"Mengzhe and I have never faced each other like this in the past sixteen years."
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Yuwen Hong stood tall, pressing his right fist against his left palm in a dignified manner. His gray robe fluttered as his pupils reflected the winter nightscape.
You Mengzhe narrowed his eyes slightly as an indescribable sentiment roiled in his heart, as if stirred by the impending duel between these two masters.
Zhao Feihong aimed with his stick, emitting gangmeng qi energy in the span of a single breath. The bamboo leaves rustled in the courtyard, and neither side made a sound. But with a flash of their silhouettes, Yuwen Hong and Zhao Feihong had already rushed towards each other, and the fight had begun!
With a sweep of his gray guard robes, Yuwen Hong's figure whirled past like a tornado. All You Mengzhe could see of Zhao Feihong were the flashing images of his staff, as if he had become one with his weapon—extremely confident and unrestrained!
Yuwen Hong jabbed, swiped, chopped, and struck, his palms like butterflies flying through blossoms. His figure flitted back and forth amidst the gales driven by the staff, and when he leapt into the air, his lean figure spun as he drew his left palm from his right shoulder to his elbow like a knife—every move done beautifully!
"Good move!" Zhao Feihong raved as he withdrew backwards with his staff.
Immediately after Yuwen Hong landed, a single quickstep launched him towards Zhao Feihong like a shadow following its body, his right hand wound back to attack. His two palms seemed to contain the essence of the universe and the vast galaxy—“The Supreme Vortex”!
You Mengzhe held in his breath at that moment.
Under the moonlit night, Yuwen Hong flipped his left palm backwards and pushed his right palm forward, like capturing innumerable worlds in the heart of his palm, limitless and unrestrained, truly at peak magnificence!
Simultaneously, Zhao Feihong vaulted himself up with his staff, his lofty figure launching over Yuwen Hong's head, and struck in midair!
You Mengzhe’s heart suddenly skipped a beat.
Immediately after, Yuwen Hong separated his palms, smacked the black-gold staff dauntlessly with his right palm, leaped up, aimed with his left palm with his index and middle finger outstretched, and struck at Zhao Feihong who had just leaped over his head.
That “Plucking the Galaxy’s Stars” move was magnificent beyond compare as it aimed directly at the vital acupoint in Zhao Feihong's chest. Countless seas of nebulae seemed to swirl in Yuwen Hong's deep eyes, as Zhao Feihong withdrew his staff, and with both palms, blocked the finger heading for his chest!
With only this brief clash, the two of them were blown apart, and Zhao Feihong landed on the ground! With a kick, his black-gold staff spun in midair before he intercepted it with his palm. Just as he was about to make another move, he heard a whizz from behind, and a stool flew over!
Yuwen Hong retracted his palm as You Mengzhe roared, "Take my stool!"
With a BANG, the stool hit Zhao Feihong square in the back and broke in two.
Zhao Feihong: "..."
Instead of landing a blow, Yuwen Hong stood still. You Mengzhe peeped at Zhao Feihong's face for a while, hoping that he would stand rigidly for a few seconds before suddenly vomiting blood and collapsing. However, after waiting for ages, that bullseye moment did not happen. His sneak attack had failed.
You Mengzhe looked left then right, picked up an urn from the corner of the courtyard, and howled, "Lie down for me!!"
Then he swung the urn to land a world-shaking blow on Zhao Feihong's head. Without even looking, Zhao Feihong reached out to grab You Mengzhe's wrist and immediately paralyzed him.
"Yuwen Hong." Zhao Feihong voiced, "In all these years, what has You Gutian taught him?"
Yuwen Hong could not answer.
Zhao Feihong lightly pushed You Mengzhe to the side, and said coldly, "You care for him like a father, brother, teacher, and friend, yet you watched as those on Yuheng Mountain stained and painted Qing’er’s child into despicable scum that everyone on earth disdains. If she saw this from the heavens, how could she be at peace?!"
"Sister Qing was willing to stay on Yuheng Mountain. That was her own choice."
"You lost the moment you made a move."
"Yes, I admit defeat."
