"What ‘brother thief’, I am the Granddaddy of Thieves! It's Sun Bin, and you better remember it."
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Yu Changqing haggled in the West Market and with five taels of silver, bought a luminous evening pearl and stored it in a box. You Mengzhe originally planned to buy out the whole stall, but Yu Changqing restricted him firmly.
"We’re not that rich. The intention is good enough."
According to You Mengzhe's tastes, he would rather buy an elephant as a gift. His father, the leader of the Demon Cult, once earnestly taught him that all those so-called righteous people were the sworn enemies of his sect. You Mengzhe could care less about so-and-so’s virtues and prestige. Bringing a one-zhang-tall elephant to Elder Long’s manor to tread a couple laps around -- now that would be impressive! Too bad Yu Changqing wanted to catch the thief, so You Mengzhe had no choice but to give up on his fantasy.
At night, the whole city of Jiangzhou was as brightly lit as day. Yu Changqing brought You Mengzhe by carriage to the outside of the Long Manor, where longevity lanterns filled the courtyard. The whole residence overflowed with resplendent decorations and wine.
"Thousand-Mile Wanderer Yu Changqing is here——" The young servant at the gate announced loudly. Yu Changqing motioned for You Mengzhe to follow him. They stepped inside, cupping their hands in greeting.
Elder Long didn't personally greet his guests, but rather sent a few grandchildren to welcome guests in the side chamber. Yu Changqing presented his birthday gift, and a personal disciple named Lei Jiutian greeted him, chatted a bit, accepted the gift, and without a second glance, put it aside. He called the servant to bring tea, then left them to their own devices. You Mengzhe’s eyes darted left and right, spotting a servant emerging with mung bean cakes. He placed them on the side table, and winked at You Mengzhe.
You Mengzhe: "??"
Martial artists crowded the reception hall, talking loudly to each other. Some wore cloaks made of python or snake skin, their eyes as big as copper bells; some looked androgynous, with powdered faces and oiled hair; some had blue skin and pale-white lips, giving onlookers an eerie, gloomy impression; others had vicious faces that emitted a domineering aura. The list was endless. All the characters of the Jianghu were here, how lively!
Of all these people, none of them exchanged greetings with Yu Changqing. The more You Mengzhe munched on his mung bean cakes, the more indignant he felt, so loudly he remarked, "Are you looking down on..."
Before he could finish, Yu Changqing immediately covered his mouth, whispering, "Don't talk nonsense."
The members of the Jianghu never interacted with people from the court, much less the capital’s number one constable. Why the Longs had even invited him, Yu Changqing didn’t explain, only giving You Mengzhe the general idea in a hushed voice.
After a round of tea, Elder Long’s direct disciple came out again and said a few words, inviting the guests into the main hall to appreciate the treasures. Thus the Jianghu guests, numbering nearly two hundred, filed in one after the other. You Mengzhe swept his eyes over the crowd, but he didn't spot a single person he wanted to dual-cultivate with. He glanced back and forth, until finally his eyes returned to Yu Changqing.
Yu Changqing and You Mengzhe walked at the end of the group. A loud-mouth ahead of them exclaimed, "Old Man Long actually has a relationship with an imperial constable!"
Several people motioned at him not to talk nonsense. Yu Changqing just smiled and paid him no mind. They reached a long table sparkling with jewels and pearls. Only Yu Changqing’s gift appeared lackluster. Everyone nitpicked on who had given the best or rarest gift until finally, two disciples presented a golden Buddha, astonishing the crowd.
One disciple announced, "This is from Mt. Yi’s Master Huang."
An elderly voice laughed heartily and remarked, "Of course it’s Brother Huang."
As soon as the words left his mouth, an old man dressed in ceremonial brocade robes with a rosy, glowing face, plump forehead, and bright, piercing eyes emerged with a bronze staff. Everyone cupped their hands and bowed in succession, paying their respects to the evening’s birthday star, Elder Long.
"I also have a golden Buddha at home,” You Mengzhe whispered to Yu Changqing, "It’s much larger than this."
"My maid Jiu'er uses that thing to press pickled cabbages. If I had known earlier, I would have grabbed it."
"As for the origin of this golden Buddha," Elder Long added tearfully, "Ten years ago, Brother Huang's sect encountered a crisis. Originally, this golden Buddha came as part of a set, one large and one small. The large one was a world-class foreign treasure. However, on the day of Mt.Yi’s Elder Dai Luohan’s 80th birthday ceremony, the Demon Cult leader attacked the sect…”
"Is he talking about your Dad?" Yu Changqing asked.
"...and with a strike of a palm, the elder vomited blood and died, and the large golden Buddha was also looted. The whole sect suffered enormous shame and humiliation!"
