Chapter 28: Hostility
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
"A little more, just a little bit more." Gu Shenwei was close to taking the perfect step on his path of revenge. He had prepared well, but failed at the last moment, falling down from the light of the right path into the darkness of a sewer.
Someone in the yard had recognized Mama Xue and knew she was a maidservant serving the Eighth Young Mistress. People started to discuss them in hushed whispers and sneered at them in a "proper" way. They gossiped loudly enough to hear each other, but quietly enough that when Mama Xue turned around, she could not tell who had been talking.
Mama Xue's sallow face was slightly flushed. She did not say anything else and left Maid Lotus alone. Then, she hastily returned to the Eighth Young Master's yard with Slave Huan.
Gu Shenwei was asked to stay behind in the front yard, and Mama Xue went to visit Miss Luo. For a while, he faintly heard the Miss rebuking someone in the back yard.
As he was waiting, several slaves passed by. They were surprised by Slave Huan's appearance and then they were alarmed upon hearing the Miss's voice and left quickly without daring to ask what had happened.
Mama Xue walked out from the back yard in a hush after a quarter-hour. She passed Gu Shenwei without a glance, as if he did not exist.
Anxious and afraid, Gu Shenwei stood in the empty yard alone. Not only had he lost the opportunity to enter East Castle, but he also lost his value to Miss Luo and Mama Xue. How would they deal with him? Send him to the Eighth Young Master directly, or let him go and avenge his father?
If they decided on the former, he would have to try to kill the Eighth Young Master, Shangguan Nu. This was the crux of his path to revenge. Shangguan Nu had murdered his parents and siblings with his own hand. He was the number one villain in Gu Shenwei's mind.
When Mama Xue came back two hours later, Gu Shenwei still could not come up with a good plan. She stared at the panic-stricken slave for a while, as if planning something herself. But Gu Shenwei could not figure out what by her facial expression. Finally, she said, "Pack your luggage and bring it here. From now on, you work in this yard."
This was at least better than the worst possible outcome. Gu Shenwei thanked and bowed to Mama Xue. Later, he returned to Firewood Yard. His footsteps were so heavy, as if he were carrying a big stone on his back. But he became optimistic again halfway through. Despite his failure to enter East Castle, he would work in the Eighth Young Master's yard. This meant he would have the chance to get close to Shangguan Nu and take his revenge.
When learning Kung Fu from Mama Xue in the daytime, Gu Shenwei had never met the master of this yard, Shangguan Nu, who always went out very early and returned late. He never liked staying at home.
Rumors had spread widely in Firewood Yard. Slaves became flurried. Seeing Slave Huan come back alone, they flocked to him and asked lots of questions.
Gu Shenwei told them the truth that he had been rejected. On hearing the news, the young slaves contorted their faces in disappointment. However, after learning that Gu Shenwei would work in the Eighth Young Master's yard, most of them envied him, in that no matter how hard and tiring the work was in master's yard, it would be much better than staying in Firewood Yard and serving dying people.
One of the five slaves was missing as they listened to Gu Shenwei's unfortunate story. When he finished the tale, Slave Lei told him another unlucky thing—Slave Qian had been taken away by Mama Xue. It was said that she might recommend him to enter East Castle.
Miss Luo and Mama Xue, who were the outsiders in Golden Roc Fort, had made a simple mistake. They knew little about the killer system, so they naively thought a killer-apprentice would be welcomed provided that he showed proficiency in Kung Fu. Also, the Miss fished the information from her husband, Shangguan Nu, who was the son of the Supreme King. From the moment he was born, his name was on the list of killers. Obviously, he had not attended any killer-selection activities. Hence, Shangguan Nu was not familiar with the system of selecting killer-apprentices, either.
Thus, Mama Xue diligently helped them practice Kung Fu, but had missed an important rule of killer-apprentice recruitment in East Castle—one could not be allowed to practice Internal Strength before entering East Castle.
It was widely said that killers in Golden Roc Fort had their own method of practicing Internal Strength, which differed from any other martial arts school.
