“Xiao?”

Cai Ning contemplated for a moment before she shook her head. “I had two seniors and one junior but none with the surname Xiao. Why?”

Yang Chen took a sigh of relief. He had to find out if the woman from his escapades in America had come from the Tang Sect.

Well I guess it’s a good thing she’s not a member of the Tang Sect. Kinda miss her smooth silky body though, but that woman can be incredibly problematic. I’m bound to suffer should I meet her again, he thought.

“No, it’s nothing. I just remembered an old acquaintance and wanted to find out if she was part of the Tang Sect.” Yang Chen brushed it off with a smile. “Babe, since the sky’s not dark yet, let’s go take a look at your old living circle, shall we?”

Cai Ning was rather pleased but she awkwardly lowered her head to ask, “What do you have in mind?”

“Your bed… oh no I meant your crib.” Yang Chen was quick to mend his slip of the tongue, albeit with his tone of seriousness intact.

Cai Ning quickly noticed his intention behind as she rolled her eyes. “Alright follow me, I’ll take you to where I used to train.”

Yang Chen was slightly pissed at himself as he mumbled under his breath, “How could I let that slip?”

Around the Tang Ancestral Fortress, most notably the bamboo forest on its southern end, one could easily immerse themselves in the lush greenery of summer.

Yang Chen and Cai Ning walked hand in hand through the pavilion where she trained. The scenery was breathtaking, but it was nevertheless a completely different sight in Cai Ning’s mind.

Yang Chen picked up traces of sadness in her voice as she regaled her stories to him.

Wandering through the forest to a lagoon formed by the influx of mountain streams, Cai Ning pointed at the center of the lagoon. “Back in the days, when I was around twelve, I had always wanted to skip morning trainings during the winter. The temperature in this region would get really cold. I’d hide under my blankets in that little hut. It lacked coals and other facilities to keep me warm.

“But Master was stern about this and she’d often personally drag me out of my room. I was made to endure the harsh weather in this forest. She’d proceed to toss me into the lagoon, which by the way, was much colder than the land.

“I can still recall all the times I thought about killing her. How much I wanted to slip poison into her food and drink. I dreamt about it day and night.”

Yang Chen understood that his own experience in his past was far more brutal than this, but Cai Ning was not him. Different people were made to endure different hardships in life.

“Do you still hate her? If you still do, I can go back and kill her.”

Cai Ning knew he was just kidding but shook her head nonetheless. “All Master ever wanted was to make sure, the moment I stepped out of the sect, I could fend for myself against the misdeeds of the outside world. If I blame her for waking me up early, that kinda means she had to wake up earlier to do so.”

“So that’s why you’d still plead for me to save her despite her shitty temper,” Yang Chen replied.

They were chatting in all smiles as they walked across a slope. Right before their eyes was a vast piece of land, filled with brown, burnt-looking bamboo leaves, as if millions of knives were planted deep into the soil.

“These are specially modified bamboo leaves, soaked in a special poison sap. Its strength is comparable to that of iron. But unlike iron, it is not susceptible to rust and decay,” Cai Ning explained. “Those days I used to train my lightness skill here with the other disciples.”

Yang Chen frowned. “With the bamboo leaves all sharp as blades, wouldn’t you all be prone to injury all the time?”

“We started off with gauze wrapped around our feet, then after two years of cultivation, we had to run through the entire field for an hour. Falling meant we had to restart from the beginning.”

Cai Ning continued, “The Tang Sect is renowned for their poison. Even if we injure ourselves badly, the wounds can be treated and healed. Many disciples couldn’t make it past this stage and were thus unable to continue with cultivation techniques exclusive to the sect. So, they end up as servants, most of whom are the ones you see here from time to time.”

As the words left her mouth, Cai Ning subsequently removed her white canvas shoes, exposing her fair bare feet, before instantly hovering herself into the air and onto one the bladed leaves amongst the entire plot of land.

The razor-sharp leaf blades did not throw her off balance. Instead, she balanced on the razor-sharp bamboo like a dragonfly on a lotus leaf.

Yang Chen was amazed by her cultivation. He knew for a fact that she was not utilizing True Qi as a barrier, but was instead using an advanced form of lightness skill balance technique, rendering her body light as a feather. Tang Sect’s cultivation techniques truly had their own majestic flair.

