The old servant, Yang Zheng, led the way. During the night, the group crossed a meadow, climbed over a hill, then turned to the only road without lush grass near the manor. After taking another step, they entered a totally different world that was full of hard clay and rubble. Ming Xiang groaned in fear.
Gu Shenwei was still only half-awake the entire time. The march in the night, elder sister’s marriage, and the short sword at his waist were all so surreal. It was not until the sky began turning bright that he came to his senses and surprisingly found that the sun was coming up from behind them.
“Um, are we going west?” Cuilan’s husband’s family lived in the Central Plains and the marriage was arranged when they were very young. They should be going straight eastward to get to the Central Plains.
Yang Zheng mumbled a little as if the young Master’s question was not worth a reply. After a while, he said, “We will go to Shu-lik City first where the officers and soldiers will escort us.”
“Shu-lik City!” Gu Shenwei exclaimed with surprise. Shu-lik was the largest kingdom in the Western Region. Strictly speaking, the Gu’s manor was located in the same kingdom. Its capital, broad and densely populated, was one of the most prosperous places in the Western Region. Gu Shenwei had heard of it before but had never seen it in the two years since they moved here.
Gu Lun had been a senior officer in the Central Plains, so Gu Shenwei did not think it was strange to be escorted by the soldiers of Shu-lik. He only thought that their procession was not majestic enough.
Miss Cuilan had been sitting on the horse, seemingly having no objection to this arrangement. Gu Shenwei recovered and kept pace with his elder sister, talking about if there would be something interesting to see in Shu-lik City. He pulled out the short sword and waved it around like a master. Cuilan kept quiet and only said a few words to occasionally remind her brother to be careful.
Although she was only three years older than him, Cuilan had been nursing her naughty brother like a mother.
Because there were two girls, they moved slowly. The midday sun was blazing and Yang Zheng did not want to stop to rest. Cuilan and the maid already felt tired, but they tried to hang on. Caring about his sister and being unable to endure the head-on exposure of the sun any longer, Gu Shenwei yelled out for water and a meal.
Just then, the faint sound of hooves came from behind them.
Yang Zheng jumped down from his horse and listened carefully for a moment. He unfastened his frequently used lance from the right side of the horse and stood in the middle of the road, looking majestic with his white hair fluttering in the wind.
Everyone retreated to the side of the road except for Gu Shenwei, whose eyes twinkled. He pulled out his short sword and stood shoulder to shoulder with Yang Zheng.
“Sister, don’t be afraid. I’ll fight the bandits!”
“Don’t stand in my way.” Yang Zheng raised the lance and put the young Master behind him with the lance rod. He had a high status in the Gu family and was unkind to everyone but Old Master Gu Lun. Moreover, Gu Shenwei was technically his apprentice.
Gu Shenwei waved his short sword around and tried to fight for a chance to kill the enemy. He saw a cloud of dust in the distance and knew that their pursuers had arrived.
Three men in black stopped their horses about 20 paces away from Gu Shenwei and pulled out their broadswords together.
“The Gu’s should go back home,” said the man-in-black in the middle, whose voice was as chilling as rusty iron.
“Nobody is going back home.” Yang Zheng stood up with the lance.
The Gu family were good at both knives and spears, with the knife skills having been practiced before the spear skills. Being especially proficient in spear skills, Yang Zheng was not frightened at all to face three enemies.
The man-in-black on the left rode toward Yang Zheng, waving his blade.
Yang Zheng made the lance point upward and squatted slightly with his legs apart, just like a farmer holding a pickaxe to fight an evil wolf.
When the man-in-black approached with his broadsword high up in the air to chop Yang Zheng to pieces, Yang Zheng stabbed the lance out suddenly.
The stab was simple and smooth with no tricks and seemingly so weak that a child could dodge it, but the man-in-black was hit right in the chest. He fell down with his broadsword without a sound while his horse kept running for a while and eventually stopped on its own.
The other two involuntarily urged their horses to take two steps back.
Gu Shenwei ran forward excitedly. He had never thought his Master Shifu was this powerful and even actively complained about the family’s spear skills. Yang Zheng had been practicing the same movements every day for many years and never practiced any other movements. Gu Shenwei never expected such a simple stab to be so powerful, and now he had a new appreciation of his Master Shifu and the family’s spear skills.
The remaining two attackers glanced at each other, then raised their broadswords and rode toward Yang Zheng, attempting to launch a double-pronged attack.
Gu Shenwei came forward as he wanted to test the power of his own short sword. In fact, he had never learned swordsmanship and had only practiced some knife forms absent-mindedly. To him, there was no difference between swords and knives.
Again, Yang Zheng put the young Master behind him with the lance rod and squatted slightly with the spear pointing forward as though he only knew this move.
Sometimes, one move was enough. Yang Zheng had been immersed in the ways of the Gu Spear Form for several decades. No matter if it was raining or snowing, he practiced stabbing at least a thousand times a day and never stopped. Although seemingly to be an ordinary movement in the eyes of others, it could form 10,000 movements in his mind. More practice would only make it more beautiful.
Old Master Gu Lun was the only one who understood his mindset. After all, Gu Lun taught this spear form to Yang Zheng. Gu Lun often sighed and said that the Gu Spear Form skill could only be inherited by someone with the family name.
Therefore, Yang Zheng was loyal to the Gu family and would not allow anyone to hurt the young Master and Miss as long as he was alive.
The two men-in-black came at him.
