Standing in front of the door was a figure whose height was taller than a person, and was made entirely out of iron. There were two small round eyes under the helmet, flashing purple, the color that was unique to the burning of Ziliujin - it invoked a frightening image, enough to be the main character in nighttime ghost stories.
The iron figure looked straight forward and over the top of Chang Geng’s head, staring aimlessly behind him, lifting its hand the size of a bowl. Resembling a woodpecker, it continued to endlessly knock on his door.
Chang Geng's soul that was scared out of him was still doing its frantic dance in the air. He was not able to gather himself together. When he was already met with this situation, the hairs that had not been able to lie down stood up once again.
He took a deep breath then hurriedly stepped back, grabbing the sword hanging at the door.
At this moment, Gu Yun stepped out from behind the iron figure and asked with enthusiasm: "Interesting, isn't it?"
Chang Geng: "..."
"I know the family guards have not dared to use weapons against you, and from what I heard from Uncle Wang, you always practice your swordsmanship by yourself in the courtyard every day, which could be quite dull and boring since you have no opponent,"
Gu Yun said all this while casually twisting and turning something at the back of its head, the terrifying iron monster instantly became perfectly still, standing motionlessly in one spot. Gu Yun raised his hand and patted its giant iron head. He smiled at Chang Geng and said: “Hence I brought a ‘sword training puppet’ for you to play with, sounds good?”
Chang Geng’s gaze didn’t dare to stay on him for too long, he looked up at the immobile iron monster resembling a mountain.
After a moment, he pointed at himself: "Me? Play with it?"
Isn't this thing the one who was going to play with him?
Gu Yun pushed the iron puppet into the small courtyard where Chang Geng stayed, and Chang Geng tiredly followed behind.
The young boy’s conscience was still guilty with harboring inappropriate thoughts. Although he was able to maintain composure on his face, he only dared to sneak glances at Gu Yun whenever the man turned away. After a few peeks, Chang Geng found that Gu Yun was not wearing much on him.
In the early winter morning where one's breath could turn into frost, Gu Yun only had on a single robe that was neither old nor new. When slightly bending over to adjust the iron puppet, his waistline seemed to be a lot more slender than in Chang Geng’s imagination.
Soon, Chang Geng realized that he was looking at a place he mustn't look. He quickly turned his head away in a panic and asked: “Are you not going out today?”
Gu Yun: “No, I have the day off.”
Chang Geng was silent for a while, but unable to hold back, he asked: "How come you're dressing like this, isn't it very cold?"
"Don't copy Shen Yi and be lengthy, come here." Gu Yun beckoned him closer. He pulled the iron monster up again, then patted the hard material of its shoulders.
"This is a variant of the iron puppet. It is different from the ordinary ones used as house guards; it is also called the sword training puppet. Many martial arts practitioners in the capital had this as their very first training mentor. I also used it when I was younger.
“It has several sets of fixed martial arts moves for beginners. There are seven points on its body: head, neck, chest, abdomen, shoulders, arms and legs. If you can stab any of the first four, it will stop immediately. But you should be careful if you touch the last three. Even if you can hit the shoulder and arm points, its legs can still move and could kick you at any time.
"If you want to lock it down, any points from both its shoulders and legs must be hit. How about you give it a try?"
Gu Yun’s explanation was not even as long as a fart, finished in a few sentences. Right after that, he immediately entered the simple and crude on-hand practice session: "Hold your sword firmly!"
His sentence had not even finished, and the puppet already moved, its eyes flashing with bright purple, charging forward and lifting its sword.
Chang Geng was not in a ready state, he had not even pulled out his sword. He hastily took a few steps back.
The puppet did not give him any room to breathe. Once it started, it immediately began pursuing Chang Geng incessantly, already cornering him in the blink of an eye.
Chang Geng had nowhere to run, so he clenched his teeth, gripped the sword with both hands, then swung from the bottom up. The two iron swords collided together - Chang Geng's wrist twitched, his sword directly fell off to the ground, cold sweat had started to break out. He subconsciously leaned back - the puppet's sword landed at a distance of a gripped hand in front of his forehead.
