When Jiang Ling returned to the Condensing Heart Courtyard, the curtain of night had already fallen on the day as the crescent moon hung upon the tips of the tree branches.
Outside the courtyard, she looked around, but she found that, unexpectedly, the lamp was not lit in Gu Yun’s room, and so she went directly to Yun He’s room.
After she knocked and entered, she found that Gu Yun was not in Yun He’s room, either. 

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“Shijie, I’m back.
Where’s shixiong? I have some nice things to give him.” Jiang Ling inquired about Gu Yun as soon as she entered.
She had taken some packets of the western spices from Shangguan Qing, and she was anxious to give it to him so that the next time he cooked he could use some. 

“A Yun descended the mountain.
He’ll be back tomorrow.” 

“What? So he descended the mountain secretly, behind my back.
I want to go, too.” She wanted to descend the mountain immediately to go find He Xi; find her, and ask her if she could call her ‘A Xi.’

“Nonsense.
Your shixiong descended the mountain to handle some business, not to go have fun.” Yun He chided her. 

“…”

Jiang Ling could only pout and sit back down.
Yun He likewise said nothing, so the room passed through a bout of abnormal silence. 

“I’m going to sleep.” Jiang Ling could not sit there for another moment. 

The second day, Gu Yun returned with some snacks from down the mountain, “There’s not as much good food on the mountain.
It’s better down the mountain.”

And he said that he was not going to have fun, Jiang Ling criticized in her mind. 

For the next few days, Jiang Ling, Shangguan Qing, and Gu Yun were lively and stirred up good-natured trouble amongst themselves.
The time passed happily until, at last, the day of the Sword Conference arrived. 

The Sword Conference area was located at the base of a mountain not far from the entrance gate; that area was unusually flat and even, as if the heavens had used a blade to cut out the cross-section on which the Sword Conference Stage was located.
The Sword Conference Stage was not large, no more than five zhang[1] across.
As it was a competition, sword arts and internal force would be compared and relatively superiority and inferiority distinguished, so the size of the stage was not a concern.
To the left and right of the stage were large platforms for the disciples to watch the matches, while the viewer’s stand for the sect leaders and elders was situated in front. 

At this Sword Conference of four sects, each sect leader brought ten disciples to take up the challenge.
The competition on the first day would not include the disciples of outside sects, and only disciples of the same generation from the Qingshan Sect could sign up.
Only those who placed among the top ten would be able to compete during the next four days. 

Today, the sun was shining, and the banners embroidered with emerald bamboo danced and flapped in the breeze.
The Sect Leader, Liu Qi, along with Elder Yi of the Hall of Regulations, Elder Ye of the Hall of Swords, and Elder Sun of the Hall of Medicine waited for the attention of all of the elders gathered, and alongside the rumbling drumbeats, Gu Shi announced the start of the Sword Conference. 

Jiang Ling was completely aware of her own weak points, and she made a special effort to foster her strengths and circumvent her weaknesses.
All she strove for were steadiness, accuracy, and speed, the ability to disarm her opponents before they could react.
In the event that she could not defeat her enemy in one move, and she was locked in a stalemate, then she was not far away from defeat.
So, she planned to surrender if she found herself in a stalemate.
Yun Yangzi had also once entrusted her with a full understanding of her situation: at the root of it, she had to be nimble and adaptable, and she could not meet force with force.
Jiang Ling had implemented this principle: to flee from an opponent she could not defeat. 

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“A Du, did you sign up, too?” Jiang Ling saw that A Du was also in the column of disciples. 

“Mhm, to test the progress of my cultivation.” A Du had already been at the Qingshan Sect for three years, but he had not before joined the Sword Conference, nor had he had the chance to become an inner disciple, so he thought to give it a try.
As he spoke, A Du suddenly took a step back and hid behind Jiang Ling.
As it was, Jin Jue had walked over.
The way he held his nose up when he looked at people made others irritated. 