No matter what the reason was, Yin and Yang Strength, which Gu Shenwei had practiced around the clock, was now a stumbling block for him, preventing him to enter East Castle.
When Mama Xue realized her mistake, she immediately discussed the issue with Miss Luo, and also called in yard-safeguarding killers to help them better understand all of the specific rules. She found that there was still a chance to correct the mistake.
In fact, the training for the apprentices in East Castle was identical, regardless of their Kung Fu foundations. Even if the apprentices did not know anything about Kung Fu, it did not matter. Killer-apprentices, the killers of the fort believed, should start anew in their practice of Kung Fu after entering East Castle.
Therefore, Mama Xue had gone to Firewood Yard and picked up another person to enter East Castle among the five young slaves. Slave Qian tasted the manna from heaven in surprise. He dropped the menial work that he was doing and became a killer-apprentice.
Before Gu Shenwei had returned, the remaining four slaves had gained the information from others. News was spreading that Mama Xue had lost face in East Castle. Even people working in the remote Firewood Yard had heard about it, while Gu Shenwei still did not know.
It proved perfectly just how isolated and unpopular the Eighth Young Mistress was in Golden Roc Fort. No one had told her the rules of killer-apprentice recruitment.
This was the so-called Will of the Divine. Gu Shenwei could not accept it. Neither did the other four slaves. They would rather believe the intelligent Slave Yao could become a killer and that Slave Huan, student of Kung Fu, could enter East Castle. But Slave Qian had nothing special. He was an everyman. For God's sake, how could luck have treated him so kindly? It was so unfair.
"He won't be able to get through it. Within a month, he'll be carried back," Slave Lei said with great confidence. Although killer-apprentices were not asked to have a Kung Fu foundation from the very beginning, according to tradition, it was better to have learned it before.
There was nothing more to say. When Slave Qian returned and had successfully become a killer, the young slaves, including Slave Lei, would be licking his boots.
Gu Shenwei visited the new overseer again and told him he wanted to pack his luggage and leave. But he was met with trouble, as Mama Xue could not decide by herself which yard the slaves should work in, especially Gu Shenwei, who belonged to Firewood Yard, where serviceable slaves were becoming fewer and fewer, making it very hard to find someone to replace him.
However, the problem was resolved quickly. Thoughtful as Mama Xue was, she had arranged everything. In the name of the Eighth Young Master, she took Slave Huan away.
Later, Gu Shenwei moved into a small stone house with his bedroll in the afternoon, next to the Eighth Young Master's back yard. He was to live with a housemate called "Elderly Zhang". Their responsibility was to take care of horses and stables.
People in Golden Roc Fort put the prefix "Slave" before the names of the male slaves, including the groom living with Gu Shenwei. But everyone called him Elderly Zhang all the same. His nickname was quite unique among slaves, who were generally called "Slave so-and-so".
Elderly Zhang was considered a working model for all slaves. He was loyal, hard-working, and earnest. As soon as he finished his work, he went directly to bed and never gossiped. Gu Shenwei had lived with him for several days, but they had few conversations.
Gu Shenwei was familiar with horses. When he was a young Master, people took care of his horses for him. The only thing he cared about was if his own horse ate well or not, and if its fur was bright. Now he was feeding horses for his enemy.
He tried not to recall the past, afraid of revealing his true emotion. Gu Shenwei was in a dangerous place now, so he had to be extremely cautious when taking actions. Even though Han Shiqi had died, no one could guarantee that there was not a second subordinate working for Shangguan Nu who knew he was the Master of the Gu family.
Besides, Slave Qian had entered East Castle and was out of Gu Shenwei's reach. What if he unintentionally told others the story about the white handkerchief?
Mama Xue was also a potential threat to him. Gu Shenwei understood why she asked him to stay in Shangguan Nu's yard. It was easier for her to oversee him. After all, Miss Luo and Mama Xue had discussed too many secrets in front of him.