There was a ray of cold hue on the blade.
The small courtyard was quiet, only Chang Geng’s fierce gasping and the “rumbling” power in the body of the puppet could be heard.
Gu Yun did not make any comments, nor did he come forward to give any instructions. He sat down next to the stone table in the courtyard, took out a small cup, untied the wine jug at his waist, then watched Chang Geng be chased by the iron puppet as a complimentary dish for his drink.
As Chang Geng caught a glance of Gu Yun, his mood became even more unstable.
On one hand, he was like a young little peacock that had yet to grow up, but was already eager to show off his wings and tail for the other to look at. On the other hand, his insides were filled with worries and frustration, just looking at Gu Yun was already making him dizzy.
The flame of will in the young boy’s chest swayed back and forth between exploding and dying out. The puppet did not understand the situation, white steam spewed out under its feet, launching it forwards a few steps, once again using its starting stance and thrusting its sword towards Chang Geng.
Chang Geng raised his sword to his shoulder and took the initiative to charge forward, desperately trying to remember the trick Gu Yun had used to knock the sword out of his hand with a single dagger back in Governor Guo's house.
Gu Yun played with the small wine cup in his hand, clucked his tongue, shaking his head as he watched.
The edges of the two iron swords came in contact, and sparks started to fly. The hilt of the sword created an unbearable pressure wave yet again. Chang Geng's sword was not able to reach the intended destination, but he was already out of strength, and his sword ended up slipping out of his grip again and flew three feet away.
The puppet was used for sparring, it would not hurt people. The purple light in its eyes extinguished a few times. It retracted the sword hanging over the top of Chang Geng’s head then backed away once again, changing its standing posture.
Chang Geng’s forehead started to sweat, he couldn’t help but divert his focus and sneak a peek at Gu Yun again. He thought with annoyance: “He is not going to leave today? What is so good to watch!”
Gu Yun looked at Chang Geng’s sword getting knocked out of his hands time and time again as he finished the entire jug of cold wine. His two long legs had alternated their position three times between up and down, extremely calm and patient. It was only when the puppet used a particularly heavy blow that ended in Chang Geng’s entire body being knocked away that he started to casually stand up.
Chang Geng scratched his skin as he fell to the ground, he could feel bits of blood as he reached over to touch the wounds, but he couldn't be bothered about wiping them off right now because Gu Yun had walked over to him, his arms crossed in front of his chest, looking at the tall iron puppet in front of him.
Chang Geng subconsciously bowed his head, utterly defeated. He did not dare to look at the other man.
"When your heart is in a panic - your legs will become unsteady," Gu Yun said. "If your feet are not stable, no matter how skilled your swordsmanship is, it would be nothing more than water without a source, trees without roots."
Chang Geng was startled, and he raised his head.
Gu Yun rarely spoke with such seriousness: "Get up, I will teach you."
Chang Geng was surprised at first, his eyes widened, and before he could react, Gu Yun had already pulled him back up again. He held on to Chang Geng's sword-handling arm and hugged him firmly from behind.
Chang Geng swallowed hard; his back tensed up.
Gu Yun whispered: "Let's relax, don't look at me, look at your sword."
He had not yet finished speaking when the purple lights in the puppet's eyes on the opposite side were already blazing once again, its body rumbling like a battle drum. It flew forward. Its movements did not change, and its sword came slashing down towards their heads.
Even though deep in Chang Geng’s blood was a certain kind of contained wildness, it could only be stimulated in life and death and rage-filled situations. After all, this was only a sparring session.
At this moment, he couldn't afford to dwell on the closeness that was currently making him self-conscious and embarrassed. His first reaction was still to retreat, it was the natural reaction for anyone who was forced to face a giant monster's frightening pressure.
But Gu Yun did not allow him to retreat.