In the absolute silence, Elder Long loudly thumped his staff. "In my lifetime, I have failed to avenge him and bring back the Golden Buddha."
One after another, the guests sighed and wiped their tears, and Elder Long continued, "I invited you all here today in the name of my birthday, because I have important matters to discuss with you. Everybody, please follow me."
The guests piled into the garden, the servants rolled out the banquet mats, and all were invited to eat food, drink wine, and enjoy the opera. The actor warbled and sang, but Yu Changqing kept his eyes trained on the hall storing the gifts and treasures. You Mengzhe listened to the opera for a long time, but didn’t really get it.
Yu Changqing spoke, "Virtuous brother, you eat and drink here, I’ll go for a walk."
After Yu Changqing left, You Mengzhe went in search of the latrine, urgently needing to relieve himself after all that tea.
The garden alone had thirty tables; the residence was huge, and he didn’t know the way. After a few turns, he hobbled towards an obscure, dark place, hoping to find somewhere to relieve himself.
In a hidden corner diagonally behind the opera stage, You Mengzhe was just about to untie his trousers when he suddenly spotted a young man, and almost jumped out of his skin.
The guy just looked at him and said, "Just pee, it’s not like I’m getting in the way."
You Mengzhe sought a bed of peonies to resolve his life’s most pressing issue, then asked, "What are you doing here?"
The young man pulled out a dagger and began sawing at the rope holding up the stage canopy, answering, "Cutting the rope."
"Why are you cutting the rope?"
After urinating he went back, but as soon as he sat down, the canopy above the stage collapsed. Suddenly, the pot in the garden exploded, prompting someone to shout, "What happened?!"
The actor was mid-song when four ropes snapped, and the stage collapsed. Red cloth covered everyone’s faces, and moments later, the lanterns tied to the ropes fell too. Fire engulfed the entire garden, and the martial artists fell into a frenzied panic.
"Calm down!" Long Batian, the eldest son of the Long family, hurriedly shouted at people to remove the red cloth.
In his corner, You Mengzhe burrowed out of the cloth in a few tries. Out of Elder Long’s three sons, Long Batian surveyed the scene, rescuing guests from atop his steed, while Long Bahai shouted, "The water is coming! Hurry up and bring some buckets!"
Just like that, a proper birthday banquet was ruined, with people extinguishing a fire here while in another hall, a woman screamed, “Grab him—Thief—Ahhhh—— !"
Finally everyone understood.
"Thief, stop running!" Yu Changqing shouted angrily.
Just then, a dark shadow leapt from the front courtyard, flying towards the west chamber. Yu Changqing, in his red constable robes, chased after him like an arrow, in complete harmony with his sword. His blade flashed with a swerve of his body, and with a weng, a flowerpot shattered in four directions. From an extremely tricky angle, the black shadow dashed over the courtyard wall, and with a leap, Yu Changqing followed him out of the Long Manor.
You Mengzhe only thought to himself, catch the thief, catch the thief! So he also chased after them, trying to hoist himself over the wall. But no matter how hard he kicked, he couldn’t mount the wall, rousing his anxiety. He had no choice but to take a step back and look around. After fetching a chair to prop himself up, he finally climbed out of the Long Manor.
"Arrest the thief!" A voice could be vaguely heard amidst the chaos in the courtyard.
You Mengzhe jumped off the wall and saw a flash of red robe deep in the back alley. He thought it must be Yu Changqing, so immediately chased after him, shouting, "Wait for me, Brother Yu!"
"Go back to the inn! This has nothing to do with you!" Yu Changqing shouted as he disappeared at the end of the alley.
When You Mengzhe made it out of the alley, he saw countless brightly lit homes. Jiangzhou’s main street connected to the alleys, which were connected to private residences. The alleys extended in all directions, so he soon lost his way. You Mengzhe scanned his surroundings as he walked, having no idea where he was.
Out of nowhere, a stone hit him on the head. When he looked up, he saw a man crouching on the junction of two walls. It was the boy from before!
"Come in." The guy gestured at him, then turned and jumped into a private courtyard.
You Mengzhe grabbed onto the wall, using all his might to climb up. This time he had no chair to help him and had no choice but to expend all his effort.
But at the most excruciating moment, someone gave his bottom a push, propelling Mengzhe over the wall.
You Mengzhe: "???"
The young man was waiting in the courtyard. As soon as You Mengzhe plopped down, the man covered his mouth and dragged him into a room.
The young man pushed You Mengzhe under the bed, and with a flash, adjusted the bed curtain and squeezed in with You Mengzhe.
"I get it now! You’re the thief!" You Mengzhe suddenly realized.
