Chapter 680 – Returning to the Hometown (One)
Time passed by in a hurry. Winter went and spring came, summer departed and autumn arrived. Time advanced along at an unprecedentedly steady pace.
The unceasing autumn rain created thousands of ripples on the clamorous harbour of the prefectural city of Clear River, but even that was unable to put out the lively atmosphere. A dragon ship docked in the rippling river water, with a man standing on the very front of the ship. At first glance, he only seemed like a regular farmer. Having endured the wind and rain, his skin was tanned and rough. However, only with a closer glance would it be possible to notice the shining light in his dark eyes.
The ship would be travelling against the flow. Li Long gazed in the direction where the Clear river meandered off to and experienced a multitude of thoughts.
It had already been over a decade since he left his hometown. Even during times of celebration, he had not returned; it was not because he did not want to return, but because there was always endless farmwork. There were crops that were about to ripen waiting to be harvested, and the fields and gardens basically needed watering every single day.
The Clear River prefecture had been through several disasters, but it did free up many plots of land filled with spiritual qi. A few destroyed sects still had their medicinal gardens, which required disciples of the school of Agriculture to tend to. He basically did not have any time to spare at all. This was a rare opportunity for cultivation to him.
Under these circumstances, making him spend the time to travel thousands of kilometers to visit home once was basically impossible. All he could do was regularly ask people to send some silver notes home so that he could live up to his role as a filial son.
Right now, his face was tanned and thin, and his clothes were old and worn-out. He seemed like a lump of soil that had just been dug out from the earth, reeking with a rustic aura. As such, even when the rain got a little heavier and he returned to the cabin, everyone around him would maintain their distance from him.
Many years ago, he had left the Crouching Ox village and taken on a master in Qingyang city to study so that he could avoid this fate as a farmer, but at the end of the day, he had become a farmer through and through, which was truly rather funny. However, the leader of the school of Agriculture, earth elder Huang, had praised his appearance as the “Framework of Earth and Wood”, describing him as a genius of the school of Agriculture. He told him he was planning on passing the position of school leader to him.
It was exactly because of all of his efforts that his cultivation managed to advance rapidly, going from a lowly member of the jianghu to the primary disciple of the school of Agriculture, a tenth layer Qi Practitioner, in just over a decade. Originally, he planned on cultivating arduously for another few years and attempting to break through to Foundation Establishment in a single stroke.
A letter was delivered to Qingyang city from Crouching Ox village. Then it reached the headquarters of the Iron Fist school in the prefectural city through the network of the Iron Fist school before finally reaching his hands. Only after learning about his father’s death from sickness did he gather his belongings in a hurry and set off on the path to return to his hometown.
Before he set off, apart from entrusting a large piece of land to his junior brothers to look after, he specially paid a visit to a certain person, which happened to be the only one who shared the same hometown as him, Li Qingshan. He asked him whether he wanted to pass on a message, or if there was anything else he would like him to do.
It took Li Qingshan quite a while to think back and recall a person called “village head Li”. Then he told Li Long he was sorry for his loss. He did not show much sorrow either. So many years had passed already. The death of a mortal who was neither his family nor his acquaintance and had even offended him in the past was obviously unable to make him feel anything. He had never liked posing around.
Li Long did not blame him either. During the years he spent away from home, he had only achieved his current cultivation because of the selfless assistance Li Qingshan had provided at several crucial times. Even though Li Qingshan had already become so powerful, he still treated him like an equal.
Even to him, the old face gradually showed signs of blurring with each passing day. Only when he heard about the death did it suddenly clear up, but he did not feel particularly sad either.
In the end, Li Qingshan did not have any message for him to pass on, which was to Li Long’s expectations. Ever since he cut off his relationship with his elder brother and sister-in-law, his connection with the Crouching Ox village had become almost non-existent.
This man had been different since young. Only when the witch filled him to the brim with purging water did he become a little more normal, but he still disliked playing with other children his age. If he had any spare time, he would go to Crouching Ox hill to let his ox graze and to play his flute. He seemed unsociable, eccentric, and unfriendly, which made everyone view him as an outsider. Although they did not directly reject him, they were not particularly attached to him either.
Only many years later did Li Long suddenly realise how many of his peculiarities served as prior signs to his miraculous rise later on.
The ship lifted the anchor and travelled against the flow. The prefectural city of Clear River gradually moved off into the distance. Li Long set off on his journey home.
The ship passed through Jiaping city. This city that the rock demon had once decimated had now recovered its vitality. It was said that even the Hawkwolf Guard on the mountain had been reestablished.
The ship continued onwards. Only when it reached the harbour he had initially set off from did he disembark and take out a seal, summoning a fine steed. This was the mount he had purchased for the sake of rushing around everywhere. He traveled for another day, and a familiar section of ancient city walls appeared in the distance. Suddenly, he realised that his hometown was not as distant as he originally imagined it to be.
In front of the Iron Fist school, two burly men in black robes stood together with the pair of dignified stone lions, guarding the entrance. The passers-by all avoided them from afar.
The man on the left looked at the sky and grumbled, “When it starts raining, it really never ends. Achoo! We sure are unlucky to stand guard in such weather!”
The man on the right shook his body. “It’s still better than summer. Just by standing there for an hour, you look like you just crawled out from a lake. Who can we blame for the fact that we joined the school too late and our martial arts are horrible? Let’s go find a brothel later and have a good drink so that we can get all warm and toasty.”
“Once I become an innate master, I’ll spend every night in a brothel.”
“Just by you?”
