Shen Qiao did not move for a long time, in these moments, the glint and noise around him faded, he held the slowly cooling body of Yu Ai, his head bowed, no one knew what he was thinking.
Maybe it was a scene from all those years ago, he and his martial siblings on the mountain eating and sleeping in sync, training together.
And yet past dreams sought, people departed, what has passed will never return.
Just like some errors have no way of being remedied, some cracks will forever persist, and death, impossible to wake from.
The scene made Yunchang grieve, tears falling, but he was a bystander after all, remembering the situation at hand, hurriedly called out: “Shen-shishu, Shen-shishu!”
He saw that Shen Qiao had not moved at all, and thought it was because the other’s mind had been overtaken by grief, couldn’t help but start to worry.
Looking around, the situation was not much improved for Xuandushan.
Although there was one fewer Sang Jingxing, but most of Hehuan Sect was still present, Xiao Se had been injured by Bian Yanmei, but the injuries were not severe, now Bian Yanmei had gone with Liu Yue in pursuit of Tan Yuanchun, among Xuandushan’s seven elders, there were ﬁve remaining who had to control Duan Wenyang, and deal with Tujue warriors brought by Duan Wenyang, and Xiao Se and the rest, it required much effort. Although Kong Zeng was an elder, his wugong was still a notch below Duan Wenyang, at this moment he was being forced back, one maneuver he could not resolve, and his sword almost left his hand, his footwork out of sync, his body staggered, falling backwards, minding his back, he left his front open, Duan Wenyang charged his whip with zhengqi, immediately it extended like a sword, aimed at his chest, menacingly, killing intent boiling over.
If this strike were to hit, Kong Zeng chest would bloom a large hole.
Yunchang seeing this was frantic, rushed forward with his sword to help, but his speed could not keep up with his eyes, he’d never get there in time, he was too slow by more than three or four breaths, Duan Wenyang’s whip had already made contact with Kong Zeng’s robes, momentarily they would break through into ﬂesh, Yunchang couldn’t help crying out ah, expecting to witness his shifu’s death.
At this moment, a blur ﬂashed before his eyes, Yunchang thought it was a trick of the light, he blinked and saw that Duan Wenyang’s whip had already been pulled back, and that beside Kong Zeng stood another person.
“Shen-shishu!” Yunchang couldn’t hold back, his tone carried relief and delight without his realization.
“Bring your Yu-shishu to the side, weapons have no eyes, don’t let anyone damage the body.” Shen Qiao said without looking back, extending a hand to help Kong Zeng, then he lunged at Duan Wenyang.
Duan Wenyang had expected that after ﬁghting Sang Jingxing, Shen Qiao’s energy would be diminished, his accuracy gone, who knew the other’s zhengli appeared seemingly endless, pouring forth, charging his sword, sword aura brandishing sword light, the technique seamless, impenetrable, despite how strong Duan Wenyang’s whip was, now there emerged this feeling of impossibility of him counteracting in any way.
“Shen-daozhang can speak freely, no need to resort to force! I am not San Jingxing, we do not have a deeply-rooted vengeance against each other, today my visit was merely encouraged by Tan Yuanchun, Yu Ai’s death was also by Tan Yuanchun’s hand, debts must be collected accordingly, Shen- daozhang must judge fairly!”
Duan Wenyang was not like his shifu, although he was remarkably talented, becoming Hulugu’s most prized disciple, but he was of mixed-blood, he was destined to never receive the level of respect and accolades that his shifu had among the Tujue, so his manner and actions were also unlike that of Hulugu, he would put more weight into practical advantages that could be gained or lost.
Although it was said that master-disciple were like father-son, but a tiger father could birth a dog son, the shifu could be strong, but that didn’t guarantee a strong disciple, for example Qi Fengge was revered his entire life, but each of his disciples had their own personality, ultimately walking their own paths, he had no way of forcing each of them to follow his way of thinking.
That being said, if Hulugu was the one here, he might have challenged Shen Qiao to a duel, to force an outcome, Duan Wenyang was not like that, he saw already that today’s purpose would not be fulﬁlled, and had already started to plan his retreat.
Shen Qiao, blandly: “Tan Yuanchun isn’t here, you can say whatever you want, after I’ve captured you, you can be cross-examined along with Tan Yuanchun, then we’ll know the truth.”
