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172 Sword Principles

 It was not until Meng Qi stood up that he realized this old man was tall and stocky. In spite of his age, he still looked as strong as an ox. When he turned around, Meng Qi saw a face that had the marks of age with deep wrinkles and spots. But his eyes still glistened like you could still see the reflections of Meng Qi and Ruan Yushu in them, which was dissimilar to the common cloudy eyes of a man at his age.

His hand that wielded the sword was steady like a rock, as if repeating a movement he had made a million times. If his movements were cut into frames, then apart from the difference in distance, it would be shockingly identical.

By now Meng Qi was feeling a little gloomy, for this was the most formidable adversary he had ever had to face since mastering kung fu! Compared with him, An Guoxie and You Huanduo were only perhaps on par as it pertained to body, technique and inner Qi force. However, in terms of level, he was just on another plateau. They never had anything close to his skill where every movement was in accordance with Dharma and Logos, not to mention the harmony embodied in between movements.

Meng Qi had come to the realization that this old man was a step away from opening the Hidden Latch in his mid-brows. Once opened, he would immediately be able to make heaven and earth merge, in other words, he would be able to bypass the Half-step Exterior Scenery.

Is it the Royal Advisor or Sword Emperor?

He took a deep breath and forced his Energy, Qi, Spirit and Will to amalgamate. If he had felt the killing instinct of the old man earlier he'd already exerted a combination of Mortal Dust Fall, Yama's Invitation, Sacrifice Formula and Peace Quietude Split respectively in hopes of finding a chance to escape.

Even then, he would not dare to be careless, for it would be effortless for a master of his caliber to conceal his intention to kill.

Meng Qi grasped the sword with his right hand and used his left hand to jiggle the blade handle, indicating to Ruan Yushu that she should jump off the bridge and into the river to escape immediately after his attacking move.

Because he could not lose focus for even an instant when facing an opponent of this level.

Ruan Yushu, however, was still as calm as ever. He had no idea what she had up her sleeve.

As the old man moved forward with a steady pace he wielded his sword. The moves seemed uncomplex but it was as if they were changing constantly, which meant that the flaws were moving too. So there was no chance of catching him off-guard.

Meng Qi focused everything he had on this one sword attack. Sentences of Sword-breaking Moves and the end-all moves had disassembled and reconstructed in his mind over and over.

There it is!

Meng Qi decided to attack instead of retreating. He made a run of the mill attack move with Long Sword, landing around seven inches left of the old man's sword.

His dynamic sword form had collapsed, but the move suddenly split into two, the Yin and Yang. Meng Qi's long sword quickly sliced to the left and the right , but it went against the momentum of the Yin and Yang, forming a vortex that had immediately engulfed Meng Qi's long sword!

Could it be a trap? The only real weakness was actually a trap!

Meng Qi suppressed his shock and gathered himself, then he rotated his wrist so that his long sword turned with the vortex. The speed of the sword had increased exponentially, heading straight for the old man's chest.

But then, the tip of the old man's sword was just above the course of Meng Qi's sword, so he easily let the sword pass him, and it was as if Meng Qi's wrist automatically dove for the tip of his sword!

Another trap?

Meng Qi was forced to change his attack, so he leaned forward and flicked his sword to avoid the tip of the old man's sword. Then his own sword pointed diagonally at the old man's throat.

The old man, unfazed, slightly twisted his body sideways so that Meng Qi missed, but his own sword hadn't moved at all. Therefore Meng Qi's chest and stomach headed directly towards it.

The real trap?

A thousand thoughts crowded Meng Qi's mind, but eventually, he had to retrieve his attack and back off.

The old man was not about to let up, his sword moved dynamically forming an infinite number of changes and combinations like weaving a spider web; layer after layer mixed in with traps and weaknesses, making Meng Qi's eyes dazzle.

Meng Qi saw quite a few apparent weaknesses but he dared not attack because he was afraid of falling into another trap like before. Even this one sword attack might even be interlinked to the former trap in a series!

