144 Dust on the Chess Board
Zhao Layue and Jing Jiu had been the focus of people's attention for a long time, and it was even more so that day, as many of them had heard of the news that Jing Jiu was to challenge Tong Yan in the chess tournament.
The gazes that were fixated on Jing Jiu consisted of various emotions; some were filled with mockery, perhaps thinking that he had overestimated his own ability, some were sympathetic, and others were worried.
If people's gazes could actually emit light, Jing Jiu would have been brightened by all their looks.
Zhao Layue recalled what Jing Jiu had said before—the sun was mentioned in that statement.
The four of them walked towards the deep end of the Chess Board Mountain under the countless gazes.
Se Se chitchatted with Zhao Layue while holding her hand. Zhao Layue wasn't the talkative type, so she responded only once in a while; but Se Se still liked talking to her, nonstop.
Big Sister Cui of the Hanging-Bell Sect explained to Jing Jiu apologetically, "The young lady doesn't have many people to talk to in the sect."
Jing Jiu nodded and said, "These two are perhaps congenial friends."
Big Sister Cui gave a thankful smile, and then asked out of concern, "Which pavilion are you going to choose?"
"I don't understand what you mean," Jing Jiu said.
Big Sister Cui was somewhat surprised, thinking that you hadn't even prepared yourself in advance, even though you were to challenge Tong Yan at the Plum Meeting, but at least you should have learned the rules of the chess tournament.
The rules of the chess tournament at the Plum Meeting were quite simple. The pavilions in the mountain were the arenas of the chess games. The Cultivation practitioners registered in the chess tournament could pick a pavilion at will and sit in them, waiting for others to come in and challenge them, or they could go to others' pavilions to challenge them instead.
As there could be only one winner of the chess tournament, it wasn't important how many opponents you could defeat, or who your opponents were.
Having heard their conversation, Zhao Layue asked, "What if nobody goes to the pavilion to challenge that person sitting in it?"
"The host of the Plum Meeting will close the pavilions before and after each round of chess games, to ensure that every participant has an opponent."
Se Se said with a sly grin, "Then you should just choose the worst players to play with and play as slowly as possible till the final games. I think doing so can save a lot of energy."
One could indeed play fewer games by doing so, and this method wasn't against the rules either; but it was kind of embarrassing for anyone to play this way.
Big Sister Cui said with a smile, "Playing chess is an elegant thing, and many masters and legends of the old generation are watching. Who can afford such a disgrace?"
"If you don't take the advantage that is there for you to grab, you are not a gentleman but an idiot," said Se Se while curling her lips.
Choosing a pavilion was a delicate matter for those participants in the chess tournament at the Plum Meeting.
For instance, the Cultivation practitioners who believed that they had an unyielding Dao Heart would prefer a pavilion close to the waterfalls. They wouldn't be affected by the noise of the waterfalls, but their opponent might not have had the same steadfast Dao Heart as they did.
No matter how Se Se thought about it, the majority of the Cultivation practitioners and mortals considered playing chess to be an elegant thing, even more so than calligraphy, painting and zither. When the Cultivation practitioners in the chess tournament chose their pavilions, they were more likely to take the environment of the pavilion into consideration, like whether or not a pavilion had the certain elegant elements they sought, such as the shadows of bamboo or the sounds of pine trees rustling.
The Chess Board Mountain was protected by the formations, so it was shielded from rain and snow, and ice and frost. Regardless of how strong the wind was before it entered the mountains, it would turn into a gentle breeze after entering. The spectators could walk anywhere they fancied in the midst of the gentle breeze and the chirping sounds of the birds, and they could watch any chess game at will. Except for the rule that they couldn't speak to disturb the chess games, there was no limitation on their freedom. They could even drink alcohol if they wished to. Roaming in the mountains and among the pavilions felt like water flowing in a stream, free and delightful.
Which pavilion would Jing Jiu choose?
Both Se Se and Big Sister Cui were curious about this, as well as the Cultivation practitioners watching Jing Jiu in the distance.
Zhao Layue thought to herself that he would probably choose a pavilion full of sunlight.
Jing Jiu led the other three through the bamboo and pine forests, passed waterfalls, and kept going to the inside of the mountain. They encountered some people on their way.
The disciples of the sects that were on good terms with the Green Mountain Sect approached them hurriedly to greet in courtesy, and the disciples of the smaller sects in the south greeted them with even more reverence.
