Chapter 49 Loneliness
Han Yue Palace led a far more obscure existence in Huating, unlike Garden Party, where anyone’s identity and status could be represented by a membership card.
The history of Han Yue Palace predated Garden Party by many years. During its inception, it had been declared as a public establishment in order to pass the audits. But now, many years later, it had not given out even a single membership card to the outside world.
Han Yue Palace had a total acreage of thirty three, so in terms of expanse, it was by no means large. And in most cases, it could even be regarded as a construct of considerable refinement. But due to its lack of expanse, it paled in comparison to other establishments in Huating, that much was without a doubt. Nevertheless, if one were to disregard size, one would truly be able to view the entire place in a new light, where every corner was the epitome of perfection as well as the pinnacle of craftsmanship.
Han Yue Palace stood at the southwest corner of Huating’s outskirts, though its orientation was such that the main building faced the northeast. In terms of Feng Shui, such a set-up was pretty much standard. And any Feng Shui master would declare such a place as a land abundant in happiness, money and good prospects. In other words, it was virtually a land of everlasting prosperity by Feng Shui’s decree.
Here in Han Yue Palace, every aspect of its interior design had their origins in a celebrated Feng Shui master in Zhongzhou. Every design, every nook and cranny were the products of meticulous scrutiny. In a slightly exaggerated manner of speaking, not even a piece of grass or a chunk of wood could escape such scrutiny.
Pretty much everything in Han Yue Palace was modern and trendy, unlike Garden Party, which had opted for a more archaic and antiquated style. But here, it was all about the quest for luxury and refinement. The primary establishment of Han Yue Palace was set up in its central region. And it was a building with nearly five hundred square meters of ground coverage. It was six stories tall, and over two-thirds of the building was constructed from glass. The building itself was encircled by an artificial lake, which was to be expected, since it was sitting right at the lake’s center. From below, its appearance would exude a regal type of vibe, one of elegance, but also of cool indifference.
On a day of pleasant weather, every piece of glass on the building would capture a snippet of the vista surrounding it. From the water to the greenish mountains, even the blue sky and the white clouds floating in it, all of them would become part of the glass panes. And with further adornment from the reflecting sunlight, the entire building was nothing short of a work of art.
Several small but highly refined villas occupied the fringes of the main building. Somehow, in a subtle and profound manner, they gave the impression of sentinels in charge of protecting the building at the center. Quite fitting, since these villas were used as lodgings for servicemen and security personnel. From a bird’s-eye view, the entire Han Yue Palace resembled a moon with sublime arcs: wide in the center but narrow on two sides. Every part of its interior had been arranged in a way that they fit right into their respective spots, as if they belonged there and nowhere else. In its entirety, the view of the region exuded an air of grandness, and of rigorous perfectionism.
Despite being Heaven on earth, the place was deserted most of the time. The only signs of life were in it were the cleaning staff, whose numbers barely amounted to a measly thirty. No part of Han Yue Palace was allowed to entertain guests. Days would go by with nothing but barren desolation on these lands, and it would remain that way throughout the entire year. There were indeed a couple of occasions marked by relative liveliness, though those were few and far between.
All things considered, Han Yue Palace was more like the temporary residence palace of a certain VIP rather than being a ‘public establishment’ as claimed.
It was a day of sublime weather.
At 1 PM sharp, a middle-aged man who looked about fifty of age appeared at the facade of Han Yue Palace.
He wore a black robe, which looked several sizes too big. And with his entire body hidden under that disproportionately large robe, not even the contours of his physique could be discerned let alone his appearance.
He stood in front of a huge door, whose surface bore the engraving of the moon. And as he stepped past the threshold, his mien was that of total creepiness, one that would make anyone’s skin crawl. From there, he crossed a sophisticated arch bridge, which cut across the entire expanse of the lake, and came to stand at the main building’s front entrance. His journey had been smooth without any obstacles whatsoever.
A woman of indecipherable age had been standing at the main building’s facade even before the man wearing the black robe arrived. She stood before the door, watching the slow and steady approach of the dark-robed figure. Her features held a genuine smile.
The woman’s appearance fell into the plain category, though there was a certain gentleness in her disposition. A gentle calmness, like water in a stilly lake, swaying and undulating languidly, which added an intoxicating quality to her appeal. There she stood in front of the entrance, elegantly, with a pale-white cheongsam hugging her figure. There was a poshness in her poise, which gave her the likeness of a young maiden from a wealthy and eminent family.