Zhao Feihong retracted his staff, while Yuwen Hong retracted his palm.
"No way!" You Mengzhe wailed, "That was only a few moves!"
Yuwen Hong explained, "I’m not his opponent yet. I’m close, but still not quite there."
You Mengzhe pleaded, "Start over, that one didn’t count."
“If you can't win, you can't win. Even if I’m close, it’s still just close."
Zhao Feihong had no more to say and went back inside.
You Mengzhe’s entire being seemed to wither as he asked, "What do we do now?"
Yuwen Hong beckoned for You Mengzhe to come over. Baffled, You Mengzhe went over, and Yuwen Hong lifted his hands and took him into his embrace.
Under the moonlight, their two shadows overlapped. Yuwen Hong lowered his head, hugged him tightly, and said, "Mengzhe and I have never faced each other like this in the past sixteen years."
Zhao Feihong remarked coldly from inside the house, "So that’s why you are so extremely stupid! You Gutian only wanted to use him, and now that he has raised him to this point, it is time to use him. He is merely a blank piece of paper. He can only do what You Gutian tells him to do, so why didn’t you stop him?”
“He is Mengzhe’s father.”
Zhao Feihong did not say any more. Yuwen Hong sighed, took You Mengzhe’s hand, and turned to leave. You Mengzhe thought he wanted to take him away, but unexpectedly, they sat side by side outside of the Zhao residence.
"I want to take a trip back to the Azure Sea Pavilion," voiced Yuwen Hong seriously as he gazed at You Mengzhe.
You Mengzhe asked blankly, "Why?"
“You should study under him for now. He won't hurt you."
"Ai, you’re just leaving me alone like this? At least stay here to chop firewood and chat with me!"
Yuwen Hong thought for a while, but did not answer.
After a moment, he drew You Mengzhe into his arms, stroked his hair, and said, "I have to go to Yuheng Mountain first, and then go back to the Azure Sea Pavilion to return some of your mother's things. I’ll tell them you are here."
"Who are you returning it to? Who are you telling?"
You Mengzhe nodded thoughtfully, and Yuwen Hong continued, "Right now I can't beat him, but next time I come, I will take you away."
You Mengzhe responded listlessly, "Okay."
"I will definitely come back for you before the fifteenth day of the eighth month next year."
You Mengzhe muttered pitifully, "Then you should go. Be sure to come back and take me away then."
Yuwen Hong nodded. He took out a stone puppy from his robes and placed it in You Mengzhe's hands.
"This is for you."
You Mengzhe took it apathetically, only finding everything boring.
Zhao Feihong's voice called out again from inside the house, "You stay, I can’t handle him alone."
Yuwen Hong assured him, "I'll be back very soon."
Then he got up and left the Zhao residence. Dark clouds came and covered the moon, as You Mengzhe stared blankly at Yuwen Hong's departing figure.
All of a sudden he felt an inexplicable sense of loss in his heart. What kind of feeling was this? It was as if something had been taken away from his heart.
Yuwen Hong had watched him grow up, and although they had only known each other for less than five days since the day he had first appeared, You Mengzhe felt that this person had already occupied a position in his life. He looked so young that nobody could tell he was in his thirties. He looked handsome and refined, like a youth in his early twenties who could be called You Mengzhe's big brother. When the two of them walked together, they did carry a vague brotherly aura.
"Because he is your only relative in this world." It was as if Zhao Feihong had read You Mengzhe’s mind.
"I have a father! He said I also have a grandma."
Zhao Feihong said matter-of-factly, "He can't be called a father."
You Mengzhe felt extremely aggravated, yet he could only resentfully go back inside to sleep, and prepare to get up again tomorrow to chop wood. When would these cruel and inhumane days come to an end?
From then on, You Mengzhe bored himself to death practicing martial arts and chopping firewood by day and reading books by night. Compared with his days on Yuheng Mountain, it felt like he had escaped from one cell only to find himself in another. It was towards the end of the year when Yangzhou grew cold that You Mengzhe suddenly remembered his promise to meet with Yu Changqing during the new year.
When he mentioned this to Zhao Feihong, he replied, "You’re a man of the Jianghu, why fool around with people from the court?"