Although he said this, his sword stance slowed a bit, Duan Wenyang saw that there was a hope to turn things around, was secretly relieved, he added: “Me and Shen-daozhang have crossed paths several times, although never a proper exchange, but I know you’re very fair when it comes to what is owed and what is payed, and are kinder than anyone, all things considered, the people that caused your fall from the cliﬀ that day, my shidi Kunye has already died by your hand, Yu Ai is also deceased, this chapter should come to its conclusion.”
Shen Qiao: “You mean to say, that picking today to come here wasn’t an opportunistic ploy at getting Xuandushan?”
Duan Wenyang’s expression didn’t falter, he smiled: “One acts according to one’s position, that’s a saying from you Han people, you and I hold diﬀerent stakes, our actions would not be in line, I’m considering the advantages for the Tujue, that’s nothing for you to critique, you can’t blame me for this, if there wasn’t Tan Yuanchun’s secret message telling us of today’s zhangjiao selection, we wouldn’t have known about it, so in the end, internal unity precedes resisting external forces, Shen-daozhang!”
With everything that he said, even Shen Qiao couldn’t help but admire his face-thickness: “Yu-Ai said that he was ambushed before falling oﬀ the cliﬀ, did you have a part in it?”
Duan Wenyang gave it up generously: “Yes, but that was also with Tan Yuanchun leading the way, that I would know Xuandushan would have a small path winding its outer mountains, with no sentries, I only have to get through the arrays to arrive on the mountain. To tell you the truth, me and Tan Yuanchun had long come to an agreement about today’s events, me and Sang-zongzhu were to bring our people up the mountain, kill all the elders who opposed his selection as zhangjiao, then with the appearance of Tan Yuanchun, be beat back into retreat, after he steps fully into the zhangjiao position, he would split the melon of Xuandushan Purple Pavilion with us. This plan was ﬂawless, if only Shen-daozhang hadn’t appear as a variable, everything would have gone smoothly.”
Shen Qiao had known Tan Yuanchun for decades, he never realized that the warm, kind da-shixiong of his heart was actually the most treacherous with the appearance of a saint, although he was prepared, he still held onto a thread of hope, in his mind he had already started making excuses for the other, that there must have been some hardship, until the other’s backstabbing fell through, killing Yu Ai instead, did Shen Qiao realize these past decades, the Tan Yuanchun they knew was not the true Tan Yuanchun.
Duan Wenyang, as if sensing what was on his mind, unexpectedly consoled him: “To know someone is to not know their heart, Shen-daozhang doesn’t need to be too sad, actually on the day Yu Ai got xiangjianhuan from my shidi to poison you, Tan Yuanchun also fanned the ﬂames, I dare not say that it was on account of him that Yu Ai decided to act against you, but when too many provocative words are said, it will have some eﬀect eventually.”
Shen Qiao: “Do you have any evidence of this?”
Duan Wenyang laughed: “Naturally, no, Kunye and Yu Ai are dead, should I go to the underworld to cross examine them? I learned of this that day from what my shidi said, whether it’s true or not, Shen-daozhang can ask Tan Yuanchun himself!”
Saying this he pulled back and dropped his arms, gave a whistle, those Tujue warriors seemed to have received his signal, they immediately started to depart in the direction they had come in.
Duan Wenyang didn’t bother turning his head, his voice drifted back from faraway: “When we were ascending the mountain, Xuandushan had two disciples killed, they were both killed by Hehuan Sect, I didn’t kill anyone, just injured a few, Shen- daozhang will know once you’ve examined the wounds, please don’t count them against me!”
Xiao Se, outraged: “You shameless disciple!”
They had arrived together, but in the face of diﬃculty they left on their own, and the cruelest thing was, they had to dig them a hole as they were leaving.
Sang Jingxing and Bai Rong had completely vanished, now Duan Wenyang and his people also departed, the remaining Hehuan Sect disciples, if they had any ﬁght left in them, their minds were in disarray, which permitted the crowd from Xuandushan an opening, they advanced and killed until the other side had nothing left, no longer the semblance of a united front, in the end, of the thirteen people from Hehuan Sect, only Xiao Se and two others were able to escape, the other ten, their lives were left behind by the hands of the enraged Xuandushan crowd.
Kong Zeng wobbled over, apologizing to Shen Qiao: “Kong Zeng is untalented, I was unable to seize Duan Wenyang.”
Shen Qiao’s gaze swept over the others, many of them had an awkward expression, and were too afraid to meet his eyes, they averted their gaze, lowering their heads.
