The newcomer had plain clothes and unsurpassed elegance, hair drawn up in a topknot with a jade hairpin, not only Shen Qiao’s attention, but also many of the others present were drawn by the sudden appearance of this mystery woman, and were looking in her direction.
She wore a long sword on her back, her gaze flying upward, her walk was not at all girl-like, and unfazed by other people’s attention, it remained steadfast and spirited, as she walked in behind the Chunyangguan disciple, she scanned the entire area, when she saw Shen Qiao, her face showed shock and delight, and before the disciple could bring her before Yi Bichen, she stepped off one foot and flew towards Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao also stood up, their eyes met, the young woman flung herself like a swallow towards a forest, and embraced him tightly.
Everyone’s gaze became a bit peculiar.
“Zhangjiao-shixiong!” the young woman was completely unaffected, not caring the least about what others might think, only after a long while, when Shen Qiao patted her on the back, did she let him go.
Hearing the namesake she had used, Zhao Chiying knew that she must be a disciple of Xuandushan, Shen Qiao’s shimei.
As expected, Shen Qiao took her hand and introduced her to Zhao Chiying: “This is my wu-shimei Gu Hengbo, this is Bixia Sect Zhao-zongzhu.”
Zhao Chiying had heard before that Qi Fengge had five disciples, Tan Yuanchun, Shen Qiao, Yu Ai, Yuan Ying, Gu Hengbo, among them was only one woman, it would have to be the one standing before her.
Looking at her, she was like ice and jade, enshrouded by a celestial air, truly a beautiful person.
Gu and Zhao both greeted each other, Gu Hengbo smiled: “I’ve heard of Zhao-zongzhu’s name, but didn’t realize I would meet you here, wu-niang is very fortunate!”
It wasn’t that she wasn’t aware of formalities, just that when she saw Shen Qiao she was so moved, she disregarded everyone else for the moment.
Shen Qiao asked: “Wu-niang, how did you come here, is Yu Ai here too?”
Gu Hengbo shook her head: “No, we had a big argument, I’ve left the mountain for a while now, and wasn’t planning to return.”
Shen Qiao frowned: “What happened? Did he mistreat you?”
Gu Hengbo smiled, as if it was no big matter: “That’s a long story, why don’t I tell it later. I heard this place was hosting shijiandahui, so came up the mountain to check it out, and didn’t expect to meet zhangjiao-shixiong here.”
Shen Qiao hearing the other still refer to him as “zhangjiao-shixiong”, sighed to himself: “Fine, I’ll bring you to greet Yi-guanzhu first.”
Gu Hengbo didn’t object, she became a disciple much later, and there was a large age gap between her and her shixiong, Qi Fengge as the zhangjiao, had many duties to attend, and couldn’t personally train his disciples everyday, Gu Hengbo’s wugong was mostly taught by Tan Yuanchun and Shen Qiao, between the two Shen Qiao spent more time with her, so Gu Hengbo treated this shixiong like a brother or father, their attachment was deep, could not be described as a usual connection between disciples of the same sect.
Gu Hengbo’s appearance was not ordinary, and drew the gaze of many young disciples, everyone saw that she was close to Shen Qiao, and misunderstood, Yi Bichen was not an exception, and only upon hearing Shen Qiao introduce her did he realize: “Qi-zhangjiao was a generation’s pride, even his disciples are so exceptional, to have the luck of meeting you two here, reminds me of Qi-zhangjiao’s colours all those years ago, he has everyone’s admiration.”
His conversational skills were very smooth, seeing Gu Hengbo arrive alone, did not press the matter, after exchanging a few words, knowing that Shen Qiao and Gu Hengbo were meeting after a long parting and must have had lots to catch-up on, he had someone add another seat next to Shen Qiao, so that the two shixiongmei can talk at more length.
Shen Qiao and Gu Hengbo returned to their seats, he noticed the latter’s attention kept drifting, as if distracted, was alarmed: “Wu-niang, what is wrong?”
Gu Hengbo pulled her focus back, shook her head: “Nothing, A-Xiong must have suffered these days? While I was travelling around, I often heard news of you, it’s partially my fault too, that day on Xuandushan, I couldn’t see past Yu Ai’s deception, and subjected A-xiong to this kind of hardship.”
Shen Qiao: “That day, I didn’t understand anything, how could you be to blame, it’s in the past, there’s no meaning to pursuing fault, why did you and Yu Ai have an argument?”
Gu Hengbo: “After you fell into the valley, Xuandushan was leaderless, not only was there no chaos, but everything was settled quickly under Yu Ai’s directions, everything was put to order, several elders recommended, since your survival was ambiguous, and Xuandushan couldn’t not have a zhangjiao, that Yu Ai take up this position.”
“That Xuandushan didn’t fall into chaos, is a good thing.” This was the first time that Shen Qiao had heard from a Xuandushan disciple the events of that day, its many internal forces, he still didn’t understand it too clearly, as Gu Hengbo continued to talk, he had a feeling akin to fog parting.
Gu Hengbo: “At the time I was ordered to keep watch at Xuandushan, so didn’t see it with my own eyes, after I heard the news, it was like thunder striking a clear sky, so anxious I didn’t know what to do, thinking about it later, the events were unusual to the point of evil, zhangjiao-shixiong when that thing happened to you, we, including most of the disciples, were all very sad, only Yu Ai moved swiftly and decisively, although he wore sadness on his face, but there were inconsistencies everywhere.”
“After this event, there was a time you returned to Xuandushan, Yu Ai couldn’t make you stay, and said you were conspiring with people from the demonic sects, Da-shixiong was also present, but I wasn’t, later on I saw that Da-shixiong appeared to be troubled, quite frightened, so found a chance to talk to him, but he spoke in circles, unwilling to tell the truth.”
Tan Yuanchun’s personality was indecisive and hesitant, and was famous among the Xuandushan disciples for being the good guy, even if he sympathized with Shen Qiao, would not have been able to cut off Yu Ai, this kind of behaviour was not unusual.
Gu Hengbo continued carefully: “One time, I heard him speaking with Chai-zhanglao, it was like he had long predicted the outcome in the fight between you and Kunye, my suspicions grew about the inner workings of the whole thing, Yu Ai was surely hiding something from us, much later, when the partnership between Xuandushan and Tujue was announced, I could no longer sit still, so went to ask Yu Ai, I asked him if he had been conspiring with Tujue for a long time, whether your fall was related?”
Shen Qiao shook his head: “If you ask it like this, why would he admit it?”
Gu Hengbo smiled bitterly: “Of course he didn’t admit it, not only that, on the surface he tried to console me, but in the middle of the night he entered my room planning to take decisive action, I realized in time, and after fighting him I escaped down the mountain, after that I haven’t been back.”
Shen Qiao thought at length: “Your wugong isn’t bad, but not on Yu Ai’s level, at that time he had control of Xuandushan, could have fully blocked your route, but still he let you escape, in his heart there must be a tether to your relationship, and so showed you mercy.”
Gu Hengbo: “Even if this were the case, he made you suffer a poisoning and a fall, losing all your wugong, that smidge of compassion, as I see it is just a cat crying over a dead mouse. Da-shixiong may be morally ambiguous, willing to be the accomplice, but I could no longer have a part in it.”
Shen Qiao: “What about Yuan Ying, how is he?”
Gu Hengbo shook her head: “Before I left, I secretly left Si-shixiong a letter explaining things, but I don’t know if he read it, after that I left Xuandushan, and haven’t heard news of him since.”
As the shixiongmei talked, several matches were completed, Wang San-lang was proud and his skills were truly top-notch among the younger generation, after defeating Zhou Yexue, he won several matches in a row, even Su Qiao lost to him by one move, for now his victories were unparalleled.
Gu Hengbo looked several times at the matches going on, then suddenly said: “No tiger in the mountain, a monkey becomes king, I too will go up against him!”
Saying this and not waiting for Shen Qiao to stop her, she stepped out, headed directly for her opponent.
Her beautiful appearance was already dazzling, at this moment she had attracted the attention of the entire crowd, towards others Wang San-lang had no regard, but standing before Gu Hengbo, he look somewhat humbled, but still spoke with the airs of a rich family heir: “The sword is blind, as to not injure you, why don’t we call it a draw?”
Gu Hengbo slowly said: “It turns out you didn’t come here for a martial arts exchange, but to look at people as if they were something to eat?”
Wang San-lang didn’t expect such acerbic words to come from her mouth, and felt embarrassed: “Of course not!”
Gu Hengbo drew her sword: “Then let’s go!”
Zhao Chiying seeing the two fight, was impressed but also felt this was within expectations: “Your shimei is extraordinary: renowned teacher accomplished disciples, just like Shen-daozhang, similarly brilliant!”
“Zhao-zongzhu flatters us.” Shen Qiao murmured, he was thinking that usually Wu-niang was not this impulsive, her actions just now were not like her.
Wang San-lang of course was no match for Gu Hengbo, his long sword was sent flying by Gu Hengbo, and fell into the ground a while away, a Chunyangguan disciple yelled: “Xuandushan Gu Hengbo wins against Kuaiji Wang Zhuo!”
Then everyone knew who Gu Hengbo was, Wang San-lang appeared a bit pale, not only because he lost, but more because he heard that the other was Qi Fengge’s disciple, his heart sank, and he couldn’t focus for a long time.
Gu Hengbo put away her sword and stood still, there was no joy in her expression, she didn’t return to Shen Qiao’s side, but walked up to Yuan Zixiao, who had her head buried in a bunch of books and scrolls.
“Before you were watching Wang San-lang closely, now that I’ve defeated him, why won’t you even look at me?”
Yuan Zixiao didn’t raise her head, her pen continued to move: “You winning against him, isn’t that to be expected?”
Gu Hengbo laughed icily: “Fangzhangzhou Liuligong’s people are pretentious, you didn’t even say goodbye when you left, now when we meet again you pretend to not know me, do I Gu Hengbo make you lose so much face?”
There was no one around Yuan Zixiao, as to not interfere with her work, Yi Bichen had purposefully had them give her some space, the two were not speaking very loudly, others couldn’t overhear it clearly, but seeing their exchange, the two obviously knew each other, but their words and expressions were not happy.
At this moment the other two matches had been decided, the winners were Wang Er-lang and Chixiajianpai disciple Chao Yu.
Wang Er-lang and Chao Yu fought, these days sword style was in vogue, most jianghu people used the sword, and the two of them were no exception.
Chixiajianpai was not a big sect, but Chao Yu had already proven himself against so many others, he must have his strengths, although Wang Er-lang’s movements were domineering and sword skill superb, he still lost to the other within 200 moves.
Wang Er-lang wasn’t willing to let go of the sword in his hand, his whole body was shaken by the other’s inner qi and he retreated several steps, almost fell over, Chao Yu was courteous and flew forward to help him, in case he forced the other into an awkward position, Wang Er-lang still wasn’t satisfied, although he knew there were always more people out there in the world, finally he folded his hands in respect, left unhappily.
The Kuaiji Wang brothers arrived roaring, now had to return crestfallen, to compare their previous disdain in the main hall was like night and day.
In the jianghu where the strong ruled, they who had just ventured from their thatched cottage had not quite adjusted, they had their family background as support, but if they were to rely on wugong, and their wugong wasn’t enough, even if it was the emperor holding up the ceiling, they wouldn’t be able to lift their heads.
Wang Er-lang looked to the side where his brother stood, face pale, then he saw Shen Qiao in the distance sitting very still, composed and at ease, he had an impulse to go up to Shen Qiao and ask, when under the gaze of the crowd he lost to Kunye, that feeling of humiliation, how did bear it.
Apart from the Wang brothers themselves, the crowd’s attention quickly drifted from them, Chao Yu did not seek out Gu Hengbo, but instead in the direction of the Chunyangguan disciples he folded his hands and said: “Chixiajianpai Chao Yu, I don’t know if I have the honour of learning from Li-shaoxia?”
He had challenged Li Qingyu to a fight!
Hearing this, everyone was surprised, and one by one turned to Li Qingyu.
Chao Yu’s target was clear, although Gu Hengbo was young, she was Qi Fengge’s disciple, in the same generation as Shen Qiao, strictly speaking would be in the same generation as Yi Bichen, and Gu Hengbo rarely made an appearance in the jianghu, she wasn’t widely known, even if he won against her, not too many people would be surprised, but this wasn’t the case with Li Qingyu.
Currently, Li Qingyu could be considered the most outstanding of his generation in the jianghu, first he had sought out Xuandushan, losing to Yu Ai by one move, everyone had heard of this, and later in Su Manor, against Hulugu’s disciple Tujue master Duan Wenyang he fought, also similarly losing by a slight margin, and Duan Wenyang was considered among the top ten in the world, so by this one can infer that Li Qingyu’s wugong, if not in the top ten, wasn’t that far behind.
To be challenged by name, Li Qingyu had no reason to decline, he picked up his sword, stood up slowly, stepped out from the crowd.
“Your sword skill is very impressive, but as it stands you cannot hope to win against me within a hundred moves.” He said to Chao Yu.
No matter how good Chao Yu’s manners were, hearing these words he couldn’t help but show his irritation: “I respect Li-shaoxia’s sword skill, but aren’t your words a bit overconfident?”
“He’s not wrong, you truly can’t match him. Many things, even without a match can be seen clearly, Yi-guanzhu was considering your face and didn’t say anything, you need to know your own limitations.” This smiling, dripping voice appeared in the crowd, endlessly charming, making people feel as if their bones softened.
Everyone looked in the direction of the voice, and saw a woman walking up the stone steps, dignified as lotus, exquisite and elegant, her tone carried several parts teasing and condescension in contrast to her appearance, the difference between the two, for the moment most people couldn’t reconcile.
“This is…?” Zhao Chiying rarely stepped off the mountain, naturally did not know this newcomer’s identity.
Shen Qiao said gravely: “Hehuan Sect zongzhu Yuan Xiuxiu.”
Zhao Chiying froze, this name was like a bolt of thunder.
At the same time, Yi Bichen had stood up: “Yuan-zongzhu has graced us with her presence, this poor one is at fault for greeting you from afar, please forgive me.”
Yi Bichen calling the other by her name, many people’s expressions changed.
The demonic sects were notorious, but if it had been Huanyue Sect or Fajing Sect appearing, people wouldn’t have reacted in this manner, but because Hehuan Sect liked extracting yin supplementing yang, using dual cultivation, and in this way caused a lot of wanton deaths, as well their expanding influence to which no one dared interfere, if Hehuan Sect was mentioned at all these days, it was with fear, logically it was not afraid of others.
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled sweetly: “It’s not your fault you didn’t know, since shijiandahui welcomes everyone, Yi-guanzhu wouldn’t decline my attendance?”
The new arrival had no kind intentions, kind people don’t arrive, behind her she had brought numerous disciples, all with names and reputations within Hehuan Sect, even in the jianghu they were known.
Yi Bichen slowly said: “You are guests, welcome.”
Yuan Xiuxiu laughed: “That’s great, I recognize many old friends here, what a coincidence, I heard people complaining that our Hehuan Sect was too domineering, and were trying to work together to deal with us, is this true or false, Yi-guanzhu, what do you think?”
If Yi Bichen were to say it was true, he would fall into the trap, if he were to deny it, it would appear a bit contradictory, others would certainly suspect his abilities.
The other’s purpose was clearly to wreck havoc.
Hearing the question, many people showed their indignation, but because of Hehuan Sect’s threatening demeanour they didn’t dare open their mouths.
At this moment, someone spoke up: “On this matter we shouldn’t tire out Yi-guanzhu by forcing his words, this poor one will reply on his behalf. Yuan-zongzhu your question, surely was asked with a guilty conscience, do you also agree that Hehuan Sect’s actions have been untoward, are you afraid of public resentment, and to prevent a forest fire, you rushed up the mountain to put out the flames?”
The voice was steady and warm, made people feel safe, but was not overly forceful.
Yi Bichen understood, as the host of shijiandahui, and head of Chunyangguan, his various roles made it difficult to reply, Shen Qiao choosing this moment to speak, was not to show off, but to help him, he shot him a grateful glance.
Yuan Xiuxiu laughed coldly: “Shen-daozhang is so brave, you killed two elders from my sect, I haven’t sought you out yet, and you dare approach me first?”
“That is strange, why can’t your Hehuan Sect people be killed? Unfortunately when Shen-daozhang killed them I was not present, otherwise I would have shouted my encouragement and cheered! Everyone here, if you’re really going to make an alliance against Hehuan Sect, you should include us Huanyue Sect, as I see it, Shen-daozhang is held in high regard, and is most suited to be the head of the alliance!”
Again, another person abruptly inserted themselves into the conversation, along with these words, a youth twirling a fan appeared on the stone steps.
And who might be this lordship?
Shen Qiao suddenly had a headache.
For today’s shijiandahui, Chunyangguan must have taken measures against ill-intentioned guests, disciples had been left on guard at the base of the mountain, and just in case, Yi Bichen had even sent an elder, but now these newcomers were arriving one by one, the set-up there was evidently useless.
The appearance of the youth further complicated the already messy situation, and he had also mentioned Shen Qiao’s name, Yi Bichen asked: “And what role might you have in Huanyue Sect?’
He was too young, and couldn’t be Yan Wushi.
It was not a surprise when the other answered: “I am Yu Shengyan, Huanyue Sect Yan-zongzhu’s disciple, I heard that exciting things were happening today on Qingchengshan, so I came up to see, Yi-guanzhu surely won’t chase me away?”
Yi Bichen: “You are a guest, this poor one would not exclude you. Let’s add some seats for our esteemed guests.”
Yuan Xiuxiu sweetly said: “No need Yi-guanzhu, sooner or later we’ll have to fight, to sit down and have to get back up again, that’s too troublesome!”
Yu Shengyan smiled: “If you don’t want to sit that’s your business, I just saw Shen-daozhang after a long parting, I’m feeling quite happy, I’ve got to go over and catch-up.”
As he said this he walked towards Shen Qiao, and sat directly in Gu Hengbo’s spot, turned his head to smile at Shen Qiao: “You look well, shidi!”
The term shidi slipped out casually, Zhao Chiying who was sitting beside them was alarmed, she thought, even if Shen Qiao and Yan Wushi were close, it shouldn’t have come down to abandoning his sect and joining another?
Shen Qiao couldn’t laugh or cry: “Yu-gongzi how come you’re here, where is Yan-zongzhu?”
Yu Shengyan teased: “Shidi why are you being so distant with me, I was the person who walked with you on my back for more than half a shichen under Banbu Peak, back then you were so cute when you confusedly called me Yu-shixiong, did you forget? I’m so hurt!”
Hehuan Sect’s arrival, unlike Yu Shengyan’s solo entrance, did not lend others to let their guard down easily, although Yu Shengyan’s words were diverting, they did nothing to soften the atmosphere.