“You shouldn’t say that..." You Mengzhe quipped, "A noble man is only as good as his word, is he not?"
Zhao Feihong replied, "I have to go to the capital after the new year, so at that time I will bring you with me."
Once again, You Mengzhe had no more tricks up his sleeve.
Besides instructing You Mengzhe to chop firewood and practice calligraphy, Zhao Feihong also gradually taught him some martial arts moves, and even broke a piece of bamboo for him to use as a makeshift staff. When had You Mengzhe ever learned these martial techniques? Before on the training platform of the Demon Cult, he had never been taught swordsmanship or sword mantras. All he did was cultivate the ‘Turning to Yang’ twice a day, once when he would wake up in the morning and again before he slept at night, simply letting his vital qi follow the path of his body’s internal meridians.
When he first started to learn staff techniques from Zhao Feihong, it had its novelty, but after learning the same moves over and over again, he had lost all interest in less than three days. Zhao Feihong skillfully wielded the black-gold staff majestically with one hand, and he could almost see the simple but clever skill, the profound truth, the intangible oneness between man and nature in those moves. However, in You Mengzhe’s hands, the bamboo stick danced like a clothes-drying pole, clumsily and mindlessly.
"I used to wield swords." Zhao Feihong reminisced, "Only after my shifu passed on, did I begin to use the staff."
You Mengzhe let out an annoyed, "Oh."
"The staff is a rare yang weapon in this world, because it only defends and does not kill. When Yang reaches its extreme, it transforms into Yin, and when Gang reaches its extreme, it transforms into Rou. You are rebellious and obstinate, so you must always bear in mind that arrogance will inevitably be met with regret. Only when you reach the gangmeng method’s highest level, can you dissolve your perverse tendencies."
Noticing You Mengzhe's despondency, Zhao Feihong guessed that his mind was elsewhere, so he decided to retract his staff.
"Let’s stop for today. You can go read."
You Mengzhe immediately threw away the clothes-drying pole and scurried off.
Zhao Feihong shook his head and smiled bitterly. Who knew how many legions of people in this world would beg to worship him as their shifu, and yet You Mengzhe behaved like this. He had even specially designed this bamboo pole for You Mengzhe. It was pliable yet tough, and a perfect fit for You Mengzhe’s vital qi to control. If he could earnestly practice, then over time he could even become a zongshi of his generation. By practicing martial arts, he could eventually comprehend the path of coupling strength with softness, precisely like “tempering steel until it coils softly around a finger”. No matter what, he must find a way to make You Mengzhe practice hard.
At the same time, You Mengzhe was thinking about something else entirely—Zhao Feihong's martial skill was way too oppressive. If he could somehow dual-cultivate with him, then he could obtain some of Zhao Feihong's vital energy. And if he could obtain Zhao Feihong's vital energy, then he could successfully release his acupoints!
Yuwen Hong's martial skill was only a bit weaker than Zhao Feihong’s, so if he dual-cultivated with Zhao Feihong first, obtained his vital qi, and then dual-cultivated with Yuwen Hong after, then Yuwen Hong would also receive some of Zhao Feihong’s vital qi. But wait, if he did that, then Zhao Feihong would also gain Yuwen Hong's vital qi, and the two of them would be about the same again.
You Mengzhe was stuck in an endless loop of confusion... Wait no, what if he dual-cultivated with Zhao Feihong twice, and then with Yuwen Hong ten times? Would the effect be the same? No, it had to be different. In theory, whoever he dual-cultivated with the most should reap the most rewards as well… Continuing his train of thought, if he dual-cultivated with Zhao Feihong day and night, and attained a large amount of his vital qi, then maybe even he could tie with him.
You Mengzhe was ready to make a move, but exactly how to make a move was the hard part. Zhao Feihong definitely wouldn’t just lie down and let him ride him repeatedly. This problem was the most difficult part of his plan. You Mengzhe started to practice some moves over and over again in the direction of Zhao Feihong's figure, thinking he would just grab here, and hold back there…
In these past days, Zhao Feihong had truly taught him how to kick and punch, but from the start, You Mengzhe hadn’t taken it seriously, so naturally he had retained only some odds and ends of a very rudimentary understanding of the technique. With his current skills, there was no way he could overpower Zhao Feihong.
