Chapter 36: Apprentices
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
Inside East Castle, there were still alleys that led in all directions to different courtyards. Gu Shenwei had once entered a small courtyard for recruiting apprentices. This time, the pair of doors stood closed in an uninviting stance toward outsiders.
The twins had not been here before either, so they ran around aimlessly. In order to shake off the pursuer, they made a sharp turn at every corner. After passing a number of courtyards, the six teenagers finally became too tired to run further. They looked back and saw no one. The watchman had been either shaken off or was not chasing them at all.
Anyway, they were now at the core area of East Castle. Thinking that true killers might be learning assassination techniques on the other side of the wall, they could not help smiling at each other.
With Shangguan Ru as their leader, the six teenagers searched one courtyard after another. But every door was tightly closed. There was no response to their knocks, nor was there any sound on the other sides of the walls. It seemed that every courtyard was empty.
Shangguan Ru's brows were growing more knitted and she was about to lose her temper again. Fortunately, Shangguan Fei finally found something behind a door and waved excitedly to the others.
The six people huddled together and stuck their ears to the door. Sure enough, they heard a quick "Bang, bang!" inside. There were people inside, and a lot of them.
However, there was not even a crack in the door. They were soon tired of listening to the sound, so Shangguan Ru stepped back and checked the surroundings. When she reached a short wall, she pointed at the corner of the wall and said to her young personal attendant, "Stand against here."
The young personal attendant hurriedly stood straight and patted his shoulders, saying, "Ninth Young Master, come on."
However, the wall was so tall that Shangguan Ru could not climb over it even from the shoulders of the attendant. She pointed at Slave Huan and said, "You try it."
Though a bit unhappy, the attendant could only follow the order and bend down. Gu Shenwei stood on his shoulders and faced the alley. He could almost reach the top of the wall.
Shangguan Ru rubbed her hands excitedly and said to her brother and cousin, "Come on, throw me up there."
The other attendant was startled, "Master Ru, isn't it too dangerous?"
"Shut up!" said Shangguan Ru. The attendant dared not say another word after that.
The sense of danger was exciting to Shangguan Yushi. Shangguan Fei was a bit nervous but afraid of being scorned. He hesitated for a moment and then went over to help for fear of his cousin's staring eyes. "This is your idea," he murmured.
The two boys each held one of Shangguan Ru's feet and pushed her up into the air.
Just like an agile bird, Shangguan Ru flew up and stood firmly on the shoulders of Gu Shenwei after several somersaults. Gu Shenwei did not feel much more weight and hurriedly grasped her ankles.
Shangguan Ru peered inside from the top of the wall, leaving the others looking up at her anxiously.
"What do you see?"
"Well, a lot of people."
"What are they practicing?"
"The same as us, just wooden sabers. Even the moves are the same, nothing special."
"I see. This is Carvewood Academy, which is dedicated to training junior apprentices."
The young personal attendant on the ground ran straight to the door and stood staring at it for a while. "Master Yu is right. It is Carvewood Academy. Wait, there are some small characters below. Wow..."
The attendant cried out suddenly, which was followed by a sedate and harsh voice. "Who's there?"
All of the teenagers were caught off guard by the voice. The attendant on the bottom went weak at the knees, and then the two people above him fell to the ground.
Although Shangguan Ru had been the highest up, she had learned Lightness Skills, and besides, there were two people below to catch her, so she was totally unharmed. Nevertheless, she was frightened by the fall and did not stand up from her cousin's arms until after a long moment.
Gu Shenwei, standing in the middle of the tower of three, was not so lucky. There was no one holding him and he thought of protecting the one on his shoulders, so he fell down heavily to the ground. When he stood up and touched his face, he found that his forehead and nose were bleeding.
The voice had come from a training tutor who was walking out of Carvewood Academy. He recognized Shangguan Ru and Shangguan Fei at a glance and was surprised to see them. He walked over and stretched out his hand, saying, "Are you hurt?"
Shangguan Ru, who had regained her composure, stood up immediately, and Shangguan Yushi stopped the training tutor's hand from touching her.
"Of course not. This is none of your business. We... we're here for a challenge."
Feeling herself losing face for having been so frightened, Shangguan Ru came up with this idea on a whim. She wanted to challenge Carvewood Academy like Marshal Yang had.
The training tutor, a sturdy middle-aged man of average height, was somewhat shocked at her words. Carvewood Academy, as part of Golden Roc Fort, belonged to the Shangguan family, so why would the ninth child of the Supreme King want to challenge her own family? But being a quick-witted man, he immediately realized that the intrusion of these teenagers into East Castle, which had not been stopped by anyone, must have been upon the tacit permission of some higher-level figures. Now that everyone was playing this game with the young masters, why should he take it so seriously?
"So, you are experts coming to grant us your instruction here. Would you mind telling me your school?"
Shangguan Ru had only blurted out her challenge and did not expect it to be treated seriously, so she could not help smiling. "We're flattered to be called experts. We are the... Moonhold School, and I'm the head."
The children of the Shangguan family all practiced martial arts in Moonhold Academy, so Shangguan Ru used this name accordingly.
"And I'm the deputy head," Shangguan Fei said in a hurry but was immediately met with his cousin's glare.
"Heads of the Moonhold School, welcome. I'm Hu Shining, training tutor of Carvewood Academy. Please come inside for a little competition."
