Chapter 1: Crane Song

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“A Ling,1 hurry and sweep up the leaves in front of the gate.” An unrestrained youth of about sixteen or seventeen years called out to her from the highest step in front of the gate. 

The girl known as A Ling, about fifteen or sixteen years old, heard the call and, despite being unwilling, reluctantly picked up a broom.  The girl bound her hair loosely on top of her head, a few wisps sticking to her rosy cheeks.
A belt, embroidered with a bamboo pattern, encircled her waist, the knot tied haphazardly on one side.
The drooping belt swayed side to side with her light movements, displaying a lovely, adorable side of Jiang Ling as she swept up the fallen leaves one by one along the road from the entrance of the mountain. 

The Crane Song Sect was a humble sect with only four people.
Because the sect was situated on Crane Song Mountain, her shifu, Yun Yangzi, offhandedly bestowed the sect with the name “Crane Song Sect.” In total, the sect had three disciples.
Aside from the things only shifu could do, like giving classes, everything else in the sect was arranged by the three disciples. 

Jiang Ling was the youngest shimei2 of the three disciples.
Light chores and manual tasks were her responsibility.
At times when Jiang Ling was inevitably disobedient, Gu Yun, her second shixiong, would say: “Shimei’s qinggong3 is the best, so naturally we gave shimei these kinds of trivial tasks.
This way, twice the work gets done with half the effort, and you can cultivate along the way.” Right, shixiong and shijie were always heading down the mountain to perform manual work in towns to provide for the four of them.
From big deeds, like assisting the local authorities by going to local bandit hideouts in the mountains to punish evil and eliminate wickedness, to small deeds, like helping the villagers find lost chickens and ducks, with the remuneration from these tasks, the master-disciple group would not go hungry. 

Shifu always said that there are many paths in cultivation, and sweeping the floor was one of them.
Jiang Ling objected, saying that shifu was just hoodwinking them into taking care of odd jobs for him.
She thought that cultivation was studying manuals and practicing martial arts.
Yun Yangzi would say: “No, all things are a form of cultivation.
Naturally, life is one, too.” Thus, aside from martial arts practice and going down the mountain to earn money, the sect collected the yearly harvest and gathered wild vegetables and fruits, sending Jiang Ling down to exchange the remaining bounty with local villagers and hunters for other vegetables and meat.
The four of them seemed less like a sect and more like a reclusive family. 

Jiang Ling held the broom as she thought about how the falling leaves continued to fall as she swept, and how she continued to sweep as they fell.
As long as the tree stood on the mountaintop, there would never be a day where she finished sweeping.
Unconsciously feeling down, the broom dropped out of her hand and a wind rose from the ground beneath her feet.
For a moment, she couldn’t open her eyes, and she could only clench her hands tight.
When she could open her eyes, she was happy to see that shifu and shijie, travel-worn and weary, had returned.
She saw Yun Yangzi step lightly on the falling leaves and land beside Jiang Ling.
Yun Yangzi was wearing long, light gray robes, with the beard of a mountain goat on his chin.
He was tall and slender, with sword-like slanted eyebrows, a bright gaze, and a trace of unusual elegance. 

“This master was not here, and so you are this lazy.” Yun Yangzi’s expression was strict, like it hadn’t been in the past, “When you have finished sweeping, come eat.”

“Understood, shifu.” Jiang Ling was scared by Yun Yangzi’s sudden reprimand, and she felt somewhat wronged.
She nodded, clutching the broom which had, at some point, already returned to her hands, and continued sweeping. 

Yun He landed behind Yun Yangzi.
She was dressed entirely in black robes, with turquoise designs along the cuffs and hem.
Her belt had the same bamboo pattern as Jiang Ling’s, elegant and charming.
She walked over and lightly patted her on the shoulder in consolation, then left in the same direction as shifu. 

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That night, Yun Yangzi called the three disciples over. 

“When this master and your shijie went down the mountain this time, we received a letter from the Blue Mountain Sect.
Your shizun4 means for you to attend the Sword Competition after two or three months.
You will go to gain some experience.” Yun Yangzi conveyed the information simply, observing his disciples’ reactions. 

Yun He was his most prized disciple, with talent soaring to the heavens.
Thus, he wished to pass down everything he had learned during his lifetime to her, as his legacy.
Exactly four years prior, at the Blue Cloud Sect4 Sword Competition, he brought Yun He, who was only fifteen years old at the time, along with him.
Unexpectedly, Yun He had come in eighth place, even defeating Gu Shi, the oldest disciple of Yun Yangzi’s shixiong, Liu Qi. 