Li Qingyu said coldly: “If Yuan-zongzhu is here to be a guest, we will naturally sweep our house to welcome you, but if you have ill intentions, please forgive Chunyangguan for being unable to host you.”
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled: “Li-gongzi is quick to anger, I just asked a question, if shijiandahui is open to anyone, surely Hehuan Sect can attend as well.”
Her beautiful eyes scanned the surroundings, settled on Yuan Zixiao: “This must be Liuligong’s shaogongzhu, I’ve long heard that Liuligong disciples have sharp minds, they know the ranking of the world’s martial masters like the back of their hand, can I ask Yuan-shaogongzhu, on your Liuligong rank-list, how does our Hehuan Sect fare?”
Everyone knew Yuan Zixiao was a Liuligong disciple, but they didn’t know she was actually the shaogongzhu, Yuan Xiuxiu’s words had exposed her identity, if you were to say she hadn’t planned this before coming, no one would believe you.
Yuan Zixiao sat still, hearing this without blinking she rattled off a bunch of data: “Hehuan Sect Yuan Xiuxiu, in the jianghu ranked ninth, her disciple Xiao Se, with a fan as his sword, defeated Zhongnanpai Sect Leader Guo Xun, Liuhebang Master Shangguan Xingchen, Linchuanxuegong Zhan Ziqian, etc., his wugong is first rank as evident. Hehuan Sect Sang Jingxing, in the jianghu ranked sixth, his disciple Bai Rong, with palm style as her strength, due to her practice of Hehuan Sect secret manuals her wugong has grown exponentially, there are also the other disciples Xia Hanqiu, Ji Shuang’er, Zhou Cuiyue, etc., their wugong is not as good as Bai Rong, but notable figures of their generation in the jianghu.”
Not only the crowd, even Yuan Xiuxiu hearing this was surprised: “Liuligong is Liuligong, even I didn’t know Xiao Se had defeated a Linchuanxuegong disciple, Yuan-shaogongzhu clearly has it all at her fingertips, all by memory!”
Yuan Zixiao’s face showed no sign of pride, just said blandly: “If someone wanted to know this it wouldn’t be too hard, it’s not a secret, I just asked some people, and went to a few different places.”
At this moment someone asked: “Yuan-niangzi, the top ten list you’re talking about, is it the one from ten years ago or the one ten years later?”
Yuan Zixiao: “Naturally it’s the one now.”
That person wasn’t satisfied: “Shijiandahui hasn’t even passed its halfway mark, many masters have not made an appearance, how was the top ten rank-list determined?”
Yuan Zixiao: “One iteration of shijiandahui, how can it encompass the world’s masters? Today is merely an opportunity for the elite of the jianghu to have a few exchanges, if there emerges one or two grandmasters who have never made an appearance, then the rank-list will naturally shift, if not, then the list is ranked as before.”
The other asked: “Can I ask as of now who exactly are considered the top ten, would Yuan-shaogongzhu tell us so we have the fortune of hearing it?”
Yuan Zixiao seemed willing to answer all questions: “Jianghu’s tenth is uncertain, before it was Xuandushan’s previous zhangjiao Shen Qiao, but after Shen Qiao lost at Banbu Peak, he was replaced by Kunye, later Kunye’s shixiong Duan Wenyang came to the central plains, and so was replaced by Duan Wenyang, then not too long ago, Shen Qiao crossed paths with Duan Wenyang at Su manor in Chang’an, both sides objectively were evenly matched, but Duan Wenyang had just had a match with Chunyangguan Li Qingyu before fighting Shen Qiao, Shen Qiao had the advantage, so the person ranked tenth, is still Duan Wenyang.”
Gu Hengbo frowned: “Your ranking is very biased, my Shen-shixiong is a martial arts genius, inheriting shizun’s mantle, the Banbu Peak event, he had suffered a betrayal, and his wugong was severely diminished, and he continues to suffer repeated setbacks, if we’re talking about his previous wugong level, it was definitely more impressive than Kunye or Duan Wenyang, how can he not even be in the top ten?”
Yuan Zixiao looked at her: “A person can never remain in one place forever, it’s only natural that due to circumstances they advance or retreat, you didn’t wait until I was done speaking to interrupt, is this not biased?”
Gu Hengbo knew her reasoning was flawed, didn’t say more, but the gaze she directed at the other was gently glowing.
Yuan Zixiao ignored her, and continued: “Jianghu’s ninth, I already said, is Hehuan Sect zongzhu Yuan Xiuxiu. Ranked eighth, Tuyuhun master Jushe-zhizhe.”
This Jushe-zhizhe, most people had only heard of, never seen, and knew even less.
Someone asked: “Since Jushe-zhizhe never set foot in the central plains wulin, how was this ranking determined?”
Yuan Zixiao: “Of the three demonic sects, only Fajing Sect ventured far west, ran their affairs out of Tuyuhun for a number of years, Jushe-zhizhe and Fajing Sect zongzhu Guang Lingsan had a fight, where he lost by a small margin, since then he’s been in seclusion, Guang Lingsan commented on his wugong, he said they had been evenly matched, and he only won by luck.”
Yuan Xiuxiu hearing herself ranked ninth, and merely ahead of Duan Wenyang, was not upset, but very interested to hear more: “According to shaogongzhu’s words, the one ranked seventh must be Fajing Sect zongzhu Guang Lingsan?”
Yuan Zixiao: “That’s right.”
Never mind the accuracy of these rankings, but hearing the reasoning behind them, and that they were not totally made up, as she continued on to the higher rankings, everyone grew more interested in who they might be.
If one doesn’t love power, then it must be fame, all in all can’t be too far off from these two, everyone has curiosity and ambition, depends on how big or small, or overbearing, even Yi Bichen a grandmaster hearing Yuan Zixiao’s commentary on the world’s elite, was interested, nevermind the other people in the audience.
“What about the higher ones?” He might be able to rein in his curiosity, but the others beside him couldn’t help asking.
Yuan Zixiao: “Moving up, starting with the sixth, can be considered within the realm of the grandmasters, if we’re not talking about character or demeanour, and about wugong alone, this person has enough ability to start their own sect.”
She had previously mentioned, Sang Jingxing was ranked sixth, to the realm of grandmasters, he was included.
Yuan Xiuxiu bit back a laugh: “It looks like shaogongzhu holds Sang-zhanglao in high regard!”
Yuan Zixiao replied blandly: “Yuan-zongzhu has no need to disagree, Hehuan Sect has two inner factions, everyone is aware, if you could deal with Sang Jingxing, how could you tolerate his hold over you?”
The other’s words exposed the inner conflict within her sect, hearing it Yuan Xiuxiu’s smile didn’t change, but across her face was a fleeting killing intent.
“Chunyangguan today is a leader among the Daoist sects, I’ll bet Yi-guanzhu is within Liuligong’s top five?” The person who asked this clearly wanted to suck up to Chunyangguan.
Yuan Zixiao: “That’s right, jianghu’s fifth, should belong to Zhou guoshi Xueting-chanshi, but Xuandushan’s previous zhangjiao Shen Qiao’s wugong has increased significantly, can perhaps vie for the fifth position. As for the fourth and the third, it should be between Linchuanxuegong Ruyan Kehui and Chunyangguan Yi-guanzhu, but I’ve never seen the two cross paths, so I can’t be certain.”
“Then what about the first and the second?” Someone asked.
Yuan Zixiao: “Huanyue Sect zongzhu Yan Wushi, can vie for this position, as for the first…”
She wasn’t someone who mumbled her words, she didn’t continue for some reason, just shook her head.
Everyone was surprised that Yan Wushi’s ranking was so high, but then again, in this world there weren’t too many people who could be ambushed by five grandmasters and emerge intact, nevermind that among the five there were three who were in the top ten, Yan Wushi’s potential was truly impressive, to say he was second in the world, there was nothing unacceptable about this.
Someone doubted: “Ten years ago the person ranked first was Qi Fengge, could it be that even after his death, the spot remains empty, that no one can outrank Qi Fengge?”
But no matter how the others asked, Yuan Zixiao did not speak further.
Someone tried provoking her: “Liuligong’s rank-list can’t be accurate, even the first place position can’t be determined, how can they speak to the others?”
Yuan Zixiao coldly said: “If you don’t believe it, you can go up the list and challenge them one by one to a fight, if you can beat them all, the number one rank in the world is yours.”
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled: “As I see it, to determine the accuracy of these rankings, we have to go by evidence, although we’re missing a few people today, but there’s me, Yi-guanzhu, and Shen-daozhang, three out of ten, it shouldn’t be hard to have a satisfying match!”
Li Qingyu, coldly: “You’re not worthy of fighting my shizun, you can have an exchange with me first.”
Saying this he pulled out his sword, qiushui sword in that second was like rippling autumn water, in his hands spilled forth.
Although Li Qingyu was strong, he wasn’t yet within the world’s top ten, why would Yuan Xiuxiu be afraid of him, not waiting for word from her, Xiao Se stepped out and laughed: “No need for zongzhu to participate, let me fight you!”
As these words fell, their feet left the ground, and they headed towards each other, their match began.
Although Yuan Zixiao had ranked her second-last, Yuan Xiuxiu didn’t take this ranking to heart, she was just using Yuan Zixiao’s words to start things off, at this moment she smiled: “Yi-guanzhu, since our disciples are having a match, shouldn’t we as their shifu, give them an example?”
Her purpose in coming was very clear, to catch thieves first capture their leader, if they could seize Yi Bichen, nevermind shijiandahui or the alliance, everything would fall apart, even if the other sects wanted to stand against Hehuan Sect, having gone through one round of bloodshed, was certainly to be affected, and too afraid to raise more waves.
Seeing that this match was inevitable, Yi Bichen set down his fuchen, turned to receive the long sword that his disciple handed him, nodded: “Then this poor one will learn from Yuan-zongzhu.”
Yu Shengyan seeing this, moved closer to Shen Qiao and said by his ear: “Shidi shouldn’t force things right now, after Yi Bichen loses you can make an appearance, at that time the position of head of the alliance will be yours easily!”
Shen Qiao couldn’t laugh or cry: “But I never wanted this position!”
Yu Shengyan, alarmed: “Shizun ordered me to come here to assist you, if you don’t want to be head of the alliance, why did he send me?”
Shen Qiao thought: your shizun always acts as he thinks, his words and actions are not like those of others, how would I know what he is thinking?
Yu Shengyan didn’t know the events that had happened between Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao, and didn’t know his shifu’s attitude shift, he had just assumed that shizun hadn’t given up his antics towards Shen Qiao, likely had another idea, so didn’t ask further, he might have completely misunderstood, and was still treating Shen Qiao as before.
Over there Xiao Se and Li Qingyu’s match had started, both sides were very fast, the two were rendered into shadow, for those whose wugong observation skills was not up to par, they could barely tell where the blows landed, how each move happened, how one person resolved the other’s attack.
Once they’d started, they couldn’t be restrained to a circumscribed area, soon, they went from the ground to the adjacent stone walls, suspended above the stone walls they fought for a while, then flew above the bamboo grove, both had excellent qinggong in excess, one step off their feet was enough to propel them far off the ground, Xiao Se’s fan edge and Li Qingyu’s sword glint dazzled in their exchange, the sound resonating, shaking people’s hearts, too much to take in at once.
As Shen Qiao saw it, Li Qingyu was Chunyangguan’s best disciple of his generation, and someone in pursuit of the world top ten someday, Xiao Se was also very strong, but couldn’t compare to Li Qingyu, to win would be no easy feat, by then Yuan Xiuxiu will have to step up for her disciple, then when Yi Bichen truly steps in, how will Yuan Xiuxiu manage?
If Hehuan Sect was only depending on Yuan Xiuxiu today to wreck havoc, their calculations were going to fall through.
Thinking about this, Shen Qiao asked: “Yu-gongzi, as you see it, Hehuan Sect came prepared, do they have more planned?”
Yu Shengyan laughed: “Why do you insist on calling me Yu-gongzi, it’s so clunky, even shixiong would be better!”
Shen Qiao smiled without speaking, he and Yu Shengyan previously had a conflict over the slaughter of the Yan family, but that was because they represented different interests and viewpoints, there was no great resentment, nevermind that after falling from Banbu Peak, it was this person that walked with him for so long on his back, regardless he would not forget the favour, so towards Yu Shengyan, he had none of the caution he had towards Yan Wushi, it was more like an older brother indulging a younger sibling.
Yu Shengyan was young, couldn’t hold his tongue for long, said: “This elaborate set-up with hidden intent, Hehuan Sect’s stance is threatening, it looks like their target is Chunyangguan, but really their target is all sects who dare disregard them. Currently the emperor of Zhou only believes in Buddhism and not Daoism, he supports the Buddhist sects and Hehuan Sect’s struggle amongst themselves, this is a political move, but he has no interest in the Daoist sects, totally neglects them, letting Hehuan Sect do as they will.”
Zhao Chiying to the side heard an earful, towards political configurations she had no clear understanding, but hearing Yu Shengyan’s insights despite his young age and the reasoning behind them, reminded her of Yan Wushi’s usual style, no wonder the student takes after the master, again she sighed thinking that Bixia Sect had no successors.
Yu Shengyan continued: “This time if they can capture Yi Bichen, the others being commonplace and not enough to worry about, they also can conveniently collect all the powers at this shijiandahui, probably Xueting that bald donkey is jealous just thinking about it, but he still has to consider his face, cannot publicly act in a way that would damage the Buddhist sect’s reputation, but Hehuan Sect has no qualms about that. If they came today, they came to succeed, with no intention of an indecisive half-retreat, Yuan Xiuxiu to fight Yi Bichen won’t be enough, therefore, it’s likely Sang Jingxing is already on his way.”
Yuan Zixiao had said, Sang Jingxing was ranked sixth in the jianghu, and Yi Bichen was somewhere between third or fourth, but this ranking was approximate, those on the rank-list, their wugong level certainly did not wait, and could fluctuate, so although Sang Jingxing was ranked sixith, losing to Yi Bichen wasn’t certain, that’s not how things were determined, in a fight an instant a breath can harbour ten thousand permutations, a slight deviation and the whole course can change, when grandmasters have an exchange, even the brink of desperation can bring opportunity, the weak triumphing was something that could happen.
But Xiao Se and Li Qingyu’s match was not going to be that kind of exception, Li Qingyu’s performance was steady, after a hundred moves, qiushui sword surged, the sword style was like the sky spread with flowers, sword light spilled forth, Xiao Se could no longer defend, although his fan was powerful, it had more of an opening, for observers who had high wugong this opening was obvious, like for Yi Bichen or Zhao Chiying, how could Li Qingyu not see it, his sword closed like rain, descending from the heavens, backing Xiao Se into a corner, forcing him to pull back and retreat several steps, coming to a stop and admitting defeat: “They all say Chunyangguan’s sword skill is exceptional, far exceeding Xuandushan, now that I’ve seen it, it certainly deserves its reputation!”
Xiao Se was praising Chunyangguan and not Li Qingyu, the meaning was that the reason Li Qingyu was strong, was not because of his own ability, but because his sect was strong, he had even dragged Xuandushan into it, playing off Shen Qiao and Yi Bichen’s potential rivalry.
Unfortunately, his cunning was wasted on the wrong person, Li Qingyu wore no expression, and regarded him the same as he would a tree, not a single sign of irritation, his tone even: “Your calibre is above-average, but you plot too much, and cannot focus on martial training, to advance further will be a hardship for you.”
Xiao Se, laughing in rage: “Whether or not I advance, I won’t need you to worry on my behalf!”
Li Qingyu’s gaze moved away from him and landed on Yuan Xiuxiu, after Yuan Xiuxiu and Yi Bichen had spoken, no one had moved, it was unclear if they were waiting for the outcome between Li Qingyu and Xiao Se.
“Would Li Qingyu be able to have a match with Yuan-zongzhu?”
Yuan Xiuxiu, a thin smile: “We’re not on the same level.”
Li Qingyu: “Yes or no, we’ll have to find out.”
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled, didn’t say anything, her sleeves were flung out, her qi advancing, overflowing, oppressive, Li Qingyu couldn’t defend in time, was forced to pull back, Yuan Xiuxiu followed closely, not relenting.
Chunyangguan’s qinggong was already impressive, but her qinggong was better, her robes floating, sleeves like a cloud, she appeared like a god reincarnate, no sign of any Hehuan Sect demonic presence.
Li Qingyu had not fought Yuan Xiuxiu before, like a disciple observing a teacher, before he thought if her wugong was stronger than Xiao Se, she couldn’t be that much stronger, and never mind the rumours of Hehuan Sect extracting yin supplmenting yang to boost their powers, which was held in broad contempt, and most people didn’t want to know more, now not only Li Qingyu, but everyone else was also shocked and was forced to retract their earlier underestimation.
Zhao Chiying: “If Yuan Xiuxiu can be the head of a sect, she must be strong!”
Yuan Zixiao in the rank-list had ranked Yuan Xiuxiu ninth, Zhao Chiying wasn’t even on the list, although she didn’t say anything, it didn’t mean she was satisfied, now it could be seen that Yuan Xiuxiu’s ranking had reason and evidence, if she were the one fighting Yuan Xiuxiu, she could hardly fare better than Li Qingyu.
In the interim, Yuan Xiuxiu had used her advantage to force Li Qingyu to the edge of the precipice, just as the other was about to counter-attack, she suddenly retreated, drifting lightly, at least ten steps out, landed on top of one of Chunyangguan’s flags.
The flag waved in the wind, its cloth material was supple, and yet she could stand on top of it, rendering her body weight to nothing, this level of skill, people could only stare in shock! Where previously some people had underestimated her because she was a woman, or were unsatisfied she was in the world’s top ten, now knew how wrong they were.
“I already said, you are no match for this venerable one.” Yuan Xiuxiu said warmly, but what she said was not.
“Qingyu definitely cannot compare to Yuan-zongzhu, zongzhu please excuse him.” The one speaking was Yi Bichen, “Let this poor one learn from you instead.”
If there hadn’t been the match between Li Qingyu and Yuan Xiuxiu, everyone would not have such expectations of the match between Yuan Xiuxiu and Yi Bichen, seeing how strong Yuan Xiuxiu was, now everyone held their breath in anticipation.
Who knew that just as Yi Bichen finished speaking, more people arrived on the mountain, at the front was a man, behind him were several young women, among them was Bai Rong who was very well acquainted with Shen Qiao.
As for the man, Shen Qiao was no stranger, he had fought him on the outskirts of Chang’an, with the outcome being one seriously injured, the other with his wugong lost.
He recognized the other, the other must also recognize him, as their eyes met, Sang Jingxing revealed a lewd expression, scanned him from head to toe, this gaze also held several parts cruelty and rage.
Shen Qiao’s features were excellent, on this there was no doubt: he looked as gentle as the spring wind, but people who had interacted with him knew that in his bones was an unbendable willfulness and pride, Sang Jingxing had crossed paths with Shen Qiao, how could he not know, he had thought him to be a harmless, soft creature, he hadn’t expected to gnaw down on a piece of hard bone, and swallow a mouthful of sand.
