Mist covered the lake, surrounding a small boat rowing toward the East Garden.
There were three people on the boat; Bai Zhi Jie was moving the oars, while Zhuo Fei Yang and Zhao Ying stood at the front of the boat, their sleeves flapping gently in the wind.
Zhao Ying wore a lake green gown, her face was bright as jade. She asked gently," Brother Zhuo Fei Yang, what is it between you and brother Chu Li?"
Zhuo Fei Yang furrowed his brow and thought to himself, "He was already an unpleasant sight the first time I laid my eyes on him. He's incompetent, and yet he's still on his high horse all the time. Wouldnt it be nice if I could kill him with a tight slap! "
"There's nothing to cause you to be at each others throats all the time! Why are you two still like this!"
Zhao Ying smiled as she shook her head. Both of them had such pride, and Zhuo Fei Yang had the substance to support it. Chu Li was incapable of martial arts, but possessed something else, and was therefore able to disregard Zhuo Fei Yangs hijinx, much to his chagrin.
A duel. This was no laughing matter.
The Public House imposed a ban on personal fights. If anyone involved was either injured or killed, even the lightest form of punishment included a lifetime prohibition of practicing martial arts, and then being exiled from the house. In the worst case, the offender faced a death sentence.
Chu Li was the one who had made the first move. If he were hurt by Zhuo Fei Yang, the public house wouldnt even bat an eye.
"Its that aloof and arrogant look he always has!"
Zhao Ying shook her head, her lips opening to a smile. Only an arrogant person would hate arrogance this much.
"Zhuo Fei Yang, are you really going to do this? "
"Well, obviously!" Zhuo Fei Yang replied, "If he has a death wish, Ill be happy to oblige. I'll turn him into a cripple! "
Zhao Ying furrowed her brows. A mere difference in character between the two had caused them to put their lives on the line. It was simply too much!
"But why would Chu Li challenge you?"
"He probably got so mad he lost a nerve!" Zhuo Fei Yang sang with glee, "Theres no way that arrogant bastard can take being my Scribe."
"Ha," Zhao Ying shook her head, "Zhuo Fei Yang, you don't have any reason to be this hostile towards one another, why go this far?"
"Zhao Ying, you wouldn't understand," Zhuo Fei Yang cut her off with a wave of his hand.
"You have to bare your fangs when the situation calls for it. This bastard needs to die when a chance presents itself!"
"And you both even come from the same school," Zhao Ying sighed.
"It's a shame that you're so kind, Zhao Ying," said Zhuo Fei Yang.
Zhao Ying sighed in helplessness yet again, and decided to herself that she would be the one to stop him if it really came down to it.
She secretly complained of Chu Li in her heart. He was of a lower position, and ought to learn to back off when the need arises. Why did he insist on duking it out with Zhuo Fei Yang?
"Master, Lady Zhao, we've arrived!" Bai Zhi Jie proclaimed.
A small island within the lake greeted them from the distance. It looked to be floating, as if it were swaying along with the wind. Willows trees dotted the shore, spotting hanging branches that reached to the surface of the lake, elegant and graceful in the mist.
"Bai Zhi Jie, wait for us on the boat." Zhuo Fei Yang ordered.
"Be careful, master!" replied Bai Zhi Jie, "This is still their domain, after all."
"Which is why Im here to see what kind of trick theyve got up their sleeve." Zhuo Fei Yang waved his hand, dismissing Bai Zhi Jies concerns, "Tricks are nothing in the face of true martial arts!"
"Yes." Bai Zhi Jie nodded and complied.
The boat approached the shore to a jade chime and mallet, which were placed under a particular willow tree. Zhao Ying moved the mallet across the jade pieces, to which a melody sung out throughout the East Garden in reply.
Chu Li and Yen appeared. The former of which was equipped with a sword around his waist, an air of sharp elegance around him.
He stood on higher ground, nodding from above. "Zhuo Fei Yang, seems like you've some guts after all! Welcome, Zhao Ying!"
Zhuo Fei Yangs face darkened. It did not feel great to be looked down upon by Chu Li, "What's there to be afraid of from a piece of trash?" He replied sarcastically.
Chu Li turned his head, "Zhao Ying, do come in for a cup of tea!"
But Zhuo Fei Yang interjected, "Tea? Who knows if you've poisoned it? I believe you were here to challenge me. Enough with the chatter. Let us begin!"
"There's no need to rush."
"Don't even think about it!" Zhuo Fei Yang called out to him, "Chu Li! If you want to fight, we do it now! If you're not going to make a move, I'll consider it as a forfeit. Come here and be an obedient little Scribe."
"Oh you, always reckless and impulsive!" Chu Li shook his head, "Id be surprised if you become somebody useful!"
"Who do you think you are, spouting all this nonsense!" Zhuo Fei Yang said as his mouth twitched into as smile.
"Fighting is fine and all, but I think we need to spice it up a bit. Zhuo Fei Yang! If I win, you'll be my Scribe instead!" Chu Li proposed.
