On the way back. 

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“He Xi, your last name is He? Are the people of the western regions and the central plains similarly named?” Jiang Ling skipped ahead two steps, then turned to face He Xi.
She walked backwards, her gait light. 

He Xi shook her head, then she explained that in the language of the central pains, her name sounds somewhat like He Xi, so she had this kind of Han name. 

“And you?” He Xi tilted her head, her amber gaze focusing on Jiang Ling.
Jiang Ling was a little embarrassed by her stare, and she discovered that whenever He Xi would speak to her, she liked to tilt her head. 

She immediately turned back around to walk side by side with He Xi, then replied: “Shifu told me that he picked me up by the side of a river, so I was surnamed Jiang.
He wanted me to be like a bird, free and unrestrained, so he gave me the name Ling.”

“Then why are you not surnamed He?”1

Jiang Ling snorted a laugh when she heard this and said that Jiang was comparatively nicer, and that Jiang and He had about the same meaning. 

Jiang Ling learned from He Xi that in half a month, their caravan would return after they completed their business talks in Jiangdu town.
Jiang Ling told her that once the Blue Mountain Sect’s Sword Competition concluded, she would descend the mountain to bid He Xi farewell. 

“If I go to the western regions one day, can I come find you?”

“You can.”

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“Then how will I find you? I heard that the western regions are huge.”

He Xi removed a length of silver chain, very fine and entirely exquisite, from her hand, an elliptical, red cornelian gem dangling from the clasp.
A pretty seal was inscribed on the gem, as if it was burnished in fire.
She secured the chain onto Jiang Ling’s wrist, the length of the chain fitting quite well. 

“A special craft of the western regions.
Aside from me, no one can take it off.
Like this, you won’t lose it.
Over there, if you have anyone take a look at the chain on your wrist, they will know that you are my friend.
Many people in the west know our caravan.”

She inspected it carefully once and was satisfied.
Jiang Ling took her hand back and covered her wrist with her sleeve; her other hand caressed the chain lightly. 

“You said that, once the Sword Competition finishes, there will be a celebratory banquet?” He Xi asked. 

“Mhm, the letter that shijie received today said as much.
At that time, the sect leaders and disciples from other sects will be there, too.”

It’s late now, your shijie and shixiong will be worried about you.” He Xi lifted her head to look at the sky.
The darkness of night had already fallen, and the streets had become very quiet, as if the lively scene from before had simply been an illusion. 

“See you, then.” Jiang Ling, fully aware that she had been out too late, went to hurry back.
She waved a hand at He Xi in farewell, then disappeared without a trace. 

He Xi lingered for a moment, then walked back to the inn. 

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“So you still know to come back.” As soon as she returned, she heard Gu Yun’s grumbling from the entrance, “I was almost scolded to death by shijie.” 

“Oh.” Jiang Ling detoured around Gu Yun to enter the room.
She was happy today and was not inclined to squabble with Gu Yun. 

“Shijie, look at her.” Gu Yun followed, complaining to Yun He. 

In response, Jiang Ling pushed Gu Yun out the door, then closed it, “Us shijie and shimei are going to rest now.
Shixiong, please go away.”

Gu Yun, who had just had the door slammed in his face, threw out some more complaints with increasing irreverence, then returned to his own room. 

“You’re happy today.” Jiang Ling’s ecstatic appearance affected Yun He too. 

“I made a new friend.”

“That’s good.”


That night, Jiang Ling laid on her bed with her arm raised, the chain softly swaying.
The cornelian gem emitted a soft red glow in the nighttime.
Jiang Ling held the chain lightly in her right hand and rested it on her chest.
“Dong dong dong,” her heart was pounding, like it would burst from her chest.
This was the first time she had made a friend since descending the mountain, as well as the first time receiving a gift from someone besides her shifu, shijie, and shixiong.
Her heart swelled. 

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Early the second day, the trio parted ways with the innkeeper and his wife to ascend the mountain.
When they passed that particular inn, Jiang Ling took a look around the courtyard and saw the group of camels taking a rest.
The inn opened its doors, the server sat at the entrance and yawned, and the lobby was empty, as the customers were still sleeping.
Jiang Ling did not want to disturb He Xi, either, so she could only leave Jiangdu town with her shijie and shixiong. 

Jiangdu town was along the edge of the Fu River.
In its early years, it had a well-known ferry crossing due to the traveling merchants moving from south to north using shipping vessels.
Thus named “Jiangdu,”2 the ships traveling to the Blue Mountain were an integral part of the town. 

Arriving at the wharf, they soon saw that the boat was just about to cast off from the dock. 

Gu Yun hurriedly ran forward, yelling, “Boatman, there’s three more people here.”

The boatman waved him off and said: “Sorry, little brother, this boat is full.
You should wait for the next one.”

Jiang Ling glanced around but did not find any other ships.
By the time the boat returned, there would be many more waiting, “Boatman, please make an exception.” 

The boatman said that he would need to ask the passengers inside, but before he entered the cabin, they saw a beautiful woman of about seventeen or eighteen years of age emerge.
While not fair, her skin was smooth and delicate.
She wore a dark purple robe embroidered with curling lines, and her hair was combed carefully and held up with a hairpin of the same color.
She was from the Longxi Yueluo Sect. 

Shangguan Qing had heard the boatman speaking to people on the dock for a while without setting off, so she came out to see what was happening.
She saw the three disciples in their bamboo-patterned belts begging the boatman to make an exception.
While they did not appear to be from the Blue Mountain Sect, as evident from their clothing, which made them look like wanderers from Jianghu, the embroidery pattern on their belts indicated that there was a connection between them and the Blue Mountain Sect. 

“These three friends are also going to the Blue Mountain Sect?” Shangguan Qing asked first. 

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“Exactly.” Yun He saluted as she answered. 

“If it is convenient, you may board.”

The trio thanked her then got on the boat. 

They learned that she was a disciple of the Yueluo Sect who was here for the Blue Mountain Sect’s Sword Competition.
Shangguan Qing and her eldest shixiong, Shen Xiuqi, brought some younger disciples along for tempering.
Gu Yun explained their reasons for coming, and Shangguan Qing suddenly understood.
No wonder the three of them seem to be both from and not from the Blue Mountain Sect; they were the disciples of Yun Yangzi, who had left the Blue Mountain Sect back then.
This time, they were returning to their originating sect. 

“It is said that Yun Yangzi is on bad terms with the Blue Mountain Sect Leader?” Shangguan Qing had heard some rumors and could not help being curious.
She pressed closer to Jiang Ling and asked.
Shangguan Qing was completely different from her meticulous appearance, and she was unexpectedly talkative. 

“Somewhat.” Jiang Ling did not refute. 

“The rumors are true, then.
Back then, Yun Yangzi adored his shijie, but his shijie and Sect Leader Liu were in love with each other, so Yun Yangzi had no choice but to leave.”

“Oh? Shifu has a past like this?” Once she heard the story about shifu, Jiang Ling’s ears suddenly perked up. 

As she had never heard about the Sect Leader having a wife, Jiang Ling’s belly was full of uncertainty with nowhere to resolve it, so she went to ask Shangguan Qing about the story of that shijie, but Yun He coughed lightly, and Jiang Ling had no choice but to give up. 

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