The man in black robe stopped in front of the woman, “Rose, is Second Master in?” he asked in a deep voice.
“He’s upstairs, reading,” the woman code-named Rose answered. She had spoken in a laid-back manner, with a gentle and sophisticated lilt in her voice. Her entire comportment bespoke a woman of culture, a woman of depth and substance. Her appearance was by no means remarkable, though her white skin did possess an utmost silkiness. At first glance, she could easily come off as a woman in her twenties. And to say that she was in her thirties seemed rather plausible, too.
“He was up the entire night,” the woman went on, “if you aren’t back now, he probably would’ve sent me out to look for you.”
The body in the black robe grew slightly taut. He nodded and then walked through the entrance.
The internal furnishing of the residence was a sharp contrast to what one would find beyond its walls. It was old-fashioned and antiquated, yet not entirely so. Quite similar to the style of buildings in the Republic of China, austere, and with a great deal of cultural value.
A bloodwood staircase stood in the main lobby. Silently, the man in a black made his way up the staircase to the third floor. On the third floor, he stood stock-still before the door of a room.
A voice, deep and gentle, sounded from the inside.
“Is it you? Come in,” the voice said with piercing clarity despite the room’s heavy soundproofing.
The man in black pushed against the door and stepped through.
The door opened into a vast chamber with an area close to a hundred and fifty square meters. Stretches of dark red carpet paved the floor in all corners, whereas golden sketches papered the ceiling above, spreading out at will and in a way that bespoke impudence. All four walls were made entirely of glass, though one of them was almost entirely obscured by the massive rosewood bookcase which was placed against it. The fragrance of rosewood oozed from the bookcase, which was packed with books and various antiques. On another side of the room, there was a window. And in front of the window, two genuine leather couches sat. A chess board was set up at the room’s center.
The entire room was pitch-black.
The floor-to-ceiling windows typically provided ample lightning during the daytime, though at the moment all of them were hidden behind neat, seamless curtains. The whole setup rendered the room’s visibility minimal.
The man in black followed a weak pencil of light and walked towards the couch, where he sat down without a word.
Through the darkness, the same deep, mild voice chimed out. “Did the mission fail?” the voice asked. In an ambience of such low visibility, it was as though the voice had originated from all directions, which made it impossible to pinpoint the exact location of its source.
Finally, the man in black opened his mouth and broke his silent spell. “Yes,” he rasped, “I’m sorry, Second Master.”
“No need to blame yourself,” Second Master said, “I’m mentally prepared for that outcome ages ago.”
There were faint traces of a smile on Second Master’s countenance, though they were so vague that they cast doubt on whether he had actually smiled at all. His deep voice echoed in the room. The voice had a lightness to it, as if it was floating in the air. “Wang Yuetong’s status is far from ordinary. Killing her would naturally be ideal. But failure in her assassination wouldn’t be surprising, either. What about the hit squad?”
The man in black felt a sudden twitch in his facial muscles. “Annihilated,” he rasped, “all of them.”
Second Master, whose presence remained hidden from the black-robed man’s view, hummed. He only spoke again after a long moment, and his voice came out in a slow and steady tempo. “That might actually be a good thing. Now there won’t be any loose ends.”
Once again, Second Master grew quiet. Then all of a sudden, he asked, “Who’s Wang Yuetong’s bodyguard?”
“It’s the Enchantress,” the man in black said in a chilly tone, “but she didn’t show up at the battle at all. The one who took out the hit squad was a young man she was with.”
Second Master said nothing, silently waiting for the black-robed man to carry on.
The black-robed man’s voice took on a sudden burst of vigor, and his tone carried a slight tremor as he spoke. It was the kind of voice that bespoke an underlying and indescribable need for vengeance. “He went from Qi-controlling Realm to Fire-flaming Realm. Then in just three moves, he destroyed the entire hit squad!”
“Qi-controlling Realm?!” Second Master said, his tone finally showing hints of shock and disbelief. And because he knew the black-robed man very well, he had recognized an oddity in his henchman’s tone. Something in the black-robed man’s voice was out of the ordinary. He took a deep breath. And then, calmly, he asked, “So you recognized those three moves?”
