Tome of Troubled Times

Chapter 174: Sisi Goes Back
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Chapter 174: Sisi Goes Back

During this period, Zhao Changhe felt like he had returned to the days back when he was in Beimang.

When no one was around, he would lock himself in his room and immerse himself in the Heavenly Tome, gradually learning the Sword Emperor’s sword arts from the basics to the advanced.

When Tang Wanzhuang came, she would spread out paper, grind ink, and make the atmosphere more pleasant with her presence. She would write down the sword arts and paint diagrams.

Even without engaging in battles, he could still hone his saber.

He did not even need to listen to her guqin. His heart was already at peace.

It was very much like the days when he would go and learn the saber with Instructor Sun before returning home to eat dinner.

He had originally thought that being placed in a bandit camp as soon as he was transferred to this world would cause his mind and heart to be nervous and in a mess. But looking back at it now, he realized that it was during that time that he had been last at peace.

When one accumulates enough experience, one’s life flows less like a creek and more like a wide river, and everything seems to fall into place.

“Your writing is getting better and better,” Tang Wanzhuang said as she ground the ink, watching the smooth strokes emerging under his brush. She found herself feeling quite happy seeing his progress.

She had not really taught Zhao Changhe much about calligraphy. She only gave him some brief pointers on calligraphy techniques and structural layout for aesthetic purposes, but she never really delved into the finer details.

Zhao Changhe’s ambitions did not lay in this field, and his aptitude in this area was honestly pretty poor. Sometimes, he could not even understand a sentence after hearing it for half a day. He was even worse in this area than Tang Buqi when he was younger. If anyone tried to teach him while being particular with things, he would definitely drive them crazy. His aptitude in martial arts was simply worlds apart from his aptitude in the arts.

But once he learned something, he really did learn it. She could clearly see his writing becoming more skillful and rounded, and she could even sense his tranquility. The previous restless sharpness that he embodied had become more restrained.

In terms of aesthetics, Zhao Changhe had a much different view from hers. His style was bold and flamboyant, showing that he would never attain the elegant demeanor of a prince, and neither did he wish to. And beneath the calm surface that he was displaying lately, she could still perceive his boundless arrogance.

But it did not matter. That was simply who he was.

“Didn’t you say that she was going to leave in two days? It’s already been seven or eight days by now, is it really still fine?” Zhao Changhe asked casually. He had not even lifted his head, continuing to write down the sword manual.

“I just said that to urge you to hurry up. There isn’t actually a set date for when she’ll leave. It’s not like you’d be expected to learn the complete system of sword arts in a few days. No matter how talented or smart you are, you’re not a god.”

“What about you? The ten days you said to your nephew are almost up,” Zhao Changhe said. “You’ve been coming and going these past few days. You suddenly show up to accompany me, helping me draw the diagrams, and then disappear again. Is there really that much to explore in the tomb? Are there parts of it that even you don’t dare to enter?”

“It’s not the tomb... In fact, we’re already preparing to reseal the tomb, and our preparations are almost complete.” Tang Wanzhuang sighed. “What’s been occupying my mind is actually the Maitreya Cult in Gusu.”

The tip of Zhao Changhe’s brush stopped moving, and he turned to look at her.

Tang Wanzhuang said calmly, “We have pretty much completely wiped out the Maitreya Cult in Gusu these past few days, but trouble is brewing across the entirety of Jiangnan. I know that some things are inevitable.”

“So you’ve decided to stay in Gusu? Well, this place is more convenient than the capital in some ways.”

“It’s not as great as you think. The Demon Suppressing Bureau is only responsible for the affairs of the jianghu. We don’t have the power to mobilize the military to attack cities and seize territories. Besides gathering intelligence to report back to the capital, all I can really do is watch helplessly.”

There was no color in Tang Wanzhuang’s eyes as she stared blankly at the inkstone. Despite being able to see the storm brewing over Jiangnan and knowing where it was coming from, there was not really much that she could do about it.

Although the affairs of the jianghu represented the structure of power to a large extent, it was not entirely consistent. No matter how much the Demon Suppression Bureau did, it ultimately could not influence the overall situation.

Zhao Changhe suddenly asked, “Does the emperor really manage anything? Does he ever even show his face?”

“He does, in fact, but not often.”

“Is he mostly in seclusion?”

“Mm-hm...”

“He should still be aware of what’s been going on, right?”

“He is, and he’s issued some orders, but they have had minimal effect. You’ve seen the widespread laziness of the bureaucracy and the sloppiness of the military, and these are not problems that a few orders can easily rectify at this point. Moreover, there are many people paying lip service while secretly acting in opposition, all waiting for the right moment. When that time comes, it’s likely that they’ll just disregard imperial orders altogether.”

Zhao Changhe continued writing down the sword manual and said, “Since you know how much the nation has deteriorated and how ineffective the emperor’s orders have been... Then what’s the point of sticking around? You might as well take over Gusu and become a warlord.”

Tang Wanzhuang stared at his side face speechlessly, her expression showing that this was not the response she was looking for, “Do you know what I mean when I say ‘the right time’?” 𝒻𝓇ℯ𝘦𝘸𝑒𝑏𝓃𝑜𝓿𝘦𝑙.𝑐𝑜𝓶

“Well, Old Xia is still ranked first on the Ranking of Heaven, and his deterrent power still exists, but he’s getting old. Rumor has it that there may be something wrong with him, but even if others are eager to make a move, they can wait a few more years. The right time is the day he passes away without an heir, right? That will be when chaos ensues.”

