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About twenty years ago, the sixty-seventh year of Emperor Qin Ming's reign, the forty-second imperial examination of the Western Qin Empire that made quite a stir was publicly acknowledged as the most fruitful imperial examination since the empire rose under the rule of Emperor Guang Wu, except for that one held at the first year of Guang Wu's reign. That was because from that imperial examination came forth four strongest figures who later became the governors of those major provinces of the empire—the Four Great Legends.
And Li Gang was one of the Four Great Legends back then.
These days, Li Mu had earned a t.i.tle as the 'whiz in both poetry and martial arts' and made himself the man of the moment in Chang'an.
But if compared with Li Gang, one of the great old legends, his fame was a far cry from Li Gang's.
Because years ago, Li Gang had caused a sensation in the entire Western Qin Empire.
During his early days, Li Gang was just a poor scholar. It was no surprise that he championed the literary examination, for it was a tradition that the deprived studied literature while the well-off practiced martial arts. After taking the champion in the literary contest, within a short span, he also gained a t.i.tle as the Sword Whiz in Qin City. With a sword in hand, he first triumphed over Jianzi from the Sword Cottage in the capital, and then, challenged all the skilled swordsmen in Qin City but did not suffer a single defeat. At last, even the chief of the Sword Cottage lost to Li Gang. Ever since then, the Sword Whiz had been known all around the world.
In those years, the Secular Sword Li Gang wielded could vanquish any demons and living creatures. Rumors had it that Li Gang, who was in his twenties at that time, had the bleary air of Chen Canghai, the Sword King who had entered the Void-breaking Realm five centuries ago. Some people even suspected that Li Gang was the successor of Chen Canghai after a dozen generations.
Those years were fraught with stirring events and exciting changes.
After the imperial examination, those talents, who pa.s.sed the tests stayed in the capital for some time, waiting for being a.s.signed a position. During that period, with the legendary swordsmen of the senior generation remaining secluded from the world, Li Gang, the Secular Sword, who was starting to show the air of the top swordsman in the Western Qin, and the other three legends in that era—the Heavenly Exclaiming Broadsword, the Divinely Grievous Spear, and the Domineeringly Demonic Halberd—cut a swath on the stage. They were later regarded as the Four Great Legends. Even Emperor Qin Ming had an interview with the four and granted each of them a t.i.tle, complimenting them as the Sword Whiz, the Broadsword King, the Spear G.o.d, and the Halberd Demon, respectively.
After that, the four legendary figures set foot on different paths.
Except for Wu Guiren, the Divinely Grievous Spear, who withdraw from society and lived in some unknown place in Jianghu after losing to Li Gang, the Secular Sword, in the compet.i.tion of pursuing a beauty, the rest of the three—the Secular Sword, the Heavenly Exclaiming Broadsword, and the Domineeringly Demonic Halberd all became the brightest stars in the political world of the Western Qin Empire.
Among the three, Li Gang, the Secular Sword, was the most gleeful as he won in both politics and love. He first was appointed a magistrate of a county subject to the Chang'an Mansion. Soon, he was promoted to be the highest governor of Chang'an. Meanwhile, Guan Minren, the Heavenly Exclaiming Broadsword, stayed in the capital and became the General Instructor of the imperial army. Years later, after being promoted several times, he was already the Grand Chancellor of the whole imperial army composed of eight hundred thousand soldiers, who held the military power over the capital and earned Emperor Qin Ming's trust. As to Li Yuanba, the Domineeringly Demonic Halberd, he had joined the borderline troops and become a general at the battlefield against the North Song, who had the Heaven Inspire Army, the four hundred thousand elite soldiers, at his command.
Other than the Four Great Legends, a ton of genius and talents were also sifted out from that imperial examination, who were temporarily outshone by the dazzling Four Great Legends. But after all those years, their career developed quite good. Three of them were already the provincial magistrates; four were generals; sixteen were central officials working in the capital...
Thus, it was no exaggeration to say that the result of the forty-second imperial examination actually influenced the fate of the entire Western Qin Empire during the next few decades.
It was attributable to those brilliant talents selected from that examination that the empire had survived and thrived during the past twenty years. Especially eight years ago, when Emperor Qin Ming found that he was running out of his lifespan, he forced a practice session on the Dragon-commanding Skill in the vain hope of breaking through the Sage Realm and turning immortal. He then suffered an Energy Deviation and succ.u.mbed to his Internal Demons, causing the empire to take a blow. But thankfully, those politicians from the new generation became the backbone of the Western Qin Empire and helped the country pull through the crisis.
And incontestably, Li Gang, the Sword Whiz, was the most genius one among all the examinees that year.
It could be said that the glory he had in the old days was unparalleled. Known as the Top One Handsome Man in the Empire, Li Gang was the brightest star at that time. Otherwise, Wu Guiren, the Divinely Grievous Spear, who was equally smart and elegant, would not have lost to Li Gang in love. After all, Wu Guiren was a famous, handsome man as well. He had also made a stir in the capital with his outstanding talents.
But in specifics, the four's official career somewhat differed.
