle of the clan. One was the Patriarch, Ji Ninefire! The other was Granny Shadow! Granny Shadow was the sibling and younger sister of Ninefire, an old granny who had also lived for nearly four centuries. But, without question, she had been at the Zifu Disciple level for three hundred years.
The two of them were the two publicly acknowledged Zifu Disciples of the Ji clan.
As for whether or not there were other Zifu Disciples hidden in the shadows, that was hard to say. A clan would naturally want to hide some cards up their sleeves, interchanging truth and lies. This led to longevity.
“Granny Shadow personally taught me swordplay.” Mo said softly. “My swordplay, compared to Granny Shadow’s, is unimaginably weaker. Do you know why the six of us have been sent by the Central Prefecture Lord to Serpentwing Lake to pay our respects to Ji Ning?”
“I hear the North Prefecture, the East Prefecture, and the South Prefecture had already sent their younger generation members over to pay their respects to young master Ji Ning, and so our Central Prefecture sent the six of us as well.”
Ji Mo shook his head lightly.
“Our Central Prefecture is the root of the Ji clan. The Patriarch and Granny Shadow are both within our Central Prefecture.” Mo said. “The territory that our Central Prefecture takes up is the greatest, and the number of Xiantian experts we have far surpasses the number the other four prefectures have. Even the Crimson Guards are stationed in our Central Prefecture. Why, then, must our Central Prefecture act in the same manner as the other prefectures?”
“Then what’s the reason?” They all looked towards Mo.
Mo said softly, “The reason is, one year ago, Granny Shadow made a trip here to Serpentwing Lake.”
“Granny Shadow came to Serpentwing Lake?” The other five youths instantly began to think of many possibilities.
Mo said, “The Patriarch had once praised young master Ji Ning highly, saying that in the future, he would definitely be the number one expert of our Ji clan! Granny Shadow thus decided to come here to Serpentwing Lake to personally see what sort of ability this Ji Ning had…”
“What did Granny Shadow say?” The five youths looked expectantly at Mo.
Mo’s eyes had a very strange light to them. He said slowly, “After Granny Shadow returned, I repeatedly asked her how I was in comparison to young master Ji Ning. The only thing Granny Shadow would say was that it was hard to compare. That it was hard to compare. I kept on asking her what level of swordplay this young master Ji Ning had reached, and Granny Shadow just replied with a single phrase; ‘unfathomably deep’!”
“Unfathomably deep!” The five youths were stunned. For even Granny Shadow to say such a thing…how terrifying was Ji Ning’s swordplay?
“Everyone, time to disembark.” A sailor said loudly.
Only now did the six of them look over. The ferry had already neared the shore, and from afar, various buildings arose within their vision, an amazingly beautiful sight. The six of them couldn’t help but sigh in amazement in their hearts, while Ji Mo’s eyes lit up. “This is where Ji Ning lives?”