However, Mama Xue rarely appeared. Except for the routine of paying his respects every morning, he met with her very few times.
Elderly Zhang was a slave of Golden Roc Fort, so he did not need to show his loyalty to Miss Luo every morning. Gu Shenwei guessed that this was the reason that Elderly Zhang never chatted with him—they were in different camps, serving different masters.
Gu Shenwei had witnessed the contradictions among the masters in Golden Roc Fort and also heard a lot of rumors about it. But his status was too slow and his power was too weak to pry open the cracks in the mountain that was Golden Roc Fort.
The only thing he could do was spare no effort in practicing Kung Fu.
It was known to all that Gu Shenwei knew how to practice Internal Strength. People knew Mama Xue taught him, so it was unnecessary to practice it secretly. Once he finished feeding and cleaning the Eighth Young Master's horses, Gu Shenwei would go somewhere to practice Kung Fu. Yin and Yang Strength, Tiger-taming Fist, Iron Mountain Knife Form... He practiced them all at least once.
Elderly Zhang was neither for nor against Gu Shenwei's Kung Fu practice. He only looked upon him coldly as a disinterested bystander. He only had one "privilege"—leading horses and waiting for his master respectfully at the front door at night. Every afternoon, he would lead the horses back to the stables.
Gu Shenwei had no chance of meeting Shangguan Nu. But during these days, he had learned of Shangguan Nu's living habits.
The Eighth Young Master kept a stable schedule. He went out early and came back at night no matter if it was rainy or windy. Every five to 10 days, he would bring one more horse with him. He would come back in three to five days. At that time, the horses totally changed in appearance, becoming thin and dirty, and sometimes one of the horses was missing.
Only then did the indifferent Elderly Zhang show his pity. No matter how late the horses came back, he would wake up Slave Huan, and they would feed and clean the horses together. Elderly Zhang would hug these exhausted horses and murmur to them, like a mother anticipating her sons' return.
Gu Shenwei founded himself stuck in his path of revenge. He could not move forward or step back. He was wasting time with an old man who loved horses more than human beings. But his enemy just behind the wall was living and killing people as usual.
Gu Shenwei, the 14-year-old young man, cultivated patience that he had never before possessed. He knew he had to wait because the Will of the Divine would guide him.
It had been two months since he became a groom's assistant. Fall went by, and winter arrived. A fresh layer of snow covered Golden Roc Fort. Finally, Gu Shenwei had a chance to see Shangguan Nu.
That afternoon, he was practicing Iron Mountain Knife Form, taught by Mama Xue with a wooden stick. To hide his identity, Gu Shenwei had to forget the familiar Gu family's sword movements. But he still did not understand Iron Mountain Knife Form very well.
The practice of Iron Mountain Knife Form focused on the practical application in fighting. There were 18 ways to move, which were easy to practice. However, the combinations of these movements were flexible. Gu Shenwei practiced them without a training partner, which was like practicing shooting without a target. He still could not understand the quintessence of Iron Mountain Knife Form, no matter how hard he practiced.
He also inadvertently added some sword movements from the Gu family, which he was very familiar with and could not entirely abandon.
Gu Shenwei devoted himself to sword training. One day as he was deep in study, he suddenly detected that someone was observing him from a few miles away, who seemingly had been against the wall for a while. This person did not hide intentionally, but nevertheless had gone unnoticed. This reflected an essential quality that a professional killer should have.
For an instant, Gu Shenwei froze. He had looked forward to approaching his enemy for a long time. Unexpectedly, his enemy was coming for him now.
It was Shangguan Nu.
Hate and anger were like a flammable catkin, which burned out instantly. All that remained were the seeds of fear.
"Did the Eighth Young Master find out my true identity?" His legs were trembling. Their meeting was not like what he had expected and he was not yet ready for it.
Shangguan Nu glared at the young man in front of him, who seemed a little depressed with eyes that expressed complicated emotions. He was a little shocked. His remaining left hand could not help holding onto the handle of his sword.