| Chapter 388: Sharpening Skills
Translator: Cynthia Editor: TYZ/CakeHermit
Zhao Boan was born to a merchant's family. His father was a small itinerant merchant. Now the family property was in his hands, but the business environment had become harder than ever.
Small merchants needed a stable society. To them, troubled times were like natural disasters were to peasants. They could hardly fight against them.
Now was the time for bandits and robbers to rise, because one could earn more by robbing than by doing business. If you had strong fighting skills, you could protect yourself and make a fortune, but if not, then you could only become a target for bandits.
The trade route between Jadeite Forest and the Avalon of Five Elements had not been formally recognized by the Elders Guild, which meant that it was still a smuggling route. Despite this, the caravans were secure as they all had aristocratic families backing them.
To small traders like Zhao Boan, however, participating in the smuggling business was like dancing on the edge of a blade. Any carelessness might send them down the road of destruction. As a result, Zhao Boan hadn't dared involve himself in such practices, but nowadays, business was getting increasingly worse as trade in the Jadeite Forest was almost entirely monopolized by Deep Sea Enterprise. If he didn't do anything, his family would go bankrupt by next year.
Overtaken by circumstances, Zhao Boan made his decision. He borrowed a considerable amount of money from his relatives and sold all his possessions to purchase a caravan of goods.
However, he didn't expect the situation to be even worse than he'd imagined.
After the city expansion order was issued, elementalists from the Avalon of Five Elements all left for the Wilderness, leaving depressed and dilapidated cities and towns behind. The decline in population and the transfer of the enterprises' power forced the guards to focus on the Wilderness.
This led directly to a state of lawlessness and havoc caused by bandits and robbers. They were almost everywhere in the cities, like bamboo shoots after a spring rain.
The caravans of the large enterprises were heavily guarded; no robbers dared to attack them. Instead, they focused on robbing small merchants like Zhao Boan.
Zhao Boan had been forced to spend heavily to hire guards for protection.
Although they did not have the qualifications to be caravan guards during peacetimes, Zhao Boan had no alternatives and was forced to hire them.
Unfortunately, he had been too unlucky and met the grass-lotus puppet, which was even worse than robbers. After the first round of confrontation, except for those who had been killed, the rest of the guards all fled for their lives.
Zhao Boan became desperate and thought he would be killed for sure, but unexpectedly, he met his new boss.
Yes, he had been hired by Ai Hui and was now his manager.
At the time, seeking refuge with his boss was the only choice he could make, but later he felt that his new boss was good. When his boss learned that he'd borrowed a lot of money from his relatives, he generously paid him an amount equal to half the goods and told him to repay the loan first.
This alone was enough to make Zhao Boan grateful. He was now willing to die for Ai Hui without saying a word.
Two years ago, morals had not been as terrible as they were today. Elders Guild was still influential and powerful then. This year, however, especially this half of the year, righteousness and justice no longer seemed to exist and the rules of society quickly collapsed. It was like an avalanche; once the layer of snow covering the mountain peak collapsed, it poured down with a roaring sound and an unstoppable momentum.
The strong overlooked those beneath them while the weak were as minor as mites. They were bullied more and more often, almost everyday. Bandits and robbers were everywhere, but no one stopped them.
Nowadays, a robber could be praised and called a righteous robber as long as he didn't kill anyone during a robbery. It was perfectly justified for the strong to take your belongings without paying.
Anyone capable had already gone to the Wilderness.
Except for pivotal huge cities like Silver City, the Silver Mist Sea, and Palette Cloud Village, the rest of the cities were like dried up corpses. The Elders Guild didn't bother to pay them any attention and just left them to rot and die.
The rotten atmosphere could not give birth to vigor; it would only attract vultures that were fond of carrion.
His boss had done more than he could.
Zhao Boan glanced at Qing Feng in fear. He knew that he'd better not provoke this monster, especially so after hearing from his boss that Qing Feng was a follower of Grandmaster Dai. He completely gave up the idea to revenge.
In the Jadeite Forest, no one dared to disobey Grandmaster Dai. He was the god of Jadeite Forest, and even his followers were beyond the reach of ordinary people.
It seemed that his boss was not afraid of Grandmaster Dai. He was a bit worried at first, but when it occurred to him that his boss was not a member of Jadeite Forest, he was more or less relieved.
His gaze focused on his bossr, who was training.
Zhao Boan marveled; he had never seen anyone more hardworking than his boss. No, the word "hardworking" was not enough to describe his boss's training. It should be "crazy."
His boss seemed to be extremely stubborn about power. When he was practicing, it was as if he was possessed by the devil.
This made Zhao Boan more relieved. In these troubled times, nothing could comfort one better than strength.
He stood reverently aside and waited for his boss's training to end.
Ai Hui was more focused than ever and the Dragonspine moved so fast that naked eyes could hardly follow it. In front of him, grass cords flew like ghosts, making whistling sounds that could get on your nerves.
Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle!
Each collision between the Dragonspine and the grass cords would produce sparks.
