Yan Wushi was used to seeing beauty, but struck with the vision that was Shen Qiao in women’s clothes, he was still taken aback and found his surprise stuck in his throat.
That was his first thought.
The second thought was: I have great taste.
When it came to changing one’s appearance, there was a considerable amount of technique involved, unless you were like Huo Xijing directly swapping on another’s face, you couldn’t achieve immediate total alteration of your appearance, so in Shen Qiao’s completed transformation, his face was not dissimilar to how it appeared before, the Huanyue Sect maidservants had been skilled and attentive, they did their work in the details, softening and feminizing the contours of his face, now even someone who knew Shen Qiao from before would have a hard time recognizing him.
The attractiveness of Shen Qiao’s usual features, with the addition of make-up, could only become more extraordinary, even if Shen Qiao wore maidservants’ clothes, with not a single accessory or precious stone in his hair, still he drew attention at first glance.
Yan Wushi also noticed this problem: “Make his face more dull.”
Moments later, Shen Qiao’s face and neck were made more jaundiced and ashen, the maidservants managed to cover up his allure in part, they were very careful, they changed even the colour of his hands, in case someone picked up on the discrepancy.
Bian Yanmei and Shen Qiao were both men, they didn’t know bone retraction technique, after crossdressing their height was still there, in order not to appear too out of place, Puliuru Jian being very detail-oriented, particularly had looked for two maidservants in his manor who had similar statures, women from the north were taller on average anyway, they weren’t too hard to find, although still shorter than Bian Yanmei by half a head, after adding a shoe-lift, the difference was no longer that prominent, other people might think that these four maidservants entering the palace were all slightly on the tall side, but what was important was that they wouldn’t pay particular attention to Bian Shen these two.
After it was all arranged, it was the shichen for their entry into the palace, Shen Qiao Bian Yanmei with the task delegated to them from Sui-guogong manor, entered the palace with the other two maidservants.
Shen Qiao was not too concerned about his safety, with his wugong, as long as he didn’t face Xueting head-on, even if surrounded by palace guards, he could still escape from danger if he wanted to, but if he were to bring along Sui-guogong’s two sons, and the empress, that would be quite difficult, if there was any mishap, even if Puliuru Jian didn’t blame Shen Qiao, Shen Qiao’s self-respect will be set to running water, and he would no longer have any face to wander the jianghu.
As his thoughts reverberated in his head, he set foot in the palace, although his expression was unchanged, he had already begun calculating which path would make the quickest exit.
“Stop looking,” Bian Yanmei seemed to know what he was thinking, with his mouth closed, he used his inner qi to say: “Yuwen Yun named five empresses, although the one we are going to save is the empress consort, she is the least favoured, so her quarters are in the northwest corner, from there to where we are now, there is a long distance to walk.”
Shen Qiao also used his qi to reply: “Aren’t there four sets of gates into the palace, why don’t we use the northern gates to exit?”
Bian Yanmei: “The northern gates are not in use, the palace walls are high, even if we can jump over them, to bring along two three more people will really impede us, Yuwen Yun’s people also have teeth, at that time as long as the archers let loose their barrage, while the others surround us, it will be difficult for us to escape.”
Shen Qiao furrowed his brow.
Before their departure, the plan had been set: Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei after seeing the empress will draw the guards at the door in and put them down, then they will leave together with the empress and Puliuru Jian’s two sons, if along their route they can avoid the various martial masters and guards meandering the perimeter, at the gates Puliuru Jian’s people will be waiting, they would be safe then.
Without hostages, Puliuru Jian can start his uprising, Xueting was currently in Qingliangsi, where Yan Wushi could confront him, Sang Jingxing and Yuan Xiuxiu were not in the capital, Hehuan Sect was like a headless dragon, truly a heaven-sent opportunity, Puliuru Jian had also liaised with the capital military, if this attempt was successful, then a new sovereign stands, a new horizon emerges.
The plan could be perfect, but reality was much more vexing, even the most elaborate plans have holes, keeping in mind how rushed this whole ordeal was, with its numerous variables, whether or not it would succeed, only the heavens knew.
Of course, even if Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei weren’t able to rescue anyone, they would have startled Yuwen Yun, by then Puliuru Jian will be forced to revolt anyways, but this outcome would not be the one they intended.
But things were already set in motion, overprudence was not helpful, Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei followed the two maidservants, crossing hall after hall, step by step they headed towards Qingningdian, where Puliuru-shi resided.
The inner court eunuch that had led them to the entrance of Qingningdian, his old face smiled strangely: “The empress is inside, before you enter, please open the goods you brought with you, the guards need to do their inspection.”
In truth they had already been inspected at the main gates to the palace, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to enter at all, but the emperor detested Puliuru-shi, those in the palace with eyes also took the opportunity to follow-up with a rock down the well, wherever there was life there would be people who flatter the strong and step on the weak, it was not news to anybody.
The two maidservants had been to the palace with Dugu-shi before, seeing this they stepped forward, and pushed a heavy embroidered bag into the eunuch’s hands: “A small token, for your pleasure, please don’t mind the small amount.”
The eunuch traced the amount through the fabric, it wasn’t silver, but jade ornaments that were more valuable than silver, his smile turned more genuine, he didn’t call the guards for inspection: “The empress must be waiting, you should hurry in, after speaking come back out, don’t stay long.”
The maidservants made a sound of acknowledgement, thanked the eunuch, and brought Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei inside.
The empress had received word that the emperor had given permission for people from her family to enter the palace to visit, she had long been sitting and waiting with her two brothers in the main hall.
Logically, the empress as the head of the six palaces, wouldn’t need the emperor’s acknowledgement to receive visitors in the palace from her family, but after the founding of the Jin dynasty, rites and customs went into disarray, muddled regulations, now reaching the time of Yuwen Yun’s rule, he definitely adopted a novel approach, simultaneously naming five empresses, although Puliuru-shi had seniority, there was no historical precedent, even Liu Cong himself had only named four empresses, Yuwen Yun was truly irreplicable, Puliuru-shi came from an esteemed family, even if she didn’t show it, in her heart she would’ve felt felt the humiliation.
After so many days of detainment, seeing someone from her family arrive, her eyes turned red-rimmed immediately.
A maidservant gave her greetings: “Zhugong and zhumu have been missing the empress and two langjun dearly, they’ve prepared these clothes and foods, and instructed us to enter the palace to present them to you.”
As she said this, she made a hand gesture.
The empress understood at once, drew them in to one of the side rooms.
“There are guards outside, speaking here they won’t be able to hear, it’s safe enough, a-die a-niang must have a message they wanted you to pass on?”
The maidservants didn’t say anything, turned to the people behind them.
The empress had seen them earlier with their heads bowed, similarly attired, and hadn’t paid them much attention, now looking at them again, she felt something was amiss.
Her family didn’t have maidservants that were so tall? They appeared a whole head taller than even the maidservants in her own residence.
“And you are…?”
Bian Yanmei had no intention of wasting his breath, he succinctly introduced himself and Shen Qiao, and then summarized the rescue plan.
The empress appeared torn: “This is too dangerous, you may not know, Xueting may have left the palace, but his disciples remain to keep counsel with the emperor, there’s also Hehuan Sect people here, the entire way you have to bring us along with you, I’m afraid it’s beyond what you two can achieve, even a small error will sink the whole enterprise.”
She was not a jianghu person, had spent so many married years in the palace, even if she had heard of Huanyue Sect and Xuandushan, she had no way of knowing how strong Shen Qiao’s wugong was.
Bian Yanmei had no time to converse further: “We are acting on Sui-guogong’s request, if we didn’t have some margin of confidence, we wouldn’t gone to such risky lengths.”
Puliuru-shi hesitated: “But these maidservants of mine have always stuck with me through hardship, if we leave like this, they’ll surely be punished…”
Bian Yanmei: “I hear that your relationship with Empress Zhu is very good, after we leave, your maidservants can head to Empress Zhu’s residence and hide out there for a while, the emperor’s attention will be on us, he won’t remember to chase after those maidservants.”
The empress’ two brothers had recognized Bian Yanmei, and had walked up to him, Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei each picked up one, the empress seeing this said no more, hurried after them.
But just at this moment, the empress’ personal maidservant rushed in, panicking: “Bad news, dianxia, the emperor is coming this way with his people!”
The emperor rarely ventured this way, a once-in-a-thousand year phenomenon, the empress froze.
Yuwen Yun coming now, there would certainly be Hehuan Sect and Buddhist martial masters accompanying him, it would not be easy for Shen Qiao and them to still make an exit.
Bian Yanmei and Shen Qiao looked at each other, couldn’t help but adapt accordingly.
The empress only had time to tell her brothers to not say anything before Yuwen Yun arrived with his people.
Yuwen Yun had an odd personality, this oddness may have stemmed from the length of time he spent under the previous emperor’s thumb, in the sudden freedom he may have jumped to the other extreme, otherwise there was no explanation. The empress Puliuru-shi had a very kind personality, was fair in her dealings, towards those concubines abused by Yuwen Yun, those she could help she always extended a hand, people in the palace generally liked her, when Yuwen Yun insulted and raged at her she endured it silently, every difficulty she met with equanimity, but even someone like this, could not bear Yuwen Yun’s tempestuous turns, one can see the extent of the rot of this emperor’s personality, with what happened to Yuwen Xian and others as precedents, even if Puliuru Jian had no original intent to revolt, with time he had been forced to rise in revolution.
For the purpose of maximizing pleasure and minimizing criticism from his officials, Yuwen Yun had left the throne to his son Yuwen Chan, he didn’t take on the role of taishanghuang, instead he named himself Tianyuan Emperor, for the Zhou court officials, they had never seen such a thing, they didn’t discuss it openly, but in their hearts they thought it preposterous.
Typically Yuwen Yun very rarely came to see the empress, the only purpose would be to abuse her to quell his rage, today he was strangely enough in a good mood, he was even smiling, a face carrying the spring wind.
The empress greeted him outside the doors, Yuwen Yun held her hand and led her back inside, even asked her two brothers: “Little brother-in-laws, how is your time so far in the palace?”
Puliuru Jian’s eldest son faltered, while the younger was a bit more nimble, he pulled his older brother with him to pay their respects: “Thank you your majesty for you attention, we are both doing well.”
Yuwen Yun smiled and said: “Sui-guogong sent you what kind of goods today?”
Saying this, his gaze fell on Shen Qiao and his group.
The empress: “It’s a bunch of food and clothing, not worth a mention.”
Yuwen Yun: “The palace lacks for nothing, your father does too many unnecessary things, he even requested a special delivery into the palace, does he feel that I treat you poorly here?”
The empress rushed to reply: “Your majesty speaks seriously, it’s only because my two brothers are here with me in the palace, they’re young and haven’t spent any time away from home, my parents spoil them, please do not blame them.”
“Why are you so worried, I haven’t said no, if that were the case, they wouldn’t have been able to enter the palace!” Yunwen Yun chuckled, to Shen Qiao he said: “You, raise your head.”
Shen Qiao could not pretend he hadn’t heard.
Yuwen Yun: “Just now I felt your face wasn’t too bad, although your complexion is rather dull, if we were to feed you well, perhaps it’ll improve!”
Shen Qiao could not have predicted Bian Yanmei’s crow mouth, one sentence becoming prophecy, the emperor was making advances towards him!
Thinking this, he didn’t dare say anything, he feigned alarm, took a step back, and bowed his head again.
The empress stepped forward, towards the emperor she softly said: “Your majesty has not been here in a long time, I’ve missed you on my days and nights, it’s not easy to have a chance to be in your presence, I’m very happy, would I be able to keep your majesty’s company over dinner?”
One moment Yuwen Yun’s face was smiling, the next moment his face darkened: “What piece of shit are you to dare request my company, I’m disgusted everytime I see you, who knows if you’ll poison my food!”
The emperor’s tempestuous turns, Shen Qiao finally was able to see in person today, Yan Wushi was also temperamental, but completely not in this vein.
Yan Wushi, others can describe as having dominant wugong, unparalleled arrogance, but for Yuwen Yun what was there to say, if not for his position, he’d likely be hacked to death by various knives.
Hearing these words, the empress’ face drained of colour, she fell to her knees begging for forgiveness.
At this moment, Bian Yanmei suddenly moved.
His body in an arc as he leapt towards Yuwen Yun, like thunder striking before one could cover one’s ears!
Yuwen Yong naturally was escorted by a cluster of martial masters, there were several monks from the Buddhist sects, as well several men and women from Hehuan Sect, Yuwen Yun probably knew he was widely detested, so all twelve shichen in a day he was never alone, if Xueting was not at Qingliangsi praying for fortune on behalf of the royal family today, he would not have tolerated even one moment of Xueting-chanshi’s absence.
Bian Yanmei was deliberate in his calculations, although the martial masters escorting Yuwen Yun were high in number, there wasn’t anyone exceptional, nevermind at the grandmaster level, Xueting, Sang Jingxing, Yuan Xiuxiu were all absent, to capture thieves capture their king, as long as he could capture Yuwen Yun, with him in hand, they could walk out of here casually with the siblings.
Just now, he and Shen Qiao had come to a tacit understanding, he was responsible for grabbing Yuwen Yun, Shen Qiao was responsible for the rest of the emperor’s people, blocking them from interfering with Bian Yanmei.
In that instant, when Bian Yanmei revealed himself, someone beside Yuwen Yun moved as fast as he had, his form flashed in front of Yuwen Yun, his palm raised, the air rising, along with currents of zhengqi, domineering in strength, boundless, unforeseeable.
The person originally had a full beard covering most of his face, but as soon as he moved, his hair billowed, and Shen Qiao recognized the other’s true identity.
He didn’t go to Qingliangsi at all, but was by Yuwen Yun’s side this whole time!
It was possible he expected that on the eighth day of the fourth month during his absence, Puliuru Jian would seize the opportunity to make his move, so he counterplotted, to draw the snake out of its cave, to let Puliuru Jian’s efforts fall to ruin.
At the same time, the other masters escorting Yuwen Yun moved in Shen Qiao’s direction.
Although Yunwen Yun had been prepared, he was still frightened into retreating several steps, he hollered for his guards outside: “Kill them, kill them, kill them all!”
Besides Xueting, among Yuwen Yun’s escort there was no one else that stood out, Shen Qiao ushered the empress and her brothers into an inner hall, he as their lone guard, not even ten thousand could pass, to stop everyone here was within his ability.
But on Bian Yanmei’s end, he definitely was no match for Xueting, if Bian Yanmei fell, and Shen Qiao had to come deal with Xueting, no one would be left to guard the children.
This is also what Xueting-chanshi thought.
When he struck out with his palm, his expression changed slightly, as he realized how wrong he was!
Xueting was no fool, he also predicted that on the eighth day of the fourth month, Puliuru Jian’s faction might take advantage of his absence from the palace to make their move, so on one hand he had someone take on his appearance and go to Qingliangsi, for himself he made slight adjustments to his face, but remained by Yuwen Yun.
His theory proved to be correct, whether Puliuru Jian wanted to revolt or rescue his children, as long as he guarded Yuwen Yun, like a steel wall, idle persons could not approach Yuwen Yun, and as long as Yuwen Yun was still alive, Zhou would persist, everything else was secondary.
When Bian Yanmei moved, Xueting’s reaction was very fast, his attention had long lingered on this person, as a maidservant they were a bit too tall, when the other reached towards Yuwen Yun, he also reached out a hand, but as soon as he moved, he realized he had neglected a person.
Not Shen Qiao.
The group entering the palace had four maidservants, two of them were Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei in disguise, one was selected by Puliuru Jian, a real maideservant clever enough to carry herself in big scenes, but what about the last person?
The remaining person, her face was extremely ordinary, entering the palace she had said nothing, holding the parcel in both hands, when Bian Yanmei was speaking with the empress, she was half- shadow, her sense of presence was meagre at best.
Even the emperor’s spies stationed outside of Sui-guogong manor had been tricked. The one attacking Xueting was “her”!
Xueting and “her” were longtime rivals, as soon as they exchanged moves, how could they not know who each other were, he had slammed a palm towards Bian Yanmei, but when had to move against that extremely ordinary maidservant, he exclaimed: “Yan Wushi!”
He didn’t realize that the terror of Yan Wushi’s name was so entrenched in other’s minds, the people beside him as they heard those three words, all startled, even their movements slowed.
That maidservant laughed, it really was Yan Wushi’s voice: “Old bald donkey, this outﬁt of yours is quite refreshing, were you overstretching your neck waiting for this venerable one, when you’re this eager, this venerable one can only act as you wish, and meet up with you here!”
Along with these words, there was the abrasive sound ka ka, the limbs of “the maidservant” in the interim had lengthened, the maidservant outﬁt was suddenly a little tight.
Clearly, when Yan Wushi said earlier he didn’t know a bone retraction technique, that was a complete lie, not only did he know, he was well-versed in its practice, someone who was arrogant like him, even if practicing some side-branch technique, he would have to attain a level of proﬁciency where others simply could not compare.
As for his face, he did not resort to plucking his eyebrows, putting on powders, etc. like Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei, but used an actual human face mask. That human skin was from the incident where after Shen Qiao had killed Huo Xijing, Yan Wushi with his “must take advantage where available” logic, had purloined it off the body, he had originally intended Shen Qiao to use it, but Shen Qiao had adamantly refused, so with great regret he wore it on his own face, that and the addition of bone retraction technique, he had become another person entirely, not a single person had recognized him. With Yan Wushi blocking Xueting’s path, Bian Yanmei made for Yuwen Yun, but the others beside him were quick to respond, Xueting’s two disciples, Liansheng Lianmie came into the foray, someone realized that Shen Qiao’s group intended to rescue, and so made a grab for the empress and her brothers, wanting to hold them hostage, and then threaten Shen Qiao’s group into submission.
These people all thought Shen Qiao was a soft persimmon, Shen Qiao would naturally reteach them how to be a person, even if he hadn’t brought shanhetongbei into the palace, it was no impediment, he fought back ﬁve at once, blocking the sole path into the inner hall, no one should dare approach.
But these were ﬁve martial masters, among them were people from Hehuan Sect, and some were Xueting’s underlings, their wugong would be considered ﬁrst class in the jianghu, they would not be easily dealt with, they had spent a long time by the emperor’s side, and had learned many underhanded tricks, they had no qualms about using poison, hidden weapons, although despicable, Shen Qiao wouldn’t succumb to these tactics, but he was delayed, for the moment it was impossible to beat them all down at once.
No wonder Xueting was a seasoned grandmaster, even if Yuan Zixiao ranked him behind Yan Wushi, he still had deep reserves of strength, for someone who had attained his level of wugong, their cultivation has long since been integrated, Yan Wushi wanting to subdue him in one move was highly unlikely, both of them could only look for openings while they exchanged moves.
Seeing Bian Yanmei’s intention to capture Yuwen Yun thwarted by Liansheng and Lianmie, both sides were disciples of grandmasters, as well Liansheng Lianmie could work together, Bian Yanmei momentarily was stuck with them, Shen Qiao considered the circumstances and made a decision.
He did not stand guard in front of the inner hall, but shot towards Yuwen Yun who was just about to sneak away. By now the commotion had drawn the guards outside, these people burst in with their weapons, but was leveled by Bian Yanmei’s palm gust, a fair number exited this way.