Yang Zheng stabbed two times so quickly that it seemed to have hit the two men at the same time.
One man silently fell off his horse while the other screeched and shook a few times without falling off the horse. He squeezed his legs and lowered his body to make the horse run westward.
Yang Zheng turned around and raised the lance in one hand, aimed for a moment, and threw the three-meter lance. It flew as steady and fast as a javelin.
30 paces away, the man-in-black was speared straight through the chest and fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
“Master Shifu Yang!” Gu Shenwei exclaimed both happily and respectfully, “Teach me those lance skills, please!”
“Poke the target 500 times a day and you will get initial success in three years. Then after that point, do it 1,000 times per day and in 10 years, you will get it.”
“Then it would be better to practice ‘Yin and Yang Strength’, which will make me stronger in 10 years.”
“Ah, okay.” Yang Zheng walked over to the body, pulled out the lance, wiped the blood on it with the clothes of the fallen man, rode on his horse, and hurried on with the journey. He would not keep in mind the young Master’s enthusiasm, nor the three dead bodies left on the road.
Yin and Yang Strength, the Internal Strength technique handed down through the generations of the Gu family, was the foundation for the martial arts of the Gu family. It was not taught to daughters or people outside of the family. Although being deeply trusted by Gu Lun, Yang Zheng had not been entitled to learn it.
Gu Shenwei had been doing Yin and Yang Strength for about 10 years now, but he was still stuck at the first rudimentary layer. This made him the slowest among all the descendants of the Gu family.
As the group moved on, Gu Shenwei grew very interested in the origin of the bandits. Yang Zheng said nothing and so Gu Shenwei could only discuss the topic with Ming Xiang. His sister, Cuilan, and the maid, Chrysan, slowly recovered from the shock of the attack and chimed in occasionally.
After talking for about two hours, Gu Shenwei’s enthusiasm was running out, but Yang Zheng suddenly said,
“He was a great Kung Fu master.”
“Who was?” asked Gu Shenwei.
“The one who almost got away.”
“Him? I thought he was pretty average because he was stabbed by you without applying any skills. No, he was strong, but our family’s spear form is more powerful, isn’t it?”
Yang Zheng did not argue anymore. Contests between masters often came down to a few tricks. The one beaten by one movement might not be much worse than the winner. The situation might be reversed if the location or the timing was different. It was hard to clearly explain the subtleties of fighting to outsiders. Although Gu Shenwei had the surname Gu and had been studying Kung Fu for a long time, he was still regarded as an “outsider”.
After a long ride, Yang Zheng finally stopped to rest when it was getting dark. There were neither villages nor shops around, so they could only sit on the rocks along the roadside to rest.
After a hard day’s journey, Gu Shenwei was exhausted and sat down close to his sister. Ming Xiang and Chrysan found some food and water from the packs and served their masters.
Yang Zheng had a couple of bites and kept looking eastward vigilantly.
Gu Shenwei was a little dismissive of Master Shifu Yang’s excessive caution. Master Shifu Yang not only learned the spear skills from his father, but also his inflexible nature. Who dared to chase them when there were three bodies lying on the road?
“Master Huan, there is an important task that needs to be done. Would you like to do it?” Only Yang Zheng called Gu Shenwei “Master Huan”.
“Sure. Is it related to the bandits?” Gu Shenwei sprang to his feet in excitement.
“Yes, but this is not an easy thing to do, so you don’t have to.”
“The harder the better,” said a proud Gu Shenwei, holding the handle of his sword.
“I want you to ride to Shu-lik City to get reinforcements.”
“Reinforcements? Aren’t the bandits dead?”
“There may be more bandits.”
“You can kill one with one movement, and I can kill one with… two, and by doing so, we can kill them all.”
“But there may be too many bandits for the two of us to protect the Miss.”
Gu Shenwei glanced at his sister, Cuilan. “Good idea. I’ll go. Who should I look for? The king?”
“No, go to Shu-lik City and find Marshal Yang. Just tell him that Yang Zheng needs his help and he will understand.”
Gu Shenwei stood up and went to mount his horse, but was stopped when Yang Zheng grabbed him. “Change clothes with Ming Xiang, yours are not suitable for riding.”
The more serious Yang Zheng was about the situation, the more excited Gu Shenwei was. However, Ming Xiang, who was pulled by the young Master and asked to change clothes, seemed somewhat reluctant.
The only thing that annoyed Gu Shenwei was that Yang Zheng confiscated his short sword and told him that he would not need it on the way. “Ride straight west at top speed and you can arrive in Shu-lik City within one day and night.”
Gu Shenwei jumped onto his horse and all his fatigue disappeared without a trace. He gave his sister a big smile as he said, “I’ll be back!”
He was so excited that he did not ask for any more details. He did not even realize that he carried nothing and would have to solve the problem of eating and drinking along the way.
The young Master rode as far as he could and became a small black dot on the horizon. Looking at her brother’s figure, Cuilan suddenly said with a sigh, “I hope the horse can run fast enough and he won’t turn around.”
Yang Zheng’s face softened slightly. Although the Miss was young and gentle-natured, she also had good insight and was capable of understanding what this meant.
“Pardon me, Miss. I’ve thought it over and over in my head, and I can only save one of you,” Yang Zheng said sadly, getting down on one knee.
“Uncle Yang, please rise. To save my brother is to save the whole Gu family. How could you feel guilty?”
Ming Xiang and Chrysan did not understand what the Miss was saying, but felt uneasy.