He stretched out a hand to pat Gu Yun and Jiang Ling on their shoulders, displaying a hypocritical show of friendship as he said, “Jiang-shimei, Gu-shidi, good luck today.
I don’t know if you’ll have a chance to compete after today.
Don’t falter because, after all, you two are inner disciples of the Qingshan Sect.
Don’t lose face for Yun Yangzi-shibo.”

“You’re competing today, as well?”

Jiang Ling recalled that the first eight inner disciples from the last Sword Conference would be directly added to the list for this one.
Yun He and Jin Jue, as well as the Sect Leader’s second disciple, Yu Qiu-shijie, were of the same age and rank and had no need to join today’s competition.
All they had to do was arrange for their own itinerary, whether it was joining the spectators or spending the day relaxing.
At this moment, Yun He was sitting on the viewing platform. 

“I thought to come and wish shidi and shimei good luck.
Perform well, Jiang-shimei, Gu-shidi.” The tone of Jin Jue’s voice was nauseating; Jiang Ling did not want to say one more sentence to him. 

“Thank you, shixiong.” Gu Yun bit out, feigning courteousness. 

Jin Jue affectedly exchanged some greetings with the other shixiong and shimei before leaving. 

“Hmph.” Jiang Ling snorted loudly behind Jin Jue’s back, making sure that Jin Jue heard it. 

In no time, the competition began. 

Jiang Ling’s turn to take the stage came as noon approached.
She was sitting to one side watching Gu Yun smoothly defeat his opponent, and she was eager to have a go.
Her opponent was about the same age as her and so slender that they appeared that the wind could blow them away.
The two ascended the stage and Gu Shi called a start to the match. 

Jiang Ling and the young saluted each other then began their opening moves.
Who would know that, while the youth seemed slim and fragile, his technique was exceptional.
A Du said anxiously: “Jiang-shijie won’t have a problem, right? Han-shixiong’s qinggong technique is the best of our generation.” Gu Yun draped an arm over A Du’s shoulder: “Don’t worry.”

The youth raised his sword and lept, reaching Jiang Ling in the span of a second.
Jiang Ling took in his motions instantaneously, and the corners of her lips turned upward.
Her body slanted slightly, avoiding the strike as her left index finger pressed toward the youth’s wrist acupoint with concealed force, as she wanted him to drop his sword out of pain.
That youth saw through Jiang Ling’s intentions and turned to one side to avoid Jiang Ling’s strike.
At that moment, Jiang Ling followed the youth’s steps and raised her sword to bring it down onto the youth’s blade, and with a flick of her wrist, the sword flew out of the youth’s hand, dumbfounding him.
The sword spun in the air, and Jiang Ling lept up to grab it, then landed lightly back on the ground. 

“Admit your defeat.” Jiang Ling saluted the youth and she held his sword out to him in both hands. 

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The youth was amazed by Jiang Ling’s technique, and he received the sword from her hands, “I admit it wholeheartedly.”

“Jiang Ling wins!” Gu Shi declared the result of the match. 

“Good skills.” On the viewer’s platform, Elder Ye of the Hall of Swords let out a breath, “Yun Yangzi’s little seedlings are fairly talented.”

“Hmph, all show, but no skill.” Elder Yi puffed out his beard again, not agreeing with Elder Ye. 

“She seems like…” Liu Qi had an inkling, and he found that Jiang Ling’s dodging movements were both strong and clever. 

“Like what?” Elder Yi did not expect that this unruly girl would draw the Sect Leader’s attention.  

Liu Qi did not dare be sure, and he did not answer. 

“Woah, Jiang-shijie is so fast!” A Du was dumbstruck.
Jiang Ling had won in such a short amount of time; as expected of Yun Yangzi-shibo’s personally instructed disciple. 

Jiang Ling used these kinds of methods during the following matches, finishing all of her events within a few moves and successfully entering the latter four days of competition with Gu Yun. 

