# 156. A Goddess of War Seventh floor, Tower of Noble Spirit. The tea room was empty, save for Wei Yuan. Xu Qi’an, with his back straight and with steady stems walked in, clasping his fists: “Duke Wei.” Wei Yuan had just poured a cup of tea, and put it facing him. He raised his head, indicating, “Sit.” Xu Qi’an sat down reservedly, taking a token sip of tea, before fixing his gaze on Wei Yuan. He had a feeling, that the reason Wei Yuan wanted him, was because of the Case of Princess Pingyang. “The Princess Pingyang case has ended, the Sangpo Case must continue. His Majesty has shut down my suggestion.” Wei Yuan drank his tea, his voice neither quick nor slow, recounting the events in the Imperial Study to Xu Qi’an as if he was just idly chatting. Xu Qi’an said with a dark face, “Minister Sun of the Ministry of Law had past relations with Assistant Minister Zhou Xianping from the Ministry of Revenues, he hated me from the start…” Wei Yuan waved his hand wide, interrupting him unhappily, “These are all small matters!” He continued with a frustrated tone of voice, “His Majesty doesn’t like you, this is a big matter!” Xu Qi’an’s face became even darker. *Funny that, I don’t like him either.* When he first saw the daoist-robe wearing Emperor Yuanjing at the ancestor ceremony, a light contempt had started flickering in his heart. At that time, he thought it was because the Emperor represented feudalist imperial authority, but after the events with the spirit dragon, after coming in close contact, he discovered that his hate for Emperor Yuanjing was very pure; there was no other reason, he just innately hated the man. *Perhaps my horoscope is conflicting with his… I’m a monkey, is he a ram?* Xu Qi’an made a bitter laugh, “Your servant does not know how he has gained His Majesty’s contempt.” “Perhaps you just don’t have any affinity.” Wei Yuan rubbed his temples, “You just wait, there’s no more reason to investigate. At this time, all remaining threads have already been covered, you won’t be able to find anything more. When the time limit is up, and His Majesty must chop you, then I’ll arrange a death row prisoner to double for you. Heh, don’t worry, no one will worry too much about a little Bronze Gong like you.” *And then I’ll naturally become your covert… agent.* Xu Qi’an asked: “What if we can catch Zhou Chixiong?” Wei Yuan laughed, “Then all is resolved.” He shook his head and laughed again. Leaving the Tower of Noble Spirit, Xu Qi’an returned to Spring Breeze Hall, and told the matter to Song Tingfeng, Zhu Guangxiao, and Li Yuchun. Song Tingfeng and Zhu Guangxiao’s expressions both suddenly became stiff. The former struct the table emphatically, swearing, before walking in anxious circles around the hall, a deep bitterness being engrained deeper and deeper onto his face, as his frown got tighter. Li Yuchun hesitated, before saying, “The case of Princess Pingyang has wasted too much time. You’ll be hard pressed to investigate the Sangpo case further. The Sitianjian’s qi-watching technique cannot be used to accuse a fourth rank or higher official, unless you can ask the Jianzheng.” *Ask the Jianzheng? Not counting whether or not he wants to help, even if he did, would Emperor Yuanjing believe him?* Xu Qi’an’s hearts said, *No way I’m going to find that raggedy old man.* … Stargazing Tower. “Sister Caiwei, I wish to see the Jianzheng, do you have any way of taking me to the Bagua platform?” Xu Qi’an, carrying numerous bags of snacks and food, wore a smile like the most ultimate of simps in his previous life. Chu Caiwei without any hint of politeness ate the food Xu Qi’an offered, saying “Can’t do. Teacher is in seclusion, and has already closed the passage to the Bagua platform, no one can go up.” Bearing striking resemblance to a goddess expending her spare tyre. “There’s no way?” “Nope.” “When will our Teacher come out of seclusion?” Chu Caiwei gave him a look, *Since when is he “our teacher”?* She said: “At longest many months, at shortest maybe half a month. He’s probably on the Bagua platform reading star signs.” … Xu Qi’an felt a mouthful of old blood: this was karma! Freeloading all day, only for the day to come where he will be the one freeloaded off! *No, I can’t lose out like this…* He put all two taels of silver worth of food onto the table, saying “My little sis is having menstrual pains, it’s difficult to bear for her, is there any way to help?” Hearing this, Chu Caiwei rushed away, her hips swaying, before returning a few minutes later with a porcelain bottle. “When in pain eat one of these, it’ll be gone in a flash.” Though this Miss was somewhat of a glutton, she was nonetheless very generous. No matter if the medicine was expensive or not, she always was happy to give to people. …. Yunzhou. Within a vast and boundless mountain range, a decently sized fortified village was built with its back to a mountain, chains of torch-fires lighting the pitch-black night. The stronghold was easy to defend and hard to attack, being on favourable terrain. When the fortification was first built, the government had sent soldiers to try root them out, but after failing several times, they could only turn a blind eye. Banditry in Yunzhou was a serious matter, with mountain bandits, highwaymen, robbers and the like too numerous to count. The common people had long suffered, and the provincial government had been struggling for decades. After so many decades, slowly people grew used to it; a chaotic region still had a chaotic region’s way of life. It was just after dusk, and the mountain gales were already howling fiercely. Soon, thunderclaps echoed, and a downpour began. On the guard tower, the bandit on lookout resisted the icy cold wind and rain cutting into him, looking towards the inside of the stronghold with admiration. Today, the stronghold had another windfall. They had captured a merchant caravan, and brought back silk, tea, porcelain, all manner of valuable goods. This was all because of the new sixth boss that had come to the stronghold. His martial prowess outshone them all, and knew how to use combined assaults, and was proficient in training soldiers. It’s said that he came from the military, and used to be stationed in the Great Feng Capital. Later, because he couldn’t bear the corruption and rot of court, he simply took to the mountains, and became an