However this aroused Sang Jingxing’s desires to conquer and to abuse, so far he had not sought out Shen Qiao, one reason was the other’s whereabouts were uncertain, the second was that he heard his wugong had increased significantly, even killing Hehuan Sect elders, although Sang Jingxing was quite invested in this beauty, he had no interest in losing his life for it.
After this long parting, Sang Jingxing recognized in one glance Shen Qiao in the crowd, felt even more that the other shone like clear waters, with a celestial form, an icy stance, not counting robes or accessories, there was still the impression of existing outside the mortal realm, it made people want to strip him of his clothes, fool around with him in front of a crowd, watch him turn to fury, watch him cry and beg for mercy, it would be so refreshing!
As this thought crossed his mind, an inexplicable flame started in his heart.
Sang Jingxing’s gaze was unsubtle, everyone could see it, except Shen Qiao, like an elderly monk meditating, half-lidded eyes, he looked at him like he was nothing.
Yu Shengyan stood up, blocking Shen Qiao from view, joked: “The esteemed Hehuan Sect elder, like a dog that just caught sight of a piece of meat, how shameful!”
Defending Shen Qiao was secondary, Huanyue Sect and Hehuan Sect didn’t get along, the latter had used the opportunity of Yan Wushi leaving the capital and subsequent difficulties to leave Qi and capitulate to Yuwen Yun, with the emperor backing them, took Huanyue Sect’s holdings as their own, Yu Shengyan had a long list of grievances against Hehuan Sect, if he hadn’t spoken up that would have been more unusual.
Sang Jingxing laughed coldly: “Even your shifu Yan Wushi doesn’t dare talk to me that way!”
His words were carried by inner qi, akin to the Buddhist “steel lion howl”, but stronger, dug itself into the ears of everyone present, no exceptions, everyone felt pain in their ears, especially Yu Shengyan, as he had spoken he had prepared against a sudden retaliation by Sang Jingxing, but he didn’t realize he had underestimated the other, since Sang Jingxing had targeted him, the strength of the sound he heard was several times that of the people around him, right away his expression changed, his heart beating erratically, about to spit out blood.
Luckily someone stretched out a hand, supported him, a burst of qi was passed to him, and helped Yu Shengyan feel better immediately.
“Threatening a wanbei, Sang-zhanglao must feel very proud of himself?” Shen Qiao said blandly.
His words were also carried by inner qi, but was not wild like Sang Jingxing’s, bound into a stream, it headed directly at Sang Jingxing.
Sang Jingxing raised his sleeves, neutralizing most of the other’s attack, the little part that remained, he counted on his deep inner qi, and met it head-on.
In one moment, the two had had an exchange without moving.
But to say who had the upper hand, could not yet be determined by this half-move.
Sang Jingxing felt that Shen Qiao’s wugong had improved, Shen Qiao also felt that there was a reason that Sang Jingxing was included in the ranks of the grandmasters by Yuan Zixiao, as they looked at each other, Sang Jingxing suddenly laughed: “After Shen-daozhang’s eyes have recovered, they have more focus, even more suited to people’s inclinations, no wonder they say the eyes are the doorway to the soul, no matter how beautiful a beauty is, they still require a pair of fine eyes.”
After his arrival on the mountain, his attention had been completely on Shen Qiao, Yuan Xiuxiu was irritated, thought to herself that he was ruining the plan, smiled and said: “Since in the words of shaogongzhu, Sang-zhanglao is ranked sixth, and I am merely ninth, then to have me this ninth-ranked person fight Yi-guanzhu, might disgrace Yi-guanzhu.”
Only then did Sang Jingxing move his gaze from Shen Qiao to Yi Bichen: “If I am ranked sixth, then what is Yi-guanzhu’s ranking?”
He was asking Yuan Xiuxiu.
Yuan Xiuxiu: “Liuligong Yuan-shaogongzhu said, Yi-guanzhu’s wugong, is between third and fourth, not yet determined.”
Sang Jingxing sneered: “If so, in case I win against Yi-guanzhu, then this third in the world ranking, will have been won by me?”
Yuan Xiuxiu laughed: “Today is shijiandahui, Hehuan Sect should go by jianghu rules, one against one, lest people talk, say that Hehuan Sect abuses their numbers and might to wreck havoc, since Sang-zhanglao wants to learn from Yi-guanzhu, does Yi-guanzhu agree?”
Yi Bichen knew that Hehuan Sect had prepared well in advance for today, were unlikely to relent halfway, to him, Sang Jingxing or Yuan Xiuxiu there was not much of a difference, regardless he’d have to make sure Hehuan Sect knew difficulty to force their retreat, if he couldn’t mercilessly strike some fear into these people, never mind winning people’s allegiance, everyone from the other sects will be gravely disappointed in Chunyangguan.
Although Sang Jingxing’s reputation for lust and cruelty preceded him, it didn’t take away from the truth that he was a top-tier martial artist, if people underestimated him, they would surely suffer.
Yi Bichen with sword in hand, smiled: “Shijiandahui, since it’s open to anyone, Hehuan Sect would not be excluded, I’ve long heard of Diaolong Palm Style, today this poor one will learn from you.”
Sang Jingxing was arrogant, but didn’t dare underestimate the head of Chunyangguan: “I am willing, after Yi-guanzhu.”
Before Yuan Zixiao had declared the wulin rankings, Yi Bichen had already been considered someone in the top three, although Yuan Zixiao had said somewhere between three and four, in everyone else’s eyes, Yi Bichen’s identity and power was not affected by the ranking, if he were to fight, it would for certain be a huge match that moved heaven and earth.
Sang Jingxing was known for Diaolong Palm Style, but it didn’t mean he didn’t know how to use a sword, this moment he thrust his hand back, and Bai Rong with both hands held out a long sword, its shape was old-fashioned, Sang Jingxing didn’t take it, instead he pulled out the sword directly, the body of the sword refracted light and fog, one look and you could tell it was a good sword.
He flicked the sword downward, zhengqi spiralling through the sword towards the ground, dust and dirt flew, rocks levitated, zhengqi pulling everything inwards, like a huge wave it surged towards Yi Bichen, Sang Jingxing followed it, flying, human and sword shadow appearing as one, leaving people mesmerized, sighing as they watched.
Where previously people assumed Yi Bichen’s victory was inevitable, now they weren’t so sure, everyone had their eyes wide open watching the match, afraid that they’d miss even a single detail.
Shen Qiao was concentrating on the match, didn’t expect Yuan Xiuxiu to walk towards him, smiling: “The last time I crossed paths with Shen-daozhang was months ago, I heard daozhang’s wugong has improved a lot, don’t know if Xiuxiu will have the fortune of learning from you?”
Jianghu rules: usually if someone challenges you directly you cannot refuse, because to refuse would mean you fear the match, even if the one being challenged had no qualms about their reputation, they would probably be laughed at later, and according to Yuan Zixiao’s ranking, Shen Qiao was listed before Yuan Xiuxiu, even more reason he could not refuse the other’s challenge, otherwise wouldn’t it suggest that there was no truth behind the matter?
Before Shen Qiao could reply, Yu Shengyan had already stood up: “No need for Shen-daozhang to fight, I am willing to have a match with Yuan-zongzhu.”
Any other time, he would be watching happily from the sidelines, people from the demonic sects were hardly invested outside themselves, even if Yu Shengyan and Shen Qiao had a close relationship, he wouldn’t stand in front of Shen Qiao everytime he encountered a problem, but before he came Yan Wushi had stated that he “must block some inconveniences for Shen Qiao”, Yu Shengyan didn’t know what this meant, could only carry it out rigourously.
Why would Yuan Xiuxiu pay him any attention: “If your shizun was personally here, I would have to give him some ground.”
The meaning to her words: just you, go cool off in the corner!
Of course Yu Shengyan understood, he just wanted Yuan Xiuxiu to retreat knowing the challenge, so brought up Yan Wushi’s name: “Shizun is not far, he will be arriving shortly.”
Yuan Xiuxiu laughed abruptly: “Did Shen-daozhang sell his body to Yan Wushi, that even to fight he has to get his agreement, if he’s not here, does Shen-daozhang not dare have a fight?”
Shen Qiao gently shook his head: “Since Yuan-zongzhu insists, this poor one will accompany you.”
He didn’t fall for Yuan Xiuxiu’s provocations, although Hehuan Sect had power through their sheer numbers, not all of them were at the level of grandmasters, in the end things were held up by Yuan Xiuxiu and Sang Jingxing, Sang Jingxing was fighting Yi Bichen, the outcome was undecided, and Yuan Xiuxiu in no uncertain terms surpassed Li Qingyu, so out of everyone present, except Shen Qiao, no one else was a match for Yuan Xiuxiu.
If Shen Qiao didn’t fight today, then undoubtedly he was going to watch Hehuan Sect destroy shijiandahui, if things didn’t go well on Yi Bichen’s end, then from now on, there will be even more people in jianghu terrified of standing against Hehuan Sect.
“Shen-daozhang is a straightforward person!” Yuan Xiuxiu smiled, accompanying these gentle words, her body leapt up, two beams of black light shot from her sleeves, flew towards Shen Qiao, so fast that no one had time to react!
People with good observation skills, could perhaps delineate that those two beams of black light were two black long swords, people with less observation skills, couldn’t tell anything, might have thought it was some kind of powerful hidden weapon.
In a blink of an eye, the swords had appeared in front of Shen Qiao, only an inch of distance between them and his eyelids!
The other’s movements were too fast!
Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue had already started yelling, it looked like Yuan Xiuxiu had been holding back when she fought Li Qingyu, but now she was using her full strength, as they watched from afar, could not react fast enough, they couldn’t imagine how Shen Qiao was going to fare.
Shen Qiao didn’t pull out his sword, his sleeves flew out, his zhengqi burst out, surging towards those black swords, the black swords had appeared out of nowhere, and now met a huge resistance, their trajectory halted, they paused in the air.
In this instant, Shen Qiao pulled out the long sword from behind him, and cut towards the sky!
The sword shone like bursts of flowers, blooming forth, its exquisite beauty also held a ruthless edge, impossible to not look at, impossible to meet head-on.
The black swords encountered a burst of sword qi, flew back backwards out of control, Yuan Xiuxiu laughed, grabbed the dual swords, and attacked Shen Qiao directly.
The two of them fought in a way that was unlike Yi Bichen and Sang Jingxing, the latter were using their qi to put pressure on each other, it was not solely a sword fight, but a competition to see who’s qi was deeper and more powerful, but Shen Qiao and Yuan Xiuxiu were both very strong swordsmen, as they fought, there was also an exchange of inner qi, but it was more secondary to sword qi and sword style, every part was integral, but the fight was more pleasing to the eye than Yi and Sang’s match, so as the crowd wandered between the two matches, more was looking into Shen Qiao’s match.
Fighting was not dancing, could not be restricted to one area, this kind of fight was also more than just an exchange, although they hadn’t put their lives on the line, they still were putting it all out there, Shen Qiao in the way of the sword had entered the realm of sword soul, never mind Yuan Xiuxiu, there were scant few in the world who could compare, but Yuan Xiuxiu was also not a energy-conserving lamp, when she didn’t hold back, Shen Qiao similarly wouldn’t be able to defeat her in a two, three moves, if that were the case then Yuan Xiuxiu’s reputation would be false, or she wasn’t trying.
So the two of them fought from Chunyangguan’s main gates to the roof, from the roof to the stone walls, both had qinggong of the highest level, they fought along the stone walls, sword qi interweaving, from afar, they looked like two paper figures stuck to the wall, but in truth their qinggong had surpassed a certain realm of possibility.
The group of youth watched with their mouths hanging open, even Yu Shengyan couldn’t believe his eyes, you have to realize when he picked up Shen Qiao, the other’s wugong was almost completely gone, a severely injured blind man, not that much time had passed, and already he was so strong, this was the true ability of a grandmaster, so Shen Qiao against Yuan Xiuxiu, even against his own shifu Yan Wushi, could stand his ground, Yu Shengyan had just now ignorant of life and death called him shidi, the only reason the other hadn’t made a fuss was because he was good-tempered!
Zhao Chiying also sighed: “It looks like when we had exchanges at Bixia Sect, Shen-daozhang was holding back!”
Shen Qiao was kind and warm, but his sword qi was unusually ruthless, shanhetongbei in his hand resonated, shone, in the manner of lifting rivers and reversing oceans rang out in unison with the heavens and earth, although Yuan Xiuxiu wielded dual swords and seemed to have the number advantage, as time passed, the other seemed to get even stronger, she realized that to respond required more and more effort, the ruthless sword qi seemed to dominate right above her head, and she felt its pressure.
The two of them fought up and down the mountain, the crowd couldn’t follow them down the mountain just to watch, Yuan Xiuxiu, seeing that they no longer had an audience, couldn’t help but call out: “Shen-daozhang, I have something to say!”
Since she had called for the other to cease, she also couldn’t continue, so leapt backwards, seeing that Shen Qiao didn’t pursue her, breathed a sigh of relief, felt the pressure above her heard also abruptly vanish.
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled: “Previously when I heard Shen-daozhang had killed two of our elders, I almost didn’t believe it, now I realize that it was I who had eyes but couldn’t recognize Taishan.”
She appeared calm, but knew that if they continued, she was not Shen Qiao’s opponent.
Shen Qiao, like a clear mirror: “Yuan-zongzhu purposefully led me down the mountain, surely it wasn’t just to praise my wugong?”
Yuan Xiuxiu, another smile: “Shen-daozhang is a smart person, to be frank, I have an offer to make you, are you interested?”
Shen Qiao: “Please say it.”
Yuan Xiuxiu: “I know Sang Jingxing and you harbour a deep resentment, this person is cruel and kills indiscriminately, driven by lust, and then there’s Chen Gong, he returned favours with revenge, time and time again confronting you, now he and Sang Jingxing are working together, he even offered up tai’e sword, trying to advance politically, in truth a petty person, I am also irritated by him, today if Shen-daozhang is willing to leave this place, act as a bystander, and no longer interfere in the affairs of Chunyangguan, I can offer you Chen Gong, and help you kill Sang Jingxing, how about it?”
Shen Qiao slowly shook his head.
Yuan Xiuxiu raised her eyebrows: “What, isn’t it a good deal?”
Shen Qiao: “For me, it is a good deal.”
Yuan Xiuxiu: “Then why doesn’t Shen-daozhang agree?”
Shen Qiao: “Sang Jingxing and Yuan-zongzhu have a long history, if Yuan-zongzhu wants to get rid of him, this idea must not be a new one, why would you need this poor one as a raft? As for Chen Gong, he is indeed petty, but towards him I harbour no great resentment, even if I wanted to pursue it, I can find him myself, no need to waste Yuan-zongzhu’s efforts.”
Yuan-zongzhu laughed coldly: “You’re so close to Yan Wushi, but aren’t willing to work with me, looks like Shen-daozhang fakes his impartiality, and looks down on women!”
Shen Qiao sighed: “Yuan-zongzhu’s words are heavy, when I interact with Yan-zongzhu, there’s a reason behind every matter, it would be hard to sum up in a few words, but I have no intention of looking down on Yuan-zongzhu. This day and age favours men and slights women, even if there were less restrictions in the jianghu, for women to stand alone it is a hundred times harder than a man, this is one reason why Hehuan Sect has been targeted again and again, but Yuan-zongzhu has enabled Hehuan Sect to not fall in the face of adversity, this is due to Yuan-zongzhu’s skills, compared to you, this poor one was also previously a sect leader, but fared much worse.”
Yuan Xiuxiu was a little surprised, she hadn’t expected Shen Qiao to speak in her favour. Ever since she entered the jianghu, everyone called her demon woman, etc., after her wugong improved, people no longer dared saying it to her face, but behind her back they never stopped, Hehuan Sect killed people unscrupulously, did things mercilessly, but ask anyone in the jianghu, who hadn’t killed before, out of the three demonic sects, it was not only Hehuan Sect that was merciless, it could be said, their reputation was so bad, largely because they used extract-yin-supplement-yang dual cultivation, leaving people with a lewd impression.
Her beautiful eyes shone, her expression softening a little: “Shen-daozhang’s words, truly moves me, it’s rare to hear someone speaking on Hehuan Sect’s behalf, when Bai Rong again and again showed you mercy, I thought she was just young and easy to trick, now, I see that her judgment is not bad!”
Shen Qiao smiled: “I’m not speaking on Yuan-zongzhu’s behalf, I’m just saying what is fair, to be frank, I do not like how your sect works, Sang Jingxing, Huo Xijing, if they died there would be a reason, they don’t deserve any sympathy, our paths are different so we cannot work together, today you have every intention of stopping shijiandahui, I cannot act as you wish, we stand on different grounds, soldier and thief, what will happen will happen.”
Yuan Xiuxiu didn’t show her age, by looks alone she might be in her twenties, her smile was very charming: “Shen-daozhang is so understanding, even I can’t resist, are you willing to enter my close circle? If you don’t like Hehuan Sect, you won’t have to interact with anyone from my sect, I have several estates elsewhere, if Shen-daozhang is willing…I promise you that the relationship between us, no one will know.”
The two of them how had they switched from fighting to discussing physical relations, Shen Qiao didn’t understand, but he was a kind person, could not use harsh words like Yan Wushi to push the other person away, he folded his hands: “I thank Yuan-zongzhu for your favour.”
Yuan Xiuxiu feigned indifference: “Me and Shen-daozhang were just chatting, and I spoke a bit more, what dragging out are you talking about?”
Shen Qiao didn’t want to say more to her, turned around intending to head back up the mountain, but Yuan Xiuxiu in a flash blocked his path again.
“Shen-daozhang are you not happy to see me, how come you run away after only a few sentences, if you don’t want to be in my close circle, friends would be fine!”
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled gently, like a thousand blooms, all colours returning to spring, if it were anyone else, even if their hearts didn’t waver, they would have to pause, who knew that Shen Qiao didn’t slow down even half a step, continued forward, did not spare a single minute for beauty, this degree of steadfastness could be termed half-extraterrestrial, except for Yan Wushi that anomaly, how often would Yuan Xiuxiu meet this kind of person?
Shen Qiao saw her preparing to make her move, said blandly: “I am a Daoist and do not kill indiscriminately, but that does not mean I will not kill a person, that day you saw Huo Xijing die by my hand, Yuan-zongzhu have you decided, what price you will pay to block my path.”
Yuan Xiuxiu laughed: “Shen-lang no need to get so worked up, I have no intent in making you my enemy, out of an abundance of caution, I still have to keep you a little, in case you ruin the bigger picture, but even if you go back now, I’m afraid you probably won’t be able to change much. Seeing as we got along so well, I offer you this sincere advice, you are not from Chunyangguan, to make a stand in this situation, Yi Bichen should be first, why would Shen-lang get caught up in these muddled waters?”