“I recognize one of them,” the black-robed man said. The hoarseness in his voice seemed to have grown in intensity.
In the dark, mild tremors assaulted his body. And in those tremors, there was nothing but pure, heartfelt hatred.
His hand reached out. And through his black robe, his hand touched the grotesque scar on his face. He smiled, bitter and sorrowful. “The Ninth Blade of Eventide! I’ll never forget that move for as long as I live,” he said, “seeing it again today felt like a dream.”
The room fell silent in an instant.
For a long while, not a single sound came from Second Master.
The black-robed man sat quietly on the couch. His face held a blank look, a look of utter befuddlement, as if he was a soulless puppet.
The Ninth Blade of Eventide!
To most people, that technique was just another special technique, a legacy of some invincible martial artist. But to the black-robed man, it was a nightmare that he never wanted to speak of ever again.
Twenty years ago, he was deemed the most powerful prodigy in the organization. Even the other top members in the organization thought he had great potential to attain invincibility. By the time he was thirty-three years old, he was already at the peak of the Thunder-shocking Realm. There were no words to describe how tenacious and vibrant he had been back then.
As such, the organization’s internal members had regarded him as a viable candidate for the organization’s future bigwig.
At that time, his single-minded goal was to achieve the one thing that every warrior was dreaming of achieving—to enter the Invincible Realm. He wanted to be one of the strongest warriors in the Dark World.
And it was also during that time that he was at the peak of his own madness.
He had been mad enough to volunteer himself for the organization’s top-secret mission—head towards Zhongzhou’s border region, and then launch an all-out siege against Zhongzhou’s young Heavenly Son, who was already in the Invincible Realm.
They were split into three squads. Each squad was led by an elite in the Invincible Realm, and each squad had over ten warriors at the peak of the Thunder-shocking Realm as its members. Even a Murderous Weapon was deployed for the mission!
And it turned out to be the fiercest and the most devastating battle the black-robed man had ever fought.
The entire battlefield was an ocean of blood, the same blood spilled from the veins of elite warriors. Master combatants turned into lifeless corpses. Flashes of sword aura pierced the heavens.
The black-robed man was one of those at the frontlines during that ambush. Even though he had been positioned at the fringe of their assault formation, he still ended up having a taste of the enemy’s actions. He ended up being at the receiving end of that devastating sword technique, one capable of altering the winds and parting the clouds!
All of a sudden, he was overwhelmed by a strange emotion. One moment he thought he was crying, and then the next, it felt like he had been laughing all along. A deranged look had long since invaded his features.
He could still remember what had happened back then. He remembered standing a good ten meters away from the center of the battlefield, and he remembered the exact moment when the 36-year-old enemy swung his sword towards where he and his comrades stood.
The Ninth Blade of Eventide!
In the face of the invincible will of the enemy’s blade, the ten meters between him and the enemy became a complete non-factor. Before they could even move, the few comrades who stood at the forefront of the battle were disintegrated by the immense sword aura. It was only out sheer luck that he could even survive the attack. He had been standing at the brink of hopelessness when a woman, the same woman who had stayed by his side ever since he started his career, took the blow that was meant for him.
After her body disintegrated, the residual sword aura surged forth towards him and destroyed half of his face.
From then on, he became the black-robed man.
The woman he had once held dear had sacrificed her life to save his own. And to what end? As far as he could tell, the man she had saved pretty much amounted to a piece of trash.
Throughout the many years following that battle, and the many years spent living in the horrors of that blade, not only did he fail to make it into the Invincible Realm, but he also ended up losing his edge. He went from being at the peak of the Thunder-shocking Realm to a weaker phase. Even now, he was still a ways away from the peak of the Thunder-shocking Realm.
He gritted his teeth. “Second Master, I wanna kill him!” he said suddenly.
“You should repeat yourself,” Second Master said amid the darkness, “I don’t think I heard you correctly.”
Although Second Master’s tone had retained its gentleness, it now carried an air of unyielding austerity.
At that point, the black-robed man had also realized the absurdity of his own words. He took a deep breath, forcing the calmness back into him. “Wang Yuetong and that brat are pretty smart,” he said, “they tried to escape when they realized something was up. When I stopped their car, I was targetted. And it’s the military counselor!”
