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223 "Recruit"

 Shan Xiumei nodded and said, "The Martial Club in Yedu provides a platform for the ordinary disciples to rise through the ranks. They can be considered as doing a great service for mankind."

Her admiring expression contained hints of her mercy and sympathy for the lower-class people, making her truly seem like an elegant fairy descending to the mortal world.

Wang Ce stared at her side-profile, enjoying the beautiful lines that frame her face. For awhile, he became intoxicated by her beauty.

Soon after, people began filing in to watch the contest in the Martial Club. These included Kong Yu, the Green-ribbon Arrester from Yedu; Huang Yuanhua, the external affairs elder of the Huang Family; Lian Shuiyao, the external affairs Deacon of the Huanhua Swords Sect; and Manager Qi Zhengyan. They were here to recruit talents for their sects.

Naturally, there were also contestants from other aristocratic families and sects competing in other halls. But since all the eminences were gathered here, the most important matches were naturally held here.

Wang Ce pointed at a quiet and cold-looking young man in the arena, introducing him to Shan Xiumei. "This is Cao Chengye from Sun-scorching Martial Club. He's only 19 but has already opened his Eye Apertures. Since our family values talent, we decided to give him a chance to cultivate advanced kungfu."

He had ordered one of his servants to gather information about the contest today and read up on it so he could give Shan Xiumei an explanation. That was why he had a deep impression of Cao Chengye from his sect. Otherwise, why would Childe Wang know about a youngster at the mere level of Enlightening the Apertures?

Shan Xiumei nodded as she sized up Cao Chengye. She then turned her attention toward his opponent, an honest-looking teenager who seemed bothered by the boisterous atmosphere of the contest, and asked, "Who is he?"

Wang Ce stiffened momentarily. The old servant beside him fed him information through Secret Voice-sending.

He coughed once before leisurely explaining, "That's He Mu from the Green Peak Material Club. He's at the primary level of Qi-cultivation. He won five matches yesterday and has quite an outstanding sword art."

"Did he win five consecutive matches with that cultivation?" Shan Xiumei was surprised. In such a contest, talents with their Eyes Apertures opened and contestants at the primary level of Qi-cultivation were the minorities. Many were top masters with advanced cultivation. Even if this youngster won five consecutive matches managed to avoid a match with an outstanding disciple like Cao Chengye, he was bound to meet at least several advanced cultivation opponents. How could he be invincible?

Wang Ce moved his hands behind his back, glancing at Cao Chengye and He Mu. A short pause later, he replied, "Based on comments from the judges and audience, He Mu wields his sword like a chess piece. He has a clear and organized strategy and often pulls off surprises. His every match is full of pitfalls. Basically, his grasp of sword art doesn't seem like a youngster his age would be able to have."

"In other words, there's an expert guiding him behind the scenes?" Shan Xiumei curiously asked.

Wang Ce smiled. "That's very likely. I suspect even the setup of his sword art is the design of someone else. But of course, we can't completely discount the possibility that he's a sword art genius."

Suddenly becoming even more feminine, Shan Xiumei said, "Brother Wang, can he defeat Cao Chengye since he has the advice of a top master?"

"Impossible," Wang Ce replied resolutely. "There's a great gap between their cultivations. Cao Chengye can use his strength or speed to dismantle He Mu's tricks. The only way to close their gap is for the master to personally come to the scene and instruct He Mu using his rich experience and ingenious sword art."

Shan Xiumei's gaze at Wang Ce carried a hint of reverence as if he was saying words of wisdom. It made him feel proud and pleased.

"He had been continually evading and defending during his first battle, eventually making Bai Liang's flaws more and more obvious to the point that he couldn't defend himself at all..."

"Exquisite sword art, cautious character, adept at luring his opponents into his traps, comprehensive setups..."

On the arena, Cao Chengye was recalling the information that his seniors and juniors had prepared for him, allowing him to make an accurate impression of the opponent before him.

He was calm and his mind was clear. He had long come up with a strategy to deal with his opponent.

From the look of things, He Mu's sword art was superior but his cultivation was nevertheless much higher. Whether it was in strength, speed, or reaction, He Mu wasn't his rival at all. More importantly, his Eye Apertures were open and he was apt at detecting fast-moving objects. Even if he fell for He Mu's trap, he could still dodge his attack.

He would use his strength and speed to dismantle He Mu's traps but he reminded himself to save some of his strength to counter the changes in He Mu's moves in case he was entrapped.

Before him, He Mu was expressionless without any desire for victory. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never harbored thoughts of winning a master with enlightened Eye Apertures. He only stood here today to prove Teacher Su's 'storytelling' strategy.

Teacher Su's words yesterday still lingered in his mind and it made him eager to give it a try.

"Whether it's strength, genuine Qi, or speed, you're no match for your opponent. Once the match begins, you wouldn't be able to defeat him no matter what kind of storytelling you use or traps you set for him."

"Your only chance lies in the image you created through your first five matches, making you seem cautious and apt at creating laying down traps. In your storytelling, as long as your opponent isn't a reckless person or a master who strictly goes on the offensive, he'll begin putting up his guard and wondering if your move is calculated to entrap him. He'll preserve some of his strength to respond to your moves and that's where your chance comes in."

"This is a martial contest, not a real battle. Being an enlightened master, he'll definitely mind his status and allow you to make the first move."

"Of course, if your opponent is truly reckless or prideful, you can enjoy the match since there's no way for you to win."

Would this work? Would this really, really work? Teacher Su's 'odd strategy' was unacceptable! It wasn't that it was too strange. Rather, it was so common that there were no mysteries to it at all.