Her words were carefully considered, tender and ensnaring, but as the esteemed Hehuan Sect zongzhu, would she speak her heart and soul only because the other was easy on the eyes?
Shen Qiao was kind, and didn’t want to needlessly cause conflict, but was not stupid or easy to fool, half-hearing these words, directed himself up the mountain.
Yuan Xiuxiu originally wanted to stop him, but Shen Qiao used “tiankuohongying” to its upper limit, not waiting for her to catch up, had transformed into a shiver of shadow, leaving the other far behind.
For a commoner to make an ascent of the mountain, it would require at least half a day, but for jianghu masters, half a shichen was enough, for Shen Qiao’s calibre of qinggong, the time to burn an incense stick was sufficient.
When Yuan Xiuxiu had said “even if you go back now, I’m afraid you probably won’t be able to change much”, it clearly indicated something big was happening on the mountain.
The disciples that had been guarding Chunyangguan’s gates had long been beaten by Hehuan Sect earlier, this time going up the mountain Shen Qiao had a straight trajectory with no obstacles.
Heaviness grew in his heart, as he finally crested the mountain peak to return to Chunyangguan’s main square, he caught sight of Yi Bichen, under the gaze of the crowd, exchange a move with someone, the other did not move, but Yi Bichen was forced to take 3 steps back.
Looking closer at everyone’s faces, they all seemed to be frozen at a moment of shock and disbelief.
The one that had exchanged a move with Yi Bichen was unfamiliar, Shen Qiao did not recognize him, his style of dress was from another region, and now standing still, expressionless, he looked like someone who was used to not saying much, but in his silence, he carried a powerful, domineering aura, so much that no one dared make a sound.
Shen Qiao paused, even without asking for his name, he knew who he was.
Tujue’s number one master Hulugu!
Even if he was mentally prepared, seeing this person, an ineffable feeling rose in his heart.
It turned out to be him.
How could it be him?
He really wasn’t dead?
The previously brazen Sang Jingxing was standing respectfully behind this new group of arrivals, seeing that with one palm strike he had managed to beat back Yi Bichen, he stepped forward, smiling: “This Chunyangguan Sect Leader Yi Bichen, considered among the best in the world, and a leader among the Daoist sects, doesn’t seem to be a match at all for qianbei, what a farce is the world’s top ten, not to be trusted, qianbei’s wugong can hardly be rivalled by others, and truly deserves to be called number one in the world.”
Hulugu paid no mind to his flattery, maintained a blank face, with no discernible expression: “I came to challenge Yi Bichen, personal business, not related to Hehuan Sect in any way, I didn’t require your help with the preamble.”
Sang Jingxing wasn’t phased, still smiling he said: “Qianbei speaks seriously, we just heard about shijiandahui, and came to check it out, we didn’t know that when we arrived, qianbei would be arriving shortly thereafter.”
If he had heard this conversation out of context, maybe Shen Qiao would have believed that they were here by coincidence to wreck havoc, but what Yuan Xiuxiu said earlier was a reminder, then he realized: Hehuan Sect definitely knew Hulugu was going to show up, so arrived before him, one reason was to tire out Yi Bichen’s attack potential, and increase the chances of Hulugu’s victory, two was to take advantage of the situation.
As to why Hehuan Sect would help Hulugu, that was easy to explain, that day Yuwen Yun was able to ascend the throne, Yuwen Yong’s empress Ashina must have played a part, although she was not Yuwen Yun’s biological mother, but in all things Yuwen Yun liked to oppose his old dad, where the previous emperor respected but kept his distance from Tujue, he would purposefully hold them close. In that case, if Hehuan Sect, receiving support from Yuwen Yun, formed an alliance with Tujue, it would not be unusual.
Yi Bichen showed no great emotion, retreating three steps was already very impressive. Hulugu was no ordinary master, it was someone who had crossed paths with Qi Fengge more than twenty years ago, and in these twenty years, everyone assumed he was dead, even Duan Wenyang wandering the central plains had repeated the false rumour of his master’s death, who knew that one day the wind would part the clouds, a legendary figure would return from death, how could one not be shocked?
Many people in the crowd, still had yet to figure out Hulugu’s identity, and those that had guessed thought they were seeing a ghost in broad daylight.
Shen Qiao observed Yi Bichen for a while, he saw that the other had flushed momentarily, a sign that he had internal injuries, and was not as unfazed as his appearance might suggest.
If he could see it, Hulugu had no reason not to.
His gaze fell on Yi Bichen, Hulugu said coldly: “I heard that Chunyangguan is considered a leader among the Daoist sects, but your wugong can’t even match the Qi Fengge of the past.”
Under this kind of enormous pressure, it was no small feat that Yi Bichen could maintain his composure: “Chunyangguan never considered ourselves leader of the Daoist sects, and this poor one has never compared myself to Qi-daozun, your wugong is strong, I admire it, but the reason you came today, was it to attend shijiandahui or was it for Chunyangguan?”
The former would be to have a typical martial exchange, the latter to seek revenge and destruction.
Hulugu said blandly: “Shijiandahui, is but fishing for fame, if you have true potential, why would you rush to attend this round, I originally thought since Chunyangguan and Yi Bichen’s reputation was so resounding, there ought to be something stellar, but now as I see it, it’s merely so-so.”
He was on other people’s grounds, but spoke condescendingly, even if Yi Bichen could tolerate it, the Chunyangguan disciples standing behind him could not swallow this insult, someone shouted: “You are so strong, but that year weren’t you beaten by Qi Fengge and reduced to a shrivelling turtle and forced to wander the outskirts for twenty plus years, now that Qi Fengge is dead, you jump out to seek the misfortune of the central plains wulin, how is this considered virtuous and …”
His last word “brave”, was subject to Hulugu’s cold gaze, the person speaking was terrified into silence, bit back the word in his throat, his face flushing red.
Hulugu did not speak, the one who replied was Duan Wenyang standing behind him: “Your central plains wulin, after twenty plus years has yet to emerge an opponent that can stand on equal footing with my master, yet you still have the face to speak so brazenly, if I were you, I would have already smashed my head in out of shame, what leader of the Daoist sects, as I see it, the central plains wulin of today, if Qi Fengge were still alive, only he would be worthy of being my master’s opponent, what a bother that my shizun considered the talent in the central plains verdant and flourishing, upon hearing that shijiandahui was to be held here, excitedly hurried over to attend, tsk tsk, it really did not live up to expectations!”
Chunyangguan’s people were mortified by his words, the jianghu people present also, had nothing to offer in reply.
Yi Bichen’s wugong they had all seen clearly, in the match with Sang Jingxing, stunning and exceptional, Yi Bichen no doubt exceeded Hehuan Sect by an interval, they hadn’t yet had a moment to rejoice, when Hulugu arrived.
With him here, no matter Yi Bichen, or Sang Jingxing, they all had to bow their heads.
Yi and Sang, already existed beyond what commoners could attain, now there was Hulugu, like the September moon, high and unreachable, rendering ambition into hopelessness.
Some thought of the fight twenty plus years ago, sighed that they had been too young to see it in person, the Qi Fengge that could defeat Hulugu, he would have been beyond imagination!
However not everyone present fawned the other’s airs, smothered their own pride, there was one who couldn’t stand Duan Wenyang’s words, directly stepped out from the crowd, shouted loudly: “You’ve only been to Chunyangguan, and dare to speak your bold words, saying that there’s no one worthy in the central plains, you should know that there are plenty of masters in the world, there’s the Buddhist sects in the north, the Ru sects in the south, unless you’ve already challenged them all? Liuligong’s rank-list just now of the world’s masters, didn’t include Hulugu, you two master-disciple speak and sing amongst yourselves, it’s really unrefreshing, only adds to laugh material for others!”
Hulugu’s face was impassive, but Duan Wenyang narrowed his eyes: “What is your name, what sect do you belong to?”
That person’s heart shook, but with the crowd watching he couldn’t retreat, eventually loudly announced: “Kuaiji Wang, Wang Zhuo!”
The Wang family did not rely on Hehuan Sect or Tujue to live, why should he be afraid, Wang San-lang’s courage worked itself up several notches.
Duan Wenyang raised an eyebrow, his voice rose slightly in pitch: “Oh, Kuaiji Wang?”
Saying this, his arm had extended, like lightening his whip descended from the sky, lashed directly at Wang San-lang!
Wang San-lang watched the other make their move, but had no time to draw his sword, could only retreat, his speed was no match for the other, he hadn’t gotten very far, the whip had curled onto his wrist, inflicting immense pain, shattering bone!
“Aah!” He couldn’t help yelling out, the sword is his hand falling out.
“San-lang!” Wang Er-lang eyes bulging, flew to support him.
But someone was faster than him, the other drew their sword and with one cut in the air, sword qi swelled forth, in an instant had surrounded Duan Wenyang, Duan Wenyang made a sound of surprise, as if he didn’t expect the other’s wugong to be not too shabby, he was forced to pull back his whip, and face the other head-on, then he realized the other was a beautiful young woman.
All of the wugong in the world, only speed left no openings, from Duan Wenyang’s whip one lash fell after the other, giving the other no room to breathe, under this kind of pressure, the woman actually did well, her sword edge advancing, not falling behind, it could be seen that she likely came from a renowned sect, was taught by a master, with more time, she could become quite accomplished.
But Duan Wenyang was listed among the world’s top ten, even if ranked last, it was not an exaggeration, although this young woman’s wugong was high, she was naive, and lacked real fighting experience, after three moves, Duan Wenyang saw an opening, aimed at it, his whip headed for the other’s weakness.
The young woman had no love for this fight, her intent had been to help Wang San-lang out, and having achieved this, retreated entirely, drifted to the ground, not willing to meet Duan Wenyang’s brute force.
“My thanks to Gu-niangzi for saving me!” Wang San-lang was quite moved, he had been struck by her beauty at first glance, meeting her severe words, he didn’t expect that when he fell into danger, that it would be this beauty who would extend a hand.
“No need for thanks.” Gu Hengbo said blandly.
Although Wang San-lang’s behaviour was a bit rash, he wasn’t in the wrong, everyone lowered their voices in the face of Hulugu, only Wang San-lang dared make a sound, that alone required courage, if she could save but she didn’t, it would only encourage this kind of atmosphere.
On this point, Gu Hengbo grew up with Shen Qiao, and held a similar viewpoint to her zhangjiao-shixiong.
With Gu Hengbo’s intervention, Wang San-lang didn’t suffer any major injuries, but seeing the master-disciple pair before them with such high wugong, nevermind fighting the shifu, they couldn’t even beat the disciple, the feeling of being left in the dust welled up in people’s hearts.
To some degree, Chunyangguan’s plan to form an alliance against Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects, had already failed.
Li Qingyu’s hand was already on his sword, but a hand reached out, and held his arm down firmly.
This was Yi Bichen’s hand.
Over there, Hulugu watched Gu Hengbo, abruptly asked: “Who was Qi Fengge to you?”
Gu Hengbo had long noticed Shen Qiao who was standing in the corner of the stone platform, couldn’t help but shoot him a glance, she said: “That is my master.”
Hearing her relationship to Qi Fengge, Hulugu’s countenance changed slightlly, even while he was fighting Yi Bichen he hadn’t regarded the other properly, and now he was examining Gu Hengbo carefully, then resumed his impassive expression.
The one who knows his master is the disciple, Duan Wenyang smiled: “Shizun has no need to feel regret, if this disciple is not wrong, this woman is Gu Hengbo, she should be the only female disciple under Qi Fengge, although her power isn’t great, but she has several shixiong, one of them has inherited Xuandushan’s zhangjiao position, and killed shidi with his sword, what a coincidence, he’s also here today.”
Saying this, he looked in Shen Qiao’s direction: “Shen-daozhang, long time to see, you’re doing well?”
In this moment, everyone’s attention fell on Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao had been standing off to the side, half-shadow, in this moment he naturally couldn’t continue as a bystander, so holding his sword he slowly walked forward, until he reached a place that was not far from the other, he stopped.
“Thank you for your thoughts, luckily no great difficulties.” His tone was very even, and was not affected by Hulugu’s appearance.
“You are Shen Qiao.” Hulugu’s gaze moved from his face to the shanhetongbei sword in his hand, on Hulugu’s face passed a sliver of reminiscence.
“Correct, this poor one Shen Qiao, today to be able to see qianbei in person, is truly fortunate, it is a shame that my master has passed, otherwise if he knew qianbei was still in the land of the living, he would have been very happy.”
Duan Wenyang suspected that these words targeted his shifu’s fake death and subsequent hiding in Tujue for twenty some years, only daring to emerge until after Qi Fengge’s death, but looking at the other’s peaceful expression and kind appearance, maybe it didn’t have that kind of meaning.
“Your calibre is very high, but as of now you are still no match for me, if we were to wait another three, five years, maybe we could have a good match, but you killed Kunye, since I met you today, I cannot let you leave this mountain alive.”
Hulugu’s face was calm, his words meaning: he held Shen Qiao’s life in his hands.
Shen Qiao smiled, replied with only one word: “Really?”
This kind of situation, verbal sparring was of no use, although he appeared calm, his mind might not be, bystanders were just here for the show, only if you were personally involved, could you sense the threat emanating from Hulugu’s body, that kind of extreme pressure.
When Yi Bichen and the other fought, he must have also suffered through this kind of torment.
The other’s strength, had already reached a nameless, indescribable state.
The heavens held ten thousand permutations, mystery within mysteries, could only depend on intuition, not explanation.
Could he win?
Shen Qiao watched the person before him, had reduced his breathing to near nothing.
This will be his most difficult match since he entered the jianghu.
In terms of danger, it was not less than his match against Sang Jingxing.
He was Qi Fengge’s disciple, from the moment he accepted the mantle from his shizun’s hands, it was determined, this match, could not be avoided.
The author would like to say:
Shen Qiao: Look here, the director wants you to stay in the bathroom for one more episode.
Lao Yan: Oh, no problem, the debt owed will eventually be repaid one day with **.
Shen Qiao: ???
Duan Wenyang used a whip, his shifu Hulugu did not.
Twenty plus years ago, in the match between Hulugu and Qi Fengge they had both used swords, but today, he had perhaps discovered another branch along his martial journey, and no longer preferred the sword, in this moment against Shen Qiao, the other with sword raised and wind rising, robe billowing, sword qi like a rainbow through cloud, a crane towards vast sky, he surged towards Hulugu, the people in the crowd felt thundering in their ears, like ten thousand horses, or ten thousand acres of blue water, they scrunched their faces, those that were weaker, their ears grew painful, unable to withstand the onslaught, they had to activate their qi to defend themselves.
During shijiandahui, Shen Qiao had been an observer, although they knew his wugong was extraordinary, a pretty Daoist, kind and elegant, really didn’t emanate any kind of threat, until he had crossed paths with Yuan Xiuxiu, did people realize the meaning of the phrase “deceived by appearances”, but to be shaken to the core, that was now.
Shen Qiao’s move, with its ruthless edge, intimidation, momentum surging, the sword was as its name suggests, truly the image of rivers and mountains despairing.
As the crowd looked on in horror and awe, Shen Qiao was aware, this time, he had used nine parts of his full strength, it might have been enough for a fair match with Yi Bichen, but was still not enough to fight Hulugu.
Masters having an exchange, onlookers may not have a clue, but as soon the masters themselves made contact, both sides would know.
To look at stances, how deep a person’s inner qi was, could be felt by the pressure around them, since Shen Qiao started practicing the zhengqi from <Zhu Yang Ce>, and remolded his meridians, even if it wasn’t a thousand li a day, compared to before, he had still entered a brand new realm, if only he had more time, one day he could become an opponent worthy of Hulugu.
Only Hulugu had several decades on him in strength, and was previously a figure worthy of fighting Qi Fengge, in these twenty years what kind of opportunities had presented, breaking through what kind of limit, returning to the jianghu after seclusion, a sure hold on the ranking of number one in the world, and having no visible rival within the central plains wulin, even Yi Bichen had lost to him, Shen Qiao wanting to win now, the chances were slim.
But even if the chances were slim, it didn’t mean he would acquiesce without a fight.
In a fight, a breath can hold ten thousand permutations, a sliver of chance if seized, can rencounter life at the brink of desperation, turn defeat into victory, Shen Qiao admitted that there was some distance between himself and Hulugu, but this kind of distance was not enough for him to sit and wait for death.
Sword qi immense and multiplying, like stormy seas beating the shore whelmed towards Hulugu, in an instant it was directly upon him, even Duan Wenyang couldn’t withstand it and was forced back a couple of steps, Hulugu hadn’t moved, but the expression in his eyes, compared to the indifference from before, carried a layer of severity.
Hulugu suddenly thew up both sleeves, and slammed them down, directly suppressing some of the immense sword qi, and then effortlessly his entire body rose up and flew towards Shen Qiao, his right palm extended.
This move was quite ordinary, nothing extraneous, but Shen Qiao felt as if his sword qi suddenly met an indestructible stone wall, not only was it unable to break through the stone, but was refracted back, greater than his own zhengqi.
Shen Qiao had predicted this, and didn’t appear surprised, he didn’t meet it head-on, instead avoided the blinding edge, borrowed the other’s zhengqi to ascend several more chi into the air, and then sword and body as one, drove down towards Hulugu.
To the crowd, they could no longer distinguish which was sword and which was the person, Shen Qiao’s speed couldn’t be compared to an arrow, only to wind and lightning, but his form was agile, not of the same nature as wind and lightning, it was more like a shroud of vapour, the complex rendered simple, sound rendered quiet, form rendered formless.
From the side, Duan Wenyang saw this all clearly, and was shocked, the advance in Shen Qiao’s strength had been fast, and scary, with these moves, could be considered far exceeding himself.
In truth, Shen Qiao’s strength now was still less than before the poisoning, it was only thanks to the practice of Zhu Yang Ce’s zhengqi, that his progress had surprised others, but if Duan Wenyang had seen Shen Qiao’s previous wugong, then he certainly wouldn’t be so surprised.
But Hulugu was Hulugu, Shen Qiao could hardly deal with him through one move, his foot tapped lightly upon the ground, and countless stone tiles burst from the surface, drawn by his zhengqi, each piece transformed into a blade edge, and shot towards Shen Qiao!
Stone and sword qi collided, the numerous pieces crumbling and flying in all directions, from the two fronts of zhengqi burst a greater energy, many people could not dodge it in time, could not circulate their own qi in defence in time, or their wugong was simply not enough, most grimaced and ducked out of the way, some even cried out in pain, there were even some who had their faces and necks scratched by the debris, fresh blood trickling, a scene of suffering.
For people like Duan Wenyang, Yi Bichen, etc., the debris could only get within half a chi before dropping to the ground, they were entirely unharmed, but they both had furrowed their brows.