“Which military counselor?”
There was a slight hint of helplessness in Second Master’s voice. The Ninth Blade of Eventide had not only foiled their attempted assassination on Wang Yuetong, but it had also thrown the black-robed man into a flat spin. As he listened to his accounts of Wang Yuetong’s attempted hit, the only thing that made sense to him was the Enchantress’s appearance. Talks of the Ninth Blade of Eventide and this so-called military counselor sounded like complete hogwash.
“It’s the military counselor of Samsara,” the black-robed man said, pausing slightly, “the one who came with the military counselor is probably the Horsewoman. I couldn’t risk getting too close, so I can’t tell.”
Second Master remained silent for a long time.
In today’s Dark World, the highest grandeur naturally belonged to those who had entered the Invincible Realm. But there were some exceptional cases where warriors still in the Thunder-shocking Realm were held in similar regard.
The 12 Super Masters of Samsara was one of those cases.
So was the Enchantress from the Wang family of Beihai.
And now, upon hearing that both the military counselor and the Horsewoman from Samsara had been present during the assassination, most part Second Master felt surprised. And the rest of him felt nothing but a pounding headache.
In that split second, he had even begun to think that this assassination attempt of his was a set-up meant for him. But then he immediately squashed the thought.
Silence took over his comportment, but it lasted only a few moments. “I heard that Wang Xiaoyao had been pursuing Qin Weibai all these while. It couldn’t be that he had actually succeeded, could it?” he wondered aloud. Though from his voice, one could detect a deep sense of curiosity in him.
“If my observations are right, then the military counselor wasn’t there to guard Wang Yuetong but that piece of trash who was with her instead!”
The black-robed man ground his teeth. “When the military counselor noticed me, I took off immediately. And then I was chased around by him for a whole day, until not long ago, as if he had received some kind of order. Then he straight out disappeared. If it weren’t the case, I would still be playing hide and seek with him right now.”
“Have you fought each other before?” Second Master asked.
“What are the military counselor’s strength levels?” he asked again.
The most powerful member among the 12 Super Masters of Samsara was Saint, whose strength levels were on par with the Palace Master. And close in tow was the military counselor.
Nobody had ever seen the military counselor in battle. Nobody even knew if the military counselor was a man or a woman. Even if the assassination attempt was botched, now they had actually seen the military counselor in action. That at least was a plus.
“Profound and unpredictable!” the black-robed man said.
For a brief moment, the black-robed man hesitated. Then, slowly, he said, “It’s a man. Very mysterious. Can’t really make out his face. And we traded two blows. And he wiped the floor with me in both.”
At his own words, a wave of indignation filled his heart. If it weren’t for that wretched technique that had destroyed his martial will and left him in a muddled state for years on end, the man he was right now would never come off as being inferior to the military counselor.”
In the dark, Second Master hummed as if in thought.
The Ninth Blade of Eventide.
Wang family of Beihai.
All of them seemed to be somehow connected, and he was nowhere near to understand whatever that was going on. But it did not matter. What mattered was the fact that he seemed to have found another target to land the first strike, one that was even more suitable than Wang Yuetong.
The black-robed man’s vicious voice rang out once again, “Second Master, let me kill him!” he said. From a martial arts point of view, he knew that his current behavior was a result of his inner demons.
Twenty years ago, the Ninth Blade had pulverized his martial will, and along with it his self-confidence. And after so many years of relentless struggle, he had finally regained his footing. Yet today, he once again encountered the source of his pain. Although merely a fledgling, it was still the same blade, the Ninth Blade with boundless will.
That blade would become an obstacle in his heart forever.
As long as he killed that brat, he would find some peace of mind. Who knew he might even be able to take his combat prowess into the next level.
“Was it really the Ninth blade?” Second Master asked all of a sudden.
“If it really is the Ninth blade, then it means the young man is the current successor of the Xuanyuan Memorial of Kunlun,” Second Master said, “Weird. I’d heard that Li Honghe had a granddaughter back then, but she was killed shortly after she was born. By right, he shouldn’t be having a successor. And what’s with the appearance of this young man? Is the kid born outside the family? Even if he is, would Li Honghe pass on such an important technique to an outsider?
“Even if the Li family really has a successor, what’s the connection between the Li family and Samsara Palace? If two of Samsara’s 12 Super Masters are guarding the kid in secret, then he must be someone important to Samsara Palace.”