Yuwen Yun was preposterous in his dealings, but he still cherished his life, seeing the ﬁghting erupt, and Xueting unable to stand guard at his side, he ran-fell towards the exit, he didn’t expect Shen Qiao to catch up from behind, one step and he was in the air, lunging towards him.
His shadow was already directly above him, with Shen Qiao’s skill, Yuwen Yun only had time to make a half-startled gasp, before he was ﬁrmly in Shen Qiao’s hands.
Shen Qiao blandly said one sentence to Yuwen Yun: “Your majesty, tell them to stop.”
Yuwen Yun howled: “Stop, stop all of you!”
The ﬁve masters that had originally cornered Shen Qiao, seeing Shen Qiao leave them behind for the emperor, fell into two factions, three of them lunged towards Shen Qiao, the other two burst into the inner hall to grab the empress and her brothers.
The three that lunged towards Shen Qiao were too slow, no matter how fast their steps were, they could not be discussed in the same conversation as Xuandushan’s “tiankuohongying”, they could only watch as the emperor was taken hostage.
On Bian Yanmei’s side, things came to a standstill with Liansheng and Liangmie.
Yan Wushi and Xueting were engrossed in their ﬁght, they’d taken their ﬁght from the inside to the outside, under threat of two grandmasters, the roof was all but destroyed, this ﬁght wouldn’t stop so easily. Back then Xueting had joined the conspiracy with four martial masters outside Tuyuhun’s capital to ambush Yan Wushi, and beat him until his skull broke open and he was inches from death, with Yan Wushi’s propensity towards revenge, he would not so forget so easily.
Last time he had used Dou Yanshan and Yun Fuyi’s conﬂict to draw out a power struggle within Liuhebang, resulting in Dou Yanshan being poisoned to death, Yun Fuyi did become the leader afterwards, but within half a month, several section leaders received evidence of her conspiring with Tujue, they formed an alliance and forced her to rescind her position, Liuhebang split into factions, its holdings split among the section leaders, the resulting breakdown of Liuhebang, separate from what happened at shijiandahui, caused a huge uproar in the jianghu.
Those section leaders wanted to use Huanyue Sect’s inﬂuence in the northern markets to increase their holdings, Huanyue Sect also needed Liuhebang’s experience with security and transport to expand their business, at the moment they worked together like ﬁsh in water, the name of Huanyue Sect never came up during the whole ordeal, but how much Huanyue Sect gained from the splitting of Liuhebang, only Yan Wushi himself knew.
Of those ﬁve involved in ambushing Yan Wushi that day, Guang Lingsan seeing the wind direction steered accordingly, given a chance sucked up to Yan Wushi, and helped him, like peeling away a layer of ﬂesh he suffered some losses, only then did Yan Wushi let up on him momentarily: no need to mention Duan Wenyang, lucky he had a good shifu, Yan Wushi had no plans for him yet; as for Yu Ai, Yan Wushi was going to let Shen Qiao deal with him, so also hadn’t planned anything, the ones who were left Dou Yanshan and Xueting, the former had in the process of Yan Wushi’s retaliation directly lost his life, now facing the latter today, as the saying goes, enemies walk a narrow path.
Xueting embroiled with Yan Wushi could not go save the emperor, seeing Yuwen Yun in Shen Qiao’s hands, sighed internally, redirected his attention to the ﬁght at hand with Yan Wushi.
For people like Duan Wenyang, Yu Ai, their wugong was strong, but they had too many attachments, if they saw this scene unfolding, they would surely be unable to concentrate and lose the ﬁght, Xueting was a prominent Buddhist practitioner of his generation, if he was able to walk out of Tiantai Sect, not relying on support from anyone to establish his own sect, if he could be named guoshi, surely he was not a easy person to deal with, so when he saw that he was unable to reach Yuwen Yun, he let the matter go entirely, this degree of equanimity, even Yan Wushi had to say it was quite admirable.
“Old bald donkey, Yuwen Yun is unﬁt to lead, this venerable one doesn’t believe you don’t see it, yet you stayed to assist him all this time, in truth this went against the heavens, don’t you Buddhists talk about cause and eﬀect, you abetting evil like this, aren’t you afraid of the consequences on your person?”
While ﬁghting, Yan Wushi didn’t miss the chance to taunt him.
Xueting ignored him, several more moves were exchanged, both sides extended their sleeves in mid-air, zhengqi expanding, their match was more spectacular than anything, even while the guards were watching their emperor be apprehended, they couldn’t resist sneaking looks over at Xueting’s side of things.
Shen Qiao had the emperor in his hands, no one dared make a haphazard move, even the palace guards that had entered so menacingly before had lost their pompousness.
Shen Qiao made to retreat with the emperor out of Qingningdian, he had the maidservant bring out the empress and her brothers.
As long as he could bring everyone out safely, their intentions in coming here would be accomplished. Who knew that when the empress emerged, she had only one brother with her.
Shen Qiao’s heart sank.
Without him having to ask, the empress hurriedly explained: “There was a man that entered through the window, and grabbed Er-lang!”
If the purpose of the hostage-taking was to force Shen Qiao to relinquish the emperor, they would have had no need to take the boy away, the culprit must have another motive, in any case they weren’t interested in the emperor.
The circumstances did not permit Shen Qiao to think further, he didn’t ask for more details, just told the empress and her brother to stick close to him.
Yuwen Yun cherished his life, and so had to compromise for the time being, but as soon as he saw the empress, his eyes bulged out in rage: “You bitch, I knew you were no good, if I had known you were such a bloodsucker earlier, I would’ve annulled your position, then had ten strongmen rape you…”
This string of invective fell from the emperor’s mouth, Shen Qiao was irritated listening to it, put more force into his grip and said: “Whether your majesty lives or not today is uncertain, and you still have time to curse others, save it!”
Yuwen Yun went red in the face: “You, you’re a person with such strong wugong, why must you help Puliuru Jian that kind of scoundrel, if you’re willing to come to me, I’ll name you as guoshi, how about it?’
Seeing Shen Qiao give no reaction, he added to the incentive: “I’ll give you a lordship, unparalleled riches and wealth!”
Shen Qiao: “Does your majesty want me to use more force?” Yuwen Yun’s eyes rolled back in the chokehold, and he made no more noise.
With the emperor, their exit was clear with no obstructions, at the main gates Puliuru Jian’s people were waiting, the sister and brother seeing their father were overwhelmed to tears, as they jumped into their father’s arms, they started wailing.
She was born in to an esteemed family, back when Yuwen Yong was selecting a partner for his son, he had valued her warmth and kindness, so she was chosen to undertake this important role, Puliuru-shi also didn’t let them down, since she became the crown prince’s wife, she took her duties seriously, she had put in every effort managing his household, who knew what debt she owed in her past life to get this kind of husband, when he was crown prince he appeared honest and naive, when he became emperor his true nature was revealed, he did whatever was preposterous, not only were political affairs managed to disaster, even ﬁve empresses were named to the back court, over any small thing he would curse and humiliate Puliuru-shi, Puliuru-shi had endured it for so long, no one would have been able to any further.
Puliuru Jian’s troops were long lined up at the main gates, they had fought a brief skirmish with the palace guards, but when Yuwen Yun was presented, both sides stopped their ﬁghting, the victor had been decided.
But on Shen Qiao’s face was no sign of cheer, he said to Puliuru Jian: “Back there I had a moment of distraction, and allowed your son to be kidnapped by another, I will get him back on Sui-guogong’s behalf.”
Puliuru Jian consoled him instead: “Life and death is determined by fate, daozhang has done his best, even if there was a what if, that is my son’s fate, it cannot be blamed on others, if I did not have daozhang, Yan-zongzhu, and Bian-dafu’s assistance, I would not be able to see my other children today.”
On the other side of things Yan Wushi and Xueting were still engrossed in their ﬁght, and were completely in their own world, they were blind to everything else, the roof tiles on Qingningdian were drawn to their zhengqi, and intermittently exploded, their fragments ﬂying off in all directions, around the two of them a whirlpool of sorts had formed, as for the palace martial masters, when faced with this scene of two grandmasters ﬁghting, all they could do was watch from a distance.
Puliuru Jian, with his troops and the emperor’s decree, quickly settled the chaos within the palace, Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei combed through the palace looking for Puliuru Jian’s second son.
In the palace, because of the turnover in power everyone was on edge, it would be diﬃcult to track down the person that had taken advantage of the muddled waters, they each started in a different corner of the palace, after a while they had found nothing, which was a little strange.
Bian Yanmei frowned: “They apprehended Puliuru Jian’s second son, but what was the purpose?”
Puliuru Jian was not yet the emperor, never mind one of his sons, even with him in hand it was not as effective as having the emperor, as well they were able to under great stealth break into Qingningdian, ﬁrst they must have the martial skills, second they they must be familiar with the layout of the palace, as well they must have some sort of position that they’re able to come and go as they please, third since they captured Puliuru Jian’s son, perhaps they intended to discuss conditions with Puliuru Jian.
Shen Qiao wasn’t born yesterday, he had wandered the world for a while now, perhaps every detail had settled at the bottom, he had more insight into how the world worked, the next moment he had a realization, and said to Bian Yanmei: “We don’t need to search anymore, they will surely come to us.”
Bian Yanmei seemed to also realize this point, he nodded his head, and went to tell Puliuru Jian of their ﬁndings.
They arrived faster than anyone had guessed.
Yan Wushi and Xueting’s match had yet to ﬁnish, Murong Qin had arrived at their door.
He brought Chen Gong’s message, saying he had Puliuru Jian’s second son.
And he wanted only Shen Qiao and Puliuru Jian to go discuss conditions.
Puliuru Jian had just initiated a power turnover, naturally he had to stay in the palace in the interim to settle things, the soldiers and oﬃcials that had turned to him needed a ﬁgurehead to steady their resolve, he wouldn’t be able to leave easily, he was concerned about his son’s safety, but still chose to stay, he said to Shen Qiao: “If they demand gold, silver, it’s no matter, anything to preserve my son’s life, any amount of money is worth it.”
Shen Qiao agreed to undertake the task.
Bian Yanmei wanted to accompany him, but Murong Qin interrupted coldly: “With Shen-daozhang’s wugong, if he can’t make a full exit, what’s the point of you going, don’t force our hand, hens ﬂying and broken eggs, don’t expect anyone to come out ahead.”
Bian Yanmei laughed coldly: “Fine.”
Secretly he gave Shen Qiao a look.
Murong Qin brought Shen Qiao out of the palace, within the city they took several turns and circuitous routes, before ﬁnally arriving at a very nondescript manor.
Chen Gong was sitting with Puliuru Jian’s son in the main hall, he seemed to be in no rush, and even smiled at Shen Qiao: “Long time no see.”
When Shen Qiao ﬁrst met Chen Gong, they were both in miserable circumstances, one was blind, with wugong nearly extinguished, the other was impoverished, one meal didn’t guarantee the next, the two of them journeying together, inevitably there had been many trials, who would have guessed that in the ever changing world with its turns, they would meet again.
As if in the unknown, everything had already been decided.
Shen Qiao felt somehow, between him and Chen Gong, they should have this meeting.
The author would like to say:
Did some of you already guess? I will go scroll through the comments ~
A-Qiao and Chen Gong, they should have a resolution, the two of them have a lot of fate between them, although it is of a bad kind~
Shen Qiao: Director, I want to make a report, someone was unwilling to be left by himself, added his own part into the script.
Lao Yan: We’ve slept on the same bed, yet you didn’t recognize this venerable one? (づ￣ ³￣)づ
Shen Qiao (embarrassed-enraged): What same bed, clearly that was when you wanted to save money and refused to get an additional room, and I sat meditating through the night!
Bian Yanmei: Oh —
Chen Gong held a sword ﬁrmly in his hand, Shen Qiao recognized it at once, it was Tai’e sword from which the Zhu Yang Ce scroll had been extracted and then presented by Chen Gong to Yuwen Yun.
The sword was balanced on the neck of Puliuru Jian’s second son, this sword was a renowned sword from antiquity, jointly casted by Ou Yezi and Gan Jiang, its edge was preternaturally sharp, it was only held up to the boy’s neck, but a ﬁne red line had appeared on his soft skin.
“A-Chuang, don’t move.” Shen Qiao said to him, this nickname he had learned from Puliuru Jian.
Chen Gong smiled: “Rest assured, I have no intention of harming Yanmen-jungong, as soon as I get what I want, I will leave at once to a distant land, I won’t stay to clown around where you can see me, and annoy you.”
Shen Qiao: “What do you want?”
Chen Gong made a hand motion: “Please sit.”
He had the hostage at hand, was in no rush at all, since he was in no rush, Shen Qiao was also not in a hurry.
“Shen Qiao, we met in humble circumstances, and can be considered friends through adversity, truth be told, I’ve always remained grateful to you, I didn’t think that we’d get a chance to sit calmly across from each other like this.” Chen Gong perfunctorily addressed their past, no longer addressed him as Shen-daozhang, but by name directly. “This poor one cannot undertake Zhao-guogong’s gratitude.” Shen Qiao said.
Chen Gong smiled: “I still remember back in that rundown shrine, you helped me beat up those thugs, and gave me donkey meat wraps to eat, back then I thought where did this fool come from, clearly your skills were superior, but you were willing to share your food. I came from a poor family and was impoverished to the point of hunger, never mind learning to read and write, I didn’t even know what the jianghu was, not until much much later did I realize how high of a position you held in the jianghu, how formidable your reputation was, until that one match, and then you were left with nothing, forced to drag around your disabled body through the jianghu.”
“We were lucky along our way, ﬁnally escaping to Huaizhou City, I could see myself one step closer to my goal of joining Liuhebang, I was overjoyed, who knew at this time, you would suddenly bring up going our separate ways.”
Shen Qiao was originally reluctant to speak, hearing the other pause, ﬁnally said: “Splitting ways with you, it was not because I thought you were a deadweight, but that I was afraid of bringing you trouble.”
This very late sentence of explanation, in Shen Qiao’s eyes had no need to be said, he had experienced so many betrayals, so many ill- intentions, he believed even more in the phrase “a clear conscience stands on its own”, if Chen Gong doubted him, was there any use in speaking more words?
Chen Gong smiled : “Back then I did use my narrowmindedness to understand you, I thought you considered me a deadweight, and purposefully left me behind, so I was resentful.” Shen Qiao, blandly: “Even without this event, when you met Mutipo, you would still have no qualms about selling me out, yes or no, what’s the point of saying more?”
No matter how thick Chen Gong’s face was, hearing this, he was a little perturbed, but he readjusted right away and smiled: “No matter, as I said before, I am still grateful to you, if you hadn’t brought me out of that small town, I might still be doing that never-ending, starvation, back-breaking work, perhaps to this day I would still be subject to my stepmother’s extortions.”
Shen Qiao: “Chen Gong, although you couldn’t recognize the written word, you could remember everything you heard, socially you are more worldly than me, with these qualities and your natural calibre for martial arts, even in the jianghu it would be a rare occurrence, if you hadn’t met me, you would have still been able to make your name someday, to have fallen at this injunction today, it has nothing to with your abilities, only that you walked the wrong path.”
“No, you’re wrong.” Chen Gong shook his head: “The reason I’m one move behind, it’s not because I was on the wrong path, but that my luck isn’t good.”
“Shen Qiao, when you fell from Banbu Peak, if Yan Wushi hadn’t been passing by, would you have been saved, if at that time it had been Yu Ai or Kunye searching, wouldn’t you be long dead? I heard your parents died when you were young, allowing you to enter the tutelage of Qi Fengge, but there are ten thousand other people of high martial calibre, why was it you that Qi Fengge chose? That day we met, you were blind, wugong near extinguished, you looked no diﬀerent from an invalid, if you didn’t get your hands on Zhu Yang Ce, how could you, like withered wood in spring, regain your position as a martial master? If we look back to the root cause, it’s that your luck is better than others that’s all, if I had half your luck, I wouldn’t worry about making my name.”
Shen Qiao was silent for a while: “Our paths are diﬀerent, we cannot plan the same plan, if you want to think this way, I cannot stop you.”
Chen Gong laughed: “Looks like you disagree with my words, I know you are a proper person, and would stick your nose up at someone like me who has advanced through side-doors to sit as an equal before you today. See, if you hadn’t helped Puliuru Jian launch his rebellion, I could have continued comfortably as Zhao-guogong, we would have gone our separate ways like well-water and riverwater, but there’s nothing else I could do, I know that as soon as Yuwen Yun dies, I won’t be able to exist in Zhou. Puliuru Jian is like Yuwen Yong, their kind of people, are diametrically diﬀerent from Yuwen Yun’s tolerance, he is certain not to have a use for me, perhaps to demonstrate the dawn of a new dynasty, he needs to kill a couple of “courtier oﬃcials” like me, thus we are here today to discuss conditions.”
“I know that Zhou’s inner palace holds a scroll of Zhu Yang Ce, but after Yuwen Yong’s death, I searched high and low in the palace for it with the permission of Yuwen Yun, but could not ﬁnd it, I thought, that scroll was probably taken away during the chaos. For a commoner, the scroll is useless, unless they were a jianghu person, so it was most likely Huanyue Sect, you and Yan Wushi are quite close, he must have also shown you that scroll?”
Shen Qiao, blandly: “That’s correct, I am in possession of that scroll, but it was not given to me by Yan Wushi, but Puliuru Jian.
Chen Gong, suddenly understanding something: “No wonder, Puliuru Jian’s daughter is Yuwen Yun’s empress, naturally the one closest to the water tower gets the moon! The reason you were able to recover your wugong so fast must be because of Zhu Yang Ce.”
This was not phrased as a question, but a statement of certainty, because Chen Gong himself has also practiced Zhu Yang Ce, looking at it this way, his wugong and Shen Qiao’s had the same origin.
Shen Qiao: “You want me to exchange Zhu Yang Ce for Yanmen-jungong?”
Chen Gong smiled: “Yes, but I don’t just want the scroll from the inner palace, the scroll from Xuandushan, I want that one too.”
Shen Qiao: “The scroll that Puliuru Jian gave me, I have it with me, I can give it to you, but the scroll from Xuandushan has long been destroyed by my shizun, I can only recite it, I don’t have the original, I’m afraid you’ll suspect that I altered the contents.”
Chen Gong: “If it was anyone else, I may suspect them, but if it’s you, I trust your character.”
Shen Qiao remained expressionless: “Thank you for your trust.”
He took out that scroll of Zhu Yang Ce, tossed it to Chen Gong.
Each scroll of Zhu Yang Ce was written on silk material, the ink was infused with herbs, and would not fade for a long time, the silk was light and thin, easy to store, Chen Gong didn’t inspect the thing in his hands, but this material was hard to ﬁnd, once it was on hand, he knew it was the same as the one he removed from Tai’e Sword, authentic.
He received the scroll, and tucked it away: “My thanks in advance for reciting the scroll from Xuandushan, after I memorize it, I will release Yanmen-jungong.” The hostage was in his hands, he held the advantage, and felt conﬁdent in his position.
Shen Qiao saw that the boy in his arms was not doing too bad, so started reciting the Zhu Yang Ce scroll from Xuandushan.
