LOOG Chapter – 74

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Chapter 74: A Secret

The Dragon-Phoenix Sect’s assault on Huisheng could not have been executed more perfectly. The body of the Magistrate Zhou was strung up from the main gate on the south side of the city, and the city guard was routed. The guards who survived the fighting either fled the city, or shed their armor and uniforms and tried to blend back into the populace.

Of course, it wouldn’t take long for troops from Xuanlu to come restore order, but at least the Dragon-Phoenix Sect had bought the city a few days of freedom, and had also sent another clear message to the Demon Emperor: your days are numbered!

The only people to whom Bao and Sunan had revealed their true identities were now dead. The so-called Executioner of the South had been inhumanly strong, but skilled in little more than executing prisoners. Bao had made short work of him.

As such, the populace at large had no idea who had struck in the night.

With the Zhizhu Coral safely in hand, they headed south for about a day before veering west through the northern foothills of Rong Shan. As they skirted the enormous mountain, Sunan couldn’t help but wonder if Sun Mai had found his way there, and perhaps even gained more enlightenment for his scripture.

At Bao’s suggestion, one of the Eyes of the Phoenix was sent to see if Sun Mai was in the area, with orders to spend no more than a week looking for him. Meanwhile, the rest of the sect pressed onward.

Eventually they reached a place where the Zun River bent south a bit, which was where Tie Gangwen was waiting with a small squad, guarding the boats they had prepared before the assault on Huisheng.

Before long, they were heading west upriver, leaving Huisheng far behind. On their initial journey to Huisheng, they had boated down the Southern Fei River to Xuanlu, and then made the rest of the trip over land. Therefore, for most members of the Dragon-Phoenix Sect, this was their first time on the Zun River, and there were many sights to see. From fishing villages and endless swamps, to river-side shrines and majestic temples, there was something alive to the Zun River that the rivers to the north seemed to lack.

Eventually, they passed Zun City and headed into Zun Valley, whereupon the banks of the river soon became thick with jungle vegetation. A few days west of Zun City, they disembarked and began to head north, led by Ping Fangrou in the direction of the Grotto of the Timeless Master. As had been suggested in the Timeless Master’s hand-written message, Sunan and Bao would deliver the Zhizhu Coral to him in person, which would be the perfect occasion to meet face to face and discuss the future of Qi Xien and the martial world.

They hiked through the jungle for about two days before breaking through the vegetation to find themselves standing at the base of a mountain that stretched off to the north, and whose west face was made up of sheer cliffs, almost as if the side of the mountain had been hewn off by some towering giant.

“We’re here,” Ping Fangrou said. “Come on.”

She led the way forward until they were at the base of a smaller cliff that jutted out of the base of the larger cliffs. It appeared to be over a hundred meters tall, and was almost completely vertical.

Lin Cuirou leaned his head back to look up toward the top of the cliff. “Please don’t tell me we have to climb to the top of this thing….”

Ping Fangrou chuckled. “Of course not.” She stepped forward to a section of the cliff where a wrist-width crevice could be seen, then produced a long iron key, which she inserted into the crevice. Upon twisting the key, muffled clanking sounds could be heard, whereupon an ingeniously camouflaged door swung up.

Ping Fangrou put the key away and said, “I’ll lead the way.”

After entering the door, they realized that the hundred-meter-tall cliff they had just passed through was mostly a facade. Now they were in front of a lavishly decorated main gate which barred a path that led deeper into the mountains. Two guards stood on either side of the entrance, who greeted Ping Fangrou with respectful formality as she led the Dragon-Phoenix Sect members inside.

Beyond the gate, the path became a wide stone staircase that led to a spectacular palace building, which was where Ping Fangrou summoned servants to bring tea and snacks.

Ten minutes later, a booming voice suddenly filled the entire palace.

“Dragon Sovereign! Phoenix Sovereign! Welcome to my humble home!”

The Timeless Master was not as Bao and Sunan had imagined him. In their minds, he was tall and slender, with long flowing hair and eyes that sparkled like starlight.

Instead, he was short and rather stocky, with a wide nose and round eyes that didn’t seem characteristic of the people of Qi Xien. And although there was something strange about his eyes, it wasn’t the sparkle of starlight, but rather, a profound glow that flickered like the embers of a burning campfire.

Bao and Sunan immediately shot to their feet, clasped hands, and bowed deeply.

“Greetings, Timeless Master!” they said in unison.

Even as their voices continued to echo out, the other members of the Dragon-Phoenix Sect scrambled to kowtow.

“Greetings, Timeless Master!”

The Timeless Master threw his head back and laughed. “It’s my honor to be in the presence of such heroes! Your timing couldn’t have been better; I only arrived back yesterday myself. Please, rise and follow me. I have plenty of food and drink prepared. Dragon Sovereign, Phoenix Sovereign, do me the honor of walking by my side!”

The Timeless Master’s fortress was massive, rivalling Sunan and Bao’s palace on Zun Shan. After strolling through numerous passageways, they found themselves in a banquet hall, where an impressive spread of delicacies awaited them.

