Chapter 201: Undercurrents (1)
For Li Mu, the most useful function of the internal qi was that it could serve as the lubricant in his practice and help him make more breakthroughs in studying the Zhenwu Boxing. Before, no matter how perfect he did on the first three styles of the Zhenwu Boxing, he was always seized by a pang of agony as if his meridians and bones were broken if he proceeded to the fourth style.
Li Mu assumed it might have something to do with the lack of internal qi in his body.
In essence, the Zhenwu Boxing was a fighting skill, a combat technique.
A martial technique usually required the assistance of the internal qi to come into play.
Today, after successfully producing his internal qi, Li Mu finally saw a silver lining.
At the time, the remote sky started to gain the whitish color of twilight. Gradually, half of the sky was reddened by the rosy clouds of dawn.
The military grave had been shut down for several days. At the moment, it was in dead silence. No figures or even their shadows could be seen in it.
Li Mu looked at the sky and knew it was about time to leave. Thus, with a sharp whistle, the chrysanthemum leopard that was chasing after butterflies in a distance instantly leaped over and halted before him. Then, riding the chrysanthemum leopard, Li Mu went out of the tomb straightaway.
He still did not return to the Pig-Herding Alley but hurried to the Holy House, a branch of the Musical House on the Liufang Street.
Since Hua Xiangrong had just stepped onto the road of martial arts practice, he ought to guide her and pay close attention to her. Although as a Natural Taoist Figure, the girl was progressing at a stunning speed, it was harder for Li Mu to keep her practice under control, for there were more uncertainties about her special body than the little attendant Qing Feng. Hence, he dared not to be careless of Hua Xiangrong’s martial arts study and decided to visit her right off.
When Li Mu’s figure was gone, a fit of energy fluctuations that the others could not discern occurred in the military grave that was still wrapped in the glimmering twilight. Multiple sanguine mist-like figures loomed around the Leaping Dragon Formation. The one taking the lead was precisely that General Flame.
“He… make it!”
“Spiritual Qi of the Earthveins has been…”
“It feels like we’ve made a mistake.”
“He has proven us wrong, hasn’t he?”
“If the Spiritual Qi of the Earthveins is all sucked out by him, then, we will also disperse like mist and smoke, won’t we?”
The Generals composed of sanguine mist all looked a little awkward.
On the other day, they merely made that promise to Li Mu at random, because as far as they knew, no one had succeeded in extracting the Spiritual Qi in the Earthveins and transforming it into his own before. Even His Honor from the Holy Clan back then failed at it. But to everyone’s surprise, Li Mu truly did it. That made the situation rather embarrassing.
“What is this warlock formation? I’ve never seen one like this before.”
General Flame landed his eyes on the Leaping Dragon Formation that had been switched off by Li Mu for the moment with a curious expression. He felt it instinctively that this formation had an unprecedented power that seemed both intriguing and awe-inspiring.
“It will suck up the Spiritual Qi in the Earthveins… if Li Mu wants it to.” Another general commented.
“Then, let’s negotiate with Li Mu and ask him to show some mercy.” Someone… no, some ghost suggested.
“But being inconsistent in our words won’t make us look good, right?”
“Who knows he can really absorb the Spiritual Qi in the Earthveins?!”
“If we do so, he will definitely see through the ins and outs of us.”
“But anyway, that is better than losing all the Spiritual Qi in the Earthvein and vanishing into smoke and mist.”
The cluster of ghost generals started arguing noisily, but in the end, none of them agreed on any point. It was plain that Li Mu’s behavior baffled and puzzled them a lot. And what was killing them more was that they remembered they had boasted about willing to help Li Mu once more whenever he needed them, whether he could absorb the Spiritual Qi in the Earthveins or not… Well, it seemed that even ghosts could not pledge carelessly.
Eventually, this bunch of deeply flustered ghost generals disappeared before the sunrise and returned to their respective tombs to rest in peace.
These days, the city of Chang’an seemed to be quite uneventful, but in fact, undercurrents of serious revenge were simmering below the surface.
The common folk did not feel the tension in the city, but those who were really well informed already sensed the pressure that heralded a rising storm. From the unusual movements of the garrison troops outside Chang’an, the increased number of galloping horses commuting from one courier station to another, and the strangers gradually gathering out of the Pig-Herding Alley and the Holy House and so on, those perceptive could tell something was going on in the city.
Yes, Lord Zhenxi’s youngest son had been killed.
He was killed by Li Mu.
And Jiang Bing, the guarding General of the government in the western region, was killed, too.
He was murdered by Li Mu as well.
Although the blood that tainted the floor tiles in front of the Monument to Martyrs sat on the memorial arches street of the Chang’an Tomb had been cleansed, the bodies were also removed, the smell of blood in the air was still there. It was said that on that day another officer of the guarding soldiers had also died. But compared to the death of Qin Lin and Jiang Bing, no one really cared about the murder of such a small potato.
The government had blocked that news to some extent, but any of those who enjoyed a certain high status in the city seemed to have heard of it anyway. The moment they learned the news, all of them almost thought their ears had deceived them.
“A prince had died! And he was killed in public!”
“What big waves this will make!”
“Also, a five-grade military official of our empire was killed.”
“Well, the sky over the city of Chang’an will probably collapse.”
But what was more unbelievable was that the culprit who caused the sky to cave in did not make his getaway at all. Instead, he went to the Musical House openly and indulged himself in sexual pleasure. That was practically the biggest extraordinary affair they had ever heard of since the resurgence of the empire.
Lots of people were waiting for the next development of the event.