Chen Gong listened carefully, after he was done, nodded: “I’ve memorized it, there were some phrases I didn’t completely understand, but I think things have wrapped up in the palace, if I wait until Yan Wushi gets here, one against two, I won’t gain anything, so I have no time to get your advice on it, it’s a pity.”
Shen Qiao: “Yan Wushi and Xueting are still ﬁghting, they won’t be done anytime soon, since I came as requested, please respect your end of the deal, and release the boy, I will guarantee your safe departure from the capital.”
Chen Gong smiled: “No need, even if you don’t intervene, it doesn’t guarantee that someone else won’t, I know Yan Wushi has a disciple left in the city, his wugong is not bad, my skill level today should be comparable to his, I’m not willing to take that risk, I have to have Yanmen-jungong accompany me on this next segment, until I’m out of the capital, I will release him then.”
Shen Qiao knew that words meant nothing to this type of person, if he got angry now it would be pointless, so he schooled his expression into neutrality, just looked at him a while, then nodded: “Fine, but if you do not stand by your word and release the boy, even if you ﬂee to the edges of the sea, I will ﬁnd you and kill you.”
Chen Gong laughed haha: “Rest assured, why would I bring along this deadweight? Puliuru Jian has so many sons, I can’t even threaten him properly, I can only use him in exchange for Zhu Yang Ce!” He kept his hold on the boy as he stood to leave the manor, outside a carriage was waiting, Murong Qin was seated at the front as the driver.
Although Chen Gong appeared calm, he was on total guard against Shen Qiao, afraid he’d suddenly change his mind.
Just as he was about to climb onto the carriage with the boy in hand, a faint movement came from behind him, from a distance then closer, it aimed for his head!
Murong Qin moved, lunged towards Chen Gong’s back.
But in that ﬂash, even if he knew Murong Qin would come to his aid, Chen Gong couldn’t help but turn his head to look.
As he turned his head, Shen Qiao moved.
His form was like a ghost, when it appeared in front of Chen Gong, Chen Gong had not yet fully comprehended what was happening behind him before he felt a sudden pain in his wrist, Tai’e Sword fell from his hands, and his arms were empty, Shen Qiao had grabbed Puliuru Ying, his other hand was pressed towards his chest.
Chen Gong felt a dull pain in his chest, his body ﬂying backwards like a tetherless kite, his momentum only stopping when he slammed into a pillar, and fell heavily to the ground.
This strike of Shen Qiao’s, he had used seven eight parts of his zhengqi, its power was signiﬁcant.
Chen Gong spit out a mouthful of blood onto the ﬂoor, before he could react, Shen Qiao had sealed his meridian points, then he saw the glint of Tai’e Sword, Chen Gong cried out miserably, his eyes wide open, no longer the image of self-assuredness from before.
“You! Where is my inner qi! Shen Qiao you nulliﬁed my wugong!” He raged, the reﬁned speech that he had built up over the years along with his rise in position vanished like smoke and dust, in this moment, it was as if he was back to that impoverished youth who could only seek shelter in a dilapidated temple. “You dare nullify my wugong! Who do you think are! Who do you think are!!”
Shen Qiao threw Tai’e Sword on the ground: “Your turn in fate, started with meeting me in the run-down temple, since it is like that, then let me be the one to end it. You’re not a impartial person, your wugong to you, is only a tool to ascend the ranks, but for others, it may be the disaster that ends their lives.”
He shook his head: “Chen Gong, you don’t deserve to practice martial arts.”
“Yes or no, you’re not the one to decide!” Chen Gong bared his teeth, if looks could kill, Shen Qiao would already be in several pieces. “What piece of shit are you, you’re only a dog moaning under Yan Wushi, seducing him, tricking him into giving you Zhu Yang Ce, how much better than me do you think you are?”
He spat out an endless stream of ﬁlth, Shen Qiao was about to seal his speech meridian point, only to see Puliuru Ying bent over picking up Tai’e Sword from the ground, he grasped its hilt, pulled the sword back, and then stabbed him straight in the heart!
A fresh gush of blood, and Chen Gong died with his two eyes wide open!
Shen Qiao was shocked: “You…”
Puliuru Ying spat on Chen Gong’s body, a violent look in his eyes:
“You lowly pest, how dare you take me as hostage!”
Even if Chen Gong had a chance to reﬂect, he wouldn’t be able to understand how he died by the hands of a small child.
On the other side, Bian Yanmei had things under control, Murong Qin had sustained heavy injuries.
The author would like to say:
Why does Chen Gong have so many lines, because his character and what he endures, is somewhat similar to A-Qiao, but also somewhat different, the contrast between him and A-Qiao’s experience is interesting.
In a chaotic world, human life is mere triﬂe, he wants to rise above everyone, but his efforts fall short, Shen Qiao was the cause of his life’s turn in fate, and Shen Qiao was also the cause of his life’s end.
When Yan Wushi returned from the palace, Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei were seated across from each other, each with a weiqi piece in hand, the very image of leisure, clearly they had wrapped up their oﬃcial tasks.
He saw that Shen Qiao had changed back into his usual outﬁt, and felt it was a pity, Yan Wushi thought that Shen Qiao in women’s clothes had been a rare vision, but these words he left unsaid in his mind, if spoken out loud, Shen Qiao wouldn’t have been able to tolerate it no matter how good his temper was.
Bian Yanmei hurriedly put down his weiqi piece, rose to greet him, a happy expression: “Welcome back shizun! Xueting that old bald donkey’s death, the Buddhist sects will likely never recover from this setback!”
Yan Wushi was still dressed in maidservant clothes, with the human mask removed and his real face showing, the effect was little comical, but his demeanour was still striking, even if he was dressed in rags no one would dare laugh at him.
Hearing Bian Yanmei’s words, he said: “The old bald donkey is not dead.”
Bian Yanmei paused.
Yan Wushi smiled: “With his position, wouldn’t it be a pity if he died, at least I have to use him for something, although of the Buddhist sects, his heart has never severed its attachments to the world, this time if he’s willing to accept his new circumstances, what’s the harm in letting him live?” Bian Yanmei did not know what he intended to do, but since Yan Wushi had said it this way, he must already have a plan, so he respectfully accepted this.
Yan Wushi asked: “Puliuru Ying was rescued?”
Bian Yanmei: “Yes, this disciple has already sent Puliuru Ying back to Sui-guogong manor, Chen Gong is dead, Murong Qin seriously injured, he’s currently locked in cells, and can be used to provide us with an oral testimony later.”
Yan Wushi gave a curt acknowledgement, Xueting-chanshi had tremendous skill, although he had won the match, he had also incurred injuries.
He covered his mouth and coughed weakly, Bian Yanmei was about to say that he’ll go ﬁnd some medicine when he saw bright red seep through Yan Wushi’s ﬁngers.
He was injured so badly? Bian Yanmei gaped, rushed to say: “Shizun, are you ok, there should still be some qingxin lozenges in this manor…”
Yan Wushi waved his hand, and sat down in Bian Yanmei’s vacated seat.
Who knew if the other was playing a trick, Shen Qiao had to say: “If Yan-zongzhu’s injuries are this severe, do you need this poor one to take a look?”
As soon as the words left his mouth, Yan Wushi had already extended his arm out on the weiqi board: “I will have to trouble Shen-daozhang.”
You offered your arm a little too quickly, as if you already knew what I was going to ask! Shen Qiao thought, as he reached out with his right hand, placed three ﬁngers on the other’s wrist. “Your meridians are chaotic, likely from internal injuries, but it should not be major, if you look after yourself, in a few days things should improve.” Even if he had internal injuries, they were not to the point of spitting out blood, he really was faking it just now, Shen Qiao thought as he spoke.
Yan Wushi twisted his hand to rest it on the back of Shen Qiao’s instead, gave a squeeze, then smiled softly: “Shen-daozhang, despite this venerable one treating you like that in the past, you do not dwell on what happened, still willing to walk with me through ﬁre, against this degree of constancy, even the stone-hearted will be moved.”
This pair of hands were delicate and slender, to the touch they felt like well-loved pieces of jade, except for the callous between his thumb and foreﬁnger, which revealed the truth of the owner’s many years of sword wielding.
If it were anyone else saying these words, Shen Qiao might have responded with formalities in kind, but towards Yan Wushi he was long immune, moreover the other was still dressed as a woman, Shen Qiao was slightly horriﬁed, he felt as if all the hair on his body might fall off from standing on end.
Without waiting for him to pull away, the other pulled back their hand ﬁrst, as if just now he merely wanted to express what he was feeling.
Wearing women’s clothes that don’t ﬁt him, others would ﬁnd it awkward, Yan Wushi himself was also not at ease, on the side Bian Yanmei already had someone prepare a bath and change of clothes for his shizun.
The esteemed Huanyue Sect Leader wearing a high waisted dress, others might not like the view, but he himself was in no rush, rising from his seat, he glanced over at the cup in front of Shen Qiao, and asked Bian Yanmei: “What’s in the cup?” “Honeywater.” Bian Yanmei wasn’t sure why his shizun would ask after such a small detail.
Yan Wushi: “Change it to plum drink, A-Qiao doesn’t like the oversweetness of honeywater.”
Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows to look at him, wanting to ask: how do you know I don’t like honeywater, but felt this question was too stupid, and so closed his mouth instead, looked back down at the weiqi board.
Hearing this Bian Yanmei also paused, but recovered quickly:
As soon as Yan Wushi stepped out, he caught up to him, probed further: “Shizun, towards Shen-daozhang, should this disciple still act as usual?”
“Treat him the same as you would treat me.” Yan Wushi gave him a look, this look carried the praise “this boy is worth teaching”, Bian Yanmei was greatly encouraged, he thought to himself, of course my guess was correct.
It was well known that people in the demonic sects would never deprive themselves for “virtue”, Bian Yanmei had seen Yan Wushi previously lavish his attention on not a small number of beauties, but with these people it was short-lived, no one had stayed long, he had originally considered “traversing through ten thousand ﬂowers, no leaf or petal stuck” as more in keeping with his temperament, he did not expect the other to actually want a growing-out-of snowﬁeld-glacier, high-altitude-leaving-the-world-behind ﬂower.
Shen Qiao’s character, Bian Yanmei understood in part, he didn’t think his shifu would be able to pluck this ﬂower, because although Shen Qiao was easy to talk to, he had a backbone that did not bend to the elements, and deﬁnitely did not seem the type of person that would be a cutsleeve or homosexual. But with his shifu’s attitude, if he liked it, then he must get it.
Arriving at this conclusion, Bian Yanmei did not know who he should sympathize with more.
He coughed meekly: “This disciple is sorry for saying too much, but it appears to me that Shen-daozhang doesn’t have that kind of intention?” It doesn’t look two-sided at all!
Yan Wushi gave him a sidelong glance: “You have a plan?”
Bian Yanmei coughed dryly: “This disciple has numerous ways of seducing a woman, but Shen Qiao is not only not a woman, he is also not a commoner, so a common method is not applicable, but as the saying goes, a strong woman fears the man that doesn’t let go, this logic sort of applies here, don’t you think? Only…”
Yan Wushi: “Only what?”
Bian Yanmei: “Shizun is overly accomplished, if it is a commoner, even if you just wanted a brief springwind interlude, they would be a thousand times willing, present themselves as bedmate, but if it is Shen Qiao, in the future when shizun is bored, he would probably would not let go easily.”
The meaning being, respectful elderly one if you want a romp, there’s so much beauty in the world, many people would be willing to climb into your bed, not only is Shen Qiao hard to get, even if you did get him into your hands, he would be not easily rid, that’s why the saying goes to invite a god is easy, to send them away is hard, Shen Qiao is a grandmaster after all, don’t you get yourself into trouble!
Yan Wushi smiled: “How do you know I only want a springwind interlude?”
You can’t possibly want a lifetime? Bian Yanmei was taken aback, but didn’t dare ask this out loud, he said: “This disciple understands.”
Actually he didn’t quite understand, Shen Qiao was certainly a rare beauty, but there was so much beauty in the world, Shen Qiao was not the most riveting, could it be because he was a grandmaster, for his shizun the allure was greater?
By the time Yan Wushi had bathed, changed his robes, and returned, Shen Qiao had already covered most of the weiqi board with pieces.
“You’ve seen Puliuru Jian’s two sons, what do you think?”
Yan Wushi sat down opposite him.
Shen Qiao was not surprised by the question, after a brief pause: “Da-lang is honest, slower but not dumb, Er-lang is smart, despite his young age he already has demonstrated his mercilessness.”
Yan Wushi: “Your analysis is sound, the four words slower but not dumb really gets to the crux of the matter!”
Shen Qiao: “Forgive my direct words, although Puliuru Jian is a determined character, capable of tolerance, and in the future he will be a clearheaded leader, but his two sons, their characters should have been reversed, if the younger is more accomplished than the elder, in the future when it comes to the preservation of the dynasty, it may bring misfortune.”
Yan Wushi laughed: “A-Qiao, you’re thinking too far ahead, in the world how can there be a dynasty that never collapses? Even Ying Zheng who arrogantly proclaimed that his rule would continue for ten thousand years, in the end it only lasted two lifetimes, so in the future who knows if his two sons will survive until adulthood, who knows if Puliuru Jian’s rule can last beyond a decade, or if he’ll be replaced by someone more powerful? I just need to know the person I’m working with right now can remain relatively levelheaded, not act out of incompetence, that’s enough, as for Puliuru’s continued lineage, I’m not his father, why do I need to worry so much on his behalf?”
Shen Qiao: “I see that Yan-zongzhu knows what he is doing, I don’t need to say more.”
Yan Wushi: “Puliuru Jian wanted to ﬁnd a shifu for his sons, since you’ve said it this way, I know you don’t want either of them, when I get a chance I’ll refuse on your behalf.”
Shen Qiao, surprised: “Yan-zongzhu’s wugong is better than mine, why do they not seek you as a shifu?”
Yan Wushi smiled: “You don’t want them, I also don’t want them, with our relationship as is, if we don’t act in sync, others will surely misunderstand.”
Our what relationship? If you say it like this, how can others not misunderstand?
Shen Qiao gaped at his ability to reverse black and white: “Yan- zongzhu need not consider this, this poor one is not of Huanyue Sect, even if I don’t act in accordance with Yan- zongzhu, no one will misunderstand.”
This turnover in power demonstrated the words: speed is crucial in war.
With the help of Yan Wushi, Shen Qiao, and others, Puliuru Jian had speedily captured Yuwen Yun, and used Yuwen Yun to take control of the court’s conﬁguration. As a veteran politician, he did not expand the bloody confrontation into the city or even outside the city, before anyone could react, the turmoil within the palace had been settled. Before these events, for the convenience of leisure away from the annoyance of his oﬃcials, Yuwen Yun had passed his throne to his son Yuwen Chan, he had even named himself Tianyuan Emperor. Now that Puliuru Jian had control of the situation, he didn’t even need to make a puppet, eight-year old Yuwen Chan was still emperor, just that above his head another guardian was established, Yuwen Yun dug this hole himself, and ﬁnally managed to bury himself in it.
As Puliuru Jian solidiﬁed his control, he did not rush to name himself emperor, but continued in the role of Left Senior Minister to overlook matters, then to the world he announced Yuwen Yun’s death due to illness, then he ceased construction on the royal family’s private gardens, and brought back the oﬃcials that had been expelled by Yuwen Yun from the capital, and restored their positions.
With these two measures, he managed to capture people’s hearts.
One emperor one court, Puliuru Jian’s reign also meant the demise of the good old days for the Buddhist sects and Hehuan Sect.
When the tumult occurred in the palace, Sang Jingxing and Yuan Xiuxiu were both not in the city, the remaining ﬁgures were no match for Yan Wushi and Bian Yanmei. During Yuwen Yun’s reign, Huanyue Sect had hidden their names and acted like grandsons, now the day had ﬁnally arrived for Bian Yanmei to no longer hold back, launch a full offensive, capturing Hehuan Sect’s assets within the palace and in the city in one go.
After Xueting-chanshi had his wugong nulliﬁed by Yan Wushi, for the crimes of colluding with the previous emperor he was imprisoned, the fall of Xueting meant that the Buddhist disciples in the capital no longer had support, when the tree falls the monkeys scatter, gradually all their temples were sealed off by oﬃcials, the Buddhist disciples could only run into the wind, or be forced to confess their crimes to the court.
Yan Wushi had no intention in killing the remnants of the Buddhist sects, he knew that systems of belief and faith had long been established in the central plains, they were entrenched in people’s hearts, each school had its following, the roots ran deep, it could not be destroyed by people’s actions, at most there would a brief weakening under the current circumstances, back then Yuwen Yong had carried out a ﬁerce persecution of Buddhism, killing how many monks, destroyed how many temples, burned how many Buddhist scrolls and teachings, but after his death, Buddhism ﬂourished again.
What Huanyue Sect needed was merely the support of the authority at the time and the right to speak freely, and not the demise of the Buddhist sects. Because in the absence of Buddhist sects, there was still Daoist sects, Ru sects, they could never be persecuted to extinction. The best way forward was for the powers to balance each other out, so no one could do much to anyone else, only this scenario would prevent the emergence of some monolithic superpower, and was one way of living on a little longer.
Without comparing notes, his stance on this was exactly in line with Puliuru Jian’s, so the two of them worked together well.
To thank Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao for their efforts, Puliuru Jian not only ordered the erection of Xuanduguan within the capital, naming Shen Qiao as Xuanduguan’s Tongweiyuanmiao-zhengren, he also generously handed over the management of several royal family businesses to Huanyue Sect, afterwards when he had established three provinces and six prefectures, he even gave the most lucrative political positions to people from Huanyue Sect, throughout the Sui dynasty, they maintained good working relations with Huanyue Sect, until Yang Guang turned his face and broke his word.
But that was much later.
The second month of the year after the palace tumult, just past the Yuandeng Festival, Zhou emperor Yuwen Chan expressed his respect for Puliuru Jian, acknowledged that he had the makings of a competent head of state, and that he himself was too young and
naive for the throne, he announced that he will be abdicating the throne to Puliuru Jian, Puliuru Jian declined three times, before ﬁnally ascending the throne, named the new dynasty Sui, changed the title of the imperial reign, in the name of reclaiming his ancestor’s name, switched back to the Han surname Yang, absolving the world in its new beginning.
A new leader as head of state, the north entered a new dynasty, the hundreds of years of chaos starting with the Jin vanquishing Wuhu to enter the central plains ﬁnally turned to a new page.
For the common folk, the turbulence of court power had nothing to do with them, their requirements were very simple, a prosperous harvest enough to feed and clothe themselves. The new dynasty did bring about some changes, nevermind the other things, the absolution clause meant everyone did not have to pay tax this year, and their days were a little easier.
With more money on hand, people smiled more.
At least Shen Qiao felt this was the case as he walked down the street.
“Only now I can say I do not regret my decision that day.”
The street was a busy thoroughfare, people going their ways, on account of the ceremony at the temple today many people were out running errands preparing for Duanwu Festival, brightly coloured fabrics and silks adorned the street stalls, a feast for the eyes, a dizzying conglomeration.
Hearing his words, Yan Wushi smiled: “So A-Qiao has been unsettled all this time.”