“It seems you know quite a bit.”

“I also know that if we are to look at things with a bit more cold blood, the Maitreya Cult doesn’t actually need to wait for that exact moment. They could revolt right now. In fact, it might be better to completely wipe out the Maitreya Cult now, while the Great Xia has yet to die out.”

“Why do you say ‘cold blood’ rather than ‘objectively’?”

“Because it’s ultimately the masses that suffer the most.”

Tang Wanzhuang was silent for a moment and said softly, “So you understand why I’m sticking around, don’t you? Even if things are bad now, it’s still better than utter chaos.”

Zhao Changhe sighed. “I do, but it’s futile. The tide of chaos is unstoppable. How much can a single person really do? It’s like a mantis trying to stop a chariot. While it might look brave, we all know that it will ultimately just be crushed by the chariot’s wheels.”

Tang Wanzhuang gazed steadily at the ink on the inkstone, then spoke after a long pause, “There always have to be such people.”

With that, she stood up and began to tidy the manuscript that he had just finished writing. “Your set of sword arts is already at the level of the Profound Mysteries. Can you still demonstrate it?”

“I can barely demonstrate its form, but it will lack power. I can still be the one to illustrate it instead,” Zhao Changhe replied. “Organizing a complete set of sword arts with my current level of strength is a bit too much. It might be impossible for me to do at the moment. I can’t understand anything more advanced with my current level of skill. This might be as far as I can go for now... I wonder if it’s enough for Sisi.”

“Even if it’s not enough, it’s still better than her clandestine learning from before. Besides, there’s endless potential and stable support if we keep doing it this way. It’s just that compared to getting the sword seal herself, the difference is quite significant...”

“The sword seal wasn’t hers to begin with,” Zhao Changhe said. “According to the standard practice when it comes to the allocation of items during an exploration, it should have been yours. She knows that, otherwise why would she have resorted to tricks?”

“When you gain something, you lose something else. Not many people can understand this clearly... Aren’t you going to talk to her yourself? It’s already been so many days since you last saw each other. I honestly don’t think there’s a need to be so petty. She’s been quite well-behaved lately.”

Other than teasing me about daring to kiss you.

Tang Wanzhuang barely suppressed a smirk. She really did not dare to do it. Why would she dare?

“I’m not being petty. I’m doing my best, aren’t I? I just really can’t handle the following parts of the sword arts. We can see her together today and see if there’s anything else that she needs.”

*

“I don’t need anything else,” Sisi said calmly. “If I got the sword seal, with my current knowledge of martial arts, I would not have been able to decipher such a systematic sword art. And if I were to hand it over to the elders in the tribe to decipher, I would lose my right to lead the tribe. This outcome is actually in my best interest. I’ve obtained what I wanted, and I will remain in control going forward.”

Zhao Changhe looked into her eyes. Once as charming as peach blossoms and as bright as stars, their gaze was now indistinct and unclear.

Her face still bore a smile, but it was no longer the artificial grin of a maid trying to please her master, nor the bright and expectant smile when she was listening to him tell a story. Now, it seemed...very formal.

Once, it had been Tang Wanzhuang who had handled things in a very official manner with him, but now it was her.

“Now that I’ve got this, it’s time for me to leave,” Sisi sighed. “I’ve been away for a long time, and I actually miss home... The divine land is not a good place, and each man is more detestable than the last.”

Zhao Changhe could not be bothered to argue with her. He was not sure of his own feelings at the moment, and he simply asked, “What do I do if I manage to decipher the more advanced sword arts later on? How do I pass it on to you?”

“I will come find you.” Sisi smiled slightly. “The long river flows unstoppably. I believe that as long as I return to the divine land, I’ll be able to hear of your whereabouts at any time.”

Zhao Changhe said, “And what about you? Do you and your tribe intend to stay out of the Tome of Troubled Times?”

“For now, yes. Otherwise, the Rankings of Heaven, Earth, and Man might experience some changes... But now that I’ve entered the divine land, the Tome of Troubled Times already knows about me. Maybe next time I’ll have a place on the rankings,” Sisi’s smile became somewhat sharp. “Zhao Changhe, you better not let me catch up to you...”

Zhao Changhe did not quite understand the significance of her words at the moment. “If you catch up, then so be it. There are plenty of people ahead of me...”

“Hah... I played the role of a servant for so long. I was taken advantage of because of my lack of strength. But if I were to gain power...” Sisi paused, her face then showing a hint of her former charm. “I wouldn’t mind having one more slave to wash my feet for me.”

After saying that, she turned around and left the tomb, “Don’t you just love to do official business? Well, this is what you get.”

Zhao Changhe watched her alluring figure depart, feeling that she was acting quite spoiled and arrogant...

She was like a child who would say they’re breaking off relations with you before walking away with a stiff expression.

Tang Wanzhuang, who was observing from the side, felt that Zhao Changhe himself was the same.

She could not help but feel that the aftermath of this breakup between two outstanding individuals from different forces might stir up even more storms.

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