Cai Ning reminiscently glanced through her surroundings, before instantly hovering herself up and dancing around the leaves.

After a couple of minutes, Cai Ning elegantly brought herself back onto the spot of her shoes, silently putting them on without a single gasp.

Yang Chen was duly impressed as he clapped. “Oh Master Cai, it’s an honor to witness your gracefulness.”

“Alright, that’s enough.” Cai Ning halted Yang Chen’s teasing. “It might seem odd to you but I felt compelled to do it when I saw the field. I never thought I’d come back again. Now that I think about it, it doesn't seem half as bad as before.

“The treasured memories and unforgettable experiences truly come to you only when you’re gone.”

Yang Chen had a flash about a silhouette in a blue dress, which seemed like a distant dream. He later quickly brought himself back. “At least right now, we can appreciate the present which is more important than anything else.”

“Why are you always so confident, huh?”

Yang Chen thought about it before he replied, “I’ve always thought that if I survived where everyone else died, I can survive the next one.”

Cai Ning giggled with her mouth covered. “I guess some people were just born confident, like you. But some others only gain confidence over time.

“Since young, people always say that it was a pity General Cai’s firstborn was a daughter. But my father had never once blamed my mother, yet she always had this thorn in her heart that is the center of her self-loathe from time to time. When Yanyan was born, my father was very happy but even I could see the slight pity in his eyes.

“Not to mention the garbage people talking behind our backs, about how our family was bound to pledge allegiance to other clans. But that kept me thinking, if I became stronger, if I was stronger than all the boys of the other clans, then just maybe, I would be able to make my father proud.

“Since then, it’s been ten arduous years since I’ve clenched my teeth and pushed through to defy odds, and from within I discovered my inner confidence. But it did not bring me the joy I was looking for.

“I know my father couldn’t be prouder that I’ve earned my place among the Group of Eight, in addition to a significant position in the National Security Bureau. Nevertheless, I have developed since then to become the Cai Ning that wasn’t purely living for the recognition of her parents, or the happiness of her younger sister, but the Cai Ning who will define her own life.”

As she reminisced, it was as if she was monologuing.

Yang Chen could visualize the scene from a decade ago. A girl in skimpy attire, deep within the bamboo forest, putting her entire concentration on balancing on a bamboo blades partially submerged into the fertile soil. She was drenched in sweat, swaying from the slightest of movements but her focus was solely on the completion of the task.

The next scene was back to that night under the stars, on the empty bridge, sitting alone in the winds of winter—lost, confused, unsure of what fate had in store for her.

“Look at me, Cai Ning,”

Yang Chen sighed before he held onto Cai Ning’s hand.

Cai Ning, with a bit of confusion, stared obediently back at him.

Solemnly, he said, “I hereby announce that from now on, Cai Ning’s happiness will be intertwined with Yang Chen to his bones. That today, more than yesterday, her happiness will only grow. This is a pact of happiness that shall be obligated by both parties. If Yang Chen were to forget or negate this, he would be subjected to Cai Ning’s bullying for eternity.”

Her silky-smooth hand held tightly by Yang Chen shook a little, as Cai Ning stared blankly at Yang Chen for what felt like forever, before bursting into laughter.

“So cheesy. Why does it sound as if you stole it from a book to woo girls?” Cai Ning giggled as she asked.  

Yang Chen scratched his head lightly. “Why aren’t you tearing up? It wouldn’t hurt to give me some reaction right?”

“Cheesy, but I like it.” Cai Ning unexpectedly added, “One more.”

Yang Chen stuttered. “Erm… It flows with my emotions. I’m not particularly emotional now so I can’t really come out with anything.”

“What about this…”

Cai Ning tiptoed as she clung onto Yang Chen’s shoulders and sealed his lips!

Yet another woman took advantage of him.

Yang Chen was unamused. It was Lin Ruoxi then, now even Cai Ning wants to play it this way?

No way, she needs to be punished!

Yang Chen held onto her waist, pinching through her slim, sleek waist, glossing his tongue over her sweet cherry lips.

Cai Ning was originally an amateur in that matter, and a sudden gush of passion from Yang Chen left her in a daze. Her premature bravery had instantly become timidity, with a tinge of innocence from inexperience.

“Ahem…”

A woman’s cough resonated from a distance, cutting off their passionate kiss.