Shen Qiao understood, these people had this kind of expression, not only because they were unable to take the lives of Duan Wenyang or Xiao Se, it was because when Shen Qiao suffered his fall, they did not try to help him, but chose to side with Yu Ai.
Time had passed, the dust had settled, many people now understood, Yu Ai colluding with the Tujue to bring Xuandushan back into the secular world, to re-establish its place as the number one Daoist sect in the world, was the ﬂower in the mirror, the moon in the water, the wrong origin point, the wobbling intermediary steps, step by step was destined to walk into the abyss. But who would have guessed, Yuwen Yong who mistrusted Buddhism would die of illness in his prime? Who would have guessed, ﬂourishing Qi would be conquered by Zhou, and that Yuwen Yong’s successor Yuwen Yun, not only could not further his father’s legacy, instead giving it up to another, the north entering a new dynasty, and that Shen Qiao on account of assisting this transition would be named Tongweiyuanmiao-zhengren, bringing Xuandushan and the Daoist sects into their place within the Sui dynasty, henceforth passed down many generations, without diminishment.
Sui’s relative weakness at the time of transition, hostility towards Tujue, both sides with their swords drawn and arrows notched, Yu Ai wanted to use Tujue’s potential to realize Xuandushan’s wish for re- emergence, ultimately falling short, the world ever changing, who could have predicted all this from the beginning?
Because they didn’t, many of them felt guilty, were afraid to face Shen Qiao, on this point, they were not bad people.
Shen Qiao knew of course, that Yu Ai was only able to successfully become zhangjiao because of the elders’ support, even the majority of disciples would agree Yu Ai was more suited to the role, if he wanted to account for everything, he’d have to kick all of them out of the sect, but that would affect Xuandushan too much, if you see everything too clearly you’ll have no peers, some things require one eye closed, no need to take everything so seriously.
In the world there was no such thing as a perfect person, although Shen Qiao had experienced much hardship, towards his old sect members and those of the younger generation, he bore no great hate, he had no intention of seeking revenge or posturing.
So he said to Kong Zeng: “That day Yu Ai poisoned me, it could not be tolerated by sect rules, but he’s dead, a person dying is like a lamp extinguished, we won’t look into it anymore, I will bring his body with me to the ancestor hall to seek forgiveness.” Saying this, he switched topics: “But from now on, I hope all of Xuandushan can work as one, unity as strength, if someone else attempts to collude with outsiders, they will be punished accordingly, no one will be spared.”
He was no longer the Shen Qiao of the past, this was said with a chilling ruthlessness, everyone was shaken, and rushed to express their assent.
So without any need for grand ceremony, things falling into place, everyone had already accepted Shen Qiao’s position as zhangjiao.
Outside Sanqingdian was a ﬁeld of wreckage, many people started cleaning up the aftermath, Shen Qiao had Kong Zeng lead a search party down the mountain, to ﬁnd those disciples that had been on guard duty, those wounded were treated, those killed their bodies were retrieved, to be buried in short order.
He had been zhangjiao before, he was entirely in his element sorting through these matters, methodic and thorough.
Just then, Bian Yanmei returned: “We’ve captured Tan Yuanchun, Liu-zhanglao has him in the hall you keep prisoners, they’re waiting for you to decide what to do next.”
Shen Qiao saw that he was covered in bloody markings, fresh blood on his lips, he asked hurriedly: “You’re injured?”
Bian Yanmei waved his hands: “No matter, Liu-zhanglao is more injured than me.”
He was too ashamed to admit being Yan Wushi’s disciple that he couldn’t even capture Tan Yuanchun.
Shen Qiao brought out medicines for injuries: “My niegong is of the opposite route to yours, I cannot help you circulate qi to heal your injuries.” Bian Yanmei accepted this with a thanks, then smiled: “No matter, the injuries are not serious, meditating for several days should bring a complete recovery, you should go take a look at Tan Yuanchun, I suspect you have a lot to ask him.”
Shen Qiao deﬁnitely had a lot of questions, but as he got closer to the hall, step by step, seeing Tan Yuanchun bound to the pillar, dishevelled and wild, suddenly felt there was nothing more that needed to be asked.
It was Tan Yuanchun who appeared calm, seeing him enter and say nothing, he gave a cold laugh: “Seeing me like this, you must be pleased?”
Shen Qiao was silent for a long while, then he said to the Xuandushan disciples standing guard: “Release his bindings, then bring chairs.”