With Teacher Su's words still ringing in his ears, He Mu lifted his long sword and adopted the posture of being ready to fight.

Cao Chengye considered his status and crossed his sword before his chest. He indicated for his opponent to make the first move.

He Mu took a deep breath. With the genuine Qi swelling up in his body, he thrust force into his waist and legs and showcased the Solitary Sail in the Sea move.

This move had all of his strength and genuine Qi in it, leaving nothing for his retreat. There were only Teacher Su's final eight words echoing in his mind.

"There's no retreat! There's no return!"

Sunlight spilled into the hall, turning the sword radiance into a beautiful, glittering ray of light. It was as if the sword radiance was a turreted Junk Ship amid the wide blue sea and bathing in the sunlight. The Junk Ship traveled on a straight path, looking imposing and grand.

This was the fastest and most powerful move He Mu had ever displayed. Even if it was him who faced this move, having achieved the advanced success of Qi-cultivation, he wouldn't be able to block it. Of course, he would still be agile enough to dodge it.

To Cao Chengye, however, he could still distinguish the trajectory of He Mu's move despite its extreme speed. There was enough time for him to prepare a countermeasure.

"Cautious..."

"Skilled in sword art and traps..."

"His every move hides a trap..."

Taking all these into consideration, he subconsciously preserved some of his strength when he drew his long sword to block He Mu's move.

Clang!

When the swords collided, it was his sword that was knocked away!

That strength!

Was He Mu not saving any of his strength?

Had he exhausted his genuine Qi?

How could he be so reckless and disregard future changes?

Cao Chengye's hand went numb and his sword knocked just a little out of his hand. He Mu's sword trembled but still followed its course with its power and speed, aiming at his opponent.

It was too late for Cao Chengye to dodge the sword tip that was about to reach his body. He could only use his remaining strength to dodge the sharp sword.

He gritted his teeth and lied down before making a roll to avoid He Mu's sword. He flipped up to his feet like a carp in shame and anger, about to return the attack, when He Mu withdrew his sword.

With a smile, he said, "I surrender."

He was buoyed by happiness. It was beyond his wildest dream to be able to reduce an Eye Apertures master to such a pathetic state. If he had advanced cultivation, if his inner force and strength were stronger, if his speed was faster, Cao Chengye might not be able to dodge his attack.

However, he was also aware that his success against Cao Chengye was all thanks to favorable circumstances. He was lucky to be able to make the first move. He was lucky that Cao Chengye didn't use his Desperate Hit. He was lucky that he managed to establish the right image, paving the way for his 'storytelling', and force Cao Chengye to worry about possible traps while meeting his attack. He was lucky that Cao Chengye was a cautious person.

Of these favorable circumstances, the most important one was credited to Teacher Su's wisdom. Even if he could enjoy the other advantages and had advanced cultivation, he would still suffer an easy defeat at Cao Chengye's hands.

On the second floor, Wang Ce was angered to see Cao Chengye looking puzzled while facing He Mu's sword before rolling to dodge it. "What is he thinking about? How can he get distracted during a match!"

It gave the impression of Cao Chengye being bewitched.

Shan Xiumei seemed lost in thought as she took in He Mu's calmness. Somewhere nearby, Qi Zhengyan was nodding and praising He Mu's fast development in his mind.

The old servant lips formed a word but no sound came. Wang Ce's face regained its calm instantly and he said, "Cao Chengye was reduced to such a pathetic state because he considered too much. Through his last five matches, He Mu managed to create the impression that he was cautious and wise, that he was adept at sword art and traps. Cao Chengye was so distracted with preparing for possible traps that he didn't expect that He Mu to focus all his strength to attack him. That dumbfounded him for awhile and nearly allowed He Mu an opportunity to exploit."

"To set a trap using He Mu's performance in the first five matches, this master of his is truly wise and far-sighted. It's truly surprising. If Brother Wang Siyuan is still here at the River East, I'd suspect him to be the master. Naturally, if it's really him, there would be no hope for Cao Chengye."

Shan Xiumei said admiringly, "Brother Wang, with your words, I understand that the master behind He Mu can't be underestimated."

"Exactly. I plan to get someone to investigate him and see if I can draw him to our side. A family can never have one too many masters." These were honest words coming from a person with the upbringing of a legitimate son.

Not far away from them, Kong Yu thought for a moment before ordering the Governor Arrester next to him. "Send someone to secretly investigate He Mu and find out who's the one guiding him. Even if we don't disturb him, we should keep an eye on him lest any disaster happens."

Hidden amid the crowd inside the Martial Club, Meng Qi patted his tunic and walked out with his hands behind him. He was satisfied with the outcome.

He had quietly observed Shan Xiumei earlier and noticed she didn't seem surprised by He Mu's sword art. This indicated that she had a deep understanding of it, even more so than Wang Ce. This was something suspicious.

When he made his way outside, he saw a carriage covered with a white felt parked in front of him. The driver wore an indifferent face, staring straight ahead.

The door opened, revealing a delicate-looking girl in white with an ethereal temperament. Inside, warm incense was burning in the bronze stove. There was a large white cloak near her hand.

"Husband, I just know you'll be here to see Shan Xiumei. Come inside the carriage," Gu Xiaosang said with a sweet smile.

Meng Qi put up his guard but his exterior was still calm. "How can I confirm that she's from the Sect of the Plain Lady ? How can I prove she has the Outsky Strange Stone? And how do you know she's looking for me?"

He didn't want to be taken advantage by Gu Xiaosang.

"Husband, why are you doubting me? Well, I'll take you somewhere and you'll find out." She pointed at the seat opposite of hers.