“Second Master…” the black-robed man interrupted his monologue.
In a hurried and frantic tone, the black-robed man said, “I’ll make it clean. And I won’t make a move unless I am absolutely certain that I can finish the job. Let me kill him!”
“Kill him?” Second Master said, “Killing that youngster might not be too difficult for you. But how are you planning on handling the Samsara Masters guarding him? It seems to me that you’re no match for both the military counselor and the Horsewoman. What? Are you expecting me to do the job? Also, if he’s chummy with Wang Yuetong, then most likely he’s one of the Sky Academy’s new batch of students. Are you planning to infiltrate the Sky Academy? Tell me, how long would you even last against Zhuang Huayang?”
“Oh, I forgot, there’s also Yu Donglai in Huating. He’s one of Li Honghe’s subordinate back then. He could be toying with you until you’re dead, and he wouldn’t even break a sweat. Kill him? How do you suppose you can do that?”
“Then I beg Second Master to lend me a hand,” the black-robed man said, standing up from the couch.
And then he dropped to his knees. In the dark, his body trembled violently. Moments later, his forehead smashed against the carpet, and he said, “I beg Second Master to grant me your permission.”
“When will Gu Qianchuan be arriving in Huating?” Second Master asked casually.
It was uncertain whether he had even noticed the black-robed man’s half-prostrated form on the floor.
The First Elder of Kunlun City and the second fighter in Kunlun City that was capable of the Invincible Realm.
The Governor of Kunlun City was Gu Xingyun, also known as Zhongzhou’s God of War. Recently, Gu Xinyun had spent most of his time focusing on matters relating to Zhongzhou’s Special Warfare System. As for Kunlun City’s internal affairs, pretty much all of them were delegated to Gu Qianchuan.
There was a brief pause in the black-robed man’s kowtow. “He’ll meet you around three or four days from today,” he said quietly, “no longer than five days.”
“Three to five days, is it? Very well,” Second Master said, chuckling. “I’ve received secret reports that the Wang family’s successor, Wang Shengxiao, is about to move into the Thunder-shocking Realm. Wang Tianzong is already making preparations to bring him on a tour of the desert region. And now that there’s been a hit attempt on Wang Yuetong, in three to five days, Wang Tianzong will most likely be in Huating, too. I’m afraid things are about to get jolly around here,” Second Master said in a deep and icy voice. .
The black-robed man hesitated. “Second Master, are you planning on revealing that brat’s true identity?” he asked, testing the waters.
Second Master hummed, his tone filled with contempt and disdain, “If we do that, then we’re pretty much claiming responsibility to Wang Yuetong’s attempted assassination. What are you even thinking?
“Besides, Wang Tianzong is meticulous in whatever he does. If we disclose the secret now, then Wang Tianzong would protect him, even if it’s for show. That will hinder the execution of our plans.”
The black-robed man lowered his head slightly, saying nothing.
Second Master took a deep break, “There’s still time. I want you and Rose to leave Han Yue Palace right now. And I will transfer Moonlight here. When the time comes, Rose and Moonlight will keep the military counselor and the Horsewoman busy. And I suppose you know what you should do?” he asked gently.
“Understood!” the black-robed man said, his body tilting forward as he kowtowed, “thank you for your permission.”
“Go fulfill your mission,” Second Master said nonchalantly. For the entire time, his figure had remained hidden in the darkness.
The black-robed man stood to his feet. Carefully, he retreated from the dark study.
Within the dark study, Second Master remained rooted in his seat, silently nursing his thoughts.
The successor of the Li family, who was held in high regard by Samsara Palace.
And also the convoluted relations involving the Li family, Kunlun City and Wang family.
“If this key figure is killed, how will all four parties and even other forces co-exist then?”
Chuckling, Second Master lit a cigar. “The more chaotic it is, the better,” he said quietly.
The end of the cigar flickered in the dark. The meagre light pierced through the darkness, revealing a scholarly, cold, and middle-aged visage.
He leaned back against the couch. “A Dark World without the Li family is a lonely place indeed,” he muttered to no one in particular.
And when the cigar was spent, he released a mocking laugh and said, “I bet it’s even lonelier for the Li family who had stayed away from the Dark World for so many years.”