Duan Wenyang furrowed his brows because he originally thought his shifu in a fight against Shen Qiao, if not entirely effortless, should at least be a simple feat, after all his ranking according to Yuan Zixiao was lower than Yi Bichen, he couldn’t imagine then, how after several moves had passed between the two, his shifu had begun to take things seriously, no longer holding anything back.
Yi Bichen had also noticed this, so he furrowed his brows deeply, looking back on his experience fighting Hulugu just now, Shen Qiao must be under a lot of pressure, more importantly, the chance of victory remained slim.
The person standing in the middle of the fight, Shen Qiao definitely felt a pressure overhead as immense as Taishan, in the practice of the sword he had attained the sword soul stage, by logic he could look down on everyone, but his inner qi remained his shortcoming, especially compared to Hulugu this type of anomaly, they could not be discussed within the same conversation.
The sword edge was fast as lightning, made its descent towards Hulugu, but in the overturn-mountain-topple-sea zhengqi, like a boat against the current, Shen Qiao in the midst of this, found himself growing heavier and heavier, until he couldn’t advance another chi.
At the same time, from Hulugu emanated a boundless, endless qi force, his robes bellowing, zhengqi folding itself into a whirlpool, he jumped and extended a palm towards Shen Qiao, as it approached, like a monster devouring everything, it swallowed up Shen Qiao’s sword qi sword light, and smothered it!
All the stars in the sky, the shifting clouds inconstant rain, here it would be decided!
Shen Qiao closed his eyes, channeling his inner qi to its limit, in his mind he swept away all extraneous matters, with only one thought remaining, and that was to beat Hulugu!
This match, was not only for himself, but also for his shizun Qi Fengge, he couldn’t have others say Qi Fengge was blind: not only did the disciples he trained not continue his will, but also fell to his previous opponent.
Shen Qiao may not care about his reputation, but he couldn’t disregard Qi Fengge’s enduring name!
Sword soul sensibility, look upon the point of departure, the desire to win could not be rushed, but in a match, there will be an outcome, there is no one who would seek defeat over victory.
If one sought defeat, it was not truly seeking defeat, but pride, feeling that one rarely would have a true rival.
Shen Qiao’s eyes snapped open, his sword so quick, becoming shadow.
But he was not looking at his sword, but the person in front of him.
Hu. Lu. Gu.
The other also met him with a raised palm, zhengqi swirling around him, like a raging storm on the ocean, the rage of the heavens and earth churning, intending to bury everything under the waters, meeting on this narrow path, the winner as sovereign!
Shen Qiao only felt the immensity of the force surging towards him, as if to swallow him whole, his blood boiling over, seeking an exit from his body, as the inner and external forces collided, his body felt it had compressed into a thin piece of paper, pain in every part of his bones and meridians.
He was a person who had a high degree of pain tolerance, back when he had fallen to cliff bottom with severe injuries, the pain of shredded meridians, he had managed to tolerate it, this palm strike from Hulugu, was also excruciating, but he made no sound, waited for his sword qi to hit its mark, then fell back and landed.
Tolerating the pain, finally under pressure, he spit out a large volume of blood, spattering over his robes and the ground.
Hulugu’s expression was unchanged, he retreated a few steps, did not spit blood.
Shen Qiao had used all of his potential and strength in this move, had managed to injure Hulugu, although it was not as severe as his own injuries, the other did not escape unharmed.
Zhao Chiying, Gu Hengbo and the others had been waiting for a pause in their match, now rushed forward to support him.
Yu Shengyan had wanted to carry out his shifu’s orders, but his wugong as it stands, no matter how you looked at it was no match for Hulugu, it would only be a death wish, seeing the two cross paths, of course he was worried, now seeing an opportunity, he inserted himself: “Tujue Hulugu’s reputation precedes you, today in challenging two grandmasters, I can see that your reputation is deserved.”
Hulugu had not appraised him before, in this moment only looked over him briefly, his filial disciple Duan Wenyang came forward to introduce the other, Hulugu as he listened, said: “I heard Yan Wushi is considered a master in the central plains, close in skill to Qi Fengge all those years ago.”
“It’s more than just close,” Sang Jingxing snickered, pouring oil onto fire, “I heard that in Liuligong’s rank-list, he was ranked second!”
Hulugu paused: “Who’s ranked first?”
Sang Jingxing smiled and looked at Yuan Zixiao: “You’d have to ask Liuligong’s Yuan-shaogongzhu.”
Yuan Zixiao was once again at the centre of everyone’s scrutiny, she appeared unfazed, no sign of turmoil, said to Hulugu: “The first was originally not you.”
Yuan Zixiao: “Looking at things overall, you still lose to Qi Fengge by a margin.”
Hulugu narrowed his eyes, in these twenty plus years, Qi Fengge these three words had not faded from his heart, instead they had become a thing he could not dislodge, it was a pity the other had passed on, even if he wanted to challenge the other to a match, he could no longer find him.
Duan Wenyang laughed coldly: “Qi Fengge is dead, are the dead eligible for the rank-list? By that logic, wouldn’t Tao Hongjing, Cui Youwang also be included?”
Yuan Zixiao nodded, said: “So I said it was not originally you, but since Qi Fengge is dead, then it’s you.”
Said with this cold inflection, although there was no variation in her tone, she still had the uncanny ability to enrage others without losing breath.
Hulugu was not going to be petty with a young girl, Duan Wenyang looked like he was going to say something, but in the end he only left Yuan Zixiao with a look, and turned his attention back to Shen Qiao.
“You’re really not bad.” He said.
Shen Qiao: “Thank you for the praise, I was just lucky, you had just fought Yi-guanzhu, if we were keeping count, it is this poor one who took the advantage.”
On Hulugu’s face appeared a whisper of a smile, his brows and face had a knife-carved appearance, when not smiling was quite unapproachable, but this smile carried several parts gentleness.
In contrast, his words were cold: “Usually, I do not go to extremes, and would stop here, but you killed Kunye, if I don’t kill you, my disciple’s soul will be lonely as he goes to the afterlife, you should go down and keep his company!”
As he said this, he walked towards Shen Qiao, one step after the other, slower than a leisurely walk on a sunny day, but the intention felt by everyone was a terrifying whole body chill.
Although Zhao Chiying, Gu Hengbo were no match for Hulugu, to detain Hulugu long enough for Shen Qiao to get away shouldn’t be too difficult, thus turning back to Shen Qiao, they said under their breath: “Leave quickly!”
Drawing out their swords in the meantime.
As a member of the demonic sects, how many times had Yu Shengyan considered himself a selfless hero, but Yan Wushi’s words still rang in his ears, he gritted his teeth, and also went to stand in front of Shen Qiao.
Li Qingyu, Su Qiao, Fan Yuanbai, Zhou Yexue, all came over, and stood in front of him.
In this moment, one could see how much virtue Shen Qiao had accrued.
Yi Bichen was injured considerably, but seeing the situation he could no longer be a bystander, if the other were to kill Shen Qiao here, Chunyangguan would no longer need to be part of the jianghu, holding his sword walking forward, he called out: “Stop, shijiandahui is only for martial exchanges, not the place for seeking out revenge!”
Why would Hulugu regard him seriously, not even requiring him to move a finger, Duan Wenyang and Sang Jingxing had stepped forward to intervene, Chunyangguan disciples had also stepped up to help, Hehuan sect members were also not going to fall behind, everything fell into chaos.
Members of other sects, some couldn’t wait to join the fray, the others looked at each other, at a loss, and didn’t know what to do next.
Wang San-lang was inclined towards Gu Hengbo, was thankful for her help earlier, so now rolled up his sleeves and came over to help, his brother was forced to follow behind.
But Hulugu’s steps hadn’t ceased, he still walked towards Shen Qiao one step after another.
His expression was indifferent, an unmarked surface, these people in his eyes, were like withered weeds, not worth a mention.
Shen Qiao said quietly: “Thank you to everyone for your support, but this is between me and him, you don’t need to interfere.”
Saying this, with a push of his palm, the wind rose up and gently pushed everyone to the side.
Gu Hengbo, in a panic: “Shixiong!”
On the other end, Hulugu had slowly raised one palm.
Shen Qiao also clutched the sword hilt in his hand.
It was at this moment, a cold chuckle sounded beside everyone’s ear: “This venerable one’s person, you think you can kill at your whim?”
Yu Shengyan, shocked: “Shizun!”
With these words, how could anyone not guess the identity of this newcomer.
A shadow flickered in the air, like a floating celestial, abrupt, self-assured, but it didn’t do what the others predicted and meet Hulugu, instead it caught Shen Qiao by the waist and swept him away.
The speed it was done, even Hulugu hadn’t been able to stop him.
The author would like to say:
What about the promised peak fight to the death?
Everyone’s gaping, because they didn’t expect Lao Yan to have none of the posturing for someone ranked second in the world, just got up and ran.
Nevermind the others who hadn’t expected it, even Shen Qiao couldn’t have predicted that Yan Wushi would suddenly appear, drop this threatening line, everyone thought he was going to challenge Hulugu to a fight to the death, instead he picked up the person and ran, even his disciple he neglected.
Xuandushan’s “tiankuohongying” stood on its own merit, Huanuye Sect’s qinggong was not as famous, but it was Yan Wushi using it, in an instant their shadows were no longer visible, even Hulugu was left watching the dust, nevermind the others.
Of course, it could have been that Hulugu didn’t expect to meet this shameless of a grandmaster.
Shen Qiao also hadn’t expected it.
His body carried injuries, qi and blood churning, he couldn’t move easily, Yan Wushi had traversed ten plus li carrying him in his arms, but it was steady as flat ground, not a single bump or jolt, his face was unencumbered, his mouth had a hint of a smile, as if it was all effortless.
Once Shen Qiao realized what had happened, he wanted to say something, a bolus of blood rose in his throat, he managed to swallow it, coughed twice: “Put me down…”
Yan Wushi, unperturbed: “What’s the rush, we’ve only just made it off the mountain, in case Hulugu catches up, wouldn’t this have all been a waste?”
With beauty in his arms, what would be another ten li in his embrace?
It wasn’t that Yan Wushi had remedied his ways since he encountered Shen Qiao, but that he understood his character, this daozhang tolerated soft approaches and not forceful ones, if hard-pressed to the notched arrow, don’t expect another chance the remainder of your days, but a completely soft approach also wouldn’t work, this kind of pure-hearted, aloof, pretty Daoist, usually wouldn’t be moved by corporeal sentiment, had cultivated beyond the mortal realm’s smoke and fire, tenacious as the water reeds, no way would they yield to a large rock.
Although Yan Wushi would never compare himself to the common rock, if he wanted to, even the constellations in the sky were his for the taking.
Shen Qiao didn’t know what to say: “I thought you were going to fight Hulugu back there.”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Fighting him now, things are a bit lacking, why waste all my effort and get nothing in return, if I were to make a move, then things should be at least nine parts considered, using a woven basket to gather water is not a habit of this venerable one’s.”
He never avoided taboos when speaking the truth, even if it was the truth, it would still carry the Yan Wushi brand of arrogance.
Shen Qiao made no reply, the truth was that the fight had exhausted him, suffering internal injuries, tired to the point of collapse, unknowingly he closed his eyes, then fell into a deep sleep.
Yan Wushi looked down and saw this, the corners of his lips curled into a smile, he carried the person in his arms steadily another dozen li, left Qingcheng Town behind, headed towards the northeast.
It had been a long time since Shen Qiao had slept properly like a common person.
This was not to say that he didn’t need sleep, but for a martial arts practitioner, sleep was training, training was sleep, letting zhengqi circulate the body, it was exercise and training, it was also rest, although Shen Qiao didn’t care much for glory in name, he understood that his potential was strong, not easily slain by others, ever since he remolded his foundation, he trained diligently everyday without cease, when resting at night, he often resorted to meditation as training and as a way to unwind.
In the fight against Hulugu, he had depleted nearly all of his inner reserves, his mind blank, his core momentarily empty, usually when he slept he still reserved a fraction of energy to watch his surroundings, but to do this now was impossible, after closing his eyes he simply lost consciousness, and entered a curious dream realm.
When he woke, he was lying on a bed, turning his head he saw it was already dark outside, only several flickering candles on the nightstand illuminated the room.
Before Shen Qiao had departed fully from his dreamscape, a teasing phrase wound its way into his ear: “What beautiful dream did you have, that even after waking you linger in it?”
Shen Qiao felt then that something was off, the thing he was resting on, clearly wasn’t a pillow but…
Yan Wushi’s lap.
He woke up cushioned in Yan Wushi’s lap.
No matter how calm Shen Qiao was, after making this discovery he became not very good, he propped himself on his elbow and made to rise, Yan Wushi however held him by the shoulder: “You still have internal injuries, no haphazard movements.”
Shen Qiao’s chest ached dully, his flow of zhengqi was considerably hindered, but he wasn’t at the point where he couldn’t even sit up, he persisted in moving to one side of the bed.
Only after feeling a hard surface behind him did he breathe a sigh of relief, his back against the bedframe felt safer and more reliable.
Yan Wushi watched all this, very amused: “What did you dream, to take on this appearance of a blossoming face and misty eyes.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Hearing this description, someone would think he had a wet dream.
Yan Wushi even reached out a hand: “Your face is burning, it must have been a wet dream, did you dream of this venerable one?”
The corner of Shen Qiao’s mouth spasmed: “No, to disappoint Yan-zongzhu, I dreamt I was fighting against many people, even awake I feel quite exhausted.”
He refused to say that Yan Wushi was among the people he was fighting, who knew what ludicrous thing the other would have to say to that.
But he still gravely underestimated Huanyue Sect zongzhu’s shamelessness, even if he didn’t say it, the other still made a shameless remark: “Fighting? Where were you fighting, was it underneath the sheets?”
Shen Qiao, enraged: “If Yan-zongzhu continues to speak this offensively, this poor one will no longer speak with you!”
Even when their A-Qiao was making threats, it was cottony without a scrap of intimidation, Yan Wushi laughed: “Fine, fine, I won’t say more, why don’t you say something, you go first!”
Shen Qiao composed himself: “How long was I asleep for?”
Yan Wushi: “Easy, one day and one night.”
Shen Qiao was surprised, he hadn’t expected himself to sleep for that long, his injuries weren’t going to heal overnight, but on waking the pain in his body had diminished greatly, it would appear Yan Wushi had assisted him while he was passed out asleep, so he folded his hands in respect and said: “Thank you Yan-zongzhu, in the future if Yan-zongzhu has any needs, as long as it doesn’t go against the heavens or cause harm, Shen Qiao will certainly do all I can to help.”
Thinking back to the other’s usual antics and unconventional logic, and his abrupt actions at Bixia Sect, Shen Qiao was a bit uneasy, added one more clause: “And it can’t be too preposterous, beyond what people can accept.”
Shen Qiao was no longer Xuandushan’s zhangjiao, but was still a grandmaster ranked within the world’s top ten, moreover with his character, to receive this promise, was worth its weight in gold.
Yan Wushi smiled, but lightly diverted: “Easy, right before this I already claimed my compensation, no need for formalities, and with the relationship we have, there’s no need to be so distant with this venerable one.”
What relationship do we have, how come I don’t know about it? Shen Qiao gaped, he felt that Yan Wushi with the available time he had over the years, probably spent it on training and running a sect, but certainly on cultivating face thickness.
Yan Wushi looked at him merrily: “A-Qiao, are you thirsty?”
Shen Qiao made to reply: “No, thanks Yan-zongzhu for your attention.”
Yan Wushi: “It should be this way, when you were sleeping, I already fed you some honeywater.”
A sense of dread crept up in Shen Qiao’s heart: “How was it fed?”
Yan Wushi, incredulous: “Naturally the cup to your mouth, how else would you like to be fed?”
Not waiting for Shen Qiao’s response, his expression transformed into one of realization: “Did you think it was mouth to mouth? A-Qiao ah, you’ve always been so moral and upright, when did you also become so lewd?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He’d already been rendered speechless, no matter how good Shen-daozhang’s manners were, at this moment he really wanted to roll his eyes.
Yan Wushi even consoled him: “It’s not your fault you thought this way, I already told you, Hehuan Sect are not good people, Yuan Xiuxiu Bai Rong those witches, next time you see them just keep as far away as possible, our A-Qiao is so upstanding and refined, how can we let him be sullied by those people?”
Your Huanyue Sect’s reputation isn’t that much better than Hehuan Sect’s?
And, what is “our A-Qiao”? Who belongs to who?
Shen Qiao slandered the other mercilessly in his mind, but when it came down to the art of dispute, he could not compare to Yan Wushi, if he said one sentence, the other would surely have another ten waiting.
Before he had been passed out asleep and oblivious to the world, now awake, Shen Qiao’s first thought was for the people who remained on Qingchengshan.
“I don’t know how Zhao-zongzhu and the others are faring, tomorrow I should return to see how things are.”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Hulugu’s target was you, with you gone, why would he regard any of the others, as long as they didn’t step up to seek death, with Hulugu’s pride, he wouldn’t kill those he saw as mere grass and weed.”
Hulugu as a grandmaster was not going to start a massacre, but Duan Wenyang and the Hehuan Sect opportunists were another story, but they were in Chunyangguan territory, and Zhao Chiying and the others were hardly children who couldn’t even slaughter a chicken, if they were so easily killed, they might as well just retire from the jianghu.
Shen Qiao reminded him: “Yu Shengyan is still on Qingchengshan.”
Yan Wushi was even more honest: “If he can’t even deal with this kind of inconvenience, he’s not qualified to be this venerable one’s disciple.”
In Yan Wushi’s eyes, people without potential were not worth his regard, in all these decades, Shen Qiao had been the exception, and only for Shen Qiao, others were not deserving of his extra efforts, his disciples included, the skills he had taught, but if in every matter they required his protection, then why bother wandering the jianghu, might as well smash their heads in instead.
Shen Qiao did not really agree with this kind of worldview, he could logically comprehend the truth in Yan Wushi’s words, so Zhao Chiying Li Qingyu might be able to preserve themselves, but Fan Yuanbai Zhou Yexue’s wugong was not as good, when the fighting began, in the chaos they might not be able to receive the timely protection of their seniors, and avoid injury.
Yan Wushi saw his mind wander, stretched out a hand and pinched his cheeks: “When will you change this bad habit of yours of worrying for the rest of the world, you’re injured, if you go you will only be a hindrance, and you still intend to save others? And it’s been a night and a day, the fights must have come to a cease, what’s the use of going?”
Shen Qiao was caught by his motion, he leaned back and turned his head away: “Yan-zongzhu, please respect yourself!”
Yan Wushi smiled: “A-Qiao is too argumentative, I’ve carried you, touched you, fed you, what part of your body has this venerable one not touched, what more is pinching your cheeks? I see that you’re usually not like the other girls with their rouge and powders, but your face is not any less fine or smooth as theirs, if you dressed as a woman, your appearance would also be exceptional.”