The twins were used to the flatter of the people in the fort, so they accepted Hu Shining's compliment naturally and stepped inside with their heads high. Following them were the four "experts", among whom Gu Shenwei was the least to be regarded as an "expert". There was still blood on his face that refused to be wiped away. Fortunately, no one took notice of him.
Carvewood Academy covered a large area and had numerous houses. Furthermore, the courtyard was much larger than ordinary ones, so it was not crowded with hundreds of killer-apprentices. With weapon racks placed on all sides, it looked no different from any other martial arts training field.
Other training tutors had already heard the conversation outside. They all had the same idea as Hu Shining, to do everything possible to please the two masters. So they ordered the apprentices to line up in the east to welcome the challengers from the Moonhold School.
It was natural that Shangguan Ru would be eager to participate in a competition. After saying just a few words, she was the first to step forward for the challenge. In all apparent seriousness, Hu Shining designated some apprentices to receive the challenge. According to him, those were all "best of the best" or the "top apprentices".
However, after only two matches, Shangguan Ru's interest was waning. These killer-apprentices, mostly teenagers, had already been reminded that they could not come at the child with any genuine fight. With this in mind, they acted more gutlessly than they would have in their normal training and were defeated in just a few moves. When Shangguan Ru pushed them further, they would rather suffer her beating and defeat than show their true strength.
Shangguan Fei, however, was very happy for having won three matches in a row. He asked them to bring him a wooden saber for more matches. As expected, he won all of them again, which made him very proud. Waving the wooden saber, he shouted at his sister, "Why not let me be the head?"
Shangguan Ru ignored him. She was wondering how she might make these killer apprentices show their real strength. Shangguan Yushi whispered to her, which made her eyes brighten up. She said in a loud voice, "Come back, deputy head, let's change the rules."
Shangguan Fei exited the arena reluctantly. He took the towel from his young personal attendant and said, "Carvewood Academy is no match for our Moonhold Academy, is it?"
Shangguan Ru turned to Hu Shining. "It's so boring to compete this way. I know that you dare not display your true skills. Well, I'll send a disciple to challenge you. I need real matches. Cheating is not something for heroes, and it's not for killers either."
Hu Shining felt relieved. As long as the challenger did not bear the surname Shangguan, it did not matter if he got hurt. So he said with a smile, "Penetrating insight, you are truly a worthy head of the Moonhold School. But the fact is, our disciples are not capable enough so it is natural that they felt nervous before the head of a school."
Tired of such flattery, Shangguan Ru turned around and pointed to Gu Shenwei. But before saying anything, she stopped and furrowed her brow. She found that Slave Huan was injured and looking like a drowned mouse, not a sign of a disciple from a famous school.
Gu Shenwei walked up and whispered, "Master, just let me try."
Gu Shenwei could not miss the opportunity to please Shangguan Ru.
Shangguan Ru had no other choice. The other two young personal attendants were poor in Kung Fu, and if Shangguan Yushi took the challenge, the killer-apprentices still would not show their real skills. So she said, "You must win. If you disappoint me, I will drive you out."
Gu Shenwei then joined the contest and someone handed him a wooden saber.
However, Hu Shining found it difficult to select the right representative for Carvewood Academy. To please Shangguan Ru, they needed a real match, but this "top disciple of the Moonhold School" looked badly battered, obviously just having been beaten, so he had to be fairly weak. It was not easy to find an even match for him among the killer-apprentices.
His eyes ranged over the killer-apprentices and finally stopped at one of them. He asked the disciple to come over and whispered to him, "Defeat him after 10 moves."
The apprentice nodded, took a wooden saber, and walked to a location several steps away from Gu Shenwei.
Gu Shenwei was surprised—he knew this fellow.
It was Slave Qian, one of the "dowry" slaves of Miss Luo Ningcha. He used to know nothing about Kung Fu, and he had entered East Castle in place of Slave Huan by a series of accidents. His foundation was worse than anyone else's, and after several months of training, he was still the weakest among the apprentices.
Slave Qian lived in the courtyard of the Eighth Young Master and followed a different schedule from that of Slave Huan, so they seldom met each other. The career as a killer-apprentice had left a clear mark on him. He used to be a clever and calm person, who knew when and how to speak and seldom showed his true feelings on his face. But now, he was much thinner, his calmness had become dullness, his true feelings were hidden much deeper, and there were often signs of vigilance in his eyes.
He must have suffered a lot of hardships.
The same was true of Gu Shenwei, who had endured even more sufferings. On the outside of the fort, Marshal Yang's head was still on the tip of his lance, but he needed to pretend to be happy and please the children of his enemy.
They faced each other silently, each pretending that the face before them was that of a stranger.
Gu Shenwei needed a victory to please Shangguan Ru. With the wooden saber held tightly in his hand, he had already made up his mind. Although Marshal Yang had died, his words were still in his mind: "To kill someone, you need the heart of a real killer."
Gu Shenwei did not want to kill anyone, neither could he by using a wooden saber, but he still attempted to arouse the hatred from the very depths of his heart to stimulate the killing desire.
Tightly holding his wooden saber, Slave Qian also needed a victory to prove that he himself was not one sent by Mama Xue merely to fill the numbers and that his training in these months as a killer-apprentice was better than the years of practice of Slave Huan.
Hu Shining's words were thrown to the back of his head, and neither of the boys considered this match to be a game.
Hu Shining sensed that something was going on. Shangguan Ru and Shangguan Yushi, on the other hand, were full of joy and held each other's hands, waiting for a wonderful, real contest.