A strong feeling welled up from inside, Meng Qi's every attack seemed to be active and on his own accord, but in fact they were influenced by the change of circumstances. In turn, what he did just met the hope of the old man. Basically, lured by the old man, Meng Qi fell into one trap after another. The traps were like escape-proof nets.

It was with great effort that Meng Qi was able to get away block his attacks, but he felt the old man's sword form was retrieving like pulling the net after a catch. Meng Qi felt that his struggling to block had forced himself into yet another tight corner.

Cold sweats started forming on his forehead, even when he faced the Evil Prince, he was still able to detect the enemy's movements using his genuine Qi and will. And when his genuine Qi was in application, or based on his own muscle reactions, he knew which move to make next. But now, it seemed he was being pulled by the ear, and never had his Nine Strategies Beyond the Swords being so flustered. Even if he could negate the opponent's sword attack, he would still end up falling in a deeper trap.

But with so much uncertainty at present, Meng Qi dared not go against his own judgement and make a sudden move because then he'd reveal his weakness. It would be like presenting his own head on a platter.

CLANK!

Then all of a sudden, as though streams purled, and string music entered his ears, Meng Qi's fickleness dissapeared. Those words of End-all Moves and Sword-breaking Moves once again appeared before his eyes, and all the knowledge that he had accumulated these days surged in his mind again.

The dynamic changes of his sword attack had disappeared and no longer boggled his mind. What he saw was simple moves like slice, pick, flick, swipe, cut and stab...each single move having filled up his vision.

And no matter how those moves changed or formed combinations, he was still able to identify the basic principles that they followed!

It was as if the heavens had shone a light on Meng Qi and he had been enlightened. He guarded his chest with Long Sword.

Clang!

All the shadows of the sword that previously shaded the vicinity had now disappeared, and for the first time, the two swords collided.

Meng Qi felt a sense of delight. Just as he was about to counter, the old man pulled his sword and just stood there. He then remarked in a neither happy nor angry tone,

"I see you've pulled your sword to defend."

Meng Qi suddenly felt flabbergasted and thunderstruck,

"Just when I thought I had him all figured out, it was actually a part of his trap with his prodigious sword skills as well?"

He set

up such a complex set of traps, using the exposal of his real weak spots as a decoy just to lure me into pulling my sword and get into defense?

If he actually attacked with full strength, what could I do then?

My only choice would have been to activate the Golden Bell Shield and use a combination of Mortal Dust Fall, Yama's Invitation, Sacrifice Formula and Peace Quietude Split to force a storm of attack and find an opportunity to escape, which would have displayed the demeanor of the Thunder Blade Furious and Reckless Monk to the max.

"This is one of the Essence of my Sword Principles. The fact that you have survived it means you've already made a step towards understanding Sword Principles. Based on your age, this is already a great achievement, because at around the same age, I was only able to harness genuine Qi and sword art at the Earthen Realm level." Remarked the old man after he sheathed his sword and stood there with his hands behind his back.

Meng Qi felt a little better because if it weren't for the fact that he had figured out a modicum of the sword principles, he'd probably lose without having the opportunity to retrieve his sword and get into defense.

The old man hadn't mentioned why he had blocked Meng Qi's way, and just continued to talk about sword art, "There're two bask principles of sword art. One is to go from complex to simple and the other is just the opposite. As it pertains to the former, every move is, in itself, Sword Principles, which is broken down into split, cut, intercept, and slice, easily overpowering opponents. The latter is derived from all arts, which means its changes and transformations are many and varied; there are countless layers of traps within the changes, rendering your opponent hopeless and exhausted."

"The two are not separate entities, in fact, just the opposite, they are the yin and yang and Sword Principles, where one extracts from the other, what one needs."

He looked at Meng Qi with his glistening eyes, "Whether it goes from complex to simple or vice-versa, the Sword Principles still revolves around the entity 'I', not the opponent. I value talents, which is why I'm telling you all of this."

All of a sudden, it was as if a ray of light had flashed accross Meng Qi's mind, illuminating all the accumulated exhaustion and eliminating layers of shade and doubt.

Meng Qi sheathed his sword and bowed, "Thank you for your guidance, Respected elder."