Shen Qiao was thinking of proper matters, hearing this just assumed it was nonsense, entering the left ear and exiting the right, he creased his brow: “Before Yan-zongzhu had other worldly insight, saying that Hulugu was still alive, I didn’t believe you fully, now this one phrase becomes prophesy, Hulugu remerges in the jianghu, my master however is dead, under the heavens, there’s no one that has power over him, Tujue is close to Yuwen Yun, Yuwen Yun is also conspiring with Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects, shijiandahui is now the aftermath of a battlefield, coming to a premature end, Chunyangguan suffering this calamity, I’m afraid the jianghu after this will never see another quiet day.”
Yan Wushi reclined on the bedframe, said lazily: “What set of concerns is this? Chunyangguan diminished, isn’t that a great opportunity for Xuandushan, with your strength as is, you can easily beat Yu Ai into the ground, to kill your way back to Xuandushan and reclaim your zhangjiao position wouldn’t be a hard thing, why sew bridal clothes for others? If you have this intention, I will certainly assist.”
Shen Qiao looked at him, resisted, resisted again, unable to tolerate it any longer, he said: “When you’re speaking just speak, can you not put your hand on my leg? This is not very respectful.”
If he wasn’t positioned on the inside, and still injured, he would have long turned and gotten up.
Yan Wushi slapped it twice, chuckled: “It was your leg underneath here, I thought it was a pillow.”
Saying this he reached underneath the blankets, pulled out the pillow beside Shen Qiao’s leg, rested his hand on it, slapped it gently.
Shen Qiao: So shameless
Shen Qiao ultimately did not go back to Qingchengshan, what Yan Wushi said was right, now there was already a day and night since shijiandahui, what was supposed to cease had already ceased, to rush over now would be pointless, many of the people from various sects had made their way down the mountain, Shen Qiao sought them out, and found that after Yan Wushi left with him, Hulugu also departed, Duan Wenyang had not, and stayed behind with Hehuan Sect to have a go against Chunyangguan.
But Chunyangguan also had teeth, Yi Bichen was injured, but with Li Qingyu Gu Hengbo Zhao Chiying, although not ranked within the world’s top ten, to say their wugong was leagues away from Duan Wenyang would be incorrect, the others who had come to attend shijiandaihui, seeing the biggest threat leave, could not disregard their face and run, so helped Chunyangguan: what followed was a scene of chaos.
Yuan Xiuxiu and Sang Jingxing weren’t aligned, her faction didn’t put forth too much effort, in the ensuing confusion only managed to hold Sang Jingxing back, in the end, Chunyangguan suffered some casualties, but Hehuan Sect also didn’t pick up much advantage, it could be considered as a loss on both sides.
In the chaos, there was no shortage of death, wandering the jianghu, a life was the most worthless, jianghu swords are all blood-stained, this saying was not exaggerated, if you’re not as skilled as the other, and die by their hands, who were you to blame, if some member of your family had better wugong and sought revenge, killed them to do so, no one would have anything to say either, these were the rules of the jianghu.
The closest relation to Shen Qiao was his shimei Gu Hengbo, but he had watched her grow up, her wugong was very good, and she wasn’t stupid, if she couldn’t beat them she could outrun them, Shen Qiao wasn’t worried, within the Bixia Sect, the people most in danger were Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue, but Shen Qiao had heard from the people coming down from the mountain that among the dead there were no Bixia Sect disciples, and was reassured.
Besides this, there was another reason that he didn’t go back, and that was because Yan Wushi had received a letter from Chang’an.
It was an SOS letter.
And it was delivered on the instruction of Yan Wushi’s senior disciple Bian Yanmei.
Since Yuwen Yong’s death, Yuwen Yun ascending the throne, Huanyue Sect’s standing in Chang’an had turned overnight, wind and cranes crying, they were subject to external pressures, Bian Yanmei had received Yan Wushi’s instructions, adapting to the situation and withdrawing where necessary, its formal holdings were completely left to Hehuan and the Buddhist sects to fight over, he himself retreated into the shadows with his people, previously when Shen Qiao with Dou Yan and Yuwen Song had been able to fight his way out of the army blockade and have no pursuers leaving Chang’an, in this matter Bian Yanmei had also contributed.
But the one requesting assistance was not Bian Yanmei, but Puliuru Jian.
Puliuru Jian’s eldest daughter had married Yuwen Yun, after his ascension, she became the empress, Puliuru Jian became guozhang, logically his days should have shone, but the reality was not the case.
Back when Shen Qiao was in Chang’an, he had already heard an earful of Yuwen Yun’s depravities, now hearing Puliuru Jian’s request, still was surprised: “Yuwen Yun won’t even spare his father-in-law?”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Yuwen Yun dared act against his own father, never mind the father-in-law.”
He had nearly forgotten that ordeal, Shen Qiao furrowed his brows: “Yuwen Yun killing his father, that was because he didn’t want to wait to ascend the throne, what is Puliuru Jian to him?”
Yan Wushi: “If the emperor wants to kill someone, it must be because he feels that person must die, to talk about reason, it’s all an excuse. Puliuru Jian was born into a high-ranking family, his father Sui Zhoutai, his ancestors led the revolution, supported the then-emperor, within the military he also has potential, this potential in Puliuru Jian’s hands, he excels in management, within the court military, things have taken form, although not to the extent that he can threaten the emperor’s control, but what emperor can remain indifferent? Nevermind a broken-brain, insane emperor.”
Towards the absolute right of emperors he had no qualms, to Yuwen Yong he had used his full name, and now with Yuwen Yun, this was still the case.
Yan Wushi saying this, sighed: “A-Qiao ah, with your personality, lucky you weren’t born into a high-ranking official’s family, otherwise the political triangulations, how could you outmaneuver the others, you probably would have been long mauled by others until even your bones were gone!”
This roundabout way of saying he was a fool, Shen Qiao wasn’t upset, instead he smiled: “My personality, nevermind political triangulation and deceit in court, even as a zhangjiao in the jianghu, I fell to others’ schemes.”
Yan Wushi laughed: “Now you’re belittling yourself, your personality isn’t suited to outmanipulating others, but you still have strengths, you no longer have your position as Xuandushan zhangjiao, but there are still many who are willing to interact with you, what they value is you as a person, and not your position. But, even if you’re susceptible to schemes it doesn’t matter, aren’t I here, with this venerable one beside you to overlook things, you don’t have to be afraid of others tricking or cheating you!”
To be honest, this person just wants to boast about himself, right?
Shen Qiao was a little speechless, under his robes his hair stood on end, he hurried back to the original topic: “Then, what is Puliuru Jian’s request?”
Yan Wushi, casually: “His daughter is not trusted by Yuwen Yun, is being confined and held hostage, Sui-guogong manor, who enters and who exits, is under total surveillance, eradicating their entire family is within the emperor’s one impulse, Puliuru Jian has a guilty conscience, how can he be not afraid?”
Yuwen Yun indulged in pleasure, since his ascension all the different depravities don’t need further mention, first killing off Yunwen Xian, for the purpose of eliminating any branch of the royal family that might pose a threat to the throne, now that those direct risks were gone, and to not restrict himself in any way, he had passed the throne onto his son Yuwen Chan, himself manipulating politics from behind the scenes.
Having the material benefit of being emperor, but not having to bear any of its responsibilities, with officials seeking meetings with him left and right, vexing him to no end, Yuwen Yun had accomplished two feats with one action, with his little tactic he was extremely satisfied, but he was very suspicious, after killing off the threat of his relations, he began to suspect the officials that might have potential to revolt, Puliuru Jian, as the emperor’s father-in-law and a high ranking official, bore the brunt of this suspicion, was subject to “special attention” from Yuwen Yun, now during the day he couldn’t eat, at night he couldn’t sleep, above his head a knife was suspended at all times, his inner turmoil need not be described.
Shen Qiao had only met Puliuru Jian a couple of times, and had a good impression of his straightforward, open character, and he knew after the fact that his departure from Chang’an with Yuwen Song was indebted to Puliuru Jian’s efforts then, otherwise it would not have gone as smoothly. Experts considered cause and effect, the Daoist sects also considered them, especially when a debt was owed, you must find an opportunity to pay it back, otherwise it will hinder your cultivation.
To help was one matter, but many things need to be explained in full.
Shen Qiao was not dumb, many powerful relations he could come to understand, it was just that he wouldn’t use them to harm or scheme.
“That he would write an urgent letter, and Bian Yanmei would give this letter to you, indicates that Puliuru Jian and Huanyue Sect’s relationship is not bad. Before you said to me that Yuwen Xian could become a good soverign, but later Yuwen Xian died, I didn’t see you lament, you must have already had a backup plan, could it be that Puliuru Jian is your backup plan?”
Yan Wushi had rented a courtyard with rooms in Suizhou, Shen Qiao was recovering there, he was a quiet person, while he was recovering he rarely went out, most of the time when the weather was nice, he would sit in the courtyard with a book under the grapevine trellis, even without speaking it made a beautiful scene.
The sunlight refracted through the grape leaves, hitting Shen Qiao’s body in spots and splashes, the contours of his face and neck basked in its glow, refined and soft, look and your heart would itch, if only you could carry the beauty home and hide him, so that he could only be seen by one person henceforth.
What kind of person was Yan Wushi, having perused beauty all over and still be mesmerized by one, naturally this one could not be compared to commoners.
But he hid his sentiments very well, this secret and reckless desire like a rainstorm engulfed his heart, but his gaze on Shen Qiao merely paused momentarily, before he smiled lazily: “That’s correct, but backup plan isn’t quite right, even if there was no Puliuru Jian, Huanyue Sect wouldn’t fall, but without Huanyue Sect’s assistance, if Puliuru Jian wanted to accomplish things, it would be no small feat, so Huanyue Sect should be considered as his backup plan.”
Shen Qiao believed in Yan Wushi’s eye for politics, but this didn’t mean he thought everything the other did was right, before when he agreed to side with Yuwen Yong to end the chaos of their times, unify the country, that was because he had met Yuwen Yong, the other was definitely a sovereign of their generation, even if he was a severe ruler, in political and military affairs he was quite accomplished, the people of the north because of him saw the end of several years of war, could rest and live their lives, in his hands the north saw unity, if only he had more time, who’s to say that he couldn’t have been the one to end this century of conflict.
Unfortunately, the sky has unpredictable weather, Yuwen Yong was brilliant all his life, but got stuck with a disaster son, Yan Wushi’s ability to sense the direction of the winds and sail accordingly was faster than anyone, in a turn of the eye he had tossed Yuwen Xian and connected with Puliuru Jian, but how could he be sure that Puliuru Jian will be a good sovereign in the future? What if the other was adequately ambitious, but not enough to accomplish only fall short?
Shen Qiao didn’t really understand his logic here.
Seeing his uncertain expression, Yan Wushi said slowly: “A-Qiao is someone who has his own ideas, I can say it a thousand or ten thousand times, if you don’t see him yourself, you still wouldn’t believe it, he has Yuwen Xian’s ability, but none of his pliability, and moreover has the ambition that Yuwen Xian didn’t have, back then Yuwen Xian didn’t dare mobilize an uprising, which resulted in his entire family’s execution, Puliuru Jian is not someone who will sit and wait for death, just that his current position is precarious, if I can lend him some assistance at this time, it will only benefit Huanyue Sect down the line. More importantly…”
Shen Qiao saw him hesitate, thought there must be an important reason he hadn’t mentioned yet, so he put his book down, and listened earnestly.
Yan Wushi gradually spit out the latter part of his sentence: “More importantly, he’s easy on the eyes!”
Shen Qiao couldn’t help but glare at him.
Yan Wushi smiled: “I think that in the future you shouldn’t glare at people, if you must glare, then just glare at me only, otherwise other people will think you are flirting with them.”
When had it started, that everytime he spoke to Shen Qiao it had taken on this teasing tone? Shen Qiao thought back, when his eyes were injured, Yan Wushi had carried him in and out, purposefully misleading bystanders, his words at the time had also been overly familiar, almost counting on others to think that Xuandushan’s previous zhangjiao was Huanyue Sect zongzhu’s plaything, but now his words were even more familiar, in front of others however he made no drastic moves, only in private did he laugh and speak without holding back.
The remarkable shift, previously Shen Qiao hadn’t thought too much of it, but now, he could no longer pretend not to see it.
Shen Qiao massaged his temple, felt everything was a mess.
Yan Wushi stretched out a hand, his palm resting on his temple gently massaging it, with his other hand he held the back of his head, not letting Shen Qiao evade, as if he could read his thoughts: “Don’t the Daoist sects talk about going the way of fate, between you and me isn’t it a stretch of golden life fate, why does A-Qiao have such a worried expression?”
Shen Qiao: “…Going the way of fate is a Buddhist saying, we only talk about the natural progression of things, besides what we have between us can only be considered enough for disaster fate, please can Yan-zongzhu stop misusing terms!”
He wanted to pry away the other’s hands, in a moment the two of them had passed several moves, Yan Wushi didn’t feel at all he was taking advantage of the situation, in the end directly sealed the other’s meridian points, pulled the beauty into his embrace and groped him thoroughly, smiled and said: “Life fate or disaster fate, isn’t it all fate, for all the years you’ve spent cultivating how come you are so superficial, since Qi Fengge is already dead, it looks like I’ll have to take his place in teaching you the finer details.”
Saying this he lowered his head, and kissed the person until he couldn’t breathe, and against the fabric he vaguely explored the terrain of the beauty’s body, nevermind that when the other was asleep he had claimed how many benefits already, but Yan-zongzhu was proud, if there was a margin he gained he had to make sure the other understood it clearly, he was also intentional in not taking things too far, he caught the moment right before Shen Qiao would erupt and the boundary of what he could tolerate, the precision was infuriating.
Shen Qiao was flushed bright red, breathing audibly, the former was due to anger, the latter was because a lecher had bullied him.
Yan Wushi’s gaze swept past his moist and swollen lips, and was satisfied, only then did he say: “See, you clearly feel it too, why constrain yourself, and deny it again and again?”
Shen Qiao didn’t speak.
Not because he couldn’t speak, but because he was mad and didn’t want to speak.
Yan Wushi smiled again: “A-Qiao, when you were in peril, I rushed a thousand li back to save you, wasn’t it enough to demonstrate this venerable one’s true intentions for you?”
The words were spoken with sincere affection, but he didn’t unseal the meridian points.
Because he also knew, as soon as he unsealed Shen Qiao’s meridian points, the other would immediately leave, he wouldn’t possibly continue to listen to him spout nonsense.
Yan Wushi: “I know that because of what happened before, you still have grievances against me, but now towards you, I’ve long since had a change of heart, time reveals true intentions, didn’t you sense it as well?”
Shen Qiao steadied his breathing, said coldly: “I’ve never seen Yan-zongzhu’s heart, how would I know that you’ve changed it?”
Yan Wushi grabbed his hand and placed it on his own heart, said softly: “If you don’t believe it, you can dig it out yourself and see, from now on, all this is yours.”
The corners of Shen Qiao’s mouth spasmed, hit by his sappy words as if a cold front, personally he felt that the other’s face was thicker than the walls of the Great Wall, his entire life even if he tried he wouldn’t be able to catch up, when he tried to talk logic with the other, the other would speak illogically, Shen Qiao felt that even if he were to grow ten more mouths, he still wouldn’t be able to outspeak Yan Wushi.
“First release me.”
Yan Wushi laughed: “Can’t do that, as soon as I unseal your meridian points, you’ll run, I won’t rush you into things too fast, but you also shouldn’t count on something like forgetting and wandering the jianghu, the person I want, even if he hid in Qi Fengge’s grave, I will go dig him out from Qi Fengge’s gravesite!”
Shen Qiao turned his face away: “This poor one is a cultivator, in this life, will not wade into relationships or love, will not desire to receive someone in marriage.”
Yan Wushi: “We’re not talking love or relationships, you’re too superficial, we can be called companions in cultivation, I’m also not forcing you to receive me in marriage, if you like, I can receive you.”
It was like playing with a cat, seeing that the other was about to erupt, he made to soothe it, unsealed his meridian points: “Come on, I just made a joke, how come you’re mad? Back to the topic at hand, Puliuru Jian has encountered a huge inconvenience this time, whether or not he’ll be a good sovereign, whether or not you’ll support him, it won’t be too late to consider this later, I’m letting you come along, because there’s something to be gained.”
As soon as his meridian points were unsealed, Shen Qiao immediately stood up and put at least three chi between them: “Can Yan-zongzhu please explain?”
Yan Wushi fluttered his eyes at him: “Not right now, but don’t you want to return this person a favour, why not accompany me to Chang’an and appraise the situation?”
Gods, still acting cute!
Shen Qiao held his chest where his wound ached dully, not wanting to see he twisted his head, but he also couldn’t get the image of what just happened out from his head, he was angry and couldn’t do anything.
“I can accompany Yan-zongzhu, but we have to agree to basic rules, and treat each other respectfully, if Yan-zongzhu cannot abide, I would rather set out alone.”
Yan Wushi thought: if I wanted to follow, where can you go to be rid of me?
But he smiled and said magnanimously: “Fine.”
The author would like to say:
Got a bit high from writing, forgot the time —> __—>
Finally the window covering’s torn A-Qiao, what will you do next, whereas before you could pretend like you didn’t know ~
Yan Wushi’s repeated teasing, day-by-day shift in attitude, Shen Qiao wasn’t oblivious to it, but from the bottom of his heart, he really couldn’t see himself as having any sort of appeal.
For a person living in the world, moral character was the most important, appearance was secondary, women dressed up for their beloveds, even Zou Ji, Song Yu, those beautiful men paid attention to their appearance, but as a cultivator distant from the world, Shen Qiao did not have this habit, so he could not understand at all what part of him Yan Wushi liked.
And because of these doubts, he read Yan Wushi’s attitude as a “passing storm”, after all there was a precedent, if he left himself open, who knew if he’d be sold again, Shen Qiao in matters of cunning was no match for Yan Wushi, deep in his heart he was still afraid, there was still doubt, he would not trust so easily.
In the end, Yan Wushi did this to himself.
That day Shen Qiao clearly already considered him a friend, sincerity in a jade ﬂask, reﬂected in heaven and earth, but he scoffed at it like throwing away a pair of old shoes, on the surface he smiled and talked, but behind the scenes he had already contacted Sang Jingxing, in the blink of an eye he had delivered the person personally, hurled Shen Qiao’s pure heart onto the ﬂoor and stomped it into a million pieces, to want to redeem this was like wanting to complete a broken mirror, recover overturned waters, maybe he should count himself lucky that the person he liked was Shen Qiao, if it was anyone else, after experiencing that event, their temperament would change, everyday they would plot their revenge, at the very least towards Yan Wushi they wouldn’t reserve any trust or good feeling.
But Shen Qiao was an exception, this person treated everyone earnestly, if someone was kind to him in one part, he would have to return it ten or twelvefold.