Shen Qiao nodded, he said frankly: “These days, I was worried that my participation might lead the people to suﬀer through another incompetent leader, their days made more diﬃcult.” The two of them passed a stall, hearing the stallowner call out so zealously, Yan Wushi glanced over, he bought a colourful handsewn cloth tiger, the tiger had decorative ties on its head, and a silk ribbon around its body, it wore a foolish, lively expression.
Yan Wushi stuffed the cloth tiger into Shen Qiao’s hands. Shen Qiao, surprised: “For me?”
He squeezed the soft cloth tiger in his hands, turned it back and forth, couldn’t resist a smile: “It is quite cute.”
Yan Wushi chuckled, he thought, yes, like you, large cat or small cat, are all cats, this venerable one spends his days associating with cats.
The two strolled the markets some more before returning, Yan Wushi’s Shaoshi manor had been unsealed, Yang Jian had also given him a new position, thus it was renamed Wu-guogong manor, Yan Wushi lived here, Shen Qiao’s Xuanduguan was still under construction, so he was also staying here as a guest.
The house manager seeing Yan Wushi rushed over to give report, saying Er-langjun had returned, and had brought someone with him, Shen-daozhang’s shidi.
Shen Qiao was surprised, when he saw Yu Shengyan and the person he had brought with him, he was even more shocked: “Si- shidi?”
The author would like to say:
Tell you guys a secret, during the Sui Tang dynasties, Chang’an deﬁnitely had a Xuanduguan, and it deﬁnitely garnered its reputation through its establishment during Sui, the story of Qian Qiu, started because I saw Xuanduguan by chance and got a feel for the story, xixi~ How many histories and people, how remarkable the path ~~
The newcomer was indeed Yuan Ying.
It was said that after Shen Qiao fell off the cliff, although Yu Ai used his efforts to suppress rumours, on Xuandushan people were anxious, Yuan Ying out of Qi Fengge’s disciples was numbered fourth, whether in temperament or wugong, he was not the most outstanding, so within the sect he had always taken on the silent, nameless role. After Yu Ai moved into Xuandu Purple Pavilion, he felt this shidi had the least daring, wouldn’t be able to set any waves into motion, and so didn’t pay much attention to Yuan Ying.
Yu Ai working with Tujue, had accepted the position and title of Taiping Yuyang zhujiao-zhengren, this was no secret, right now Tujue was ﬂourishing, the northern nations Zhou and Qi had to lower their heads in deference, Yu Ai could see Tujue’s ambition, and wanted to borrow Tujue’s inﬂuence to restore Xuandushan to its former glory, so both sides were close, even the day of the ambush against Yan Wushi outside Tuyunhun’s capital, although there was not much to be gained from Xuandushan’s angle, but since it was Duan Wenyang who had brought up the request, Yu Ai had agreed to help.
But Tujue’s plans for Xuandushan did not stop there, Xuandushan came from a long tradition, out of the Daoist sects on the jianghu, it carried an unusually profound inﬂuence. If they could subdue Xuandushan’s zhangjiao into becoming their puppet, wouldn’t that be the equivalent of simultaneously controlling a vital force among the Daoist sects of the central plains and getting Xuandushan’s hundreds of years worth of wealth and martial teachings?
As Tujue saw it, the Xuandushan that no longer had Qi Fengge sealing itself off from the world had gradually diminished, Shen Qiao was already far away, within the sect people were divided, there would be no emergence of a second Qi Fengge, this was the opportune time to strike.
Duan Wenyang was Hulugu’s disciple, but on account of his blood status, his position would never rise above his shidi Kunye, he would need to accomplish a large feat to raise his standing, luckily he had a sponsor who saw things his way, Tujue’s Ishbara Qaghan was on board from the beginning, unfortunately things were not progressing as expected, Yu Ai had accepted the position and title “Taiping Yuyang zhujiao-zhengren”, but refused to let Tujue interfere with teaching, and refused to let Ishbara Qaghan’s delegates enter Xuandushan, the working relationship between two sides was superﬁcial and had no way of developing.
Seeing Xuandushan this piece of succulent fatty meat within reach but unable to bite into it, Tujue was naturally not content.
As to these affairs, Yuan Ying had not understood them clearly, it wasn’t until after he had left Xuandushan, halfway up Qingchengshan, meeting Yu Shengyan who had just come from shjiandahui, that he heard about it in bits and pieces from the other.
Before this, Yuan Ying had felt the tense atmosphere in the sect, he had gone to Yu Ai three times, he had asked about the search for Er-shixiong Shen Qiao, when he’d take the reins of the sect again, Yu Ai reassured him several times, the task of teaching the younger disciples was given to Yuan Ying, Yuan Ying felt the weight of Yu Ai’s trust in him, and so had let the matter drop temporarily. Who knew a wave could rise from ﬂat ground, Xiao-shimei Gu Hengbo left without saying goodbye, departing on her own terms, Yu Ai had erupted in profound rage, and Yuan Ying on account of the contents of the letter Gu Hengbo had left him was shocked beyond words, he became several parts more cautious around Yu Ai, and waited for an opportunity to look into things further.
At this time, an elder from Xuandushan sought a private audience with Yuan Ying, more or less he expressed his support of Yuan Ying taking over Yu Ai’s position, the more Yuan Ying thought about this the more he felt something was wrong, he thought of the letter Gu Hengbo had left him, and snuck away from Xuandushan when the opportunity presented itself.
From a young age Yuan Ying rarely went out, the mountain was boring, but he could tolerate loneliness, he spent his days training or reading, as if having none of the vivacity of youth, even Gu Hengbo who was similar to him in age couldn’t stand it, everything considered he was probably closer to Shen Qiao.
He was born into a rich family, but on account of his stammer from a young age, and there being so many children in the family, he was not cherished by his parents, the servants in the family acted accordingly, also neglected the young master, on an outing Yuan Ying got lost due to the oversight of a servant, then he ran into Qi Fengge, Qi Fengge brought him back to the Yuan family to his parents, they saw that Qi Fengge was a Daoist with martial skills, so going with the direction of the tide they asked Qi Fengge to accept Yuan Ying as a disciple. Qi Fengge saw that Yuan Ying’s calibre was not bad, and accepted.
In all these years, never mind leaving the mountain for training, Yuan Ying had only returned to the Yuan household once, his reserved, quiet nature allowed him to become one of the people with the least sense of presence on Xuandushan, even when he left Xuandushan, his absence was only noticed several days later.
After leaving the mountain Yuan Ying had no experience, and didn’t know what course of action to follow, originally he wanted to look for Shen Qiao, but didn’t know where Shen Qiao was, hearing of the shijiandahui on Qingchengshan, he thought there was a chance Shen Qiao might attend, so headed in that direction, but because he hadn’t brought enough money with him, he could only eat every other meal. Unfortunately he was too late, by the time he reached the base of the mountain, he only saw the groups descending the mountain, Yuan Ying overheard the spectacular events that had unfolded during the shijiandahui, then overheard that Yan Wushi had taken Shen Qiao away, he was just fretting over this when he met Yu Shengyan who was also making his way down the mountain.
Yuan Ying’s appearance didn’t stand out, his clothes ﬁt in with the crowd, people were unlikely to notice him, but Yu Shengyan saw that he would raise his head everytime someone mentioned Shen Qiao, and started to pay attention, when asked, Yuan Ying volunteered his sect, Yu Shengyan realized then that this was Shen Qiao’s shidi.
Shen Qiao on hearing Yuan Ying’s account, appeared to be in deep thought, after a long time he asked: “The elder that hinted at supporting you to become zhangjiao, who was it?”
Yuan Ying: “It was Zhang Benchu, Zhang-zhanglao.”
In Xuandushan’s long history, although they had sealed off the mountain from the world for some time now, there was no shortage of inner factions, take Qi Fengge, he could be considered descended from the main branch, so able to receive the zhangjiao position, as for the remaining elders, the lineage of wugong could be traced as far back as the second generation zhangjiao’s shixiong and shidi, although everyone belonged to Xuandu Purple Pavillion, they all had one or two wugong that was exclusive, so strictly considered, Xuandushan’s elders were mostly in Shen Qiao’s generation, but a few were from a generation above them, they could be considered Shen Qiao’s shibo and shishu, Zhang Benchu was one of them.
Shen Qiao: “Back when Yu Ai was successfully able to become zhangjiao, of the seven elders that supported him, Zhang Benchu must have been one of them?”
Yuan Ying nodded: “Yes.” Shen Qiao: “What about Da-shixiong? You’re fourth in line, if he went to ﬁnd you, he must have also sought out Da- shixiong?”
Yuan Ying was a bit at a loss” “This, this I don’t know, I spend all, all my days inside reading and, and practicing the sword, and teaching, teaching the disciples, to practice the sword.”
Saying this, he appeared embarrassed: “Er-shixiong, so-, sorry…”
This apology, was not merely because he could not answer Shen Qiao’s question, it was more for the time before, after Shen Qiao fell from the cliff, when he could not do anything for him, the guilt of this.
Shen Qiao wasn’t angry, but just as before clapped him on the shoulder: “No need to say sorry, you avoid conﬂict with others, and have rarely gone a long distance from the mountain, that this time you were able to notice a discrepancy, descend the mountain to ﬁnd me, is already very good. Does this mean after you saw Zhang Benchu, you did not go seek an audience with Yu Ai?”
Yuan Ying’s face ﬂushed: “N-, no. Before Wu-shimei told me, that he, he had something to do with your fall, so I, I was cautious…”
Shen Qiao gave a small sigh, and said no more.
Yan Wushi’s gaze stopped momentarily at the hand that Shen Qiao had rested on the other’s shoulder, he said lazily: “Since Yuan- shidi has come, then you can stay here, you look a little thin and malnourished, we’ll let the cooks here work on you.”
Shen Qiao looked at him and thought, who is your shidi, this sentence did a round in his throat, but Shen-daozhang was too kind, in the end he was not able to say it out loud. Yu Shengyan gaped, he was not thinking about his looks-warm-but- coldhearted shifu suddenly taking a liking to Yuan Ying, but the fact that he for no reason was now a generation younger than Yuan Ying.
Where had this insigniﬁcant stutterer gotten so much face, that even our shizun calls you shidi, and yet you haven’t been moved to tears in reverence and awe?
Yuan Ying was not struck by reverence and awe, because he still hadn’t ﬁgured out who Yan Wushi was, hearing that the other let him stay, hurriedly turned his head to look for his shixiong’s approval, it could be seen that by day he was a respectful, obedient kid.
Shen Qiao saw him look his way, smiled: “Since Yan-zongzhu has sincerely invited you, you should accept.”
Yuan Ying had seen Yu Shengyan greet Yan Wushi when they’d arrived, and should have been able to guess who Yan Wushi was, but it was only now that he realized, he rushed to pay his respects, folding his hands: “Thank you Yan-zongzhu, then, then I’ll be troubling you!”
If this was before, never mind a Yuan Ying, even if it was ten Yuan Ying’s, Yan Wushi would have disregarded them, but now, Yuan Ying had a sign on his head “Shen Qiao’s shidi”, so in his eyes it stood out a little.
It could be seen that Qi Fengge accepting disciples followed no pattern or rule, his ﬁve disciples, each had their own character, for example this Yuan Ying’s woodenness was quite a rare ﬁnd.
After Yu Shengyan had sullenly led Yuan Ying to his room to rest, Shen Qiao looked at the weiqi board lost in thought.
Yan Wushi knew in one glance what he was on his mind: “You want to go to Xuandushan?”
Shen Qiao gathered himself: “Yes, I want to go back to take a look.”
The thought of returning had been longstanding, but before his wugong was not recovered enough, Shen Qiao didn’t want to risk it, now things were different, he was pretty much fully recovered, even if he encountered a ﬁgure like Xueting-chanshi, he would be able to meet them fully in battle.
All things considered, Xuandushan was still the sect where he grew up, even if Shen Qiao had no designs on the position of zhangjiao, he would not allow others to drive it off-track, scheme the place in his heart to ruin in one day.
If Zhang Benchu had sought out Yuan Ying, it would mean Yu Ai no longer met his expectations, there must have been a disagreement between them, but that the disagreement would be large enough to make Zhang Benchu want to expel Yu Ai from his zhangjiao position, that and the news he had received on Huanyue Sect’s end, if someone were to say there were no external forces involved, Shen Qiao would not believe it.
Yan Wushi: “It could be a good thing, it’s almost time, with your wugong now, if you wanted to dismember Yu Ai into eight pieces it might not be enough, but a sword through the heart should be no problem.”
Shen Qiao was a bit speechless: “My return doesn’t mean I have to kill people!”
Can you not be so quick to say such bloody words?
Yan Wushi, a playful smile: “That may not be up to you, Xuandushan is like a piece of fatty meat in a birdcage, now that there’s an opening in the birdcage, the hungry beasts that have been eyeing it for so long have no reason to hold back.” Although Shen Qiao did not like this description, he understood that the other was right, this was indeed the circumstances of Xuandushan, Yu Ai’s wugong was strong, but against the inner factions, he would not have his defences up, just like him back then.
Yan Wushi: “I also received news, Hehuan Sect after losing much of their holdings in Chang’an have been very close with Tujue recently.”
Shen Qiao frowned: “You mean, Hehuan Sect will also intervene on the matter of Xuandushan?”
Yan Wushi: “It’s not clear, this journey you’ll undertake alone, why don’t I Iend you one of my disciples to assist you, Bian Yanmei or Yu Shengyan, which one do you want?”
Shen Qiao: “This pertains to the internal aﬀairs of Xuandushan, how could I trouble those two?”
Yan Wushi, on purpose: “Does that mean, you want this venerable one to go with you personally?”
Shen Qiao was a honest person, he did not have any such intention, but hearing this he froze.
Without waiting for a response, Yan Wushi smiled: “Unfortunately this time it cannot be as you wish, my last ﬁght with Xueting, I have not recovered from my injuries, even if I went along I won’t be able to help.”
The extent of his injuries, last time Shen Qiao had examined his meridians personally, he knew it extensively, hearing these words now, for some reason, his heart became uncertain.
“How come it hasn’t recovered after so long?” As he said this he reached out a hand.
Yan Wushi didn’t move, maintained his reclining posture, letting Shen Qiao hold his wrist.
After concentrating a moment, Shen Qiao’s expression changed:
“How can it be like this?”
Shen Qiao had thought that Yan Wushi’s injuries were not extensive, after this many days, even if not fully recovered, he should be mostly there.
Who knew that examining his meridians would reveal stagnant qi, blood coalescing, the appearance of ﬂow obstruction: the injuries were more serious than before.
Could it be that Xueting’s wugong had reached the realm of “a calm surface, but into bone”?
But if Xueting’s wugong was really on this level, how could he have lost to Yan Wushi, and had his wugong nulliﬁed by the other?
Yan Wushi covered his mouth and coughed twice, gave this explanation: “It’s that these days I’ve been busy with managing the aﬀairs of Huanyue Sect, I needed to rein in the previously lost and scattered holdings, so haven’t had time to treat my injuries, I didn’t think they would turn worse.”
Shen Qiao: “This has to do with your health, how can you be so reckless?”
Yan Wushi smiled, clearly didn’t think it was anything: “No problem, it’s not fatal, three to ﬁve days and I should be recovered.”
Shen Qiao gave it some thought, from his robes he produced a small porcelain jar he set down on the table: “You and I have neigong of Daoist and Demonic origins which counter each other, I cannot help you, but Xuandushan has many medicines passed down through the years, this is one I based oﬀ one of the prescriptions, and recently I had the pharmacy prepare it, if you trust it, you can take some, three tablets a day, to reduce injury.”
Yan Wushi picked up the porcelain jar, it felt warm in his hands, still carrying residual heat from Shen Qiao’s body.
With his thumb he stroked the smooth body of the porcelain jar, the motion carrying with it an indescribable ambiguity.
Shen Qiao didn’t think on it too much, assumed that he was suspicious by nature and didn’t trust him, he would accept the medicine now and then throw it away when he was alone, but that would truly be a waste, needless to say the medicine contained several rare herbs, and had the potential to save a lot of people, so Shen Qiao added: “If you’re not going to take it then return it, the injuries are not that extensive after all.”
“And why wouldn’t I take it?” Yan Wushi found him looking at the porcelain jar, found it quite funny, so deliberately going against his wishes, he pulled open the stopper, poured out three tabs and put them in his mouth, then grabbed the plum drink in front of Shen Qiao, and swallowed.
“I feel the congestion in my chest alleviated, immediate soothing relief.” Yan Wushi said as he held his chest.
Shen Qiao: “…It isn’t a celestial cure.”
Yan Wushi laughed: “I was talking about the plum drink! Word has it that cultivators can even put their saliva into medicine, this plum drink you’ve drank from before, doesn’t it have your saliva too?”
In the face of such dirty talk, what could Shen Qiao say, even if he had heard so many shameless words all this time, his face now still ﬂushed a slight pink. Yan Wushi, seeing him embarrassed and wordlessly rise to leave, held his hand back and said: “Fine, ﬁne, it’s the medicine that works not the saliva, when did you go to the pharmacy to have this prepared, how come I didn’t know about it?”
Shen Qiao, face solemn: “Does this poor one need to report to Yan-zongzhu for everything?”
Yan Wushi: “Of course not, but I worry about you, I worry that you won’t have enough money to spend, or that you’ll be tricked by someone.”
Shen Qiao: “It turns out that in Yan-zongzhu’s mind this poor one is really such a fool.”
Yan Wushi thought, yes exactly if not a fool how could you be sold by me to Sang Jingxing without your knowledge, but he said: “No, since leaving the mountain, you’ve made gains everyday, I’ve seen it, you’re much smarter than before.”
Shen Qiao resisted and resisted, but couldn’t help saying: “Yan- zongzhu doesn’t look like someone with internal injuries, if you say a bit more, maybe you’ll recover faster!”
Yan Wushi held back a smile: “That won’t do, without Shen- daozhang this good medicine, I’m certain to recover a little slower. I heard that Yang Jian gave you a sum of money?”
Shen Qiao: “That’s right, that sum was for the construction of Xuanduguan.”
Yan Wushi: “Does that mean you’ve decided to stay in Chang’an?”
Shen Qiao: “That’s still uncertain, I want to return to Xuandushan ﬁrst to take a look, if I can resolve things there, and if Xuandushan wants to enter the secular world, then Chang’an could be a good location. I see that Yang Jian has the makings of a leader, does not appear the least partial or muddled, towards the Daoist sects he has been quite tolerant, perhaps the Daoist sects can welcome this opportune chance to emerge again.”
Yan Wushi reminded him: “He’s doing this to capture people’s hearts.”
Shen Qiao smiled: “I know, but there’s nothing wrong with that, although I’m of a Daoist Sect, I cannot conﬁdently that say there are no scum among the Daoists, if a hundred birds sound, it would be a good thing for everyone, there would be no situation where a leader plunders the public coﬀers for the beneﬁt of one sect, and leave the people with no way of getting by, Yang Jian has been heavily inﬂuenced by Buddhist teachings, but can still treat Ru sects and Daoist sects fairly, as I see it, that is the quality of a true leader of a nation. The most important thing is, if Xuandushan wants to enter the secular world, now is a good time.”
Yan Wushi raised his eyebrows: “Don’t you revere and worship Qi Fengge in all things, how come on this matter your opinion runs contrary?”
Shen Qiao: “That was then, this is now, when he was alive he never had this kind of opportune timing, if his respectful elderly person was still alive, he would deﬁnitely agree with me.”