“What’s wrong with me? Li Qingshan was even worse off than us in the past! He couldn’t even afford to visit a brothel! I’ve heard now that all the brothels in the Clear River prefecture belong to him. And that Li Long. Before, he belonged to our Iron Fist school, but it’s said that he’s already several dozen layers into the innate realm now!”
“The inante realm only has ten layers. Where’d you get these several dozen layers from?”
As they spoke, a tanned, thin man stood right at the entrance. His gaze drifted around. As he gazed at this familiar entrance, he was filled with countless laments.
It was exactly because Qingyang city was relatively remote and near the Boundless mountains, right between the range of two daemon forces, that it was not particularly affected during the war with the daemons.
“Who are you?”
“You country bumpkin, the Iron Fist school isn’t a place that you can check out. Stop looking around. Get out of here!”
“My name is Li Long, a disciple under school master Liu Hong. Please pass this on quickly!”
Li Long did not recognise these two doorkeepers and knew that they were new disciples accepted after he had left. They sure were imposing by standing there, but their martial arts had not even reached the second or third-rate. They could only scare some common people. Otherwise, they would not have been told to watch the entrance.
“You said you’re Li Long?”
The two burly men widened their eyes. They had never met him, but they knew this name all too well. That was a powerful figure who had emerged from their Iron Fist school in Qingyang city, a great master several dozen layers into the innate realm. The Iron Lion Liu Hong would brag about him every time he drank.
However, from the way this person was dressed, he did not resemble the legendary “Li Long” at all. He clearly looked like he had just returned from the fields!
However, the two did not dare to brush him aside. They knew that certain masters of the jianghu liked to pose around, so they immediately passed the message up. A while later, a dignified, middle-aged man in brocade robes walked out swiftly, but he was not Liu Hong. When he saw Li Long, he was taken aback, going up and grabbing his hands. “Junior brother, it really is you!”
“Senior brother Wang Lei.” Li Long recognised this person too.
As it turned out, the Iron Lion Liu Hong had already passed the position of school master to his first disciple, Wang Lei. He had left the city and retired.
Wang Lei patted Li Long’s shoulder and demonstrated sorrow. “Junior brother, I’m sorry for your loss. Uncle had reached a very advanced age…” He said a few comforting words, but Li Long could obviously tell there was not much sincerity at all. It was only for the sake of courtesy.
Li Long said, “Life and death are decreed by fate.”
Wang Lei passed orders, sending people to invite over Liu Hong, who had retired to outside the city. At the same time, he gathered all the disciples of the Iron Fist school, making them line up all the way from the screen wall inside to the entrance of the main hall.
“Junior brother, please!” Wang Lei extended his hand and walked at the front, showing off his status as the school master. He specially emphasised the words “junior brother”, basically to remind him he was still his “senior brother”.
Their relationship had never been particularly amicable. Over a decade ago, Wang Lei had regularly been dissatisfied with the special treatment Liu Hong showed Li Long. Only after assuming the position of school master did this gradually stop annoying him. Now that he saw Li Long’s dishevelled appearance, he could not help but feel rather delighted. He explained to Li Long the changes that had happened after he left the Iron Fist school, telling him how he led the good men of the Iron Fist school to realise his ambitions, placing the entire Qingyang city under his control.
Out of the four original organisations, Li Qingshan had personally destroyed two of them. The Drawn Reins village had always been isolated from the world, becoming even more so after Huang Binghu had left. The Iron Fist school became the only organisation left in Qingyang city. As the school leader, Wang Lei obviously had great power and prestige, able to rally almost everyone at his call. Even the district magistrate had to watch out for him, and he had whole groups of women in his harem.
He thought, Compared to being some cultivator outside, you probably don’t even have it as easy or delightful as me as I serve as the local despot of Qingyang city.
All Li Long could do was nod. In the past, Qingyang city had once seemed like the entire world to him, but now, it was merely a tiny city lying in an inconspicuous corner. There were no fertile fields, rich with spiritual qi, either. If Liu Hong were not here, he basically would not be interested in stopping here at all.
The two of them sat in the central hall. Wang Lei asked with a smile, “Junior brother, you haven’t married and had any children during all the years you spent outside? What do you do normally?”
“There’s too much farmwork to do, so where am I supposed to find the time to get married and have children?” Li Long said. There had been a disciple of the school of Music who had been interested in him in the past, but he had absolutely no time to spend on anything else apart from farmwork, so nothing happened in the end.
Wang Lei raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Farmwork!? Cultivators still have to tend to the fields?”
Li Long smiled. “I’m a disciple of the school of Agriculture, so how can’t I tend to the fields?”
Wang Lei frowned and shook his head firmly. “Then what’s the point of cultivation?”
“I also found it boring in the beginning, but after a while, you start to find it pretty interesting,” said Li Long. He toiled in the fields, watching the fruit and vegetables ripen and the spiritual herbs grow. The whole time, the earth and the plants paid him back, allowing his cultivation to rapidly progress. It was an indescribable sense of joy.
Wang Lei curled his lip, unable to understand him. He felt that Li Long was probably just being stubborn.
In his eyes, farmers were only slightly better than beggars. He would rather die than spend a decade toiling in the fields. Sure enough, it was like being a large fish in a small pond compared to being a small fish in a large pond. As the imposing, majestic master of the Iron Fist school, he was obviously the large fish in the small pond, countless times better off than Li Long, the small fish in the large pond that happened to be the cultivating community.
PS: Yesterday, I wrote five thousand characters and deleted three thousand of them, leaving behind two thousand. I might not even end up using them, so sorry about that. However, this process is actually quite interesting. I’m a little further away from typing away mindlessly and just a little bit closer to writing.