Just then, Zhao Feihong came in with something in his hands and stood by the door.
You Mengzhe immediately schooled his expression and asked, "What?"
"Let’s go for a walk."
Baffled, You Mengzhe saw a scarf in Zhao Feihong’s his hand. Where did that come from?
It was midwinter of the twelfth month, and outside was freezing. You Mengzhe rubbed his hands together as he approached Zhao Feihong, who shook out the scarf for him to wear. It fit him just right.
It was cold and desolate outside, with barely anyone out and about. As soon as Zhao Feihong stopped on the street, someone greeted him, "Feihong, come over here. Is this your little disciple?"
You Mengzhe never called Zhao Feihong “shifu”, nor did Zhao Feihong force him to. Zhao Feihong took the big red lantern the man had handed to him.
"Why is there no one out on the streets?" You Mengzhe asked.
"Today is the last day of the year, so everyone has gone home to make new year's eve dinner." The man was a local official, who laughed and continued, "How do you not even know this? Come, Feihong, help us hang these along the street. The entire street, if you don’t mind.”
The three-story shops all over the street were currently waiting for their New Year’s Eve lanterns, and a huge pile of lanterns were stacked in front of the homes of the wealthy and influential locals.
With a lantern in one hand, Zhao Feihong sprinted a few steps and in two strides, leaped onto the second story, using the eave to launch himself onto the third story to steadily hang a lantern.
"Not bad!" You Mengzhe cheered.
Without a second thought, he picked up a lantern, and as light as a swallow, flipped in midair and hung another one before fluttering down. Zhao Feihong kicked a lantern into the air, and You Mengzhe launched up, intercepted it high in the air, and hung it too. Many commoners who had looked up from the street clapped and cheered in succession. Zhao Feihong kicked and swung, while You Mengzhe vaulted and leapt over rooftops until he had hung up all the lanterns on the street one by one. His excellent display of Qinggong aroused loud cheers from the pedestrians below. When You Mengzhe landed back on the ground, he saw a blind man who reminded him of Zhang Yuanshan.
"Oh right, where’s that mute?”
Zhao Feihong responded, "He lives in the capital. After the New Year I will take you to see him."
Less than half a shichen passed before they had finished hanging the lanterns along the entire street, and after the local official repeatedly thanked them, he slipped a red envelope You Mengzhe’s way, which Zhao Feihong humbly refused to accept.
"For great luck and fortune." The local official smiled and continued, "Young child, receiving money is no big deal, just take it."
You Mengzhe didn't know whether to accept or reject it, until Zhao Feihong said, "Since it's for you, then accept it. For good luck."
You Mengzhe returned with a, "May you achieve success in all that you do," before Zhao Feihong took You Mengzhe back on the road.
"Did you buy this scarf?" The fuzzy scarf wrapped around his neck felt very warm, and even seemed brand new.
Zhao Feihong nodded but didn’t say a word, just walking down the long street with his hands clasped behind his back. The marketplace had long already closed for the day, and only the wine shops and the braised food stalls selling New Year delicacies stayed open, with business still booming.
As these days had passed, You Mengzhe rarely thought about running away anymore. In any case, living somewhere was better than nowhere, and Zhao Feihong, aside from supervising him too strictly and acting like a paragon of virtue, turned out to be a pretty good companion, and he would learn much about the world when they would chat. Whenever they discussed anything related to the Great Yu, from the Jianghu to the imperial court, Zhao Feihong knew them all like the back of his hand. These were all things that You Gutian rarely discussed. If Zhao Feihong wasn’t always forcing him to practice martial arts, then chatting together once in a while would be pretty nice. Compared with his life on Yuheng Mountain where he played the part of the precious and revered Young Master, he actually felt even more content and at ease staying here at Zhao Feihong’s home.
"I’ll treat." You Mengzhe poured out two silver coins from the red envelope and pulled Zhao Feihong over so they could gather together by the pavilion window to buy meat.