Although Gu Yun did not have as much natural talent as Yun He, he was not far away.
He was diligent, studying and practicing every day, and achieved a small amount of success.

And Jiang Ling, who did not have any talent for martial arts, was brought up under shifu’s guidance.
However, she discovered that her dantian could not hold qi beyond a thin layer.
She could not even exchange palm strikes with people.
Her shallow sea of qi was like a chicken rib: of little to no value, but a shame to just discard. 

After studying for a few years, her internal force had made no progress.
Often, she had to watch her shijie and shixiong learn new sword forms, and she sighed to the heavens about the injustice.
She did not show it on her face, but in her bones, she had not yet admitted defeat.
Because she could not gather her internal force, she could not learn these forms.
Just as she despised how weak her dantian was, treating it like a useless chicken rib, she also utilized it.
Yun Yangzi taught her the way of qinggong and nimble sword maneuvers.
For small opponents from Jianghu, these nimble sword arts were enough, and if she found a strong opponent, running was a clever option. 

Even though the Crane Song Sect was independent, Yun Yangzi was Blue Mountain Sect’s Luyi-zhenren’s5 third disciple.
When he was young, he and his shijie and shixiong made names for themselves in Jianghu.
Seventeen years ago, the sect was in turmoil, and Yun Yangzi was habitually lax in discipline.
He did not get along with his staid, old-fashioned shixiong, and since his shixiong wanted to take over the position of sect leader, he felt uneasy at the Blue Mountain Sect.
He took his leave of his shifu Luyi-zhenren and brought the youthful Yun He and Jiang Ling to Crane Song Mountain to establish his own school.
He would only return once every four years, for the Sword Competition, and he used to leave his three disciples behind on Crane Song Mountain to “run their own course.” Four years prior, when he took Yun He with him, Gu Yun brought Jiang Ling down the mountain to pass their days in the village performing farm work.
This time, they would be making a clean return to Blue Cloud Sect.  

Jiang Ling and Gu Yun heard the news, and in their hearts was an uncontrollable anticipation and joyousness.
Ever since they were small, besides the Crane Song Sect and the villages at the foot of the mountain, the two of them had never been anywhere else.
After hearing that, this time, they could go to the hundred-year-old Blue Mountain Sect to gain experience out in the world, they could not conceal the feeling in their hearts.
The warm glow of the candle light fell on their faces, their eyes sparkling. 

Yun Yangzi looked at the expressions of these two disciples, and he felt like he was looking at his own time as a youth.
Yes, children always grow up and fly away.
He swept away his previous worries, revealing a youthful vigor as he said: “This competition is not for representing this master in winning or losing, but for broadening your horizons! You will listen to everything your shijie tells you, understand?”

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“Shifu won’t be going?” Jiang Ling quickly saw the meaning behind Yun Yangzi’s words. 

“You three know that your shibo and I cannot speak two sentences to each other without fuming in anger.
Especially if this lazy brat is seen by my shixiong.
He will lecture us both and say that my teachings are not proper.” As he spoke, he poked Jiang Ling’s head, “Your shizun means that all three of you are disciples that were kidnapped and stranded by me.
He is getting older, and he cannot resr easy until he sees you.
You three have grown up.
Go see shizun and wish him well for me.
I will enjoy my free time.”

“Shifu, you can rest assured.
I will manage shimei.” Gu Yun beat his chest, giving Yun Yangzi his guarantee. 

Yun Yangzi shook his head.
This disciple was also too restless.
It was probably because he never set any rules, and his disciples simply ended up a little willful and capricious.
Compared to the large sects with strict regulations and ranks, this one felt much more like a family. 

“Shifu.” At this time, Yun He, who was standing to the side, called out to Yun Yangzi.
Although she was the eldest shijie, Yun He was only older than her shidi and shimei by a few years, so when shifu was not by her side, she felt a little uneasy. 

Yun Yangzi listened to Yun He’s worries, twisting his beard as he said: “Yun He went with this master to Blue Mountain Sect last time, and is already familiar with the way.
This is just another common form of cultivation down the mountain.
Although the journey will be long, you are returning to your own sect, after all.
There is no need to be worried.
There are still three months before you will go to Blue Mountain.
You three can go on a trip to Yuzhou.
Yuzhou is a major center of communication for all four cardinal directions, so people of Jianghu and government officials gather there.
It’s very lively, with many opportunities to have fun.
You three can go to Yuzhou for fun first.
It won’t be too late to go to Blue Mountain later.”