Yan Wushi: “Oh, hearing you say this, this venerable one understands now.”
Shen Qiao: “What do you understand?”
Yan Wushi: “Things you want to do, you’ll say Qi Fengge will agree, things you don’t want to do, you’ll say it was Qi Fengge’s wish when he was alive, either way he’s dead and cannot jump out to contradict you.”
He said this on purpose, but Shen Qiao gave no sign of embarrassment or anger, instead he thought for a moment, smiled a little: “What you said is also true.”
As he smiled, his eyes took in his surroundings, shining and bright, refracting the light in the room, Yan Wushi’s gaze on him also momentarily frozen in place.
Shen Qiao: “He was the most understanding person, and would deﬁnitely understand how I feel now.”
Yan Wushi raised his eyebrows, he didn’t agree with Shen Qiao’s tendency to spout off his shifu’s praise everytime he opened his mouth, but he considered himself very generous, and would not get stuck on particulars about a dead man.
It could be seen that although Shen Qiao was quite orthodox, he was not someone who was held back by convention, this was the exact reason Qi Fengge ultimately chose Shen Qiao out of his ﬁve disciples to inherit his mantle all those years ago.
Yan Wushi: “Since you’ve already accepted the court’s favour, even if in reality you are not under their command, in name at least there’s a connection, therefore, this matter with Xuandushan is not entirely your own, given the current relationship between Huanyue Sect and the Sui dynasty, if Yang Jian knew you were headed to Xuandushan, even if I didn’t say anything, he would ask me to assist, for this journey I’ll let Bian Yanmei go with you, his methods are smooth, it will be helpful.”
He said this additional layer of reasoning, Shen Qiao didn’t push back further, he nodded and said: “Then I thank you.”
Saying this, Shen Qiao paused, then said: “You still have injuries, the next few days you should rest and recuperate.”
Stop jumping around all over the place for no reason.
Yan Wushi’s smile grew wider: “A-Qiao, are you worried about me?”
Shen Qiao: “No.”
Yan Wushi: “You lie.”
Shen Qiao: “…” Then why are you asking me?
Yan Wushi sighed: “Although I am very moved, I am bound to disappoint, don’t forget, that old bald donkey is still waiting for me to deal with him, he was once the esteemed Zhou dynasty guoshi, head of the Buddhist sects, how can I neglect him for too long?”
I can see you’re more than willing, Shen Qiao thought, but he latched onto the crux of the other’s words: “You intend to kill him?”
Yan Wushi, lazily: “This venerable one intends to trade him for a huge advantage.”
What huge advantage, if he’s not willing to say, Shen Qiao knew he would not be able to get an answer, so didn’t press further.
Several days later, on hearing Shen Qiao was preparing to return to Xuandushan, Yuan Ying was very happy, he ran over to ask when Shen Qiao planned to leave.
However, Shen Qiao hadn’t been planning on taking him with him, as Xuanduguan was still under construction and needed oversight, Yuan Ying was certainly the ideal person for the job.
Yuan Ying, on hearing Shen Qiao’s plans, his face fell from ten thousand hopes through to disappointment, the prominent change was hard to see.
Shen Qiao was a bit surprised: “Si-shidi, you want to go back to Xuandushan that badly?”
“N-, no.” Yuan Ying found it hard to articulate, these past few days Yu Shengyan had been playing with him left and right, Yuan Ying couldn’t outtalk the other, and although his wugong was stronger, Yu Shengyan hadn’t lifted a ﬁnger, Yuan Ying was a honest kid, he couldn’t raise his ﬁst ﬁrst to beat the other, also considering he was living under someone else’s roof, he couldn’t complicate matters for his Er-shixiong, so he had endured it all, in his mind he had already allotted Yu Shengyan a position as chief annoyance, if he saw him in the distance he would swerve to avoid him.
Shen Qiao clapped his shoulder: “I know you’re focused on cultivation, and don’t care for other matters, but to oversee the construction of Xuanduguan, apart from you, I can’t think of anyone else more suited, I will hurry back, and can only trouble you for your help.”
Yuan Ying, hurriedly: “Er-shixiong you, you go ahead, I will be certain to go to the site daily, and not worry, worry you.”
Shen Qiao: “Thank you, A-Ying.”
Yuan Ying: “Er-shixiong, don’t say that, we are all disciples of shizun, but I am the most, most useless one, have never been able to help, I’ve always felt very, very bad about this, it’s rare you’re letting me do something, I am more than willing!”
After not seeing the other for so long, this Si-shidi who had been more than happy hiding behind others had grown up, Shen Qiao was very relieved. Wrapping up affairs, Yan Wushi had departed one step ahead of him from Chang’an, and so after him, Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei set off towards Xuandushan.
Bian Yanmei was a very interesting person, he did things in an interesting way, he spoke in an interesting way, he was also very perceptive about boundaries, and was nothing like Yan Wushi’s frequent transgressions that made Shen Qiao fume in embarrassment, having him as company on this journey was a breeze, Shen Qiao was already easy to get along with, as others saw it, Shen Qiao was also a great companion, he didn’t like to cause a scene, was more inclined to listen to what others had to say, in times of danger he’d be the most reliable support, everyone could only hope to have a friend like this.
Bian Yanmei and Shen Qiao hadn’t crossed paths too many times before, he was used to navigating court, he had honed his observation skills of people’s inner workings, with someone like Shen Qiao who would never betray a friend, he was naturally very willing to make this new friend, as they say one more friend means one more escape route, although Bian Yanmei had been raised singlehandedly by Yan Wushi, his character was not too far off from his shifu, but compared to his shifu, he was more adaptable, Bian Yanmei had also seen Yan Wushi’s intentions, so on the road he was purposefully very friendly, the two of them got along well.
The two of them had qinggong, and good steeds, if they travelled day and night, they could make the journey in three to ﬁve days, if they travelled by day and rested nights, it would be about ten days, if Shen Qiao had been travelling alone, he would have no trouble persisting through the night, but Bian Yanmei was with him, and he couldn’t force the other to rush with him towards Xuandushan.
Ten and some days had passed, the two arrived in Xuandu Town at the base of Xuandushan.
Bian Yanmei seeing how lively the town was, couldn’t help smiling: “In these years Xuandu Town has ﬂourished, I was here once several years ago, back then I don’t remember there being as many people.”
Shen Qiao had also not been here in a long time, he looked around in every direction: “Yes, the mountains remain constant, only the people pass through!”
He grew up in the mountain, was very familiar with Xuandu Town, at the moment he was more affected than Bian Yanmei.
The two them had sat down at a teahouse and were resting and drinking tea, the waitstaff standing by heard their conversation, and came over to interject: “I’m afraid this bustle isn’t going to last long!”
Shen Qiao: “How so?”
Waitstaff: “Ay, the two of you must know the hectares at the base of the mountain belong to Xuandushan’s daozhangs, the previous zhangjiaos were considerate of how hard our lives were, rent was very low, we were very grateful, if this had not been the case, Xuandu Town would not have ﬂourished until today, who knows what this new zhangjiao is thinking, a couple days ago they said they were increasing this year’s rent, and the new rent is exponential, how are we able to make it, the businesses here whether an inn or eatery, or teahouse like ours all have to pay rent, if it’s like this, who dares do their business here? Our storeowner said, after this month, we’ll pack up our things and go back to our ancestral home!”
Shen Qiao: “The new zhangjiao? Is it Yu Ai?”
The waitstaff shook his head: “I don’t think his surname was Yu, it’s said he only came into the position last month, before he was Qi-zhengren’s eldest disciple…” Shen Qiao: “Tan?”
Waitstaff: “Yes yes yes, it was Tan!”
Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei exchanged a glance.
“But I thought it was Yu-zhangjiao before, how come it’s become Tan-zhangjiao?” Shen Qiao pushed back the rising tempest in his chest.
The waitstaff shook his head: “That I don’t know about!”
After saying these words, and seeing more guests enter the teahouse, he rushed away.
Shen Qiao slowly furrowed his brow: “How is Da-shixiong the zhangjiao, where is Yu Ai?”
Bian Yanmei said: “We departed at the end of last month, and arrived in the early part of this month, it’s highly likely we missed news and messages along our journey, we should look into this, Shen-daozhang needn’t worry, it would not be too late to ascend the mountain after we understand the circumstances more clearly.”
Shen Qiao: “That might be for the best.”
In order to ﬁgure out the situation, the two of them ﬁrst had to ﬁnd a place to stay, an inn frequented by merchants was a good place to overhear the latest news, Bian Yanmei was accustomed to this method, he brought Shen Qiao to an inn that was mid-sized, said to Shen Qiao: “The merchants or jianghu people all have a particularity, unless they’re a high-born noble, otherwise no one will go to an extravagant place, instead this kind of setting, not good not bad, is likely to be selected by most travellers, it’ll be the best place for news.”
Shen Qiao had no objections, he nodded his agreement. Xuandu Purple Pavillion no matter how you looked was a prominent Daoist sect, ever since Yu Ai announced the opening of the sect’s doors, there had been intermittently numerous young people arriving to beg for a master, among them were some whose qianbei were jianghu wanderers, but were greatly diminished in their generation, there were some who had heard too many wuxia stories, aspired to become a sword shadow ﬁgure, some of their potentials were quite good, but all of them without exception did not come from an esteemed family, because if they were from a prominent clan, their family would arrange a better route for them, they would have no need to traverse a thousand li to beg for a master.
Just as Bian Yanmei said, they would also likely pick this not-good- not-bad inn as their homebase in town.
The main hall was crowded and noisy, Bian Shen the two of them entered, found a spot and sat down.
Coincidently, several young people with swords were seated beside them, they didn’t even need to ask, the others had already started discussing the most recent jianghu happenings.
One of them said: “Did you hear, Huanyue Sect zongzhu sent a formal challenge letter to Hulugu!”
Shen Qiao had been about to pick up a cup, but hearing this he was caught off-guard, he froze.
The author would like to say:
Lao Yan: You all really thought this venerable one’s brain short- circuited, that I would go annoy Hulugu for no reason?
Yu Shengyan (with utmost respect, waiting for his lesson): Dare I ask shizun what his reason is?
Lao Yan: It’s fun. Yu Shengyan: …
For those who had never seen Hulugu ﬁght, hearing this didn’t amount to much, as they saw it, the Yan Wushi who could stand the ambush of ﬁve martial masters and emerge unscathed deﬁnitely had the potential and strength to challenge Hulugu.
As the sentence was said, it was like a drop of water falling into hot oil, the surroundings exploded at once, many people wore expressions of shock, pressed forward for more detail.
“When did this happen?”
“Just a couple days ago, they say when Yan Wushi’s challenge letter arrived in front of Hulugu, Hulugu was eating his meal, but he jumped up right away in fright, and almost choked to death!”
“…You say it as if you were beside him watching, who is Hulugu exactly?”
“You don’t even know who Hulugu is? Then what about Qi Fengge?”
“Bullshit, if I didn’t would I came to Xuandushan seeking a master?”
“Then how come you haven’t heard of Hulugu, twenty years ago Qi Fengge fought Tujue’s Hulugu, forced him to swear an oath to not set foot in the central plains for twenty years, a little while back on Qingchengshan at shijiandahui, Hulugu had to do very little to defeat Shen Qiao, many people have been saying that although Liuligong did not publicly announce who was ranked number one under the heavens, Hulugu deserves this position, Yan Wushi must have felt slighted so he challenged him!”
“Ay, don’t even say it, I intended to go to shijiandahui, but my mom wouldn’t let me, saying it was dangerous, this time coming to Xuandushan to seek a master, I had to bribe my dad to hold my mom back, only then could I run out…”
The seven-mouth-eight-tongue chatter became background noise, Shen Qiao’s mind stayed on that one sentence, it was not until Bian Yanmei reached out and put the cup into his hand that he realized he had not moved once from his previous position.
“Thank you.” Shen Qiao accepted the cup, inside there was bamboowater. “Before we left, did Yan-zongzhu mention this?”
After he said this, he felt this question was a little redundant, by Yan Wushi’s character, his actions always fell outside of people’s expectations, even if his parents were still alive they would have a hard time anticipating him, never mind his disciple.
Who knew that Bian Yanmei’s answer was even more unexpected:
“The challenge letter is true.”
Shen Qiao, stunned: “Isn’t he still injured?”
Bian Yanmei hesitated: “On this matter I do know one or two things, shizun is not being temperamental, purposefully causing a scene, he has his reasons.”
Shen Qiao: “I’d like to hear the details.”
Bian Yanmei: “I heard that on Qingchengshan, you crossed paths with Hulugu.”
Shen Qiao nodded: “That’s right, Hulugu has emerged after twenty years of seclusion, his power is greater than before, with my wugong as is, in a ﬁght if I wanted to draw him, it would be a diﬃcult feat.”
He had always been honest, he believed a win was a win, a loss was a loss, he didn’t consider it hard to say on account of him losing, despite how strong the enemy was, he said it straightforwardly, no over or understatements.
Bian Yanmei: “Then as Shen-daozhang sees it, if shizun ﬁghts Hulugu, what are his chances of winning?”
Shen Qiao furrowed his brows a bit, deliberated: “If he’s uninjured, the probability is about ﬁfty-ﬁfty.”
This was assuming Yan Wushi was at his best, with abundant inner qi, and not even half an injury.
Bian Yanmei hearing this, his expression grew concerned, after a long while: “In Xuandushan’s matters, Tujue are deﬁnitely involved, you killed Kunye, Hulugu will not let this go, likely he’ll disregard his self-respect as a grandmaster and come here personally, but with shizun’s challenge letter, Hulugu will have to focus and leave the rest, this will alleviate some of the trouble that Shen-daozhang will face.”
Shen Qiao froze.
He had considered many possibilities, the one he thought closest to being correct was that Yan Wushi wanted to contend for the number one position under the heavens, Shen Qiao had not expected that the answer would turn out to be this one.
Bian Yanmei seeing this revealed a self-deprecating expression: “Shen-daozhang doesn’t believe it? That’s not surprising, us demonic sect people are usually self-absorbed, we stand alone, has there ever been an occasion where we’ve payed a price for someone else?”
Shen Qiao sighed quietly: “That is not what I mean, don’t misunderstand.”
But he could not say that he hadn’t considered the possibility.
Bian Yanmei: “Actually there’s more, the reason shizun spared Xueting’s life was because he intends to bring him to Tiantai Sect, to exchange for the last scroll of Zhu Yang Ce.”
Shen Qiao froze again.
Zhu Yang Ce comprised of ﬁve scrolls, only one of them was related to demonic wugong, Yan Wushi had already read that scroll, the ﬂaw on his demonic core he had also ﬁxed completely, the last scroll to him was not particularly helpful, practically useless, thus the reason he wanted Tiantai Sect’s Zhu Yang Ce was not hard to guess.
Shen Qiao was smart, he could think of the answer.
Shen Qiao: “I heard Xueting in his youth went against the mandate of Tiantai Sect, after his master’s passing, he left the sect, and built his own, why would Tiantai Sect be willing to exchange a Zhu Yang Ce scroll for Xueting?”
Bian Yanmei: “Tiantai Sect views Xueting as a traitor, shizun spared his life, will give him to Tiantai Sect to deal with as they please, they must accept this gesture of respect from shizun, he won’t be able to get the original scroll itself, but a copy should be no problem.”
Shen Qiao sighed: “Yan-zongzhu has put a lot of thought into this.”
To say he wasn’t moved in the slightest, that would be untrue. Bian Yanmei understood, no matter how shocked the other was,
there was no need to discuss it with him, so he didn’t pause for too long before continuing: “Shen-daozhang needn’t worry, shizun’s injuries are not severe, the ﬁght with Hulugu is scheduled in a half-month’s time, this interval is enough for shizun to recover.”
Someone who was able to seclude for twenty years neglecting the world, they wouldn’t have overt ambitions in the secular world, Hulugu was no exception, although with his position and rank he couldn’t be completely divorced from Tujue’s ambitions, but he was a martial artist ﬁrst and foremost, as he saw it, Yan Wushi’s challenge letter held more allure than Xuandushan, half a month was not short not long, since he chose to attend the ﬁght, in the meantime he would not distract himself with Xuandushan matters.
This cause and effect, Shen Qiao only had to think on it a little to understand.
If Yan Wushi were to explain all of this to his face, he might be moved, he might politely decline, but it would not have affected him as it did now.
Even if there was no Shen Qiao, it would be diﬃcult for Yan Wushi to avoid crossing paths with Hulugu in the future, but it could be a later thing, for him to choose to challenge him now, there was no doubt most of the rationale lay with Shen Qiao.
A previously heartless, selﬁsh person was able to accomplish what even the most sentimental of people might not be able to, how could one not be affected?
Bian Yanmei discreetly observed Shen Qiao’s reaction, he found the other had gone silent completely, he thought, has he been struck dumb: “Shen-daozhang?”
Shen Qiao did not react effusively as he had imagined, after a period of thinking in silence, he turned very calm: “Regardless, we are already here, your shizun has moved heaven and earth to help, if I don’t resolve things here, I won’t be able to face him.” Bian Yanmei nodded: “Later let’s ask someone about the situation on the mountain, tomorrow we’ll go up.”
Shen Qiao: “Yes.”
Their stylishness stood out, particularly Shen Qiao with a long sword on his back, wearing Daoist robes, they quickly attracted the attention of the youth close by, from the group that had just been loudly debating, one of them boldly stepped forward to strike up a conversation: “Dare I ask if this daozhang is from the Xuandu Purple Pavilion Sect?”
Shen Qiao had been intending to seek out a disciple that descended from the mountain, now seeing this group, suddenly had another idea: “No, this poor one is Shanqiaozi, this time I am going up to the mountain to visit a friend, how about you young friends?”
Hearing that he was not, the group was a little disappointed, but since he had stepped forward, he couldn’t just walk away: “We are here to seek a master, I am Duan Ying, these two are my friends Zhang Chao and Zhong Bojing.”
The three of them greeted Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei formally, Shen Qiao nodded in acknowledgement, brieﬂy raised his hands to return the gesture.
Duan Ying didn’t notice, the other two seeing this Daoist merely perform a perfunctory greeting, not even bothering to get up, were a bit vexed.
In reality, Shen Qiao as himself, nevermind raising his hands, even if he made no movement at all, no one would say anything.
Duan Ying asked: “Since Shanqiaozi-daozhang is visiting a friend on the mountain, you must know Xuandushan’s zhengren? We’ve long admired Xuandu Purple Pavillion, seek to enter Xuandu Sect as disciples, we heard that Xuandushan only accepts disciples twice a year at spring and fall equinox, our arrival was poorly-timed, would we be able to ask Shanqiaozi-daozhang to recommend us?”
After this question was asked, his two companions looked at Shen Qiao with high hopes in their eyes.
Shen Qiao laughed: “Actually the one I am familiar with is not the zhangjiao or elders, but the Daoist who manages the stoveﬁre on the mountain, I cannot help you.”
Seeing their disappointed faces, he added: “But every ﬁve days, there will be Daoists who come down the mountain to buy provisions, beside this inn is a pastry shop that the Daoists like to frequent, just be mindful of this, maybe you’ll meet them very soon.”
Hearing him say this, the three of them exchanged glances: “If so, thank you daozhang for letting us know.”