Then he asked, "How much should we buy?"
Zhao Feihong smiled and said, "Cut two liang of pig ears, add some lamb offal and beef liver, and grab a catty of Daughter's Red wine, and also some pork belly."
"Smoked chicken also works," he added.
You Mengzhe's index finger moved along with his appetite as saliva flowed from his mouth.
Zhao Feihong announced, "That’s enough. Use the rest to buy some firecrackers to play with."
You Mengzhe waved him off. He had suffered through several months of meager fare, so he even bought lots of smoked chicken with salted duck, pig ears, and beef brisket. Zhao Feihong carried the Daughter Red while You Mengzhe hauled the food box the stall had given him.
"Let's go," chirped You Mengzhe with a smile.
Zhao Feihong gazed at You Mengzhe and for a fraction of a second, seeming lost in another world.
You Mengzhe: "?"
You Mengzhe was just about to return home and gorge himself at tonight’s feast when Zhao Feihong suddenly insisted, "No, we’re not going home yet. Come with me."
They walked all the way out of the marketplace to the entrance, where they saw seven or eight stalls selling firecrackers and fireworks. Firecrackers exploded from all around as young children squealed loudly, bought firecrackers, and shot them at the dirt gleefully. You Mengzhe had to repeatedly get out of their way as he watched Zhao Feihong haggle with the stallkeeper and purchase some firecrackers. He also asked for a few sticks of incense, and the stallkeeper gave You Mengzhe a handful of gunpowder. As they emerged from the market exit’s thick sulphurous fumes, Zhao Feihong led You Mengzhe down to the river.
"After I drop you guys off, I’m going home to eat New Year's Eve dinner," the boatman warned, "I won’t be waiting to take you back, so think on it."
Carrying the wine, Zhao Feihong responded, "No worries, we will take the Lu Bridge back later."
The boatman squinted, then nodded, and the two of them boarded the sampan. With a sweep of the boatman’s long oar, they glided into the heart of the river.
Against the wintry sky’s dusky gloom, lush green mountains bordered both sides of the river, where abundant reeds grew. The view was vast and expansive, yet it brought a faint air of desolation, as the firecrackers’ pops and accompanying laughter from Ting County gradually drifted away.
The boatman scrutinized You Mengzhe before suddenly asking, "Little brother, you've ridden my sampan before, haven't you?"
"No, I haven't," You Mengzhe answered blankly as he looked at Zhao Feihong.
Zhao Feihong chuckled but didn’t say a word.
The sampan reached the shore and shortly departed, as Zhao Feihong walked up the slope. White paper money floated down from the mountains and swirled like butterflies towards the river.
On top of the slope stood a pavilion, which had a stone table and three stone benches. Zhao Feihong placed the wine on the table and gestured at You Mengzhe to sit down and eat. You Mengzhe stood for a while, and suddenly felt as if his heart had opened at the view of the bustling Ting County, blanketed by a layer of festive smoke.
"Eat." Zhao Feihong allocated the chopsticks and two cups, then poured the wine.
"Why are we eating here and not at home?"
"Back then when your mother arrived from the East Sea, she came to this very place."
You Mengzhe suddenly realized; the person that boatman had ferried all those years ago was Yu Qing?!
Zhao Feihong continued nonchalantly, "That year I, Yuanshan, and Qing'er drank wine here."
This instantly stirred thousands of emotions in You Mengzhe’s heart. Zhao Feihong raised his cup, their cups clinked together, and You Mengzhe downed the wine, his eyes slightly red.
"You don't look like your father," Zhao Feihong commented, "You don't look loathsome."
You Mengzhe laughed. "My father said that before too."
"Which is good, because if you looked like your father, I wouldn't have treated you so nicely."
"So I look like my mother," exulted You Mengzhe.
Zhao Feihong squinted and replied, "Seven parts of you look like her. I don't know who the remaining three parts look like."
"Well, surely not like you."
heartfelt wholesome vibes 👉🏼👈🏼
yuwen hong daddy
zhao feihong daddy
even mommy 😭
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Ruini.