For the following three hours, they feasted and chatted. Sunan and Bao sat with the Timeless Master in the position of honor, with other heroes of both sects spread out in the rest of the hall. Soon, the room buzzed with conversations about kung fu and martial heroes.

At one point, Tie Gangwen, the One-Armed Iron Titan, challenged Hero Qian Chengsi to an exhibition match, leading to widespread cheering among everyone present. The din made conversation almost impossible, and therefore, the Timeless Master looked over at Sunan and Bao and said, “Come with me. There are more things I wish to discuss… in private.”

Just as Tie Gangwan and Qian Chengsi were removing their outer robes in preparation for their friendly duel, the Timeless Master, Sunan and Bao slipped out and began to head through the cool, dark corridors of the stronghold. As they proceeded along, the Timeless Master called a passing young man to join them, who he then left at the entrance to a side corridor they entered, telling him to prevent anyone from entering.

The corridor led up to a lamp-lit chamber where a wide stone platform overlooked a still pool of water. Stone steps led from the platform down into the water.

“These springs are mainly used for bathing and washing,” the Timeless Master said, “although Ping Fangrou trains in the water sometimes. She says the way it slows her movements helps her to understand martial arts in a different way. As for me, I like to come here to think. It’s very peaceful.”

The faint sound of dripping water echoed about occasionally within the chamber, a perfect complement to the flickering shadows cast by the lamplight.

The first thing the Timeless Master asked about was something that hadn’t been discussed during the dinner.

“So,” he said, “are the rumors true? The two of you….?”

Sunan grinned, as did Bao, although she covered her mouth with her hand.

“Yes,” Sunan said. Then he cleared his throat. “We’re… we’re engaged to be married.”

The Timeless Master clapped his hands loudly. “Wonderful! Simply wonderful! Have you set a date for the wedding?”

“The first lunar month is coming….” Sunan said.

“Ah, an auspicious time for weddings,” the Timeless Master said. “Well, if I can’t come to the wedding, I’ll certainly send a gift.”

Both Sunan and Bao clasped hands formally. “Many thanks, Timeless Master.”

The Timeless Master smiled. “In private, we can dispense with the formal titles. My name is Li Buwei, please just call me that. Actually, my name is the perfect segue into the subject I wish to discuss.

“One of the main reasons I wished to meet with you in person is to tell you a secret. It is a secret with profound ramifications that, if revealed to the wrong person at the wrong time, could be a major disaster to our cause. At the moment, few people are privy to the truth of the matter. My wife is one, as well as Ping Fangrou and Qian Chengsi. Outside of my organization, though, the only ones who know the secret are my enemies, and I fear that some of them might use it as a weapon to undermine the resistance to the Demon Emperor.

“Sunan, Bao, you will be the first outsiders I reveal this secret to. Will it be safe in your keeping?”

Sunan nodded immediately. “Of course, Li Buwei. I swear it.”

“As do I,” Bao echoed.

“Very well,” Li Buwei said. “My name, Li Buwei, is not my birth name, and in fact, the surname Li is not the surname I inherited from father. It was my mother’s surname, and she is the one who gave me this name. My birth name is Hanno Alu-Bukhra.” He looked first into Sunan’s eyes, then Bao’s. “It sounds strange, does it not? Not a name you might expect to hear in Qi Xien. And that is because it is indeed a name that comes from another world.

“I was born here on Qi Xien, but my father was not. He comes from a different world, a different realm. Whatever words you use to describe it, he is an alien to these lands, in every sense of the word.

“My father is the Demon Emperor.”

To say that Sunan and Bao were surprised would be an understatement. Sunan’s eyes went as wide as saucers, and Bao’s jaw dropped. Both of them subconsciously took a step back, and their hearts began to pound.

Before they could say anything, Li Buwei continued, “Yes, I can imagine how shocking this news must be, and you can see how damaging it could be to our cause if it became public. First, let me reassure you, I am nothing like my father. When I was born, he was too busy scheming to take over this world to spend any time with me. Short of holding me in his arms occasionally, I might as well not have existed. Although, I was there in Yao-Gong palace to watch firsthand as he carried out his vile plans.

“I was raised by my mother until I was eight years old, which was when she displeased my father and was executed. I was there for the execution.” The muscles in his jaw tightened, and he stopped talking for a moment. “After that, my father did his best to twist my mind and make me become like him. I put on a show of conforming, but eventually reached a breaking point and parted ways with him.

“As you can imagine, he was not happy about that, and has never given up in trying to track me down and… well, I don’t know. Perhaps drag me back to Yao-Gong Palace to be reeducated. Or maybe he’ll just try to have me killed. I’m not sure.

“Back in my initial letter to you, I alluded to this secret of mine, and now you know the truth. You also know why I am so convinced of how evil my father is. I know the story of his youth, and although I won’t go into the details of the tale right now, suffice to say that he has always been driven by a lust for power, a lust that he will satiate at any cost.”

Li Buwei sighed and looked down into the water of the pool. As for Sunan and Bao, they stood there, still too stunned to speak.

A long moment passed.

Finally, Li Buwei said, “I suppose you’ll need some time to think about what I’ve told you, and I’m sure you’ll have questions later. However, there is one more thing I wish to discuss in private, and that is the Zhizhu Coral.”

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