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Chu Nanping, who had just finished the first night s.h.i.+ft, saw the teenage girl standing in front of his tent and was similarly transfixed. After staring at her for a while, he started walking towards her, the snow squeaking beneath his feet.
Tie Linglong didn't react to those distinct sounds at all. It was not until Chu Nanping reached her side that she turned her head and looked at him, her eyes reflecting starlight and moonlight at the same time. "Who do you think you are?"
Chu Nanping was stunned. "I'm-"
"Did you tell the Dragon King that I was planning to give my virginity to him?"
Upon hearing this direct question, Chu Nanping was a little fl.u.s.tered. "What did the Dragon King say to you?"
"Ha. Of course the Dragon King didn't directly say anything, and neither did he betray you. He just told me, in a roundabout way, that I'm not among those he trusts. He said that he didn't trust anybody, but I know that you're an exception. Among all of us, you've served the Dragon King for the longest, your kung fu is the best, and you're also the most obedient. You do whatever you're told to do. You're even more loyal than a dog that's been raised from birth."
Unexpectedly, Tie Linglong's anger helped Chu Nanping calm down. "You misunderstand. I'm not the Dragon King's earliest follower, and the Dragon King killed my brother and Immortal Peng. The reason why he lets me serve him is the same as why he lets you and Nie Zeng serve him – to remind him to be vigilant all the time. He doesn't trust any of us. The Dragon King's right. He can never trust anybody. And there's no need for you to try to gain his trust."
Tie Linglong proudly raised her head. "That is my pursuit. You can practice your Emotionless Swordsmans.h.i.+p, but the Dragon King is all I want. I won't be discouraged by the word 'untrustworthy' because I'm a woman."
When the words "I'm a woman" came out of Tie Linglong who was still technically a teenage girl, they sounded a little funny, but Chu Nanping was in no mood to laugh. "I won't try to stop you. I just want to say that what you've been doing is akin to a moth flying towards fire. The Dragon King is like an abyss and you'll be destroyed if you get too deeply involved with him. You should-"
"I don't need you to tell me what I should do. You're the Dragon King's most trusted man, but you're trying to persuade me to stay away from him?"
Chu Nanping didn't want to talk about who the Dragon King "trusted." "I've been practicing my swordsmans.h.i.+p, and when I master it, I'll challenge the Dragon King. No matter if I win or lose, I'll leave this place after. I've never pledged allegiance to the Dragon King, and I've never made a promise that I'd serve him for forever."
Looking at this swordsman who seemed both familiar and strange, Tie Linglong was somewhat bemused. After a while, she briefly sneered. "Very good. I'll happily replace you. Before that, I'll help you forget me so that you can master the Emotionless Swordsmans.h.i.+p sooner. From now on, please don't interfere in my business. In particular, don't snitch on me. That's very despicable. Also, the Dragon King will accept me tonight."
Tie Linglong walked away, leaving two deep footprints at her original position.
Chu Nanping became the one who stood there, transfixed. Head down, he stared at the two vague footprints, silently feeling a deep pain he'd never felt before. Slice after slice, a sharp knife seemed to be cutting out one of the organs he had been born with, and the missing parts felt like they had been replaced by something completely foreign.
It was an apathy which was even colder than both the snow beneath his feet and the moon in the sky.
Those who were not familiar with Chu Nanping would feel that the look on Chu Nanping's face was very similar to the Dragon King's face. However, those who used to be close to him, like Xu Xiaoyi, knew that he was a swordsman whose cold exterior concealed a kind heart, and that every time he said "emotionless," he never really meant it.
It was not until this moment that true emotionlessness appeared in a form that Chu Nanping had never expected.
It turned out that there was no perfect state of emotionlessness. On the contrary, it was a kind of continuous pain which intensified until it overwhelmed all the other feelings. To fight against this pain, he could only concentrate his will on one thing – his sword, because if he ever slacked, even just for one brief moment, then he would be brought down by the pain.
It was just like this. When a swordsman's proficiency in swordsmans.h.i.+p reached a high level, only by sacrificing part of himself could he master his swordsmans.h.i.+p more thoroughly. Only starving people appreciated the flavor of meagre meals, and only those who owned nothing could understand the value of common things. When the sword became the only thing that the swordsman had, it would become an inseparable part of the swordsman.
Chu Nanping tightly held onto his sword, the one given by the swordsman from the Central Plains, feeling that he would never need the other sword that had been given to him by the Dragon King from now on.
'Tie Linglong indeed 'helped' me,' Chu Nanping thought.
A few tents away, Gu Shenwei, who was still awake late at night, didn't expect that his words would have the opposite effect. So, he was very surprised to see Tie Linglong who came back.
"I've been thinking about Dragon King's words." With her head slightly down, Tie Linglong seemed a little hesitant and a little confused, which was rather different from her usual manner.
"The Dragon King's a killer. And there should be neither trust nor distrust in a killer's heart. It has nothing to do with who I am."
"That's true," Gu Shenwei preferred her indignant, normal att.i.tude.
"I should be like that as well if I want to be a killer, and I shouldn't even trust the Dragon King."
"But you don't have to be a killer."
"I do. I want to be a killer." Tie Linglong's tone was so sure that it sounded somewhat aggressive, but soon she returned to normal. "But it's too early for me to talk about trust and distrust. I still have to improve my kung fu."
"If the Dragon King is available, then I hope that you can help me with my cultivation of the Balanced Power. I have to work harder."