Outside Tuyuhun’s capital city, Yan Wushi due to severe injuries manifested multiple personalities, and then because of Chen Gong, Yan Shen the two of them fell deep underground in Ruoqiang, inevitably things grew more entangled between them, later during Hehuan Sect’s pursuit, Yan Wushi was willing to act promptly, use himself to draw away the cruelest of them Sang Jingxing, to give Shen Qiao breathing room to escape. Although Shen Qiao was aware that with Yan Wushi’s shrewdness, he couldn’t have gone in completely unprepared, still watching the other leave, how could his heart not be affected?
That ordeal, when Yan Wushi reﬂected on it later, he was quite pleased with himself.
Shen Qiao had a place in his heart, so this person’s temperament, behaviours, inside out he had to excavate thoroughly.
If it was anyone else, hearing Yan Wushi’s mocking, frivolous words, even if they managed not to erupt in rage, then they would at least think about how to escape far from Yan Wushi’s side, end things cleanly between them, the farther the better, but Shen Qiao had not.
For Shen Qiao, Yan Wushi had just rescued him on Qingchengshan, ﬁrst was this debt; Puliuru Jian requested aid, if Shen Qiao wasn’t aware then he could overlook it, but knowing he would have to make the trip, their objectives were aligned, this reason was second.
These two reasons together were more important than “not wanting to be caught up in the other’s words and actions”, so Shen Qiao was able to put his feelings to the side, and focus on the task at hand. This type of earnest seriousness, a little more would appear old- fashioned, a little less would be hypocritical, but for some reason on Shen Qiao, many people felt it was only natural, and wasn’t the least bit contradictory.
This person when he was Xuandushan zhangjiao was the opposite of famous, when people mentioned him, at most would tack on “Qi Fengge’s favoured disciple”, and nothing else, now as he wandered the jianghu, people thought of him ﬁrst as Shen Qiao, before anything else.
Yan Wushi was proud that as he lived no one could sway him, doing as he pleased, whatever he desired, he never thought that one day it would all fall to this one person.
He considered people inherently evil, never believed that there could be true kindness, if it existed, in his eyes, it became a weakness.
For some reason Shen Qiao was an exception, Yan Wushi’s tendency to compromise for no one, when it came to Shen Qiao he was willing to give way.
Someone who all the world believed to be good, if Yan Wushi disagreed, he wouldn’t give them a second glance, but if it was someone that Yan Wushi believed to be good, and the world agreed, he would of course have to make his move fast to snatch them away, whether by force or as the rain that has no need to explain its results, he must ﬁrst gather the person in his arms, then teach them the ﬁner details, so the other was also willing.
Overall, the trajectory so far was more or less successful.
Leave it to Yan Wushi to be proud of himself in this situation: this venerable one has traversed the jianghu for decades, discounting wugong and position, the men and women sliding over were numerous, this is the ﬁrst time in my life I’ve spent so much effort and intention on one person, if he still doesn’t come easily, then the ﬁrst part of my life I’ve surely wasted, might as well just die now.
So when Shen Qiao brought up basic rules, “treat each other with respect, propriety, no salacious actions, etc.” Yan Wushi put up no dispute.
This straightforward response, instead made Shen Qiao a little suspicious, but since the other had already agreed, if he still didn’t let it go, then it would appear petty on his part.
The next morning, the two of them set out on their journey, by nightfall if by chance they passed a city or town, they would seek shelter there.
People in the jianghu could survive on a meal of wind and dew, spending a night in the countryside was not unusual, but if they had the choice, everyone would prefer a warm, comfortable place to rest, unless circumstances dictated otherwise, even wugong masters would prefer an inn.
Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao were no exception, the two of them set out at a fast pace, and within two days had reached not-far-from- Chang’an Xining City.
With Chang’an within sight, they could slow down, more or less could plan to enter the city tomorrow, Yan Wushi also said: “Puliuru Jian is in a dangerous position, but not to the point that no moment can be spared, it’s already evening, let’s rest here for now.”
Shen Qiao was aware that he paid attention to his appearance, everytime he made an entrance, he was stately dressed, with a commanding presence, behind the scenes who knew how much effort was required, to let the impressive Huanyue Sect zongzhu enter the city battered by the dust of his journey, Yan Wushi certainly would not be willing, so he agreed. They picked a reasonably sized inn and walked in, Shen Qiao was afraid he’d say something along the lines of sleep in the same bed, so when the manager asked “do you two want two rooms”, he interjected “yes” before the other could.
Yan Wushi didn’t disagree, he smiled as he let him decide.
The manager seeing this remarked: “Are the two of you brothers, you seem close”.
Yan Wushi: “We are not brothers.”
The manager said ah, then continued a little hesitantly: “Then…”
Yan Wushi didn’t say anything, just threw him an ambiguous smile, then glanced at Shen Qiao, smiled at the manager again.
The manager had seen all manners of guests and travellers, at this moment he seemed to realize something.
Yan Wushi: “It’s a no-go, he’s still mad at me.”
The manager opened his mouth, when he saw a person he spoke human when he saw a ghost he spoke ghost: “They say ten years you travel the same boat, a hundred years you something something, you two esteemed guests are dragons among commoners, your relationship must not be an ordinary one, since you have this fate, you should each give way, peace brings fortune, peace brings fortune!”
Shen Qiao: “…” What is what, you should state it clearly!
But the manager seemed to follow Yan Wushi’s lead and did not speak in more detail, Shen Qiao couldn’t have possibly gone ahead and corrected him, the denial became proof, like a sign that professed: no three hundred silvers here. The manager organized their rooms, Yan Wushi also requested a private dining room, and ordered food and drink.
The room had four tables in a row to one side, the other side was for when guests could call upon musicians or dancers to perform during their meal, currently there were no dancers, so the space appeared a bit empty.
Shen Qiao sat down at the table closest to the door, Yan Wushi however didn’t sit at the same one, instead he sat three tables away, at the table in the corner.
“Why does Yan-zongzhu sit there?” Shen Qiao did not understand.
“Whenever I see your face, I want to reach out and touch it, but since I promised your condition to treat each other with respect, naturally it’s better if I keep my distance, in case in your mind I become an untrustworthy bad guy over and over.”
Yan Wushi’s words were not just innocent, but spoken seriously, if you didn’t know you would have assumed he was the one subjected to Shen Qiao’s uncouth desires.
Shen Qiao was somewhat speechless, after a while he remembered what had happened earlier: “Then the words you spoke earlier to purposefully mislead the manager, what happened then to treating each other with respect?”
Yan Wushi, even more innocently: “Where did I mislead? The entire time I only said two things, you also heard it, we are not brothers, is this sentence incorrect, does A-Qiao want to become my brother? The second sentence you’re still mad is deﬁnitely not incorrect, it was the manager’s own misunderstanding, I am not at fault.” Shen Qiao when it came to verbal sparring with him already had learned his lesson, hearing this felt no energy to refute.
Yan Wushi smiled: “What you asked for, I’ve done it all, how come you’re still unsatisﬁed?”
A pause, then he began again softly: “A-Qiao, this venerable one in this life looks favourably upon very few, those I’m willing to give way for, none, you are the only exception.”
Ensconced in the softness was steel, these sweet words carried a certain force, how was one supposed to react?
Shen Qiao furrowed his brows: “I would rather not have this particularity.”
That’s not up to you. Yan Wushi smiled wordlessly.
Shen Qiao thought some more, then said seriously: “Yan- zongzhu’s intentions are hard to gauge, unfathomable to others, I even more so, with my ordinary qualities, what part can draw Yan-zongzhu’s regard? Since we are going to speak openly today, can Yan-zongzhu please tell me the truth?”
Yan Wushi: “A-Qiao, you have many strengths, I could talk about it for three days and three nights and still have more to say.”
He had opened with a joke, seeing the other silent, smiled again: “Your kindness alone, there’s no one in the world that can compare.”
Shen Qiao, gloomily: “I didn’t know when kindness had become a strength, I just remember Yan-zongzhu always disapproved of soft-hearted, merciful people.”
Yan Wushi laughed contentedly: “Isn’t that why they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” Fine, after all this, he was duped again, Shen Qiao realized that he would get no answer from his words.
He felt more and more that the other’s intentions were a passing storm, Shen Qiao was faced with two choices: he could wait until Yan Wushi’s interest in him waned, stopped his antics, then he’d ﬁnally get some peace and quiet; or he could wait until his wugong surpassed Yan Wushi’s, beat up the other mercilessly, afterwards Yan Wushi would never dare annoy him again.
Their food and drink arrived, they each picked up their chopsticks, and said no more.
Halfway through the meal, Yan Wushi drank a sip of wine, smiled: “To like a person, does there have to be a reason, when you dislike someone, seeing them you are already disgusted, but you don’t know why, isn’t it the same thing? You can’t on account of me liking to tease you, say that my intentions are fake, how would I be able to bear it?”
This almost sounded partially sincere, but in reality it was all illogical, Shen Qiao thought, to have a honest conversation with this person, why was it so hard?
He turned the words he wanted to say in his mind several times, was about to speak when there was a small commotion at the other table, lifting his head he saw Yan Wushi spit out a mouthful of blood.
Shen Qiao’s expression changed, forgetting everything else, he rushed to his side to support him: “How are you doing, was there poison in the wine?!”
Since Shen Qiao hadn’t touched the wine, so quickly jumped to that conclusion.
Thinking back to his own experience being poisoned by xiangjianhuan, immediately his face looked worse than Yan Wushi’s. Only for Yan Wushi to suddenly laugh, and press him into his embrace: “You do care about me, A-Qiao you really don’t say what you mean!”
Shen Qiao glared: “You, you haven’t been poisoned?”
Yan Wushi wiped away the blood at the corner of his lips: “I just accidentally scraped my lip, maybe got too worked up.”
Getting too worked up can make you spit blood? Go tell it to the ghosts!
Ever since Yan Wushi tricked him with pretend spitting blood, until they entered Chang’an walked into Sui-guogong Manor, Shen Qiao did not speak another sentence to Yan Wushi.
In his mind, he had connected this person to the word “treacherous”, his plots more numerous than wasp nests, even if he were to use all of his skills he couldn’t outplot him, therefore silence was golden, saying nothing, no matter what Yan Wushi said, Shen Qiao would “en” or “oh”, he’d leave no openings.
Yan Wushi also realized he had overdone it, although he had forced out Shen Qiao’s reaction under those circumstances, but people have their pride, even for someone well-tempered like Shen Qiao, if you don’t leave them any face, can they still grin and bear it, it would be normal to get angry, if they weren’t angry it would make less sense.
Chang’an was her usual colours, its tall city walls, imposing façades, a thousand permutations within herself, no wonder she was an imperial capital, her grand spirit alone, Shen Qiao had not seen the likes of it in the southern capital Jiankang City.
Jiankang City had been the imperial capital for several dynasties, since the Three Kingdoms when Sun, Wu built their capital there, the palace walls were three layers in and three layers out, the south had Qinhuai, the north had Houhu, back when Yan Wushi had undertaken Yuwen Yong’s request to escort Zhou’s ambassadors to the southern dynasty, Shen Qiao had spent time in Jiankang, to compare the two, Jiankang had more charm and flourish, but several parts less gravitas. The saying goes imperial energy decides the capital, where the emperor breathes, a dynasty is born, although this sounds like something one might hear from a swindling fortuneteller, it had its own logic, Daoists did not cultivate the yin yang arts, so although cursory, Shen Qiao did have some ability when it came to observing energies, that day observing Yuwen Yong’s energy, he had the impression he would not live a long life, today comparing Jiankang and Chang’an, he had the impression that the former had several parts less imperial energy, losing to Chang’an by a margin, and this margin, may well decide a dynasty’s destiny.
These superstitious ramblings, enough to think them to yourself, even if the emperor was a believer, there haven’t been many emperors willing to move capitals for this reason.
In the end, a dynasty’s fortune: timing, geography, people, all crucial, Zhou dynasty having lost Yuwen Yong, even if it attained the most favourable hand from heaven and earth, what would be the use? No more than chrysanthemums marking the past.
“Why does A-Qiao look so deep in thought?” Beside him Yan Wushi’s voice broke his reverie.
Shen Qiao did not want to deal with him at all, and pretended not to hear.
Like encountering a metal nail, Yan Wushi was still was able to smile, not a hint of displeasure, he followed behind as they entered the city.
The day that Shen Qiao fought his way out of the barricades with Yuwen Song had left a strong impression, at this moment even his outfit was unaltered, still in the green-blue Daoist robes, a sword on his back, his face was also one that didn’t blend into crowds, even the sentries recognized him right away, they watched wide-eyed as he walked straight through the main gates, no one had the courage to approach or question him.
Most people will admire someone with true ability, Shen Qiao’s performance on that day was truly brilliant, even the lowest level soldier, participating in the ambush of Shen Qiao and Yuwen Song, in the bottom of their hearts towards this person who carried the Yuwen family orphan away against a wall of archers and numerous martial masters, respected this Daoist, despite later hearing the emperor fly into a rage when he learned he hadn’t killed his uncle’s entire family, his cousin becoming the fish that burst from the net, but in their private conversations, who wouldn’t give Shen Qiao a thumbs-up, the battle in front of the city gates that day, had long been spun into folktales and performed in the city, residents might not know of the number one martial artist in the world Qi Fengge, but they definitely knew about the righteous, powerful Shen-daozhang.
But Chang’an was Chang’an, since they entering the city, the two of them drew the attention of numerous pairs of ears and eyes, Yan Wushi didn’t care much, and didn’t caution Shen Qiao, he brought him directly to shaoshi manor.
Huanyue Sect was diminished, but Yan Wushi was not a wanted criminal, Shen Qiao had escaped with Yuwen Song, but afterwards Yuwen Yun decided that a mere seven year old couldn’t pose much threat, moreover he spent his days in pleasure, didn’t care for much else, and was too lazy to pursue the matter further, so when these two entered the city, although they attracted attention, no one tried to stop them, first there was no good reason, second, even if they wanted to, they weren’t capable of doing so.
Since the ascension of the new emperor, shaoshi manor had been seized and sealed, a lock put on its doors, the notice plastered over, Yan Wushi pulled at it without great force, never mind the notice, even the thick metal chains crumpled to the floor, he pushed the doors open and went inside, watching this kind of total disregard for official regulations made Shen Qiao who stood behind him grimace.
Was he so set on supporting Puliuru Jian, that even in broad daylight he didn’t hold back?
Shen Qiao wanted to ask, opened his mouth, resisted.
Yan Wushi didn’t turn around, but as if he had eyes on the back of his head, volunteered: “This iteration of shijiandahui, Hehuan Sect went to make trouble for Chunyangguan, in the aftermath of that chaos, Sang Jingxing and Yuan Xiuxiu are certainly injured, they can’t have rushed back so quickly, the remaining ants aren’t worth considering, to say who else has my regard, Chang’an currently only has Xueting, that old bald donkey has to retain the orthodoxy of the Buddhist sects, he won’t be willing to plot espionage behind-the-scenes. As for Yuwen Yun, when he was crown prince, I taught him, he knows not to annoy me, and is totally focused on his pleasure and leisure, unless he can be totally sure, he will not act prematurely, even if someone were to report this to him, he can only open one eye and shut the other.”
Shen Qiao frowned, it looked like Yuwen Yun was not completely incapable, after all after his ascension he had managed to kill off all of his uncles’ families, though this kind of strategy really was disheartening.
As if Yan Wushi sensed his thoughts a second time, he said: “Yuwen Yun values the Buddhist sects, and also pulled Hehuan Sect into it, clearly he doesn’t want to see the Buddhist sects grow unhindered, when it comes to managing his subjects, decentralizing power, he does have some talent, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to pretend for so many years in front of Yuwen Yong and not be deposed, but that is the extent of his ability, if Yuwen Yong had listened to me back then and made Yuwen Xian his successor, the Zhou dynasty could have had at least another three generations of peace.”
Shen Qiao didn’t expect Yan Wushi to have made this kind of suggestion to Yuwen Yong, no wonder Yuwen Yun as soon as he ascended moved against Huanyue Sect, he probably hated Yan Wushi. Unfortunately this emperor did not use his smarts on proper matters, and continued to act wantonly.
As things stood, the north had Tujue, the south had its dynasty, even the current territory of the north was conquered by its previous emperor, any normal emperor, even if they didn’t wish to unify the country, would not be able to do such a thing as pass on their throne to their son, and make himself taishanghuang, when Shen Qiao was in Xining Town, he had heard rumours that the emperor was excitedly building imperial gardens, making a scene with his concubines in tow, if Yuwen Yong in the afterlife knew how his son trampled on his decades of night-and-day toil, he probably could rage back to life.
Yan Wushi said further: “Although Yuwen Xian was pliable, he had skill leading troops, even if he couldn’t fulfill Yuwen Yong’s ambition, he wouldn’t bring the family enterprise to its knees, too bad in the end Yuwen Yong couldn’t shake the shackles of normativity, insisting that his son inherit the throne, his vision was too narrow and short-sighted, he toiled his entire life, was killed by his son, efforts amounting to nothing, his self-fashioned fate met him in the end!”
He paid the previous emperor no more respect than anyone else, the criticisms spouted as he opened his mouth, if it were anyone else they would have long been frightened to death, but Shen Qiao couldn’t help secretly rolling his eyes once, he thought: weren’t you the one outside the Tuyuhun capital ambushed by grandmasters that your skull was broken open, only barely avoided death, saying Yuwen Yong was short-sighted, and you’re so much better?
Yan Wushi didn’t look back, in a teasing tone: “A-Qiao, I didn’t expect you as a man of integrity to have learned to not speak directly, but curse people behind their backs, this isn’t a good habit!”
Shen Qiao knew he was provoking him into saying something, so instead he shut his mouth tightly like a clam.
In the interim, the two of them had passed the central hall, and arrived in the back gardens.
Shen Qiao didn’t know why he was brought here, but looking at the surrounding greenery and furnishings, they were not on account of their owner’s absence overgrown or dustcovered, instead they appeared orderly and well-attended to, someone had been taking care of things, but the notice and the lock on the front door had been left intact, the whole affair required more thinking over.
Yan Wushi pushed open the doors to a side room, inside it was not empty, several people were already seated.
Seeing the two arrive, they got up to greet them, the one in the middle stepped forward, folded his hands in respect: “I heard Yan-zongzhu has experienced much difficulty recently, unfortunately I am not a jianghu person, unable to assist in any way, I’m glad to see that you are well, now my worries are appeased.”
Turning to Shen Qiao: “Shen-daozun, your flying colours from that day, I find hard to forget to this day, even more so for Chang’an residents, they take great delight in discussing it, seeing you today, you appear even more charismatic than before!”
This was an old acquaintance, Shen Qiao wouldn’t have not recognized him, Yan Wushi had mentioned it previously so he was prepared, at this moment he also folded his hands in a gesture of respect and said: “Sui-guogong is too kind, I heard that when I was leaving the capital with Qi-lang, I was lucky to receive your behind-the-scenes assistance, which resulted in our safe departure, on this matter this poor one has yet to thank Sui-guogong.”