Except for Wu Guiren, the Divinely Grievous Spear, who had disappeared from public sight, among the rest of the three, the Heavenly Exclaiming Broadsword had controlled the eight hundred thousand imperial soldiers, and his relatives had wedged their way into almost all the military inst.i.tutions in the Western Qi. The Domineeringly Demonic Halberd was taking command at the border areas, and his Heaven Inspire Army could already rank amongst the top six on the Divine Land, which had crushed the rampant heavy-armored soldiers of the North Song Empire and made them no longer able to hold their chin up. The most glorious Sword Whiz, Li Gang, however, progressed slower than the first two. Although Chang'an ranked amongst the top out of the score of provinces in the Western Qin, he, the magistrate of Chang'an, was still in the system of civil officials, so his fame was gradually eclipsed by that of the Heavenly Exclaiming Broadsword and the Domineeringly Demonic Halberd. Adding that Li Gang deliberately kept a low profile and had not demonstrated his martial faculties for ages, many people already forgot the Sword Whiz.On the contrary, Li Gang was remembered as a considerable laughingstock who divorced his wife that he won from Wu Guiren, the Divinely Grievous Spear, and severed all ties with his first son, Li Mu, by launching him three punches. Later, he married another woman, who was said to be rather ugly and inconsiderate. The sons she bore were also good-for-nothing. Lately, as his abandoned son, Li Mu, rose to fame and his Century Poems and Millennium Poems spread to the capital, only heaven knew how many people were laughing at the old Sword Whiz in private...
It seemed that Li Gang, who was once the Sword Whiz, was coming down as a figure of fun.
This time the second prince coming to Chang'an was undoubtedly not for giving a hard time to the poor Tang family, nor the ungrateful Li Mu who rejected his offer... In his eyes, those were just insignificant people like ants and pebbles, who could not hinder his plan. Whenever he found them disturbing, he could stamp them to death.
In fact, his target was Li Gang.
The Sword Whiz who had gradually shaken off the legendary glow and fallen to the undistinguished ma.s.ses.
He picked Li Gang because, except for the lost Wu Guiren, the Divinely Grievous Spear, he was then the weakest out of the Four Great Legends in terms of influence and power, whereas, he had explicitly showed support to the current crown prince.
The support from a Commander of Border-provinces undoubtedly carried weight for the crown prince. Therefore, Li Gang had been his right-hand man for all time.
For the second prince who had long since had his eyes on the throne, Li Gang was a thorn in his flesh.
After many failed attempts to sound Li Gang out and draw him to his side, the second prince wanted to get rid of Li Gang for a long time.
However, it was never easy to take out a magistrate whose cultivation in martial arts was already extremely dreadful, was it?
During all those years, the second prince had not found any proper opportunity.
But as Emperor Qin Ming spilled blood out of wrath at that year's spring hunting, a string of b.u.t.terfly effects kicked in, which finally offered him a chance to get rid of Li Gang.
That was why the second prince paid this trip to Chang'an.
The evil remainders of the Tang family served just as the prologue of the game.
Not until the moment did his fangs gradually come into sight.
Hence, even though the second prince had lost the head of the Ghost Sect, he was still happy and excited.
But right then, as he was on the point of drawing in the net, a piece of darn gravel happened to obstruct his way.
"Where are you, the second prince? Come out and fight me!"
Li Mu's voice reverberated within the radius of dozens of miles. It was so loud that the nearby clouds were driven away.
Watching Li Mu riding on his flying broadsword, the second prince still had no urge to battle with him. Indeed, Li Mu 's broadsword-commanding skill was excellent, and he was a gifted man. But he was too young, having too long a way to go before becoming qualified to take his strike. Anyway, this time, his target was Li Gang. Once he defeated the Sword Whiz, one of the old Four Great Legends, he could imagine that his fame and prestige would go up a level.
But what about killing Li Mu?
Well, that would only make people believe he was a bully, who stooped so low as to humiliate a kid with his honorable royal power.
"Your Highness, let me squash the little bug for you."
An old man who was tall and lean, stepped forward and volunteered with all due respect. His hair and whisks were all white, his eyebrows so long that they drooped by his cheeks.
The second prince nodded and said, "Well then, I think I have to trouble you, Long-brow Saint."
The old man was one of the renowned rogue cultivators in the Celestial Being Realm in Qin City, who was also called Long-brow Saint. His Smooth Cloud Grab Thirty-six Styles and Precipice Punch were very brilliant martial arts. A year ago, he decided to serve the second prince and could be said to be one of his trusted cronies.
In front of the hall of the Xiongfeng Martial Art Club...
Li Gang had killed the head of the Ghost Sect with just one move, but he acted as if what he did was utterly trivial.
"Red Blaze Battalion, why haven't you retreated from Chang'an?" He cast a minatory glance at the armored soldiers and gave the order with a bland but unarguable tone.
Those armored soldiers all backed away a few steps.
They belonged to the Red Blaze Battalion. Technically, they were all subject to Li Gang's order, for based on the organizational system of the Western Qin Empire, a magistrate of a province had both the military and the political power. Thus, the main force stationed in the province ought to follow his orders. However, the Red Blaze Battalion was under the direct leadership of Meng Wu, the Divine Horse Silver Spear, and the Commander in Chief was from the capital, who was a p.a.w.n of the second prince that got planted in Chang'an. And those selected to be in the patrolling regiment were the most trusted men of Meng Wu, who always obeyed Meng Wu's orders. Thus, after hearing Li Gang's remark, they all hesitated, drew back a few steps but did not fully retreat at once.
"Kill!" Li Gang roared.
From the sunlight behind him emerged, something that seemed to be ripples. Then, ten shadows leaped out of thin air as if they were transmitted from the void and dashed into the armored soldiers like ghosts.
Desperate shrieks were heard.
Blood sprayed everywhere. As the ten sinister shadows killed their way forward, those well-equipped soldiers of the Red Blaze Battalion fell on the ground like the wheat in the harvest season, having no means to fight back. It was a ma.s.sacre, a brutal one-sided ma.s.sacre.
Those in the Xiongfeng Martial Art Club were thunderstruck at that scene.
The magistrate was supposed to turn up as a distraction. But now, His Lordship was having those armored soldiers slaughtered under his instruction. "He is killing people on his own side? What hack is going on?" They could not understand why the situation took such a turn.