The first day wrapped up quickly.
A Du had a bout of bad luck, winning his first match but losing the second match despite his best efforts.
“Seems like I won’t have the chance to become an inner disciple.”

A Du’s entire body was enveloped in a depressed shadow.
Gu Yun patted him on the shoulder and consoled him, saying that he would have a chance next time, and if he worked hard for the next four years, he would pass for sure, and if he did not, then he would take A Du as a disciple himself.
Jiang Ling told him not to make fun of A Du.
Making a peer become a disciple was just being smug. 

Jiang Ling rubbed her aching shoulders, getting ready to head back for a rest.
Shangguan Qing floated down from the viewing platform and landed in front of Jiang Ling. 

“Jiang Ling-er, I didn’t expect your skills to be so exceptional.
You really can’t judge people based on appearances.”

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“What are you talking about by ‘can’t judge people based on appearances.’ Do I look like someone with bad qinggong skills?” Jiang Ling was not happy to hear this, and said that she could accept this about her martial arts, but she could not tolerate others calling her qinggong skills into question. 

“Don’t be mad, I was just praising your concealment abilities.
I really have no words, simply as graceful as a swimming dragon[2])!”

“Mm, I’ll tentatively pardon your crime.” Jiang Ling was comforted by her words. 

“If I meet you tomorrow, I can’t show you mercy.”

“You’d better show me mercy.
I’m a fake martial artist, so you’ll expose me.” Jiang Ling spoke frankly. 

Shangguan Qing thought Jiang Ling was being modest, so she did not take it to heart, and she again brought Jiang Ling to the back of the mountain to roast a pheasant.
Gu Yun shamelessly dragged A Du and came along too.
In the end, the one pheasant became two. 

Jiang Ling wanted to send Gu Yun off to cook for Yun He.
Gu Yun said that he already saw shijie, and she said that he could go along.
Jiang Ling had no choice but to accept Gu Yun’s noisiness. 

Gu Yun simultaneously ate the roast pheasant, admired the magical properties of the western spices, and complained to Jiang Ling for always sneaking off with Shangguan Qing to eat wild game without telling him.
It really was too ungrateful. 

“You didn’t tell me when you descended the mountain, either!” Jiang Ling said with a grudge. 

“I went to take care of some business.” Gu Yun explained. 

“Ai ai ai, you two shouldn’t argue when we’re eating.
Right, A Du?” Shangguan Qing broke them up. 

“It’s really tasty, Shangguan-shijie.
If you let me have some of these spices, I’ll make something for my fellow disciples.”

“Our A Du is the best.” Jiang Ling said. 

“Yeah, A Du is the best.” Gu Yun patted A Du, as affectionate as a pair of brothers. 

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Shangguan Qing was speechless.
It turns out, shixiong and shimei pairs love to talk and bicker with each other, just like this scene.
She started to rejoice in Shen Xiuqi’s uncommunicativeness.

Because of the next day’s competition, the four of them said their farewells early and returned to their respective abodes. 

Jiang Ling and Gu Yun walked along the return path. 

“How did I do today?”

“Barely convincing.”

“Speak truthfully.” Gu Yun suddenly turned serious. 

“To tell you the truth, it’s hard to say.
The competitors today weren’t very strong.
Even I made it through easily.”

“I thought so too.
What do you plan to do tomorrow?” Gu Yun was a little worried for Jiang Ling. 

 “Me? My natural talents are weak, so the fact that I could make it this far is already good.
It’s enough that I can protect myself.
Tomorrow’s loss is just a loss, not something shameful.
What about you? Your da-ge is so amazing, so you can’t go up there and lose.
You have to give your da-ge some face.”

“You don’t need to worry about that.
I’m not someone who cares about some kind of false reputation.
Do you think shifu will care, either?”

“That’s true.
Losing face for shifu doesn’t count as losing face.”

The two reached a consensus and left all of the burden to Yun He. 

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