The disciples of the sects friendly with the West Ocean Sword Sect and the Kunglung Sect cupped their hands in a careless manner and had sneering expressions.
Those who were friends of the Center Sect were calm on the surface, but their eyes were not so pleasant when they looked at Jing Jiu and his cohorts, as the hints of mockery and ridicule in their expressions were too obvious to miss.
"I'm not happy."
It was nonchalant on Zhao Layue's face, but her eye's expression was a bit chilly.
Jing Jiu didn't understand why she became upset simply because of others' mockery and negligence.
He believed that Zhao Layue was the same as he was.
So he failed to understand why she was unhappy.
"I know you can win, but I'm the only one who knows you will win, so I don't like it," said Zhao Layue.
Jing Jiu pressed, "Could you describe that more precisely?"
Zhao Layue thought about it before saying, "It's not 'walking in the dark night with an embroidered cloth on', and not another saying either. Anyway I can't find the right words to describe it."
Se Se commented wryly, "It looks like your emotions are quite complicated."
Listening to the conversation by the side, Big Sister Cui thought that the Cultivation friends of the Green Mountain Sect were really naïve about the regular affairs as they were focused on practicing the Cultivation.
It wasn't as easy to win first place in the chess tournament of the Plum Meeting as he thought.
Jing Jiu had to win at least five or six games, based on the probability, to eventually encounter that young master Tong Yan, to say nothing of defeating him.
The problem was, could he win?
Though Jing Jiu had won first place in the chess tournament at the Four-Seas Banquet, how could the Four-Seas Banquet compare to the Plum Meeting? In the eyes of many Cultivation practitioners, the Four-Seas Banquet was merely an inferior copy of the Plum Meeting by those newly renowned individuals of the Western Ocean. The Cultivation sects with the true profoundness had seldom sent their disciples to the Four-Seas Banquet, and as for the outcomes…
The previous chess tournament winners at the Four-Seas Banquet had often failed to get in the top thirty at the Plum Meeting.
Big Sister Cui was worried that Jing Jiu didn't know about these facts, so she wanted to remind him that besides Tong Yan, there would be many others at the Plum Meeting hard for him to defeat.
At the moment, they had passed by a patch of wild flowers and come to a clearing amid the cliffs, where a few pavilions were sparsely situated. For some unknown reason, fewer people were present here, giving out a desolate feeling.
Big Sister Cui introduced someone to Jing Jiu, "She is Queniang, a disciple of the third generation of the Mirror Sect, and she has inherited the chess method of the Grand Scholar He of the previous imperial court."
A round-faced young woman stood in front of the pavilion, with a peaceful bearing. The sparse freckles on her face accentuated an aura of cleverness as well as loveliness.
She greeted Jing Jiu and Zhao Layue in courtesy with a gentle grin, "Greetings, two senior masters."
The relationship between the Mirror Sect and the Green Mountain Sect was quite friendly, so Jing Jiu and Zhao Layue nodded to return the greeting.
The four of them walked on. A scholar stood in front of a pavilion ahead.
The scholar wore an old robe that appeared white after too many times of washing, and he held a book in his hand, reading it silently while bobbing his head. The book could be either a collection of the chess playing records or a script.
Big Sister Cui said in a hushed voice, "He is a disciple of the One-Cottage House, named Shang Jiulou. He has a very high level of chess playing. He lost only three squares to Tong Yan at the last Plum Meeting."
Hearing footsteps, the scholar lifted his head and said, "I have chosen this pavilion already. You people should go somewhere else."
His words were harsh and cold. The group would get even more enraged if they didn't see his rather numb expression.
Se Se barked, "Why would you say that? As a matter of fact, we can challenge you if we want."
The scholar responded after glancing at Jing Jiu once, "If you would like to lose and go back to the Green Mountain early, then go ahead."
A frivolous voice burst out not far away.
The voice came from a pavilion in front, and there was a large tree right in front of the pavilion blocking the sunlight; so the pavilion appeared shadowy and tranquil.
A young man with a tender face stood in front of the pavilion, and he said to Jing Jiu with a tone of mockery, "We've heard that you are to challenge Tong Yan, so we found and read your playing records. They are really terrible to look at. If you want to be alive a bit longer today, you'd better not stay around here. The further away from us, the better. Otherwise, your defeat will be even more terrible than the way you play Go."