Tie Linglong had already mastered the first level of yang energy, and she could totally cultivate it by herself. But it was indisputable that she would improve quicker with the a.s.sistance of someone more powerful.
"There are some things I have to tell you first."
"Please go ahead, Dragon King."
"First, what I've been practicing is not purely the Balanced Power, and I can only help you reach the second level at most. You'll be on your own if you want to reach a level higher than that, because my a.s.sistance is very likely to have the opposite effect."
"I want to improve as quick as possible. If the Dragon King can help me reach the second level, I'll be more than satisfied."
"Second, if my speculation is correct, then your Balanced Power will conflict with the Daoless Divine Power when it reaches the second level. In that case, you'll have to dispel most of your internal Qi, which means that your power will decline instead of increasing."
"But sooner or later I'll get it back and it will be even more powerful than the Daoless Divine Power, right?"
"Yes. Back then, I was too urgent and I gave up the Balanced Power. But there's no need for you to hurry. Just take your time and cultivate it slowly. The longer you cultivate it for, the more powerful the Balanced Power will be. You have to prepare yourself, because it may take a very long time."
Tie Linglong smiled. "I'm willing to take my time and cultivate it at a slow pace because it is the cultivation method that the Dragon King taught me."
Gu Shenwei squinted his eyes and was eager to tell Tie Linglong that a killer shouldn't have this kind of trust, but he controlled himself. "Let's begin."
Tie Linglong pressed her little hands against the Dragon King's big hands, and with their palms as the axis, they started revolving slowly at a fixed pace.
Gu Shenwei slowly imbued Tie Linglong with his Qi to help her toughen the small amount of yang energy in her, monitoring all of her meridians in case any of her acupoints were blocked.
Tie Linglong was indeed cultivating absorbedly, and Gu Shenwei could even feel her yang energy was getting markedly stronger. If he had a protector and had been able to make progress at this speed, he wouldn't have had to give up on this unique skill of his family.
After over an hour, Tie Linglong seemed to have gotten distracted by something, and her Qi circulation became uneven, her palms becoming increasingly hotter.
Gu Shenwei drew his palms back. "Let's call it a day. The cultivation of Balanced Power has to be slow. From now on, whenever you cultivate it alone, you have to stop immediately if you find that your Qi is not stable. Understand?"
"I understand," Tie Linglong said in a low voice, seeming rather feeble.
"You're tired. Have a rest."
"Um." Tie Linglong nodded. Instead of leaving, she sat on the bed, looking listless.
Gu Shenwei walked to the table and continue to browse his doc.u.ments, occasionally reading the unfolded map.
It was quiet in the tent when Tie Linglong suddenly asked, "There are not many female killers in Golden Roc Castle, right?"
Gu Shenwei perfunctorily gave an "Um".
"I heard that it's more difficult for a woman to be a killer."
Gu Shenwei raised his head, thought for a while, and then said, "It's very difficult for anyone to be a killer. You have to develop habits that normal people don't have, and you also have to sever emotions that normal people should have. Women find it harder to be a killer because those training methods there are designed for men. Female killers have to be the same as male killers."
"That's why the Waning Moon Hall exists. It specializes in training female killers."
"Yes. You spent some time in Waning Moon Hall, so you should also know that the training there is not easy either."
"Tell me about it," Tie Linglong said in a chatting tone. "Dragon King, am I bothering you?"
Gu Shenwei put down the doc.u.ment in his hand. "No."
"I've never told the Dragon King about what I experienced inside Waning Moon Hall. Actually, I didn't even finish the entry level training."
"I know. You escaped from it. That's good. I don't want you to become a lunatic of the Waning Moon Hall."
"Hha. In fact, not all of them are lunatics. Especially after Lotus took control, many training methods were abolished, and those trainers were very unhappy about that. But one of the methods wasn't abolished, and I failed the training process because of that."
"What is it?"
Tie Linglong looked a little embarra.s.sed, but she continued speaking. "Waning Moon Hall brought in a lot of men and required disciples to… sleep with them first and then kill them."
Gu Shenwei was silent for a while. "Sorry. It was me who forced you into the Waning Moon Hall in order to find Han Wuxian."
Tie Linglong hurriedly shook her head. "I don't blame you, Dragon King. I was indeed very disobedient back then. I fell for Lotus' incitement and went to… a.s.sa.s.sinate the queen. I'm very glad that Dragon King forgave me."
Gu Shenwei nodded, and his premonition that Tie Linglong's behavior was weird tonight intensified even more.
"The point I've been trying to make is that Golden Roc Castle must have a similar… training method. That's what female killers must go through, right?"
Golden Roc Castle didn't specify that having s.e.x was a compulsory lesson, but they never interfered in this kind of thing either. Most killer trainers regarded female apprentices as a perk that they wouldn't give up easily. During the slaughtering period, many female apprentices were forced to trade their bodies for a higher chance of survival.
In this aspect, Lotus' experience hadn't been unique. But because of her rapid improvements in her kung fu, she had been luckier than most of the other female trainees.
Gu Shenwei understood Tie Linglong's intention and even guessed what she would say next: instead of sleeping with some random man, she would rather sleep with the Dragon King.
This was clearly her retaliation against Chu Nanping.
When he was under attack, Gu Shenwei could always take decisive action. But on this occasion, he didn't know what to do, and neither did he know what to say.
Tie Linglong stared at the Dragon King. Faint pa.s.sion glinted in her green eyes, proving that she was indeed no longer the little girl that Gu Shenwei had rescued back then.