Shen Qiao waved his hands: “No need, if you can enter Xuandu Sect as disciples, then this poor one will have gained three friends on Xuandushan, wouldn’t it be a honour?”
Duan Ying felt this daozhang was handsome, spoke very amicably, he had a very good impression of him, he said a bunch more words in thanks, then started chatting with him about Daoist texts, only until Zhong Bojing and the others hastened him, did he ﬁnally bid Shen Qiao farewell.
Bian Yanmei had been watching coldly this whole time, only now did he speak: “That Zhang Chao’s calibre was not bad, the other two were average.”
Shen Qiao smiled, didn’t say anything.
Of the three, he liked Duan Ying more, not because he had said the most, but because Duan Ying not knowing their identities could still treat them with courtesy, compared to the other two, he seemed more mature and kind. A person’s calibre was important, but martial virtues were even more important, if Shen Qiao were to pick, he’d rather give up the higher calibre Zhang Chao, and pick the more average Duan Ying.
That night, Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei took their rest in the inn, coincidentally, the room of Duan Ying’s group was very close by.
The three of them listened to Shen Qiao’s advice, the next morning they waited by the pastry shop, just as expected, they didn’t wait long before two young Daoists came to the shop, one glance and you could tell they had just come down from Xuandushan.
Duan Ying and the others were overjoyed at this stroke of luck, rushed forward to introduce themselves and their intentions, begged the Daoists to take them up the mountain to seek a master.
Who knew they were rejected: “Xuandushan only accepts disciples twice a year at the spring and fall equinox, you’re not here at the right time, wait for the next occasion.”
Duan Ying pleaded: “Daozhangs, we’ve admired Xuandushan for a long time, and are willing to work hard, even if it’s just as a disciple-by-name, please help us!”
The Daoist that appeared slightly older seemed more approachable, he said to them: “Xuandushan is undergoing some changes recently, the zhengren up there are all busy, they don’t have time to accept disciples, your arrival is deﬁnitely ill-timed, why don’t you go to Qingchengshan to try your luck.”
Xuandushan and Qingchengshan were not adjacent mountains, only one step away, when Duan Ying and his group heard this, bitterwater could be wrung from their faces. They pleaded some more, but the others didn’t budge, Duan Ying and his group could only take their leave in disappointment.
“Ay, Yunchang-shidi, why did you speak so severely, maybe when we return to make our report, shizun his respectful elderly self might be willing to accept?” The older Daoist said.
“Right now the mountain is in the midst of its troubles, shizun has already expressed his intention to not participate, why would he accept disciples at this time!”
“Then why don’t we bring them to the interim zhangjiao?
They seemed quite pitiful.”
“The interim zhangjiao surely has no time either, I hear Hehuan Sect are arriving any day now, who knows if he can preserve his position then?”
“Yunchang-shidi, don’t speak so harshly…”
“What are you afraid of, no one’s listening, in my opinion, things were better with Shen-zhangjiao, everyone got along, not like now, you suspect me, I suspect you, are there no more peaceful days ahead?” The one called Yunchang-shidi curled his lip in contempt.
In the next instant, his expression became one of fear and astonishment.
“Shen…Shen-zhangjiao?” The usually smooth-talking Yunchang looked at the person in front of him, he had been shocked into a stutterer.
The author would like to say:
I was busy today, the update was a bit late ~
This chapter reveals the reason why Lao Yan sent the challenge and why he took Xueting to Tiantai Sect ~
Lao Yan: Look, this venerable has set up a huge weiqi stage, I have not gone insane shrugs
The two Daoists were stupeﬁed as if seeing a ghost in broad daylight, Shen Qiao was not too arrogant on account of their reaction.
“Xiao Yunchang, long time no see, you’ve grown taller. His gaze fell on the other person, his expression was warm as it was before, as if nothing had changed, “Le’an’s wugong has also improved, before I appeared you already noticed me.”
Le’an and Yunchang looked at each other, after a brief ﬂurry of motion, they rushed to greet him: “Shen-shishu, Shen-shishu is well!”
Shen Qiao: “How is your shifu?”
Le’an: “Thank you for asking, shifu’s health is good, since shishu you left the mountain, he mentions you often, if he knew you were safe and well, he would be very happy.”
Their shifu was in the same martial generation as Shen Qiao, but was quite a bit older in age, he was always focused on training on Xuandushan, and rarely cared for sect matters, only in his later years did he accept these two disciples.
Shen Qiao: “I have also kept Liu-shixiong in my thoughts, I’m about to go up the mountain to see him.”
Hearing his words, the two young Daoists had two completely different reactions.
Yunchang’s joy was written on his face, Le’an tried to hide his concern. Taking in the change in their expressions, Shen Qiao, purposefully:
“What, you’re not coming up the mountain with me?”
Yunchang was ﬁrst to react, not waiting for Le’an to respond, he already said: “If Shen-shishu is willing to return, we would be extremely happy!”
Shen Qiao smiled: “But I see your Le’an-shixiong doesn’t appear too happy.”
Le’an rushed to fold his hands in respect: “Shen-shishu speaks seriously, it’s only because Yu-zhangjiao has gone missing, the situation is a bit chaotic, we’re not willing to get caught up in it, our original intention coming down the mountain was to have a reprieve.” Who knew we’d run into you.
That ﬁght between Shen Qiao and Kunye, after he lost and fell into the canyon, in that long interim, jianghu rumours spread erratically, they recirculated in bits and pieces back to Xuandushan, Shen Qiao’s reputation took a big hit, although people wouldn’t speak about it openly, they still felt Shen-zhangjiao losing to Kunye made Xuandushan’s position fall a thousand feet, Xuandushan lost a lot of face, this kind of attitude led to not many people opposing Yu Ai’s appointment as zhangjiao, everyone felt Yu Ai had brains and ability, he could lead Xuandushan back to its glory.
But Le’an and Yunchang’s shifu at the time didn’t regard Yu Ai favourably, he ordered them not to be involved in sect matters, their group of three withdrew from everyone’s ﬁeld of vision, and had a very weak sense of presence, Le and Yun these two were still young, they were eager to jump in, although they had shifu’s orders, they were unhappy about it, who knew things later would develop in such an unexpected direction, it also conﬁrmed how right their shifu had been, as Yu Ai reached a bottleneck in his dealings with Tujue, as well the conﬁguration of the central plains changing drastically, with the north entered a new dynasty, Sui after Zhou, Tujue’s inﬂuence in the central plains gradually diminished, Xuandushan’s position grew more and more awkward.
It was at this time, zhangjiao Yu Ai suddenly disappeared one night, Xuandushan was rendered leaderless, Qi Fengge’s eldest disciple Tan Yuanchun became zhangjiao in the interim, although Tan Yuanchun was previously an elder, his personality was not commanding enough, many people on Xuandushan had their objections, among them elder Liu Yue was the most vocal, the two struggled for power behind the scenes.
Le’an’s shifu used seclusion as an excuse to not see anyone, but Le’an and Yunchang had people showing up at their doors, they were quite vexed, so they had exchanged tasks with someone else to go down the mountain to buy provisions, the truth was to get some peace of mind.
Hearing the details of these happenings, Shen Qiao was momentarily silent: “Yu Ai as zhangjiao, his wugong is also uncommonly strong, and he was on Xuandushan, how could he have disappeared in one night, did you hear any talk of it after?”
The two of them shook their heads: “Shifu’s orders, we are still young, we’re not permitted to engage in any sect aﬀairs, but the few days right before Yu Ai-shishu’s disappearance, a Tujue delegate came to the mountain, something about things they wanted us to do, but was refused by Yu Ai- shishu, both sides departed on bad terms, so lots of people have been saying Yu Ai-shishu’s disappearance is related to Tujue!”
This was very much in line with what Yuan Ying had previously said.
Shen Qiao asked further: “That day the delegate from Tujue, did you recognize them?” Le’an and Yunchang both said no.
As far as things went, the two young disciples didn’t know much, there wasn’t anything left to ask, Shen Qiao said: “I intend to take a trip up the mountain, do you want to come with me, or would you rather stay here in town?”
The two looked at each other, Yunchang said: “Shen-shishu, why don’t we go up with you, lest you be at a disadvantage!”
Le’an couldn’t shut Yunchang up in time, he didn’t say anything, resigned to his shidi’s words.
Shen Qiao smiled, Yunchang was faster to speak, he was always straighforward, whereas Le’an was more cautious, but wasn’t a bad person, otherwise he would have said something to refuse.
“Nevermind, it was hard for you to get time oﬀ to come into town, you should stay and frolic to your heart’s content, going back a day or two later should be ﬁne.”
Le’an could see that this trip for Shen Qiao would not be resolved easily, likely he’ll be struggling for the position of zhangjiao, this would require the support of the elders, he had thought that Shen Qiao would force them up the mountain with him, to pull shifu into his faction, who knew Shen Qiao didn’t mention this at all, their suspicions were entirely their own narrow-heartedness.
“As long as the position of zhangjiao stands vacant, Xuandushan will not rest, Shen-shishu, only you were personally chosen by Qi-zhengren to be zhangjiao.” Shen Qiao had been so straightforward, Le’an felt a bit guilty, he hurried to clarify where he stood.
The meaning being, they won’t participate, but if they had to pick, they’d deﬁnitely pick Shen Qiao.
His little bit of cleverness was not lost on Shen Qiao, but it was not in Shen Qiao to make things diﬃcult for a young person.
“Many thanks.” He clapped Le’an’s shoulder. “Don’t get into trouble in town, head back soon.”
His tone was even, like giving an everyday greeting, if you didn’t know you would’ve thought Shen Qiao was just going for a walk on the mountain.
The two young Daoists watched Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei’s retreating backs for a long time, Yunchang suddenly said: “Shixiong, we should have gone with Shen-shishu! Last time shizun’s words were full of self blame for not being able to stand up for Shen-shishu, if his respectful elderly self saw us shrinking back from responsibility, he probably wouldn’t be happy.”
Le’an: “Liu-zhanglao wants to be zhangjiao so bad, he probably wouldn’t relinquish it easily to Shen-shishu, this time Shen-shishu’s trip up the mountain, we don’t know the conclusion, what if we followed him, and people thought we were in Shen-shishu’s faction, wouldn’t we have implicated shifu?”
Yunchang hung his head and sighed: “Ay, I just feel we were unkind.”
Le’an ultimately couldn’t see his shidi disappointed: “What if we followed them at a distance in secret?”
Yunchang: “That’s good!”
On Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei’s end, their route up the mountain, when the disciples standing guard saw him, all of them had a similar reaction to Le’an and Yunchang — as if seeing a ghost in broad daylight, ﬁrst tongue-tied, then shock, most of them could only watch the two of them go up the mountain, didn’t dare stand in their way, but soon there was a small group who blocked their path, with no courtesy someone said: “Xuandushan’s discarded disciple, you dare break in!”
Shen Qiao recognized him, this person was zhanglao Liu Yue’s disciple-in-name: “Lou Liang, how come after so many years, how come you’re still here guarding the mountain?”
This phrase was said very warmly, like a common greeting, but struck a bullseye on the other’s soft spot, Lou Liang immediately went red in the face, perhaps from embarrassment or rage: “You, you… Shen Qiao you disrespectful disgraced disciple, today’s Xuandushan has no place for you!”
Shen Qiao smiled gently: “You’re right, my abrupt trip up the mountain is a bit rude, I should have someone showing me the way, I see that you’re most appropriate.”
Saying this, he clasped his hand on Lou Liang’s shoulder.
Lou Liang clearly saw that the other wasn’t moving fast, and did not try any tricks, but before he could react he was seized, he felt a pain shoot from his shoulder, leaving him no room to escape, his expression changed.
Since Xuandushan reopened its doors, news was no longer so stiﬂed like before, stories of Shen Qiao’s exploits would intermittently enter the disciples’ ears, but hearing rumours was not as good as seeing it in person, even if they’d heard a hundred times how strong Shen Qiao was rumoured to be, it couldn’t compare to seeing it with their own eyes.
Lou Liang was no fool, he understood immediately that he had gifted himself to be made an example of, rushed to reverse his mistake: “Shen-shishu spare my life, this disciple was only following orders, to prevent anyone from going up the mountain, I meant no disrespect to you shishu!” Shen Qiao’s brow ﬂickered: “No one can go up the mountain?
Is something happening on the mountain?”
Lou Liang was ready to say everything, didn’t dare hold back: “Yes, the elders are meeting right now to decide who will be the next zhangjiao.”
Shen Qiao: “Are all the elders present?”
Lou Liang: “Only Kong-zhanglao is in seclusion, so is absent.”
The Kong-zhanglao he mentioned, was Le’an and Yunchang’s shifu.
With such a cautious shifu, no wonder the disciples were as such. Bian Yanmei didn’t said anything as he stood by and observed, but thought this to himself.
What Shen Qiao was thinking was: the consequences of Xuandushan’s several generations of seclusion were coming to the surface, the long time closed doors had closed off people’s hearts, there was people like Yu Ai with ambition, there was also people like Kong-zhanglao whose fears had been fed by the seclusion, who felt one less thing was better than one more thing, merely interested in self-preservation.
“What good timing, I should go listen too.”
Lou Liang: “I’ll show shishu the way!”
The truth was even if he didn’t want to lead the way it didn’t matter, that fair, graceful hand was clamped like a vice on his shoulder, Lou Liang was in great pain but didn’t dare show it, he walked faster, while his face demonstrated an eager expression as he explained the current situation to Shen Qiao.
The others seeing Lou Liang defeated, who else would dare try to block their way by force, they made way for Shen Qiao the three of them as they climbed.
This was not entirely on intimidation from Shen Qiao’s wugong, when Shen Qiao was zhangjiao previously, he treated disciples very well, he was fair with reward and discipline, alone or with small groups he also wasn’t pretentious, many disciples looked up to and respected him, up until the ﬁght at Banbu Peak, when Yu Ai formed an alliance with the elders and forcefully claimed his position, everyone was beyond unprepared, many disciples were afraid to speak up, but they certainly had their own thoughts, now seeing Shen Qiao’s return, many of them appeared delighted.
Lou Liang saw all of these reactions, he made some calculations, whispered to Shen Qiao: “Shen-shishu, this disciple realizes that you on this return will seek out justice, my shifu has always been loyal towards Xuandushan, he’s only dissatisﬁed with Tan-zhanglao’s mediocre abilities and still wanting to be zhangjiao, only then did he oppose it strongly, this disciple dares ask for your tolerance and generosity, that you won’t make things diﬃcult for him, please?”
This person was crude and rash, but as least he had a sliver of conscience. Shen Qiao smiled: “And if I want to make things diﬃcult?”
Lou Liang was at a loss for words, he’d muddled through so many years and was still only a disciple-in-name, the reason was his calibre was average, and also his shifu Liu Yue was someone who admitted disciples based on appearance, to the people who were not beautiful he excluded all of them, Lou Liang looked average, so was missing this layer of luck, and because he was already Liu Yue’s disciple-in- name he couldn’t seek another elder, Lou Liang on account of this was extremely depressed, he thought that no matter what, he had said his piece and done his duty and diligence, whatever Shen-shishu was going to do, he had no say in the matter.
With Lou Liang leading them, Shen Bian these two had no further impediments on their route, some of the newly recruited disciples didn’t recognize Shen Qiao, still called out to Lou Liang: “Lou- shixiong, wasn’t there an order that no irrelevant people can come up the mountain?”
Lou Liang’s face was solemn: “Who said this was irrelevant people, this is my Shen-shishu, he’s rushed back to attend the meeting!”
The others were intimidated, they didn’t press further before letting them go on, this saved Shen Qiao from having to act again.
All in all, Lou Liang was quite useful.
Watching Lou Liang’s departing form, the disciple by the path was left in bewilderment, he asked his companion: “I don’t remember our sect having a Shen-shishu?”
The companion wracked his brains, suddenly came to a realization:
“Shen…could it be that person, Shen Qiao?!”
The two of them were dumbstruck, their expression changed, but by the time they had realized this, the group had already moved on, it was too late to stop them now.
Shen Qiao and Lou Liang came to a stop not far from the entrance of Sanqingdian , they were just in time to hear a loud shout come from inside: “Tan Yuanchun! The only reason you were interim zhangjiao was that after Yu Ai-zhangjiao’s disappearance someone needed to manage sect aﬀairs, so we didn’t object, but interim zhangjiao and zhangjiao is not the same, with respect to wugong, you are not ranked ﬁrst on Xuandushan, in the jianghu you are even more rankless, by what reason do you think you can sit in the zhangjiao position!”
Lou Liang looked awkward, because this voice belonged to his shifu Liu Yue. Due to the importance of today’s meeting, everyone present was a Xuandushan elder, they were conﬁdent in their wugong, so they didn’t make their disciples stand guard outside, so Shen Qiao’s group of three were able to walk quite close without anyone noticing.
Comparatively, the person who replied spoke calmly, no sign of irritation or anger, as if they were not vexed at all by what was said: “Liu-zhanglao, we can all speak respectfully, isn’t that why we are having this discussion? I am no talent, among the elders, I have the least experience, but I understand, the reason why everyone recommended me, it’s not because my wugong is the strongest, but because I’ve managed sect aﬀairs for years and am very familiar with them, in the end, who becomes zhangjiao is not important, the important thing is to be able to contribute to Xuandu Purple Pavillion, wouldn’t you agree?”
Liu Yue, a cold laugh: “Acoording to your logic, it doesn’t matter how strong the zhangjiao’s wugong is, they only need to be familiar with managing sect matters? I have a disciple- in-name Lou Liang, everyday he’s dealing with sect matters, wouldn’t he be more appropriate then?”
Hearing this, not only did Lou Liang standing outside want the earth to swallow him, even Tan Yuanchun looked displeased.
Liu Yue: “Tan-shidi, a person should know their limitations, why did Qi-zhengren those years ago skip over you his eldest disciple for Shen-zhangjiao, wasn’t it exactly because your calibre was average? If we must pick you, I’d rather ask Shen-shidi to come back, I heard Shen-shidi’s wugong has improved recently, long surpassed his previous level, he has previous experience being zhangjiao, however you look at it he’s more appropriate?”
Hearing this, Shen Qiao no longer stayed silent, he raised his foot and walked right in: “Thank you Liu-zhanglao for your favour.” No one expected Shen Qiao to appear silently outside, and silently walk in, the interior of the hall fell into an unusual hush.
After a few moments, Tan Yuanchun walked over to greet him, looking delighted: “Er-shidi, when did you get back!”
Shen Qiao: “Just now, hearing that you were all here discussing the matter of zhangjiao, I came over, I hope I’m not interrupting you?”
The crowd, more or less, looked very awkward.
After Shen Qiao’s fall, Yu Ai took over as zhangjiao, scrutinizing the process it was shady and illegitimate, but at the time he had the support of the elders and forced his way into the position, no one could say no, of course everyone must have thought about it in their own minds, the reality now was Shen Qiao was still a person of Xuandu Purple Pavilion, with Yu Ai disappeared, Shen Qiao’s return, no one could contest the position of zhangjiao as belonging to Shen Qiao.
Needless to say, Qi Fengge’s shanhetongbei sword was still on his back!