After a while, Ai Hui was soaked with sweat and white fog slowly rose from his body, but as if he felt nothing, he simply moved his sword faster. Standing opposite him, Qing Feng's mood was complicated and hard to describe.
This guy's sword moves were a bit faster than yesterday. Although it was not readily apparent, Qing Feng was sensitive enough to feel it.
Qing Feng had always been described as a monster by others, but now he felt that those people had just never met this guy here. This guy was the real monster.
Since he'd agreed to be Ai Hui's sparring partner, only one hour had passed before he was made to work.
Qing Feng was completely unprepared. Although they had made a deal, shouldn't they start the next day?
An hour's training had drained every bit of his energy and his mind was totally blank. Fortunately, his boss was generous enough to supply him with food. After devouring all the materials, he more or less recovered.
Coming back to his senses, Qing Feng realized that being a sparring partner was not an easy job.
Unfortunately, it was too late. After only two hours, he realized that he had still underestimated the difficulty of this business.
He was asked to spar with Ai Hui again.
When he heard the guy call, his face almost froze and he wondered if he'd heard wrong. He clearly remembered how that guy had been lying on the ground as tired as a dog just now. When he blankly turned his face and saw the energetic Ai Hui, he thought he might have a problem with his eyes.
Then Qing Feng finally learned what a nightmare was.
Basically, he could only rest for two to four hours before being asked to train. The frequency was abnormally high.
It went on like this for a consecutive three days. Qing Feng finally couldn't bear it. The training was driving him crazy. Even when he'd been training before, he'd never been so crazy. He didn't understand why his boss had so much energy and why he fought so hard.
To Qing Feng's ears, Ai Hui's voice was like that of a demon.
Moreover, he marveled at Ai Hui's progress. He improved at a speed Qing Feng had never seen before. As a sparring partner, he could sense more clearly than anyone else how horrifying it was every day.
His pressure increased day by day.
He was becoming more and more proficient in using grass cords each day, from using one at a time, to five, six, and seven...
During the last fight, Ai Hui had been awkward when resisting Qing Feng's attacks using ten grass cords, and was whipped several times. Now, however, Qing Feng knew he would no longer be able to whip Ai Hui at all, no matter how many grass cords he used.
Ai Hui's sword moves became more and more simple, but his speed became increasingly fast and fluent.
Qing Feng was not stupid. He knew Ai Hui wanted to sharpen his swordsmanship, but what surprised Qing Feng was that Ai Hui thought of doing so at such a young age. Other people his age were all practicing inheritances or absolute arts.
Ai Hui was just a young man, but Qing Feng felt that he couldn't see him through at all.
Hearing Ai Hui's shout, Qing Feng came back to his senses and immediately stopped.
Ai Hui sat on the ground and his sweat flowed in a stream beneath him. His breath was so heavy that he sounded like bellows. Qing Feng was extremely tired as well. He lay on the ground without caring about his image at all. He did not even want to move his fingers, no, grass cords.
Ai Hui's heavy breathing finally died down and his blank eyes returned to normal.
He struggled to stand up with the Dragonspine in his hand, then began his unique Sword-style Breathing Technique.
Fizz, fizz, fizz.
The sound of inhalation could be heard around the sword, like a snake hissing, making people feel scared and nervous. The metal elemental energy around them converged from all directions and soon infused into the sword.
Ai Hui's face became ruddy again and his breathing became stable, until it was finally soundless.
Time flew by quietly. When Ai Hui opened his eyes again, he looked mild.
He stretched his limbs and waved his sword. Seeing several sword rays flash in the air, Ai Hui looked complacent. Qing Feng was indeed a good sparring partner. His grass cords gave him huge pressure.
To block such intense attacks, Ai Hui had to continuously revise how he attacked and the flow of his elemental energy. Previously, he had taught himself sword moves according to the ancient swordplay manuals using trial and error, but had never wondered if there was room for improvement.
Some details were continuously adjusted and improved to make his moves faster and more accurate. That was why Qing Feng could feel Ai Hui's progress every day.
This was because Ai Hui was indeed improving every day, which he himself could feel.
Having tasted the benefits, Ai Hui wondered if he could improve things other than swordsmanship in this way. He kept this idea in mind and decided to think about it further after the training for this period.
Faster moves meant you could gain advantages faster in a fight.
He glanced at Qing Feng, who was apparently too tired to stand up. He lay on the ground with his grass cords scattered around him, like he had just been ravaged.
Qing Feng's elemental energy recovery was not as fast as Ai Hui's. The Sword-style Breathing Technique was Ai Hui's exclusive secret and the reason why he could bear highly-frequent practices like this. Although his sword breathing had not yet reached the efficiency level Ai Hui expected, the elemental energy it absorbed was stable and placid enough.
Seeing Zhao Boan standing aside, he walked to him and asked, "How is it going? Any progress?"
After days of interaction, Ai Hui believed Zhao Boan was a competent man, so he told him what he was thinking and asked him to look into it for him.
It seemed that he had brought back some news.