Puliuru Jian laughed: “It was no hardship, no need to dwell on it!”
He introduced to Shen Qiao the person that accompanied him: “This is inner court official Zheng Ze.”
The last person did not need introductions, he was a familiar face— Yan Wushi’s eldest disciple Bian Yanmei. Earlier when Yan Wushi had walked in, he had already paid his respects, now seeing Shen Qiao’s gaze fall on him, he also smiled and folded his hands in respect.
With Yan Wushi’s pride, unexpectedly he did not posture with Puliuru Jian, instead he said very amiably: “While I was out I received da-lang’s letter, that you had run into some troubles.”
Everyone took their seats, Puliuru Jian smiled bitterly: “Yes, definitely some trouble, I’ve thought long and hard but haven’t come up with anything, so I can only humbly make this request of Yan-zongzhu.”
Yuwen Yun was not adept at managing the affairs of the state, but when it came to political games he was like an old stovefire turned green, since killing his uncles he turned his attention to his other subjects, the first target was his father-in-law, Sui-guogong Puliuru Jian.
Puliuru Jian was not Yuwen Xian, had no desire to sit and wait for his death, or maybe he already had plans to revolt, seeing Yuwen Yun this kind of emperor, could not wholeheartedly be a willing subject, so while he kept up appearances, in truth he had long made preparations secretly, first was establishing troops — trying to reclaim Yuwen Xian’s previous holdings— after Yuwen Xian’s death, the people previously loyal to him were subject to violent suppression, were in various stages of desperation, seeing Puliuru Jian’s extended olive branch, naturally accepted. With his time in court, many officials were also inclined towards him, some were in his core group, Zheng Ze was one of them.
But Yuwen Yun wasn’t entirely clueless, Puliuru Jian’s daughter was Yuwen Yun’s empress, Yuwen Yong couldn’t find anything concrete upfront about Puliuru Jian, his attitude towards his empress worsened everyday, frequently hurling invective, several times threatening death, it was only by the grace of Puliuru Jian’s wife Dugu-shi entering the palace to beg for mercy, that her life was spared.
Puliuru Jian said: “A couple of days ago, it was the empress’ birthday, the emperor had no intention of holding a large celebration, just gifted several things, and permitted my wife to enter the palace for a visit, on account of a message from the palace saying that the empress wanted to see her brothers, my wife brought my first and second son with her into the palace to celebrate, who knew that after meeting the empress, an excuse was made to force my wife to leave, when she returned she was told that the empress had missed her brothers and intended to have them stay for a meal, my wife requested an audience but was declined, she bitterly begged the emperor, and was chased out of the palace, since then, I have not seen the empress or my sons, I’ve tried every route, the emperor is not willing to let them go, I don’t know if they are alive or dead.”
To say it another way, Puliuru Jian’s two sons and one daughter were being held hostage by Yuwen Yun.
Puliuru Jian had five sons, the eldest, the one who had been brought into the palace, was not yet nine years old.
He stopped here, his face distraught, his devotion to his children was evident: “I tried everything, flattery, begging, the emperor isn’t willing to release them, he insists that my sons want to stay in the palace to keep the empress company, Xueting-chanshi overesees things in the palace, martial masters everywhere, to use brute force, I cannot guarantee the safety of my children, I didn’t think Yuwen Yun would resort to this strategy, I do not know what else to do, can only make this request of Yan-zongzhu!”
Inside it was so quiet one could hear a pin drop, Yan Wushi smiled, slowly and with every reason he said: “I’ll say something you won’t like, Sui-guogong is fully prepared, just waiting for the east wind, even if you lost two sons, you’d still have three left, in truth it doesn’t affect the grand scheme of things, as long as you stand your ground, Yuwen Yun cannot use this to threaten you.”
This was very much within the Yan Wushi style of callousness and detachment. The meaning being, throughout history the great ﬁgures can leave behind parents, disregard brothers, nevermind their children, Puliuru Jian had more than these two sons anyway, under his knee there were three more, moreover Puliuru Jian was in his peak, having a couple more children wouldn’t be too hard, there was no need to have his hands and feet tied on account of his two sons in Yuwen Yun’s control, what he needed to accomplish he should still go ahead.
Towards this opinion, although Shen Qiao didn’t agree, he wasn’t the least surprised. As far as his understanding of Yan Wushi goes, the other was indeed this kind of person, in contrast the Yan Wushi of the past few months and his attitude towards him, that was what was unusual.
Of the people present, besides Shen Qiao, there was also Zheng Ze and Bian Yanmei. Bian Yanmei was Yan Wushi’s disciple, someone from the demonic sects, his manner of doing things was also unconventional, he wouldn’t ﬁnd this opinion that out of place, Zhang Ze could be taken into full conﬁdence by Puliuru Jian, naturally he was no kind soul, although he didn’t speak, he expressed his agreement with Yan Wushi.
Puliuru Jian smiled bitterly: “The saying goes that to accomplish great things one must not ruminate over small details, but of my own ﬂesh, how could I bare to cut it oﬀ? Emperor Gaozu of Han asked Xiang Yu for a portion of the porridge he had threatened to make with his father’s ﬂesh, I would not be able to do that kind of thing, if I can abandon even my own children, I bet I would also lose Yan-zongzhu’s respect.”
This was said extraordinarily well, clearly he was the one asking Yan-zongzhu for help rescuing his children, but gave the impression of someone trustworthy and responsible. To be emperor, someone soft-hearted and pliable like Yuwen Xian wouldn’t be able to accomplish great things, but someone like Emperor Gou Jian of Yue who boils the hound that caught the rabbit wouldn’t be particularly encouraging, Puliuru Jian was feeding them a mind relaxant, indicating that in the future he would not forget their favour.
Shen Qiao kind of understood now why Yan Wushi aligned with Puliuru Jian.
Yan Wushi smiled, said no more on the subject of rescue or no rescue, asked frankly: “Are you sure that they are still alive in the palace?”
Puliuru Jian realized that Yan Wushi had agreed to the rescue, rushed to focus on the task at hand: “Yes, this was conﬁrmed, the empress had a messenger risk their life to deliver the letter, it said my sons were detained in the empress’ residence, the empress is also held there, it’s been more than ten days, the emperor’s intention is to use them as leverage, to hinder my plans.”
To revolt was not like eating a meal or drinking water, although Puliuru Jian had set up various preparations, in the end he was still undecided, the emperor now forcing his hand, instead became his resolve, as long as his children were safe, he certainly would immediately follow through on the coup.
Yan Wushi: “Once we get your children out, you need to be prepared to confront Yuwen Yun, the palace has Buddhist sect members overseeing things, as well as the presence of Hehuan Sect members, even if they can’t beat me, directly breaking the pot, killing your children would not be too hard.”
Puliuru Jian sighed: “Yes, I have thought about this outcome, my heart is unsettled, does Yan-zongzhu have an idea?”
Yan Wushi paused for a moment, then said: “Yuwen Yun has not released them, but has kept up appearances with you, you should use the excuse of sending something to your children to enter the palace, use the opportunity for rescue, there’s only this way.”
Bian Yanmei very perceptively continued: “This disciple willingly receives this task, shizun, this disciple can use a disguise to muddle my way into the palace, use the chance to get them out.”
Unexpectedly, Yan Wushi rejected the proposal at once: “Your wugong is still lacking, if you get into a match with Xueting you will surely die.”
Bian Yanmei touched his nose, and shut up.
Yan Wushi: “My height and form attracts too much attention, I’ve also never practiced bone retraction technique, even if my disguise is passable, bystanders look past it, but Xueting that old bald donkey would see through it immediately, not the intended outcome, if we want to rescue them, we need someone with strong wugong, that can also adapt to an evolving situation, and when the time comes can ﬁnd me outside the palace.”
As Puliuru Jian saw it, Bian Yanmei’s wugong was already very good, who knew Yan Wushi would say it wasn’t enough, and wanted someone stronger, to be prepared to face Xueting, surely they must be on the level of a grandmaster, but grandmasters were not cabbage, you want one you get one, nevermind that Puliuru Jian was not yet emperor, even if he was the emperor, towards this kind of person he would still have to show three parts courtesy, where was he supposed to ﬁnd someone like that on short notice?
Seeing several earnest pairs of eyes fall on him, Shen Qiao sighed, said softly: “This poor one has no talent, to be able to save a life is inﬁnitely virtuous, I’m willing to give it a try, but the paths within the palace I am not familiar with, after I enter my eyesight will be of no use, when the time comes I’m afraid I’ll not have saved anybody, but gotten lost.”
Puliuru Jian had just thought of Shen Qiao, but this was not the same as forming an alliance with Yan Wushi, he and Shen Qiao were not that deeply acquainted, the other hadn’t said anything, he couldn’t just beg with a thick face, now that Shen Qiao spoke up himself, he was naturally overjoyed: “If Shen-daozhang is willing to help, I could not ask for more, only this trip into the palace will be fraught with danger, I worry for my loved ones, but I also do not dare rashly throw Shen-daozhang into dangerous circumstances, I heard that in the fourth month on the eight day, the day of Buddha’s birth, Xueting will head to Qingliangsi in the city to pray, without him, the rest will be easier to deal with. When the time comes I will have more people at your side, ﬁrst to show you the way, second just in case, they may be able to assist.”
Bian Yanmei said: “Calibre over quantity, I can accompany Shen-daozhang into the palace, the pathways in the palace I am familiar with, then adding two more maidservants will be enough, Yuwen Yun is no fool, too many people will be suspicious.”
Shen Qiao nodded, had nothing else to add.
Both sides discussed timing and location some more, Puliuru Jian agreed to ﬁrst write a request to visit, if Yuwen Yun rejects, then under the guise of the empress’ mom Dugu-shi sending provisions enter the palace, Shen Qiao and his group planned to meet on the seventh day of the fourth month at Sui-guogong manor, don their disguise, then under Sui-guogong’s banner enter the palace, and rescue the children.
In the interim, someone had long reported to their superiors Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao’s return to shaoshi manor, their entry in complete disregard of the notice in front, so they couldn’t stay much longer at this location, ﬁnishing up business, everyone dispersed, Puliuru Jian exited via the secret passageways, back to Sui-guogong manor, Bian Yanmei brought Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao to another house in the city.
The house was not the one he had lived in previously, it was another that Shen Qiao had never set foot in before, a person in the demonic sects was like a hare with three burrows, particularly within Huanyue Sect this characteristic was demonstrated vividly, Shen Qiao suspected that Bian Yanmei had secretly bought eight or ten houses as back-up, once discovered they could abandon it and switch headquarters, back then with Yuwen Yong’s support, Huanyue Sect indeed earned not a small sum of money, even now, Huanyue Sect still had several businesses running, their operations were not as large as Liuhebang’s, but when it came to wealth and inﬂuence, Yan Wushi certainly wasn’t lacking.
Bian Yanmei by way of introduction: “This is a private residence, the nameplate out front is Li, outwardly it is a merchant’s house, Hehuan Sect people won’t be able to discover this place for now, shizun and Shen-daozhang need not worry.”
He wasn’t sure what the relationship was between Shen Qiao and his shifu, to say friends, the two of them certainly didn’t look the part, and with his shifu’s personality, even if the number one martial artist in the world wanted to be friends, he might say otherwise, nevermind Shen Qiao, Bian Yanmei still remembered, before when his shifu had kept Shen Qiao by his side, it was merely as a distraction, there had been no sentiment to speak of.
Bian Yanmei’s observation skills were much more astute than his shidi Yu Shengyan’s, it wasn’t hard for him to see Yan Wushi’s attitude towards Shen Qiao, quite altered from previous. But exactly how it was altered, he couldn’t quite say— even if he racked his brains, he wouldn’t have thought that his shifu had that kind of intention, although Shen Qiao was kind and handsome, but however you looked he didn’t look like a servant or plaything, nevermind Liuligong’s most recent rank-list, Shen Qiao was ranked within the top ten, under the heavens who dares to have untoward intentions towards a grandmaster?
Yan Wushi dares.
But Bian Yanmei absolutely did not consider this possibility of his shifu.
All things considered, since Yan Wushi regarded Shen Qiao highly, Bian Yanmei, as someone extremely slick, naturally wouldn’t disrespect him, and despite the fact that in Bian Yanmei’s dealings he had continued his shifu’s style of callousness, he did look up to Shen Qiao’s character. In the world there were so many lying, deceitful people, no shortage of hypocrites, and people who in truth couldn’t control themselves over enticement, he was a person of the jianghu, had also walked the northern courts many years, had seen every manner of person. someone like Shen Qiao, truly deserved the phrase speak and act as one, know and act as one.
As they were speaking, Sui-guogong had secretly sent a package over, intended for Shen Qiao.
Huanyue Sect had formed an alliance with Sui-guogong manor, naturally they knew about this location, in order to trade messages easily.
Shen Qiao did not know it was so, opening the bamboo cartridge, pulling out its contents, couldn’t hold back a soft exclamation.
Yan Wushi beside him also glanced over, smiling: “Puliuru Jian is an incisive, remarkable man.”
This scroll was indeed Zhu Yang Ce, one of the ﬁve scrolls, the one originally hidden in Zhou’s inner palace.
This scroll of Zhu Yang Ce, Yan Wushi had looked it over once, at the time he realized that its contents were mostly incompatible with Feng Lin Yuan Dian, so didn’t memorize it in its entirety, later when towards Shen Qiao he developed other intentions, he did recite to him what he could remember of the contents, but this was not equivalent to having the complete original delivered into your hands, now out of the ﬁve Zhu Yang Ce scrolls, with the exception of the one in Tiantai Sect, Shen Qiao knew them in their entirety.
A Zhu Yang Ce scroll was precious, but Yuwen Yun did not practice martial arts, and at the time he murdered his father, the palace experienced an upheaval, he had no spare attention to single out this item, Puliuru Jian with the convenience of his position, it was not hard for his daughter to smuggle this item out of the palace chaos, subsequently he kept the scroll, until he gave it to Shen Qiao at this time.
With this valuable gift delivered, Shen Qiao must also owe this favour, because Puliuru Jian was excellent interpersonally, he didn’t wait until the thing was done to present this gift, but sent it ahead, demonstrating that he believed in Shen Qiao’s character, that he would not go back on his word after it had been given.
Now, no matter how fraught the palace situation, Shen Qiao must make this trip, and be very willing to do so.
That’s why Yan Wushi had described Puliuru Jian as an incisive person. Shen Qiao realized: “Before when you said there’s something to be gained from meeting Puliuru Jian, was it this? You long predicted that Puliuru Jian would give me this Zhu Yang Ce scroll?”
Yan Wushi smiled: “I am not a god, how could I predict the future, but that Puliuru Jian had the scroll on hand, I did know about that, if he wants your help, at least he should demonstrate his sincerity. We can anticipate your wugong recovery, but zhuyangce’s components complement each other, if there’s portions missing it would be less than ideal, maybe there’s a crucial point somewhere, it won’t help with your cultivation, so even if this ordeal didn’t happen, I would still have gotten the scroll from him to give you.”
Shen Qiao couldn’t help but glance at him.
When Yan Wushi was good to a person, he could go to the extent of dumping the treasures of the world at the other’s feet, and tell the other frankly: I am willing to do so.
Seeing Shen Qiao’s gaze fall on him, Yan Wushi smiled gently: “A- Qiao, no need to be moved, the contents of this scroll, I’ve recited parts of it to you before, this gesture from Puliuru Jian, at most is embroidery upon the brocade, just wait until I get you something better, you can be moved then!”
Shen Qiao really wanted to fall over laughing at the brazenness of this man, he hastened to retract his gaze, wary of what kind of terrifying thing Yan Wushi will say next.
When the seventh day of the fourth month arrived, Yan Wushi, Shen Qiao, and Bian Yanmei went to Sui-guogong manor as planned.
Beforehand, Puliuru Jian had sent a pamphlet request asking permission for Dugu-shi to visit her daughter, as expected this was rejected by the emperor, Puliuru Jian then sent another request, saying that although Dugu-shi could not go in person to visit, the mother-child bond ran deep, she hoped to send some familial provisions and food to the empress, as an expression of a mother’s devotion to her children.
Perhaps the emperor did not yet wish for the malalignment between him and Sui-guogong to be too widespread in court, this time he agreed.
Puliuru Jian picked two smart and capable maidservants, who prepared to go into the palace with Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei.
Seeing the disguise he was going to wear into the palace, Shen Qiao’s face darkened, asked Yan Wushi: “Why didn’t you say I was going to have to dress as a woman?”
Yan Wushi, surprised: “Men can’t just randomly enter the palace, and the women’s quarters at that, I thought you already knew!”
Shen Qiao had no words.
He felt it was very likely that Yan Wushi was still resentful about the time he had him crossdress, but the other’s explanation was so forthright, he had no counterargument.
Things where they stood, since he had already agreed to the matter, naturally he wouldn’t go back on his word, Shen Qiao could only leave himself at the mercy of the maidservants who dressed him, and spread powder on his face.
The person doing his make-up was no ordinary maidservant, but a Huanyue Sect disciple brought by Bian Yanmei, on the subject of disguises she was highly adept.
ly Shen Qiao thought a disguise was just like what Huo Xijing did, directly placing a human face mask on your own, through some secret technique, but Bian Yanmei told him this was not the case. “Huo Xijing’s type of technique, requires a human face mask brined in numerous herbs, with additional steps to take form, it would need no less than a year to prepare, one we don’t have the time, two the speciﬁc steps I also do not know the details of, three the mask and the person’s face have to have similar contours, other speciﬁcs, if there’s even a small discrepancy, it would be easy to spot, and is not very eﬀective, so we might as well try other methods.”
One of the maidservants dressing Shen Qiao laughed: “Daozhang is already handsome and pretty, we only need a few minor modiﬁcations, to transform him into a beauty that will devastate the country and state!”
Shen Qiao, uncertain: “Men have a prominent larynx, women don’t, no matter how high the collar it won’t be able to obstruct this, someone paying attention should see the discrepancy right away, how will we hide this?”
The maidservants giggled: “Daozhang, just leave it to us.”
Beside them Bian Yanmei issued a reminder: “Don’t make Shen- daozhang too beautiful, if the emperor notices him it’ll complicate things.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
The maidservants laughed out loud: “There’s no way around that, no matter how we cover things up, we can’t hide daozhang’s natural allure, the most we can do is make the face a bit more ordinary!”
After the face and neck were done, they brought over two sets of robes usually worn by Sui-guogong maidservants for Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei to change into.
Everything was ready, Shen Qiao was uneasy, in contrast Bian Yanmei was self-assured and conﬁdent, playfully imitating the tone and posture of a maidservant, he giggled: “Shen-jiejie, aren’t I pretty?”
Shen Qiao’s mouth corner spasmed.