His advice was not only helpful in digesting the Nine Strategies Beyond the Swords, but also invaluable to Meng Qi's sword art. Furthermore, it had provided another angle to the way Meng Qi viewed the "Heaven Blade".

The old man looked at the surroundings, not noticing Meng Qi's bow, then added with a sigh, "You are talented, but your sword art still has a long way to go to reach higher realms, just as I only picked up the Long Sword eight years ago, earning the name "Sword Emperor".

"So it is really the Sword Emperor..."

Meng Qi was not surprised, instead asked curiously, "Respected elder, is it true that you had previously abandoned your sword?"

"No, I wouldn't say abandoned. It was more like 'the sword and I forgot each other'." The Sword Emperor answered calmly, "For a while, the sword existed only in the hand rather than the heart. But, when the sword exsited in the heart rather than the hand, then anything from a branch to a piece of wood was my sword. I was the sword and the sword was me. Hence the sword and I forgot each other, perhaps more precisely, the sword and I became one entity...---Having past this stage, I once again picked up this sword, it was still just a sword. Then, I finally understood the Sword Principles."

Meng Qi thought for a s second, then the words just came out, "First you saw the mountain as a mountain and water as water; then the mountain was no longer a mountain and water no longer water; finally, the mountain was still a mountain and water was still water, is that what you mean?"

The Sword Emperor slightly nodded in acknowledgement, "I see you get it now, such is the way with these things; only when you figure it out on your own, do you then really 'get in'."

He turned and began walking away in a steady pace, then his figure became just an inch tall, eventually disappearing in the darkness. However he did leave one last sentence,

"Please tell Lu Guan that no matter who becomes the emperor, there's no avoiding being at war with the West Invaders, which means that his services will definitely be needed. So tell him to be patient and not be in a rush to join sides."

Meng Qi breathed a sigh of relief,

"Luckily, the Sword Emperor doesn't have any cruel intentions, or he and Ruan Yushu would have been in trouble."

"It's best not to take sides for the time being." Ruan Yushu, who had been quiet all this time, finally spoke.

Meng Qi glanced at her and was touched by the fact that she didn't leave him behind, "You're right, these are my thoughts too. If Luo Shengyi wants to help the Third Prince, that's his concern. It has nothing to do with us."

The fact that Luo Shengyi came to a decision without discussing it with anyone made Meng Qi very angry.

However, the reason he chose not to help was not because he was angry, instead, he decided to adopt a wait and see attitude. After all, his target was Lu Guan and not to help some Imperial Prince to get on the throne!

So, no matter how angry he was, Meng Qi was still going to visit the Third Prince the next day - He had to at least get to know the prince first, then make an informed decision when the time came.

"None of us have any experience in dealing with the capricious nature of being in the imperial court, we have to ask Lu Guan." Ruan Yushu added in her usual cool tone.

"You have a point." Meng Qi acknowledged. These things had to call for the opinion of an "expert", while he had no experience with these matters at all.

Within the confines of the Courier Hostel, Lu Guan heard Sword Emperor's message from Meng Qi and what he said about the status quo of the capital, then laughed bitterly, "I only have a small number of soldiers who still follow my command, how am I to compete for the throne? I will request to see the Right Chief Minister as soon as possible in hopes of becoming the emperor's loyal servant and support whomever gets the throne."

He then muttered to himself, "To be honest, not every imperial candidate wants my services. If one of the princes had already negotiated a deal with the West Invaders to solve matters peacefully, I would become redundant, which might not be all bad because people would not have to suffer through war. I just hope the deal doesn't require too much sacrifice."

Meng Qi frowned slightly, because under normal circumstances, competing for the throne was between the forces of a few princes. But now, the Chen force of the west invaders were camped upstream of the Pei River, they could pounce the south at any moment. So their choices were extremely influential to who sits on the throne.

"The emissary to negotiate a deal has been in the capital for a while, but where's he now? With whom is he colluding?"

Meng Qi came to a decision, so he suddenly stood up to do some investigation work seeing it was still dark.