Although the lot at the third gate were weak, it took me a while to wipe the floor with them due to their sheer numbers.
“You cant keep being reckless.” Sounding similar to loyal vassals admonishing a dictatorial monarch, A-Lan persuaded, “Abels got through those three gates, but he didnt get through the fourth one, which is called Starman Frosty Sky. It should be the toughest one right now because its winter, and they use frost to hamper you physically, not to mention the skilled guardian. Its pointless to try and fight… Just find a way to solve the formation!”
“Oh, shut it,” Mountain Monster languidly chided from my back. “Youre the main one to blame. Every time youve brought one up, he died; you have a higher kill success rate than me now. If you ask me, youre cursing them to death rather than him killing them.”
Mountain Monster wasnt tense in the slightest. In fact, I caught her nodding off when I was fighting, not that she admitted it. Nonetheless, the drool on my collar sealed her fate.
“Keep up the indifferent act. Do you know who the fourth gate guardian is”
“Who” I asked.
“Starman Iron Sword - Tan Datong.”
“Who Who is that guy”
“Sixteen years ago, his Starman Swordplay was all it took to deter people from stepping out of line in Jiangnan. Had he not offered Luo Ming his services, hed still have a place in the ranks of Jiangnans swordsmen.”
“Who are the ranked swordsmen” I inquired. I hadnt kept up with the rankings in Black and White Reflection due to my recent workload, and I never cared too much for swordsmen since I dont know squat about swordplay, to begin with.
“Swordplay is popular in Jiangnan, so there has never been a shortage of venerated swordsmen there. Its hard to rank Starman Iron Sword right now as the top ten are constantly changing. We know the top ten include Ling Xuezhao, Bai Clans Emotionless Heroine and Cold Mountain Temples Drinking Sword Monk.”
Mountain Monster added, “I heard first rank has been vacant for a long time because they havent found any suitable. Among those up for consideration are Ling Fengxing and Song Clan in Yangzhous patriarch.”
“Oh,” I remarked.
Ling Xuezhao and Ling Fengxing, where have I heard those names before
“Weve digressed,” pointed out A-Lan. “The point is, Starman Iron Sword is a qualified contender for the top spot. Besides his prowess with a sword, he is also erudite in formations. Though neither he nor Abels could beat each other in ten exchanges, he defeated Abels when he caught Abels in a sword formation.”
“Wait, isnt that perfect, then” I commented.
“If Bodhi couldnt get through then, that means he would fail even worse if he tried now.”
I already confirmed with River Monster that Abels is Bodhi. Beijiang people place their first name before their surname unlike in the Central Plain. Abels full name was Bodhi Abels. He forewent his surname since he was exiled from Tiezhen Kingdoms imperial family and chose Abels for his new surname. People in the Central Plain, who were unaware of his background and Beijiangs culture, assumed Abels was his first name.
The Abels I met and fought was Luo Ming in disguise. The only explanation for how Luo Ming managed to hoodwink A-Lan was a combination of Nanjiangs Poison King and Mountain Monsters help.
Mountain Monster never expounded why she betrayed Abels, so I didnt probe. Still, it left the atmosphere between her and A-Lan awkward, and their previous differences didnt help the situation. A-Lan wouldve mangled Mountain Monster if the latter wasnt already hurt.
I resumed, “When Bodhi and I went our own ways, he told me he was going to get revenge on Luo Ming. Seeing as Luo Ming exterminated Evil Spirits right after that, he must be trying to silence Abels on top of framing your group. Since Bodhi set out ahead of us, he should already be hiding somewhere on Taihu Sword Island. It wouldnt be hard for him to sneak by the third gate and hide given he already conquered it once. Its likely hes hiding near the fourth gate as he cant get past it.”
A-Lan was furious with Mountain Monster and Luo Ming for leading on her for so long, but she was also glad to learn that her man never changed.
“Hey, lass,” I hollered.
“What” responded Mountain Monster.
“I told you Bodhi killed Ox Demon, and Luo Ming also told you in the woods… I dont know what you will do when if we run into Bodhi in a bit. That said, you better make your stance clear now.”
I suspected Mountain Monster turned on Abels because he killed Ox Demon. I expected her to give me an eye for an eye response, yet she, sounding as if she had set her grudge down, replied, “… Should he want to kill me, Ill let him.”
A-Lan stopped herself when she went to speak.
Mountain Monster snorted at our silence then said, “I backstabbed him, not the other way around, so whats the big deal The reason he lost to Luo Ming was Ox Demon poisoned him and gave Luo Ming Evil Eminence Scripture. I didnt tell anyone about it and even helped Luo Ming with his disguise. Because of our treachery, we got all of our brothers killed. If Luo Ming wants my head, he can have it.”
A-Lan conveyed, “Although you arent innocent, you didnt get our brothers killed. Had I not approved, you wouldnt have been able to mobilise our forces. Luo Ming intended to renege on his promises from the very beginning, so the outcome would be the same even if you didnt help him. I dont believe you deserve to die even though you did turn.”
A defeated smile came to Mountain Monsters lips. In a guilt-laden, prepared voice, she asserted “Refuting erases my wrong Ive got the guts to own up to what I do… If I must die, Im going down my way.” She sounded more loyal to the other members of Evil Spirits than Abels.
A-Lan had something to add until her nose picked up a scent and eyes saw white sprinkles: “Snowfall”
Light snow soon turned into a screen of white and howling winds. In just fifteen minutes, the snow was up to our knees. Though we had yet to make it to the centre, there was no question we had reached the fourth gate.
Casting my gaze up to the black dome, I commented, “Now I know why Lotus Root Ground is a forbidden area. Magicians couldnt do this.”
“You have a plan yet” A-Lan queried.
I glanced at the two then strolled forward: “Ill be back in a bit.”
When Mountain Monster leaned on A-Lan to stay on her feet, she shoved the latter away, only for the latter to pull her back and say, “Youre hurt,” making Mountain Monster sink into an awkward silence. A-Lan then opined, “Zhong N-, Ming Feizhen has met his match.”
“… I beg to differ. Maybe he does have competition; however… probably someone on par with the Supreme Ten Saints could make him try.”
“You… suck at praising people.”
“Hes the last person Id ever compliment… I only want to kill him. Ive wanted to kill him from the first time I met him… Thing is, think as I may, I cant think of any method of killing him. He… is a real monster.”
“Starman Iron Sword is just as the rumours say.”
There were countless sword marks on the snow behind me, irrefutable indicators of speed and power. If I were to assign a numerical value to the difficulty of the formations I had to crack, this gate was over three times as difficult as Summer Gate.
It was freezing where I was a moment ago. Here, the gales blew irascibly, and the snow came down as hard as hail. Trying to fight Starman Iron Sword, a swordsman in Yi Wangyous league, whilst dodging snowballs isnt exactly easy.
Starman Iron Sword thrust thrice, forcing me to shift my head off line three times. He slashed horizontally, slicing snowflakes so fast that my clothing fluttered. I tapped him with my hand, spinning him in a circle stationarily. Usually, that shouldve kept him going for circles similar to a spinning stop, yet he only needed one lap to regain his footing.
Anyway, Im done with the nonsense. Ming Feizhen signing out.
Ling Xuezhao and Ling Fengxing - for those who forgot, theyre two of the numerous swordsmen Ming Feizhen demolished years ago when Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary tried to conquer Huzhou (refer to volume 7.5)-