Yun Yangzi handed over some trivial tasks to them, then sent them off to rest.
They spent two days preparing for the journey. 

Jiang Ling stayed in the same room as Yun He, pestering her about how things were outside.
When Yun He was fourteen and she and Yun Yangzi left the mountain, it had also been her first time experiencing the outside world.
Yun Yangzi had taken Yun He to Yuzhou and Luoyang, as well as other lively cities and towns, before returning to the Blue Mountain Sect.
She had also experienced many interesting and novel things on the road.

Blue Mountain Sect was one of four major sects.
Situated on Blue Mountain, which reached high into the clouds, the palaces of the Blue Mountain Sect were embellished impeccably and highly dignified.
The sect had many disciples, most of which were outer disciples.
Inner disciples must be chosen by the sect leader or by a sect elder, usually based on the disciple’s spiritual roots and potential.
These disciples would receive the imparted knowledge and wisdom of the sect leader or elder and had the possibility of inheriting their legacy. 

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Jiang Ling propped her chin on her hand as she listened to Yun He’s story, her heart itching to set off immediately.
Her brow suddenly tightened, and she said: “This Blue Mountain is so tall, there must be many stairs, but I won’t have to sweep endlessly.
Here, as soon as I sweep at the base of the mountain steps, leaves have fallen at the top of the mountain again.”

When she heard this, Yun He let out a soft chuckle: “You still resent shifu for scolding you today?”

Jiang Ling: “It was cultivation! Cultivation!” She placed both hands on the table and lifted herself up, throwing herself over into her bedding.
Taking advantage of her position, rolled up in her bedding, she continued her spontaneous speech fluidly: “And now it is time for sleep cultivation.”

Yun He was used to her childish manner, so she blew out the light and prepared to sleep. 

Some time passed.
Moonlight filtered into the room, and the cries of insects outside the window flowed continuously and peacefully.
It seemed like the two people in the room had already fallen asleep, but soon Jiang Ling sighed softly, saying quietly: “Shijie, you say that I am like this.
At the Blue Mountain Sect, can I only be an outer disciple, sweeping the mountain gate for my entire life?” Although Jiang Ling had grown up under the encouraging guidance of her shifu, shijie, and shixiong, she could not gather internal force, which was a large blow to her.
No matter how hard she worked, and no matter how easy the mental cultivation techniques were for her to comprehend, every time she tried to wield martial arts, it was like trying to catch water with her bare hands.
The water flowed out from between her fingers, only leaving behind a lingering wetness on her hands.
To say she was not disheartened would be false, but all she could do was diligently study qinggong and nimble sword arts every day. 

Jiang Ling opened her dark eyes and looked toward Yun He’s bedding.
Yun He had not answered her, so Jiang Ling thought she had already fallen asleep.
Jiang Ling was going to turn back over and continue sleeping, but she heard Yun He sit up and say to Jiang Ling earnestly: “A Ling, you really do have a gift.
There is no need to belittle yourself.” 

“Shijie…” Jiang Ling’s eyes stung.
She really wanted to go over and hug her shijie, so she did, just like when she was little and would crawl into shijie’s warm bedding to snuggle after suffering a grievance.
She leaned against shijie, a warm feeling of fulfillment in her heart, and fell asleep before she knew it. 

T/N:

1 阿翎, an affectionate way to call Jiang Ling, who’s given name means plume/tail feathers.

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2 For now, I will be sticking to the terminology shifu, shimei, shixiong, etc.
because the english translations are super bulky.
Here’s a breakdown of what they mean and some examples:

Shijie = older sect sister, i.e.
Yun He Shimei = younger sect sister, i.e.
Jiang Ling Shixiong = older sect brother, i.e.
Jiang Ling’s shixiong, Gu Yun Shidi = younger sect brother, i.e.
Yun He’s shidi, also Gu Yun  Shifu = master, i.e.
Yun Yangzi Shizun = teacher, i.e.
Luyi-zhenren Shibo = sect uncle, i.e.
Liu Qi

3 轻功, or ‘lightness skills’, pretty much the flying around, wirework in wuxia dramas

4 Yun Yangzi is referred to as shifu, and shizun refers to Luyi-zhenren.

5 So, the author refers to both 青山派, translated here as Blue Mountain Sect, and 青云派, translated here as Blue Cloud Sect, pretty much interchangeable.
I will edit this once I have more context about the difference here. Also, 青 refers to more of a turquoise/cyan color, somewhere between blue and green, but I thought blue would sound better.
Again, I will probably edit this later.

6 真人 zhenren, Daoist title meaning ‘real man,’ or someone who reached enlightenment

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