Chang Geng felt that his whole body had been lifted up by Gu Yun, and he was rushed forward like a fearless puppet with no strings. His wrist was molded tightly into Gu Yun's hand that was so solid, as if it had been cast by iron. He involuntarily moved his sword under Gu Yun’s control. In the brief moment his weapon connected with his opponent's, Chang Geng could sense that the hand wielding his sword was subtly tilted by Gu Yun in a different angle, and the sword that came slashing down by the puppet immediately got driven backwards.
The cold iron blade passed by him, almost cutting through his temple. Chang Geng instinctively shut his eyes tightly, thinking that he was about to crash into the puppet.
Gu Yun sighed and thought: "This child is slightly lacking in boldness, I’m afraid that he might not be the type of person who can take up the sword."
The scent of cold metal passed by Chang Geng’s nose, and the puppet's elbow slowed. Gu Yun lifted his foot, kicked Chang Geng's knee socket and shouted: "Open your eyes! Watch your arm!"
Chang Geng's knee softened, his leg bounced upwards due to the external force, and the tip of his foot hit the spot on the puppet's arm with complete precision.
The machine made a creaking sound, its upper arm was locked down in place. Chang Geng just managed to let out half of a breath, but in the next moment, Gu Yun suddenly bent over him, forcing down his back.
A fierce wind passed by his ears - the leg of the puppet swept across the air.
Gu Yun: "Look carefully."
He grasped Chang Geng's hand firmly and dragged the boy into a clear-cut semicircle on the ground. The tip of the sword swept past the point on the puppet's ankle.
Another creaking sound rang out, it had completely locked down.
It retained its posture, standing still in the same place. The purple light in its eyes flashed a few times then gradually dimmed.
Chang Geng’s palm was full of sweat, his chest violently raised up and down, he did not even notice when Gu Yun had let go of him.
In just this brief moment, he could instantly feel the wide gap in skills between himself and his little yifu.
Gu Yun casually brushed the dust off his body: "Retreating is human nature. In fact, if your opponents are people, there is no problem in stepping back and retreating.
“But remember, if you are facing against iron puppets or Heavy Armor units while you yourself aren't equipped with armors - do not retreat. These units have a Ziliujin-powered mechanism at their feet, they will catch up to you the moment you step back. As you do so, both your mind and your body's focus point will fall backwards, and it will become difficult to regain strength in a short amount of time to fight back. Instead, your arms and legs will become clumsy, and you will end up falling into your opponent’s hands."
Chang Geng thought for a long time, and suddenly asked: "What yifu meant to say was, if facing with enemies which are much more powerful than oneself, direct confrontation will actually increase the odds of winning?"
Gu Yun raised his eyebrows, as this seemed rather strange: "Huh? How come you are calling ‘yifu’ today?"
Chang Geng was all good on all fronts, the only problem was that his mouth did not seem to understand manners, and always referred to him as “Shiliu”. Very annoying.
Gu Yun was born on the sixteenth of the first month - the childhood name ‘Shiliu’ also came from the First Princess. Except for the princess and the former Emperor, even the old marquis did not call him by this name. Although he did not mind much, having a little kid referring to him as ‘Shiliu this Shiliu that’ day in and day out could be quite frustrating.
According to his experience, Gu Yun felt that there were only two situations in which he could be called "yifu". One was if ‘the blind cat encountered a dead mouse’ - he accidentally delighted this little kid. The other was if ‘the cat stepped on the dog's tail’ - he accidentally provoked the brat.
Chang Geng looked at him deeply for a while, his expression complicated, then said: "I used to be ignorant in the past, I will not be this way anymore in the future."
He was finally aware of his own inexperience and incompetence, how could he dare to act as he pleased anymore.
Sometimes, it would only take one brief moment for a young adolescent to go from "believing that they had already grown into an adult" to really and truly growing into an adult.
Even for someone as careless as Gu Yun, he could also vaguely feel that there was something about Chang Geng that seemed to have changed.