outlaw. Currently, a great feast was being held in the stronghold. A great fire roared in the hall, as the six heads and several of their ringleaders were all eating and drinking with abandon, chatting vulgar topics, raising great goblets high. Thinly clothed women stood by, attending to their needs, forcing smiles on their faces. They were all captive women, some were common women, but some were the prized daughters of rich households. The prettier ones were picked out especially to serve the bosses and the ringleaders, whilst the rest were shared amongst the grunts in the stronghold. Zhou Chixiong sat by the table, his back habitually straight as a ruler, his manner clashing inharmoniously with the lustful outlaws. Beside him was a graceful woman attending to him, but Zhou Chixiong didn’t even bother looking over. These base, common bodies, he had no interest in even touching them. Zhou Chixiong had brought his family to Yunzhou. His wife and son were not in the mountain stronghold, rather being housed in the largest city in Yunzhou, Baidi[^1] city. Baidi City was one of the few havens in Yunzhou, that did not need to worry about bandits and outlaws. The top boss was a man with a huge matt of hair for a beard. He looked coarse and rough, but he was a careful and scrupulous martial artist at the peak of Refining Spirit. “Brother Zhou, is this woman not to your tastes?” Without waiting for Zhou Chixiong to reply, the top boss laughed uproariously, “I heard that there is a woman in this merchant caravan that has a face like a flower, who’s currently locked in the shed?” “Yes boss, that chick is a beaut!” “Bossman, compared to the other women in the fort, she’s… she’s like white sugar in a mud pile.” As that woman’s country-destroying beauty flashed up in his mind, Zhou Chixiong also became excited. She was captured by him, he knew best what she looked like. If he wasn’t a newcomer, then this woman would already be in his bedroom. The head boss hesitated for a moment, before smiling generously, “Go bring that girl over, tonight she will be the sixth boss’s to do with as he likes. Afher all he was the one who did the capturin’, he should be the one to open the feast!” The other bosses had no issue; it didn’t matter who starts them off, everybody will have a try eventually. After a while, a woman was brought over. She wore a pearly white layered dress, her skin was white as snow, her eyes were bright and beautiful, and her features were flawless. She was somewhat scared, like a cowering doe in a forest. The whole room fell silent, as everyone looked in a trance at her beauty, daydreaming. “Gurgle.” As the sound of gulping echoed. The woman seemed to know her own fate, and biting her lip, said shyly, “Wh- which master is your servant attending to?” Zhou Chixiong swallowed, feeling that her beauty was practically edible. He walked over with large steps, and dragged her to the table. Zhou Chixiong pulled the beautiful woman into his bosom, and as if he was starving touched her, licked her, bit her. The bandits watching this were filled with jealousy, wanting nothing more than to take his palce. “Are you Zhou Chixiong.” The soft voice of the girl sounded from by his ear. *She knows my name…* Zhou Chixiong’s blood ran cold, as all desire evaporated. At the same time, he discovered that the beauty in his lap was slowly whitening, slowly losing all life. A moment later, she had turned into a human-sized paper cutout. “Teeheehee…” A sharp female laughter echoed around the room, sending people’s hairs standing on end. Clang! The window burst open under the wind, extinguishing the fire in the room. In the darkness, the sound of blades being drawn resonated all around, as the head boss’s voice sounded out: “What cretins are engaging in this nonsense?” The sharp female laughter suddenly stopped. A few seconds later though, everyone in the fortress heard a mournful cry. That cry echoed through the mountains, through the night sky. “It’s a succubus.” Zhou Chixiong said deeply, as an ominous feeling welled up inside him. A succubus, a demon of romance, has almost no fighting capability, but is skilled in charming and seducing, and then sucking dry the victim’s spirit. Although martial artists were not skilled in dealing with ghosts and demons, when they roused their qi they could make their body immune to all manners of evil. What Zhou Chixiong was really worried about was the master of the succubus. Zhou Chixiong had a feeling that they were coming for him. Just then, the sound of drums sounded throughout the mountain, as from outside came the shouts of bandits: “Attack, attack!” The bosses and ringleaders of the stronghold all picked up their weapons, and rushed out of the hall, trying to look through the rainstorm. The night, the rain, and the forest blocked their sight. From the air came sharp whistling sounds, the sounds of numerous arrows. Bandits fell to the ground, as cries came from all around. The head boss smacked aside an arrow, and let out a breath. To attack from below, the arrows’ strength was never going to be too high. As long as their luck was not bad enough to be shot in a weak point, they would still be able to fight even with an arrow or two in them. “Prepare the rocks and oil…” The mountain fortress had the high ground, and these two things were its defensive trump cards. When the fortress was first built, it was these two things that fended off the government siege, that saw the stronghold through its hardest days. As soon as the head boss’s words fell, a silver flash arced through the night — not the flash of lightning, but the qi given off by a long spear. Roar! As lighting appeared at the perfect time, letting the bandits below see that on the spear was stood a figure. She wore scaled plate armour, a brilliant red cape streaming behind her. She wore no helmet, and her long hair was tied into a ponytail that reached to her waist. She was valiant and formidable, like a goddess of war, standing coldly above. As the goddess of war cast her spell, summoning the lighting. Boom! as the lightning crashed down, she clutched it between her fingers, and flung with all her might. Two archery towers of the stronghold fell with a crash. *Daoist lightning magic?* Zhou Chixiong was stunned stiff, as if his whole body was put in a freezer. --- [^1]: Baidi 白帝 (name), lit. White Emperor