Could a Natural Expert take on Lord Zhenxi?
No one believed Li Mu could have such power.
But Li Mu’s ease and composure perplexed everyone.
“Or unless… he has some backing?”
“Right. Such a young Natural Expert, a peerless genius, can’t have just turned up and risen to power for no reason like the wild weeds. There must be some force that cultivated him. Now that the mysterious force could bring up such a genius, how could it be weak? Is it possible that Li Mu’s backing is one of the Holy Clans?”
In truth, exactly for that scruple, Lord Zhenxi did not make his move in a rush.
But it was clear that the pain of losing his son made him unable to remain calm.
As time passed by, several Natural Experts that had not been seen before emerged in Chang’an one after another. Meanwhile, rumors had it that a routing supervisor from the headquarters of the Supervisory Department of the Western Qin Empire had been dispatched to Chang’an. He was here to investigate the death of Supervisor Xu as well as to figure out the mystery about Li Mu.
A case in which a Natural Expert murdered a government official was, in fact, subject to the jurisdiction of the Supervisory Department in the first place.
Under such a weird and unusually tense circumstance, the Top Beauty Competition in Chang’an kicked off on a spectacular scale, which undoubtedly drew the attention of countless ordinary people. This yearly competition was a grand ceremony in Chang’an, because the assorted activities, business opportunities, parties, poetry gatherings that the competition entailed would steep the entire city of Chang’an in a sizzling ecstasy.
Also, the government organs in other distant places would send representatives of their chamber of commerce and consortium over to Chang’an.
Thus, during the period of the competition, Chang’an would be nearly as boisterous as the Chinese’s Spring Festival on Earth.
By then, the candidates of the Top Beauty were already widely known in the city.
The most popular girls of several big brothels subordinated to the Musical House were all among the hottest candidates, including the Holy House’s Hua Xiangrong.
Aside from that, some famous prostitutes from other provinces also participated in the contest to contend for the title ‘Top Beauty’. Even if they had little chance to be the final champion due to local protectionism, they could still gain both fame and wealth as long as they made it to the top ten.
And for the common folks, the Top Beauty Competition was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the faces of those beauties who were as gorgeous as fairies. Therefore, they were also quite excited.
Shortly, all the famous brothels began to exert themselves in doing promotions for their candidates.
Many reputed talents, poets, and scholars became the targets that the brothels scrambled for and the popular prostitutes tried to cozy up with. That was because if those girls could have a poem flattering themselves that might be spread to every corner of Chang’an and stay popular for ten or even one hundred years at this juncture, they would have extra intangible capital and stakes in the contest of the Top Beauty.
After all, the power of poems was not to be neglected.
For the time being, the literature world in Chang’an could also be said to be raging like a storm.
As to Li Mu, the new talent who had lately crushed all the other men of letters in Chang’an like a hurricane, was naturally a celebrity various parties had paid close attention upon. Since his previous works titled Epigraph of My Shack, Beauty Poem, and Hua Xiangrong respectively had gained enormous popularity in Chang’an for quite a while, it was beyond question that many would want to fawn on such a talented champion of the imperial exams who could create classic poems without thinking.
However, no one really made a move. They were all biding their time.
Because it was well-known that Li Mu adored Hua Xiangrong only. And being the most popular girl in the Holy House, Hua Xiangrong also had signed up for the Top Beauty Competition. Therefore, before they were one hundred percent sure, no one dared to act recklessly in case of a hard rebuff.
But, of course, many famous prostitutes who claimed they were not less beautiful than Hua Xiangrong were prying into Li Mu’s whereabouts. They all hoped to snatch away this rising star in the poetry world from the Holy House’s Hua Xiangrong.
“He is, after all, just a boy of fifteen. Even though he is both brilliant in poetry and martial arts, so what? He hasn’t seen many women, and that’s why he fell for that bland Hua Xiangrong. Whenever he meets me, I assure you that he will throw himself at me since then.”
That was the ambitious talk of Xue Rui, a famous prostitute from the Fufeng Mansion.
Many other celebrated prostitutes with dazzling beauty were also counting on the same belief.
But the problem was that after conducting investigations both openly and secretly these days, they still failed to locate any traces of Li Mu.
The gate of the Shack in the Pig-Herding Alley had been closed for days. No matter who came here, they could not make the gate open. Nor could any of them see a trace of Li Mu. For a time, the residents in the Pig-Herding Alley became popular sources, for all the parties were dying to know Li Mu’s whereabouts from those living in the slum. However, to their disappointment, not much useful information did they get.
After a thorough investigation, the only clue they obtained was that Zhou Dedao, the president of the Dafeng chamber of commerce, was the only one who was admitted into the yard of the Shack.
Therefore, a throng of people bustled over to visit Zhou Dedao.
But Zhou Dedao merely gave them a wry smile and said, “It’s not because I have any connections with His Honor Li. It’s just that my darn son stirred up trouble for him…” He recounted that the reason why he was allowed in that day was that he was there to offer Li Mu three hundred thousand golden cash in exchange for the removal of the spell Li Mu planted in his son. Ever since that spell was lifted, he had no way to contact Li Mu anymore.
That answer certainly let all the visitors down.
Inside the mansion of the magistrate of Chang’an…
“Your Honor, we just got the news saying that the Cloud Sword Liu Wufeng, one of the four grand experts working for Lord Zhenxi, has arrived in the city. Today, he settled down in the Soft Jade Hall of the Musical House along with three Natural Experts from the mansion of Lord Zhenxi. And notably, this Soft Jade Hall is very close to the Holy House.”