"Nice dream there!" Zhuo Fei Yang laughed. "You want me to be your guard? Have you not awaken from your slumber, my dear Chu Li?"
"What's wrong? Think you'll lose?"
"Of course not!"
"Then there's no reason for you to reject my offer, unless you aren't as confident as you sound."
"Dont try me!"
"Oh! And that Moonlight Orchid! Return it to me if you lose!"
"You're asking for a little too much, arent you" Zhuo Fei Yang said, the irony in his voice clear behind his grit teeth. "That was over eleven thousand taels!"
His blood immediately began boiling at the mention of that incident. Eleven thousand taels, gone!
Zhao Ying smiled, "As long as you win, the orchid goes to you."
Chu Li wrapped his fists and smiled, "My gratitude goes to you, Sister Zhao Ying!"
This is not the time to stand on ceremony. The Moonlight Orchid was the key to changing his fate!
"I thought you were unable to practice martial arts, Chu Li?"
"I can't train my inner strength or heart" Chu Li shook his head, "But I can still train my swordsmanship!"
Zhao Ying looked at him, "Then why are you forcing yourself?"
Chu Li shot a steel-eyed look at Zhuo Fei Yang. "Inner strength would be too much for a fool like him."
"Chu Li! Words from such a braggart!" Zhuo Fei Yang laughed coldly "Whatre you going to fight with without inner strength?"
"I've trained in Delusion Splitting. It's more than enough to deal with you!" Zhuo Fei Yang replied.
Chu Li replied:"I trained in the Delusion Split, its more than enough to win against you!"
"The Delusion Split?" Zhuo Fei Yang burst out in a hearty laugh. "Even with a sword capable of cutting through steel as if were soil, what use would it be if the wielder were garbage?"
Although Zhao Ying would have much prefered a different form of delivery, what Zhuo Fei Yang said was right; a wielder without inner strength would bottleneck any form of sword art.
"Just tell me if you agree to the terms, Zhuo Fei Yang." Chu Li hummed.
"And What if you lose?" said Zhuo Fei Yang, keeping his composure. "It can't possibly be just you who benefits from this exchange."
Chu Li thumped his own chest, "The ten thousand Taels belong to you, and I'll leave the Public House."
"Money is a non-issue. Ten thousand Taels matters not to me." Zhuo Fei Yang chided, "All you need to do is leave the Public House with your tail between your legs, and get out of my way once and for all!"
"That's the deal. We shall let Zhao Ying be the witness!"
"Chu Li, why do you have to go to such lengths?" Zhao Ying questioned.
"There is no other way, Zhuo Fei Yang is always out to cause me trouble. All I can do is use my skills to make him shut up!" Chu Li shook his head as he said.
"It is not a bad place to be, as a Scribe serving Zhuo Fei Yang." Zhao Ying pleaded.
Chu Li glanced at her with a helpless expression, "Your heart is truly pure and innocent!"
Zhao Ying smiled shyly. Zhuo Fei Yang had made a request that crossed the line. Chu Li was a prideful man, hardly befitting the role of Zhuo Fei Yangs Scribe.
"Well, Zhuo Fei Yang Zhuo, draw your sword!" Chu Li exclaimed as he unsheathed his blade from its scabbard.
"Against an opponent like you, I dont even need a weapon!" Zhuo Fei Yang replied with an arrogant smirk, moving to face Chu Li in front of him.
"En garde!"Chu Li thrust his sword forward.
Zhuo Fei Yang whipped the sword away with his left palm, countering with a center strike.
Chu Li sidestepped the attack, following up again with another thrust.
"What!" Zhuo Fei Yang was forced to change his stance. His moves had been read. His eyebrows furrowed in frustration.
Chu Li thrust again.
Zhuo Fei Yang had once again been forced to change his style mid-combat. His palms were now reminiscent of flowing, gentle, yet crushing water. This was a style Chu Li was surely familiar with.
His sword thrust again.
Zhuo Fei Yang was pushed off balance and failed react to Chu Li's unrelenting barrage. He stared as the tip of Chu Li's blade pierced his right shoulder.
Chu Li retracted his blade and asked mockingly, "Can you still fight..?"
"Come!" Zhuo Fei Yang exclaimed, with his teeth grit.
Chu Li struck out once again.
Zhuo Fei Yang closed his palms into two fists, and with a fierce swing went for Chu Li's blade.
"Ah!" Zhuo Fei Yang yelled out in pain, but the blade was stopped.
Chu Li's expression went pale. Zhuo Fei Yang had stopped his blade with a fist, preventing himself from falling. Chu Li had put all his energy into one killing blow, and was now completely empty and exhausted, drained of all his energy.
Half-buried within Zhuo Fei Yangs palm was Chu Li's blade.
Zhao Ying hastily fished out a small vial of medicine, applying it onto the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding. There was an expression of worry etched on her face.
Zhuo Fei Yangs eyes brimmed with rage, his gaze deathly fixated on Chu Li.