Liu Yue was the ﬁrst to be able to react, before anyone else could say anything: “Since Shen-shidi has returned, all is well, Yu Ai has disappeared, Xuandushan was leaderless, we were looking for someone who could take on the mantle, since you’re here, we all feel more secure!”
Tan Yuanchun also smiled: “Yes, A-Qiao, it’s good you’re back, do you need to take a break before speaking further?”
Meeting his concerned eyes, Shen Qiao politely declined: “Thank you Da-shixiong, we’ve already rested at the foot of the mountain, I heard something happened to Yu Ai?”
Tan Yuanchun: “Yes, Yu-shidi suddenly disappeared several days ago, the night before he seemed ﬁne, the next day we couldn’t ﬁnd a trace of him, we looked all over Xuandushan and did not ﬁnd him.”
He stopped there, his gaze moving to Bian Yanmei who was standing behind Shen Qiao, he asked uncertainly: “And this is?”
Shen Qiao had no intention of concealing anything: “This is Huanyue Sect Yan-zongzhu’s disciple, Bian Yanmei, Bian- daoyou.”
With this said, everyone looked towards Bian Yanmei, the latter wasn’t at all embarrassed or ill at ease, instead he conﬁdently welcomed everyone’s appraisal.
Tan Yuanchun was ﬁrst shocked, then appeared in pain: “That day on the mountain, you were taken away by Yan-zongzhu, I couldn’t stop him in time, it is shixiong who is useless, but I didn’t think you’d still be conniving with people from the demonic sect!”
Shen Qiao’s expression didn’t change: “Shixiong speaks seriously, the word conniving, Shen Qiao cannot undertake, shixiong saw with your own eyes that day, I was almost captured by Yu Ai and was fortunate to be saved by Yan- zongzhu, but after the fact you didn’t go to seek me out?”
Tan Yuanchun sighed: “A-Qiao, don’t be upset with Da- shixiong, back then Yu Ai had control of Xuandushan, how could I mobilize the disciples to look for you?”
Shen Qiao, blandly: “Even Yuan Ying and Gu Hengbo could leave everything behind, leave the mountain to look for me, it would appear that my expectations for Da-shixiong were too high.”
Tan Yuanchun: “A-Qiao, I know you’re upset…” “Da-shixiong,” Shen Qiao interrupted: “In everyone’s heart, you were always the good guy, kind towards everyone, so all of us martial siblings adored you, but a good person doesn’t equal having no moral bottom line, you were deceived by Yu Ai, couldn’t do anything about it, I don’t blame you, but that day, I clearly said in front of you how Yu Ai poisoned me, even if you didn’t believe it, shouldn’t you still have looked into it afterwards? Instead, Yuan Ying and Gu Hengbo who didn’t hear the truth that day were still willing to believe me, now we see each other after such a long parting, not only do you not ask about this, but use Huanyue Sect to call my character into question, of course I am bitterly disappointed!”
Tan Yuanchun’s expression ﬁnally changed: “What is your intention?”
At this time, a disciple that had been on guard duty rushed in, his body was stained with blood: “Bad news, elders, Hehuan Sect is attacking the mountain, and, and there’s also Tujue!”
Everyone’s expression changed hearing this, zhanglao Lian Shan said: “A while back Tujue was here, saying they were hoping Xuandushan would form an alliance with Tujue, Yu-zhangji…” He had wanted to say the two words zhangjiao, but looking at Shen Qiao, he changed his mind: “Yu-shidi refused, they must have not been able to accept this, this time aligning with Hehuan Sect, they want to use this chance before the zhangjiao is decided to cause trouble!”
Shen Qiao said “Tujue wasn’t able to conquer the central plains, between them and Xuandushan is the entirety of Zhou, they couldn’t control Xuandushan directly, they can only work with Hehuan Sect.”
Liu Yue didn’t wait for Tan Yuanchun to speak, seizing the opportunity: “Then as Shen-shidi sees it, what should we do?”
Shen Qiao: “We can only adapt accordingly: force against force, dirt against water.”
He described it with levity, but the others were nowhere near as lighthearted.
Tan Yuanchun: “They’ve already slaughtered their way up the mountain, clearly have no good intentions, if we shrink back like turtles into their shells, we’ll permit the devastation of the disciples outside, in this moment we need to demonstrate our resolve, meet the enemy directly.”
No one had any objections to this, no matter how heated their arguments had been, it was to do with the inner workings of Xuandushan, now against an external enemy, they should have a united front.
Shen Qiao also had no intention of ﬁghting over such a detail, he followed the others outside.
At this time, the opposing side had converged on the mountain, came face to face with Tan Yuanchun and the exiting elders from Sanqingdian.
Xiao Se who had been in the lead declared in a clear, loud voice: “It’s too much for all the elders of Xuandushan to greet us, you are really too kind!”
Liu Yue smiled coldly: “You injured our disciples, break into our sect, and still dare to speak shamelessly!”
His character was ﬁery, he drew his sword, his intention was to ﬁght without holding back.
Xiao Se took half a step back, twirled his fan in front of him: “Your wugong is average, you’re no match for my shizun, why rush forward to your own humiliation? I heard a rumour that Xuandushan Yu-zhangjiao has vanished, rendering you all leaderless, today I see that it’s indeed true, why else would things be such a mess?”
Tan Yuanchun, frowning: “Our inner sect matters doesn’t require your intervention, today Xuandushan is closed to visitors, no one invited you here, it’s beyond rude!”
Xiao Se smiled: “You don’t look familiar, which elder are you?”
Tan Yuanchun: “Tan Yuanchun.”
Xiao Se raised a eyebrow: “Rumour has it that Qi Fengge Qi- zhengren had a ﬁrst disciple, although he became a disciple the earliest he didn’t stand out, that year when Qi Fengge was deciding his successor, he skipped the ﬁrst disciple, and chose the second disciple Shen Qiao, was it so?”
He clearly saw Shen Qiao present, purposefully provoking conﬂict. Shen Qiao’s attention was not on Xiao Se, he was watching Sang
Jingxing, and Duan Wenyang.
This time the newcomers were numerous, but compared to that day at shijiandahui, there were less people from Hehuan Sect, Shen Qiao noticed Yuan Xiuxiu was not among them, also missing were several familiar faces of Hehuan Sect disciples — Shen Qiao didn’t know their names but remembered them.
Bai Rong, when Shen Qiao’s gaze landed on her, winked at him, and smiled.
Shen Qiao looked away uncomfortably.
Bian Yanmei bent over and whispered: “Hehuan Sect, man or woman, all eat people whole even the bones, they most enjoy men like Shen-daozhang whose yang energy is full and brimming, you’d better watch yourself!”
Shen Qiao, neither laughing nor crying: “…I think Bai Rong is not that bad.”
Nevermind that he had no intention of that kind.
Bian Yanmei unaware of the situation was afraid he would fall for it, gave him a reminder: “Shen-zhangjiao may think she looks innocent, but she’s dual cultivated with who knows how many young men, technically her shifu Sang Jingxing was also a patron behind her curtains.”
Shen Qiao already knew of this matter, hearing it again, couldn’t help but sigh: “To be a person in this world, who doesn’t wish to live by their will, but then who can disregard their circumstances. The most cruel of people, even if they show a little mercy, I don’t want to overlook it.”
He still remembered himself in those dire situations, how Bai Rong showed mercy, gave him hints, although it couldn’t be described as lifesaving as bringing hot coals into a snowstorm, but in a situation where she could have thrown the stone after him into the well, and gained favour for her sect, she didn’t pursue it to the end, for this alone Shen Qiao felt he was obligated to remember his debt.
Bian Yanmei knew Shen Qiao’s character to be kind, but didn’t except him to have such a different outlook towards Bai Rong, he thought: you’re this soft-hearted, no wonder you’re hopeless when it comes to shizun.
They exchanged a few more words in whispers, on the other end things were about to combust between Xuandu Sect and Hehuan Sect, one more word, swords drawn and arrows notched, the reason that nothing had started was that along with Hehuan Sect, Duan Wenyang and a few unfamiliar Tujue faces were also present, Xuandushan lacked a clear leader, for now they were scattered, everyone had their own reservations, weren’t conﬁdent about having the upper hand, and so hadn’t made the ﬁrst move.
The newcomers had also realized this, Duan Wenyang, smiling-not- smiling: “I hear your respected sect is deciding on a zhangjiao today, we’re here for the fun, clearly your sect is not united on any front, it would probably be hard to arrive at a decision, how about we help with the process?”
Tan Yuanchun, a decisive rejection: “Xuandushan sect matters has no place for outsiders! Please leave at once, otherwise don’t blame us for what happens next!”
As soon as he said this he was reprimanded by Liu Yue: “On their way up the mountain they injured who knows how many of our disciples, we can’t let them oﬀ so easily!” Duan Wenyang laughed: “Can’t let them oﬀ easily, and what would you like to see?”
“Naturally, for you to leave your life here!” This sentence was not said by anyone in the crowd, the voice was hoarse, despite maximum effort, it was quiet, if not for everyone present having strong wugong, they wouldn’t have heard it at all.
Everyone looked in the direction of the voice, were all totally dumbstruck.
They saw a person make their way towards Sanqingdian, heavy footsteps, as if carrying internal injuries, his leg was injured too, his gait was unbalanced, his clothes were splattered with blood, his face was also not spared: he looked battered and worn to the extreme.
But no one from Xuandushan would not recognize him.
The newest arrival was indeed Yu Ai.
In his hand was a bamboo pole he used as a crutch, step by step he walked towards them.
Duan Wenyang also appeared shocked: “Rumour has it that Yu- zhangjiao vanished several days ago, looks like rumours can’t be trusted!”
Yu Ai looked at him coldly: “That I’m not dead, I guess you’re sorely disappointed?”
Duan Wenyang broke into a laugh: “What does it have to do with me? I heard that as soon as you died, your Xuandushan fought over the position of zhangjiao, Yu-zhangjiao should suspect your martial siblings instead!”
Tan Yuanchun, concerned: “Yu-shidi, you’re still injured, you should go get your wounds treated and rest!”
Yu Ai shot him a look: “I was wrong.” Everyone was confused by this non-sequitur. Tan Yuanchun: “What wrong?”
Yu Ai, blandly: “I was solely focused on securing Xuandushan’s legacy for the next thousand years, I felt that the previous generations of grandmasters were too stubborn sealing themselves oﬀ, unwilling to open their eyes and take a look at the world outside, so I spent my eﬀorts plotting against Shen-shixiong, working with Tujue, I thought that under my leadership, Xuandushan could re-establish itself as the number one Daoist sect under the heavens, who knew I was wrong from the start, working with Tujue, akin to asking a tiger for its skin, I wasn’t willing to be their puppet, to surrender Xuandushan to them, so they struck a deadly blow, chasing me from the position of zhangjiao, choosing to support another who would be willing to be a puppet zhangjiao, and in return receive Xuandushan’s hundred-year holdings.”
Tan Yuanchun, stunned: “Does that mean your disappearance had to do with the Tujue?”
Yu Ai, coldly: “That night I was in seclusion, someone mimicked Shen-shixiong’s writing in a letter they sent by pigeon, it said they were waiting for me in the courtyard on the outer mountain, who knew that after I arrived, I was ambushed by three mystery people, they all had their faces covered, wore black, had strong wugong, I was no match, received severe injuries, fell oﬀ the cliﬀ, my descent was stopped by branches, I was fortunate to escape death, return to the land of the living today, perhaps the heavens took pity on me, gave me this chance to point out who’s responsible.” Liu Yue furrowed his brows: “You mean, someone pretended to be Shen-shidi and sent you a letter?”
Tan Yuanchun asked further: “Who were those three mystery people?”
Yu Ai shook his head: “I don’t know, throughout they did not reveal their face, but I know, it was deﬁnitely not Er- shixiong.”
Shen Qiao, blandly: “Someone mimicking my writing in a letter to you, and you believed them at once, this means you had a guilty conscience.”
Yu Ai, bitterly: “Er-shixiong is right, up until now, everything I’ve done, nothing has come to fruition, but has caused you harm, caused you to…”
His mind was a mess, he paused, after a few moments he forced himself back into calm: “Caused you to suﬀer that kind of bitter misery, I am sorry.”
If an apology was useful, murder, arson would also be ﬁne after the fact? Shen Qiao was not moved by this “I am sorry”.
“You speak seriously.”
He’s not even willing to address me as shidi? Yu Ai’s expression was bleak, bitterly he said: “This is what I deserve.”
Tan Yuanchun: “Yu-shidi, with our enemy in front of us, can we discuss your situation later?”
“No! Because my ambush was certainly related to Tujue!” Yu Ai took a deep breath, questioned Duan Wenyang: “A few days before, I’d just refused your suggestions, not willing to be Tujue’s puppet, immediately after I was ambushed, if you say you weren’t involved, even a fool wouldn’t believe you!” Duan Wenyang laughed: “Yu-zhangjiao shouldn’t randomly accuse the innocent, I’m not from Xuandushan, how would I be able to sneak in without a trace, no matter what I’d have to injure a handful of disciples!”
Shen Qiao suddenly replied: “If there was a mole in Xuandushan working with you, naturally no one would be the wiser.”
Liu Yue, Tan Yuanchun, and the others hearing this, all were shocked: “What does Shen-shidi mean?”
Shen Qiao said blandly: “Yuan Ying said to me, Tujue could not get through to Yu Ai with threats nor promises, had their designs on ﬁnding someone else, Tujue told him if he was willing to obey, they would help him into the zhangjiao position, since Yuan Ying didn’t agree, logically they would look for others, I think, eventually there would be someone who couldn’t resist the enticement.”
Yu Ai coughed, held his chest and said: “It’s true, ﬁrst I was ambushed, then in the interim when the zhangjiao was undecided, you all came up the mountain, even if no one snuck out a message, clearly today was planned!”
Duan Wenyang and the others picking this interval to come to the mountain, their intention was not to out-argue everyone on Xuandushan, Yu Ai’s appearance was unintended, but this accident didn’t really affect too much, but Shen Qiao, Shen Qiao was a problem.
Coming to a decision, Duan Wenyang exchanged a glance with Sang Jingxing, and then he laughed: “If Yu-zhangjiao says it like this, if I don’t act the role of the villain, it would disappoint you!”
He waved his hand, the Tujue behind him received his command, raised their sabres and lunged towards Liu Yue, Tan Yuanchun, etc., surrounding them.
The elders all had varying levels of wugong, even someone like Tan Yuanchun with very average calibre, that was only in comparison to Qi Fengge’s other disciples, he wasn’t someone that could be easily challenged by anybody, but to be brought up the mountain by Duan Wenyang, these Tujue were also no lightweights, in an instant they clashed, knife glint sword shadow, very loud.
Duan Wenyang stood to the side, did not join in, smiling he said: “These people were personally trained by my shizun, could be counted as the ﬁercest warriors among the Tujue, they’ve long heard how strong Xuandushan’s daozhangs were, today is a good time for them to learn, I implore each and every daozhang to show no mercy!”
Liu Yue and the rest were preoccupied, who would have the leisure to reply to him?
Lou Liang saw Duan Wenyang look his way, he froze, terriﬁed that he’d pick on his trivial, disciple self, he couldn’t help shrinking back behind Shen Qiao.
Liu Yue a swipe of his blade, forced the Tujue back, shouted: “Shen-shidi, in the past Xuandushan owes you a lot, that day Yu Ai deemed you a disgraced disciple, I did speak out on your behalf, I beg you to consider Qi-zhengren, defend Xuandushan, don’t let these thieves get any advantage!”
Duan Wenyang laughed out loud: “Shen-daozhang, I feel bad for you! When you fell, they didn’t help, now they’re in trouble, and want you to return a favour, if you don’t feel wronged, I feel wronged on your behalf! As I see it, ignore them, after they’re all dead, the zhangjiao position is yours again, how about it?” “Nothing about it.” Shen Qiao said blandly, “Yu Ai self- proclaimed his zhangjiao position, I didn’t agree to it, he expelled me from Xuandushan, but I am still Qi Fengge’s disciple.”
From his back, he pulled out shanhetongbei, the swordbody shone under the sun, rippling, the gradual sound of wind and thunder.
“With me here, no one will touch Xuandushan.” He said this evenly, it carried no threat of moving earth or mountain, but no one dared underestimate him.
“Shen-shidi, let me help you!”
In this moment, there came a shout from the side, the shadows of three people approached, one in front and two in the back, zhanglao Kong Zeng was in the lead, behind him were his dicsiples — Le’an and Yunchang who Shen Qiao had met in town.
These two had followed Shen Qiao at a distance, only wanting to observe the action, they didn’t expect Tujue and Hehuan Sect to ascend the mountain looking for trouble, internal conﬂict they didn’t dare interfere, but an external attack was something else entirely, the two of them hurried to seek out their shifu Kong Zeng Kong- zhanglao, then rushed with Kong-zhanglao all the way here.
Kong Zeng stood in front of Shen Qiao, folded his hands in greeting: “Kong Zeng is late, I await zhangjiao’s discipline.”
Shen Qiao nodded: “Kong-zhanglao was in the middle of seclusion, an important junction, to have rushed over is already fortune, what discipline?”
It was uncertain whether he heard zhangjiao these two words addressed to him, Shen Qiao didn’t deny them.
Kong Zeng’s old face however was ﬂushed with embarrassment, seclusion was an excuse, the truth was that he didn’t want to participate in his sect’s selection of the next zhangjiao.
He didn’t know whether Shen Qiao had already seen through him, could only muddle through, saying: “With the enemy before us, I cannot think solely of myself, these ruﬃans, let me take care of them, zhangjiao doesn’t need to bother with them!”
Duan Wenyang continued to stand there, clearly disregarding Kong Zeng: “I’m afraid you’re no match for me.”
Kong Zeng laughed coldly: “Arguing is pointless, you’ll know soon enough!”
Saying this he advanced with sword in hand, aimed for Duan Wenyang!
This ﬁght starting, Hehuan Sect could no longer just stand by and watch, except for Sang Jingxing, everyone else moved, in a moment ﬁghts broke out everywhere.
Le’an Yunchang these two were assisting their shifu, but they were too young, their wugong hadn’t reached a certain stage, to be matched against Xiao Se Bai Rong they were at a disadvantage, very soon they were on the defensive.
Yunchang’s sword style had a clear opening, Xiao Se’s ﬁnger became a claw, broke through his sword aura to grab at his neck, the movement fast as lightening, Yuuchang had no time to react before he was put in a chokehold, Xiao Se only needed to use a little force, and he would die here!
This lightening-ﬁre round, Yunchang had no time to resist, nevermind Le’an beside him.
Just as Yunchang accepted that this was his deathdate, he heard someone laugh quietly beside him: “Xiao Se, you have some renown, how can you still pick soft persimmons to squeeze?” Hearing this sentence, Yunchang felt the pressure let up around his neck, followed by the horror of having narrowly escaped death.
Bian Yanmei extended a palm, Xiao Se was forced to drop Yunchang to meet him head-on, his fan blocking the palm aura, he ﬁlled it with inner qi and returned the attack, on both sides, their robes billowed, in an instant more than ten moves had been exchanged.
“I thought Yan Wushi’s eldest disciple was outstanding, but it’s just this!” Xiao Se laughed coldly. “As I see it your wugong is not that much stronger than Yu Shengyan’s!”