"You just figured it out?" The thief indiscriminately rummaged through a pile of treasure, taking out an item, and asked, "This is yours, right?"
You Mengzhe snatched the book away and replied, "So you were the one who stole it. What's your name, brother thief?"
"What ‘brother thief’, I am the Granddaddy of Thieves! It's Sun Bin, and you better remember it."
You Mengzhe hugged the book in his arms and said, "Brother Yu is looking for you, what did you steal from him?"
Sun Bin scoffed, not answering You Mengzhe's question, and asked back, "Have you practiced all the martial skills in this book? Is this method reliable?"
You Mengzhe stared at the filthy and grimy Sun Bin, contemplating whether he should invite him to dual-cultivate. This rascal's skill seemed mediocre, probably nothing extraordinary, otherwise why would he be chased all over the place by Yu Changqing? Forget it.
"You should leave quickly, I'll go back to find Brother Yu." You Mengzhe collected his book and was just about to leave when Sun Bin held him down.
"You must be kidding! If you get topped by him a few times, laozi might not be his opponent anymore. You’re not going anywhere, and you better behave!"
"Then do you want to..."
Sun Bin immediately covered You Mengzhe's mouth, staying hidden and entwined under the bed.
They heard Long Batian’s voice from outside. “Did someone come in?”
A woman’s voice replied with an obsequious laugh, "Yes."
"Where! Hurry, hand him over!"
"Young Master Long, aren't you the one who came in? Why did you visit our Yifang Yard when you were free?"
Long Batian shouted, "Stop putting on an act! Is there someone here or not!"
The chorus of female voices began to giggle and tease, until finally Long Batian ordered, "You men, search over there!"
When the voices outside faded away, Sun Bin warned,"Behave or I’ll kill you."
"You should quickly escape..."
Sun Bin rolled out from under the bed, grabbed You Mengzhe's hand, and without ado, swooped him into his arms bridal-style. Sun Bin stepped out, his eyes darting left and right, and with one foot on the edge of the flowerbed, he leaped out of the small courtyard into another alley, and started zipping through the air.
You Mengzhe: "!!!" This guy’s Qinggong was pretty good! Good enough to dual-cultivate with!
"Hey, how about..." You Mengzhe shouted. "Wait a second!"
Sun Bin leaped over roofs and vaulted over walls, sometimes jumping over wooden fences, other times hurtling onto empty streets. He swerved left then right, veering until You Mengzhe felt absolutely miserable.
"Over there! He just passed by with a man in his arms!" someone immediately shouted from the street.
A few leaps later, he had thrown off the Long Manor soldiers by a mile, so landed on the ground once more. Then he vaulted Jiangzhou’s city wall, kicked over the city gate tower’s water barrel, and dove out of Jiangzhou.
"AAAHHHHHH!!!!" You Mengzhe shrieked in fear.
"Hush—" Sun Bin motioned not to panic. The wooden barrel, Sun Bin, and You Mengzhe flew out of the city wall. After falling 5 zhang, he maneuvered one foot onto the wooden barrel, gliding on it like an arrow until the barrel broke their fall, pulverized to pieces by the massive force. The two landed steadily, and Sun Bin once again rushed into the night.
As the blazing lights and music of Jiangzhou faded into the night, Sun Bin's speed slowed, and the terrain flattened. You Mengzhe, gasping for breath from all the jolting, finally opened his mouth to speak.
"What are you taking me to do, you don’t think you’re running too slowly?"
Sun Bin kept moving, borrowing the moonlight to study You Mengzhe, and asked back, "If I don’t take you with me, you think I’m going to let Yu Changqing practice martial arts with you? If he surpasses laozi in Qinggong, I’ll be screwed."
"But running like this isn’t good either.” Even though Mengzhe’s extra weight didn’t hinder his Qinggong, if Yu Changqing caught up, or if Sun Bin faltered for even a moment, in the end, his expression wouldn’t look so good.
Towards the man himself, You Mengzhe didn’t have much interest. He was only interested in his Qinggong, so he suggested, "How about we find a place to dual-cultivate. After we’re done, you can run along, and I can return to Jiangzhou."
"I think it's pretty good in the woods over there."
"Sure, whatever you say." Then he picked up You Mengzhe and bore in.
SURPRISE! won’t make you wait another week for the first PA.PA.PA. (a quickie because desperate times call for desperate measures!)
Also, HUGE thank you to Jin and Raikie for being my first ever Ko-fi supporters! The encouragement means more to me than you know <3 Y’all really surprised me because I really doubted anyone would read this novel because of the tags.
And even for people who love crazy tags, this story isn’t the typical, dark angsty type that comes with the territory. THIS SHOULD HAVE ITS OWN SEPARATE TROLL TAG!!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Ruini.