In front of Sanqingdian, people fought in close-quarters, killing intent was pervasive, everything descended into chaos.
Shen Qiao however hadn’t moved.
Because in the crowd there was another who also hadn’t moved. Sang Jingxing.
Last time at shijiandahui, ﬁrst there was Yuan Xiuxiu running interference, then Hulugu’s appearance, Shen Qiao ultimately didn’t get a chance to ﬁght Sang Jingxing.
But Sang Jingxing could see the transformation that Shen Qiao had undergone.
Compared to previous, the other was no longer the blind man subject to anyone’s whims.
Although his gaze and handsomeness was even more striking than before, he’d regrettably become a ﬂower with thorns, no longer easily digestible.
That day the regret of not being able to get what was at hand still plagued Sang Jingxing, additionally he was seriously injured by the other, old hate new vengeance combined, he would not let Shen Qiao off easily, he also understood, he had forced Shen Qiao into destroying his own wugong, the other could similarly not leave things as they were.
“Shen Qiao, seeing you, I feel it is regrettable.” He suddenly smiled.
Shen Qiao watched him without replying, he didn’t ask what was regrettable.
Sang Jingxing: “Regrettable that under Banbu Peak the person who found you wasn’t me.” Otherwise how could he let Yan Wushi win that round?
This kind of beauty, this kind of calibre, he was born to be part of Hehuan Sect, he ought to have been a training tool spending his time behind the bedcurtains.
Shen Qiao was not surprised and not angry, but asked an unrelated question: “Where is Yuan-zongzhu? After our farewell, this poor one has missed her.”
Sang Jingxing, a small smile: “I forgot to tell you, today Hehuan Sect zongzhu is a diﬀerent person, if you are willing to visit Hehuan Sect, I might be willing to show you where her bones are buried in the water.”
Shen Qiao raised an eyebrow: “You killed her?”
Sang Jingxing: “You’re surprised?”
Shen Qiao shook his head: “I’ve long heard you two were ﬁghting, just that Yuan-zongzhu doesn’t seem like the type of person to sit around waiting for her death.”
Sang Jingxing: “She deﬁnitely had her smarts, otherwise I wouldn’t have waited until now to kill her.” Shen Qiao: “It is regrettable.”
Sang Jingxing: “You liked her?”
Shen Qiao: “Although Yuan-zongzhu was a woman, compared to you, she had the aura beﬁtting the head of a sect, if you are the zongzhu, I’m afraid after today Hehuan Sect will have to change their status again.”
Sang Jingxing, vexed to the extreme, laughing: “What does that mean?”
Shen Qiao: “The meaning is, I’m going to kill you.”
Saying this, he moved.
A small movement of his wrists, his form became shadow, within the abrupt ten thousand zhang all-encompassing sword light, his form vanished.
Body moves to will, sword moves to soul, mountains and rivers despair, heavens and earth turn pale!
In the face of Shen Qiao’s full sky of sword light, Sang Jingxing didn’t wait for death, where others saw an impenetrable sword front, Sang Jingxing didn’t have that same degree of horror.
Shen Qiao’s opponent was a grandmaster after all.
Sang Jingxing’s steps were as swift as shooting stars, his sleeves billowing, his whole person moving in the wind, rising in the sky, mid- air, he struck out his palm towards Shen Qiao standing behind his sword front.
The sword light was affected by the palm strike, like starlight refracting on the lake surface suddenly disrupted, in a moment it had coalesced again, then wobbled and crumpled, Sang Jingxing’s palm strike had tore it open!
Sang Jingxing remained in mid-air, resting his feet on nothing, as others saw it, there ought to have been a series of stones beneath his feet that he could step on as he took to the sky.
He had a large stature, now with the wind greeting him mid-air, his robes bellowed, Diaolong Palm Style manifested at its peak, like a dragon dominating the skies, roaring its mastery over all things, astounding everyone present, its will to rise straight into the high heavens.
Although everyone present was embroiled in a ﬁght, there were a few with average wugong, Xuandushan disciples unable to get a hand in, they could only stand by with their swords while watching the ﬁghts shouting encouragement, now seeing how strong Sang Jingxing was, their hearts were in their throats, staring blankly at the zhengqi coalesced “huge dragon”, under Sang Jingxing’s control, it roared and dove down, headed towards Shen Qiao.
Comparing the two, Shen Qiao appeared lesser, weaker.
“What devil trick is Sang Jingxing using, that he can step on air and continue to climb!” A disciple couldn’t stop himself from commenting.
Lou Liang had his head raised watching, his mouth hanging open, at the same time in his heart there was a feeling of self-pity and shame caused by the insurmountable difference he was seeing.
What year what month would I be able to achieve Sang Jingxing’s level of wugong? Actually I don’t need his level, even one or two part of his ten, I would be satisﬁed!
But if the other was so powerful, Shen-shishu…would he be able to deal with him?
At this moment, Bian Yanmei and Xiao Se the two of them were in the throes of their ﬁght, Le’an had crossed paths with Bai Rong, Yunchang’s wugong was a notch below, he couldn’t get a hand in and didn’t want to cause trouble for his shixiong, could only watch from the side, ready to step in at anytime — in truth Bai Rong’s wugong was better than Le’an by not a little bit, even Le’an had noticed, the witch he was facing wasn’t making any effort, in the face of his sword’s advance, she was more than capable, it looked more as if she was toying with him, Le’an was upset, but couldn’t do anything about this, he could only determinedly continue to struggle with the other.
Hearing someone ask this, Yunchang explained to them: “Unless they were a god, otherwise how could they ﬂy in the air? Look closely, he’s actually borrowing momentum, each of those steps, he steps oﬀ of the backs his own feet, using this momentum to propel himself upwards, it’s only that Sang Jingxing’s movements are too fast, so it looks like he’s ﬂying amongst the clouds! My shifu said before, Hehuan Sect has a distinct step sequence, called ‘Tianyuan Sixteen Step’, it encompasses this maneuver, but obviously it also requires deep inner reserves to accompany it.”
After much scrutiny, everyone discovered this was indeed the case, but even if they knew how the technique worked, this level of qinggong could not be achieved easily, with their calibre, even if they exhausted their efforts in this life, they may not be able to accomplish it, on this point alone, they despaired.
That being said, Sang Jingxing was so strong, would Shen-shishu really be able to ﬁght him?
In an instant, they had in their minds already turned over several scenarios, but for the two who were ﬁghting, it was a mere blink of the eye, the “huge dragon” roared soundlessly, alongside the wind’s relentless howl, it was already in front of Shen Qiao, inches from his face, even his sleeves were caught up in the wild winds, as if intending to blow him away.
Sang Jingxing’s offensive was all encompassing!
The brilliant alluring sword light was enclosed by Diaolong Palm Style’s zhengli, turned pale, slowly, gradually it began to disappear, as if ultimately squashed by force, nearly swallowed whole, all sword light obliterated.
This…was a loss?
All of the people watching the ﬁght held this question in their mind.
Yunchang, Lou Liang, other Xuandu disciples seeing this, felt their hearts fall empty, the feeling of “today perhaps everything is lost for Xuandushan”, aside from this, they also felt it was inevitable, after all Sang Jingxing’s wugong was so strong, no one present was likely to be his match. And it was in this moment, the sword light that had already vanished, burned through its ashes once more, appeared again, and this time it kept expanding, ultimately pulled into a taunt ray of light.
No, not a ray of light, it was a beam of sword light!
Sword light everywhere, but Shen Qiao had vanished from everyone’s view, a white arc ran straight through, through the “huge dragon” ’s maul, grounding Sang Jingxing’s zhengli dragon-form into dust, it dispersed in all directions!
Sang Jingxing’s carefully constructed nieli barrier received a pounding, he also wobbled in mid-air.
In an instant, that white arc abruptly ceased, body non-existent, sword as reality, everyone watching could not discern how Shen Qiao was moving, were left with only one impression: fast.
Thunder that leaves no time to cover the ears!
For Sang Jingxing, his cultivation was who knows how many times higher than those in the crowd, also at close-range, naturally he could see how Shen Qiao was moving, but seeing it clearly didn’t mean he intended to meet it head-on, seeing that sharp swordpoint eviscerate his offensive, in a ﬂash he went on the defensive, Sang Jingxing chose to evade that swordpoint for now, he ﬂew backwards retreating.
His form was swift, the retreat opened up several zhang, beneath him was the roof of Sanqingdian, Sang Jingxing landed on the rooftiles, it was merely a touch, but the force was enough for him to launch himself forward, directly lunging towards Shen Qiao!
This time, he put ten parts full power into his Diaolong Palm Style, his previous probe of the other’s potential was clear, he knew what he was up against, and so didn’t hold back anything.
Grandmasters facing off, it was never an opportunistic trick that would decide the outcome, but true potential.
Sang Jingxing liked Shen Qiao’s appearance, had thought about him lewdly numerous times, imagined how moving he would look in his bed, the more he couldn’t attain it, the more he coveted, he even was a little jealous of Yan Wushi’s luck in love.
But it was also clear to him, at a time when the other was blind, wugong largely diminished, how he had still tried to take him down with him, it was evident that in Shen Qiao’s bones was a cruel determination to persevere on the ﬁelds of death, this kind of opponent should not be underestimated.
So this time he used almost all of his power, had no qualms about cherishing this piece of fair jade.
Both sides were determined to win, killing intent many times folded over.
The palm strike’s unrestrained howl, compared to previous was at least three parts stronger, like a storm wrecking the surface of the sea, the raging waves sought to engulf the very heavens, this was Diaolong Palm Style cultivated to its upper limit, nine dragons condensed out of Sang Jingxing’s boiling zhengli, from different directions, lunged towards Shen Qiao!
Before a wave had ceased, another wave rose!
Everyone held their breath at this scene, even the ones in the ﬁght unconsciously slowed.
Two tigers ﬁghting, one is certain to be injured, Shen Qiao and Sang Jingxing, these two grandmasters, who will win and who will lose?
Yunchang, Lou Liang, and the rest had long heard of the rank-list of top ten martial masters in the world, they knew Shen Qiao had rose in the ranks, and was actually ranked above Sang Jingxing, but before they could see it with their own eyes, they had a hard time believing it, because the ﬁght at Banbu Peak those years ago, Shen Qiao’s failure was still fresh in their minds.
The scene where Shen Qiao was beaten by Kunye off the cliff left too strong an impression, although time had passed, and things had changed, until now, the many people who had not seen Shen Qiao’s step by step emergence from the bottom of that canyon, could only doubt Shen Qiao’s potential, doubt whether Shen Qiao could beat Sang Jingxing.
Zhengli like an unrestrained tempest descended upon Shen Qiao, in all directions, as if blocking off every possible path for escape, then surrounding him it coalesced, smothering him, this palm strike of Sang Jingxing’s conveyed the pinnacle of his decade’s worth of Diaolong Palm Style cultivation, any grandmaster, even if it was Yan Wushi himself, would not be able to just look on leisurely, without batting an eye.
Shen Qiao moved.
With the ground beneath him as reference point, he leapt! Sword swung from bottom to top, as if splitting open mountains!
In a split second, mountains collapsed ground opened, nieli akin to lifted rivers and ﬂipped seas surged and pushed forward, one layer stronger than the next, the two opposing zhengli clashed directly, the ruthless sword style, a huge boom reverberating, Sang Jingxing spat out fresh blood, completely unable to withstand it, then he crumpled, his body pushed down by a great force, he could only ﬂy back in retreat, leaping down to the roof of Sanqingdian.
As soon as he touched ground, he struck his palm backwards, his body leaping up again, ﬂying towards Shen Qiao, at the same time striking out three times. Shen Qiao had raised his sword to counter, unexpectedly at this moment, from behind him came a thin sound through the air, its movement although quiet, had reached his ears.
The thin sound approached rapidly, aiming at his heart, giving him no time to evade, no matter how fast Shen Qiao moved, he was a person and not a god, at this moment his focus was on the ﬁght with Sang Jingxing, no strand of attention was spared to other affairs, his sword movements were already in motion, there was no time now for him to evade, and more impossible to turn around mid-motion to block.
In front of him the three palm strikes!
One stronger than the previous, not even slightly diminished than the previous, Shen Qiao now understood, Sang Jingxing had spat out that mouthful of blood, his injuries were probably not that severe, to trick him into underestimating him, and in the process reveal an opening.
Behind him, the sound through the air was within a few inches, there was no way for him to evade, Shen Qiao ground his teeth, couldn’t help but leave his back open, he could only solely focus on what was happening in front of him.
Suddenly, a dark form leapt from the side, blocking his back.
Shen Qiao could only hear a grunt, then the sound of a body falling heavily onto the ground, then a chorus of “Yu-shishu” began.
His heart sank, but he had no way of turning around to look, he could only raise his sword to meet Sang Jingxing.
With shanhetongbei, wind and thunder crying in unison, sun and moon overlapping, sword light refracting into a thousand cups of starlight, but even more resplendent than the stars, each and every star, as if descending from the heavens, falling into the well of the eyes, further into the heart, this kind of impossible-to-describe-with- pen-and-ink beauty, but only the people present could feel its unﬂinching killing intent.
When Sang Jingxing found that his three palm strikes had been neutralized by Shen Qiao, he didn’t need to think he turned around and left, had no posturing of “dying to save face”, as long as he was alive, his mountain remained, there would be more wood to burn, Sang Jingxing had just snatched the zongzhu position from Yuan Xiuxiu’s hands, hadn’t had a chance to savour it yet, lots of things he wasn’t willing to give up, no way he could be like Shen Qiao’s cruel determination to persevere on the ﬁelds of death.
So in the matter of intention, he had already lost!
As he turned around to ﬂee, the sword light pursued him, it had the agileness of “tiankuohongying”, relentless, swiftly arriving.
Many people practicing the sword all their lives, had never seen this kind of approaching-celestial sword style, seeing it made them gape, their shock couldn’t have been any bigger.
Sang Jingxing ﬁrst felt a chill on his back, then excruciating pain, he couldn’t believe that “Tianyuan Sixteen Step” would lose to “tiankuohongying”, his certainty at the beginning had long evaporated, he was left with only terror, he sped up his steps, now he only desired to use his decades worth of qinggong to its extreme, his body was like a strand of smoke, immediately vanishing from everyone’s gaze, the ground where he had stood, bloodstains.
Bai Rong had been paying attention all this time, seeing this she blinked her beautiful eyes, called out: “Shizun, how are you doing?”
Then abandoning Le’an, chased after Sang Jingxing in the direction he had left. Xiao Se cursed Bai Rong’s cunning, cursed himself for being a step behind, his attention diverted momentarily, he was struck by Bian Yanmei across the chest, he spat out blood, retreated many steps.
Shen Qiao didn’t pursue Sang Jingxing any further, he turned back.
What he saw was a bunch of silver zhui protruding from Yu Ai’s chest, the zhui were no thicker than that of a tree branch, but were mostly embedded, blood poured out from the other’s mouth, his face deathly pale, his condition was bad.
Shen Qiao shifted the person over from Yunchang’s arms, holding his wrist he gave him a burst of zhengqi, Shen Qiao’s heart sank.
The other was still injured from his ambush, climbing up the mountain to return he had exhausted his energy, then today he had blocked this attack for him.
His meridians were faint, like a ﬂickering candle in the wind, an arrow at the end of its ﬂight, even the golden celestial wouldn’t be able to turn things around.
But receiving this zhengli was still helpful, Yu Ai’s body trembled, and he slowly opened his eyelids.
As soon as he could tell the person holding him was Shen Qiao, he grabbed Shen Qiao’s hand, weakly: “Er-shixiong…A-Qiao…”
“It’s me.” No matter how angry Shen Qiao was, this anger had mostly diminished when he had blocked that sneak attack on his behalf, now he just felt grief, with his words he tried to offer solace: “Don’t rush to speak, rest, I will treat your injuries.”
Yu Ai shook his head, with a lot of effort: “The one who acted against you…was Tan, Tan Yuanchun!”
Shen Qiao, shock and rage, raised his eyes and looked in all four directions, Tan Yuanchun who was supposed to be ﬁghting the Tujue had long disappeared, as for Duan Wenyang, he was ﬁghting two elders, momentarily could not extract himself to cause Shen Qiao trouble, Bian Yanmei said to him: “Don’t worry, Liu-zhanglao has gone after him, I’ll head over too!”
Saying this he turned to Yunchang and Le’an’s shifu Kong Zeng:
“I’ll leave things here with you Kong-zhanglao.”
Kong Zeng had arrived late, didn’t know who he was, seeing he was familiar with Shen Qiao, didn’t dare disrespect him, he rushed to say: “Daoyou rest assured, I am here!”
Tan Yuanchun conspiring with Tujue, plotting against Yu Ai, although Shen Qiao was surprised, he wasn’t overly shocked, what goes around comes around, Yu Ai had plotted against him, he should have known one day it would be him, in the world, sooner or later, all would be returned.
What he hadn’t expected, was that when his life was in danger, Yu Ai would step forward, protecting him with his life.
“A-Qiao, do you still hate me?” He asked in this way.
“I don’t know.” Shen Qiao didn’t want to lie to him, “When I took up the mantle of zhangjiao from shizun all those years ago, I certainly did not anticipate all of this to happen later, if I knew, I certainly would not have accepted the zhangjiao position.”
“I also…did not anticipate it,” Yu Ai laughed bitterly, coughed, new blood poured out from his mouth : “I used to think…everything I did, was right, it was shizun who was too conservative, it was you who was too useless, but, but later I realized, the one who was wrong was me, from beginning to end, it was, keke, it was all me!”
Shen Qiao, lowering his voice: “Xuandushan had been secluded for a long time, eyes shut and ears closed, away from the world, things had gotten to a point where something had to give, before then, I just wanted to guard shizun’s legacy, wanted to protect you all, I didn’t stop to consider that this method didn’t suit Xuandushan, you were wrong to conspire with Tujue, wrong to poison me, but your commitment to Xuandushan, even I cannot compare.”
Yu Ai: “In the end still, still I was wrong, I shouldn’t have not trusted you, shouldn’t have been greedy…”
He was seized by a coughing ﬁt, blood pouring out more freely, Shen Qiao froze, tried to give him more nieli, but found that his nieli entering Yu Ai’s body was like dirt sinking into the depths of the ocean, vanishing without a trace.
“So, now I, return a life, a life to you, don’t hate me, ok, A- Qiao?” Yu Ai as if not sensing anything, still held onto Shen Qiao’s hand.
Shen Qiao’s tears fell drop by drop onto his hand, as if burning him Yu Ai shook, then he smiled: “You, you’re crying for me, that means you don’t hate me anymore, right?”
“I don’t hate you anymore, after you’ve recovered, we’ll go pay our respects to shizun.” Shen Qiao said.
This warm sensation made Yu Ai reminisce, his thoughts drifted away on hearing this sentence: “How I wish, keke, to go back to our youth… you teaching, teaching me and Yuan Ying the sword on shizun’s behalf, although your face was frowning, but no matter what, it was very cute, I ran after you, wanting you to call, call me shixiong, you were so annoyed by me, you could only hide from me everywhere, I would look everywhere, looking, looking…”
His voice grew faint, fainter, until it could no longer be heard. The hand that held Shen Qiao’s loosened, like its owner’s life running out, silently slid down.