The disciples were a bit alarmed: “Zhangjiao…?”
Shen Qiao: “No matter, as long as I’m here it’ll be ﬁne.”
The disciples stepped forward, undid the ropes, then brought chairs over.
Shen Qiao had them leave the hall, then seated himself across from Tan Yuanchun.
Tan Yuanchun had originally decided to say nothing, who knew after waiting a long time, the other still hadn’t said a single thing, instead he began to feel irritated: “What do you want to say to me, retreat or advance it’ll all end with a knife, just do it already!”
Shen Qiao: “I don’t know what to say.”
Tan Yuanchun: “The winners write history, there’s no need for fake sympathy.” Shen Qiao remained unruﬄed, blandly stated: “Da-shixiong, you and I were shixiongdi for decades, ever since I became shizun’s disciple, when he was elsewhere, you would look after me, our time spent together is longer than Yu Ai, Yuan Ying, any of the others, I thought I knew you well, but this turned out to not be the case, but you, you should know me well, whether or not I’m faking sympathy, you should also know, you don’t need to provoke me on purpose.”
The two of them looked at each other, Tan Yuanchun saw the other’s eyes.
Dark and clear, as if transparent in a single glance, just like before, unchanged.
The prickly exterior he had prepared shrunk sliver by sliver, there was no more resolve and stubbornness, in the end only a pile of deadwater was left.
Tan Yuanchun closed his eyes: “Have you thought about how you’re going to punish me? Kill me to get revenge for Yu Ai?”
Shen Qiao: “As Duan Wenyang was leaving he said to me, you words incited Yu Ai, that he was ultimately able to act to poison me.”
Tan Yuanchun: “Correct.”
The other’s frank admission made Shen Qiao’s hand on his knee tremble.
Tan Yuanchun’s eyes didn’t miss this detail, his mouth twisted into a sneer: “Can it be that until today you still hold out hope for this da-shixiong? I heard you suﬀered a lot on the outside, what a wugongless, blind man would encounter, I can only imagine, but not only did you persevere through it, your wugong recovered, I didn’t expect that. Congratulations, A- Qiao, shizun used to say, the path to wugong cultivation means incremental gains, but one situation is the exception, breaking precedent to create something new, given the right opportunity, one can rapidly ascend in the spiritual and martial realms, it’s most uncommon, I bet you have already realized this stage that shizun was talking about, in the afterlife shizun can close his eyes and smile.”
Shen Qiao: “Why?”
Tan Yuanchun knew he was asking about the previous: “No reason, ever since the moment shizun passed on the zhangjiao position to you, I have been malcontent, the thing with Yu Ai was just a good opportunity, I didn’t have to do it myself, just push the raft with the current, so why not? You see, even Yu Ai didn’t realize I was provoking his dissatisfaction towards you intentionally, if you hadn’t appeared today, I would long have righteously received the position of zhangjiao.”
In Shen Qiao’s agony it was hard to hide his rage: “You and I were shixiongdi for so many years, you should know my personality, that year I received from shizun the mantle of zhangjiao, I worried that you might be unhappy, and asked you about it, back then you didn’t show any signs of concern, even if it was later after I was zhangjiao, if you wanted the position, for the sake of a harmonious sect, I would have found a way to transfer it to you, why would you still go to such lengths!”
Tan Yuanchun laughed coldly, suddenly became very animated: “Why! You actually ask me why? I became a disciple before you, but shizun favoured you! I was da-shixiong, but shizun gave you everything! Regardless, your calibre was high, you were naturally talented, shizun was considering the future of the sect, of course would be inclined towards you, I can understand, but why even in small personal matters, he still preferred you! In his heart, there was only Shen Qiao his favoured disciple, there was no space for anyone else’s shadow! If he didn’t like me, he could have expelled me from the sect, why would he use our existence to contrast your preferential treatment?!”
Shen Qiao felt a chill descend in his heart, watched him incredulously: “This is your opinion of shizun?”
Tan Yuanchun: “Shizun favoured you, loved you, was inclined towards you in everything, in your mind, of course he’s perfect, ﬂawless! But what about everyone else! I want to be zhangjiao, so you relinquish it to me, yes, you value your siblings, you’re kind and just, but what use is that, it’s not what Qi Fengge handed to me personally, why would I care! Even if you gave me a hundred zhangjiao positions what use would they be, I want to prove that he was wrong, you were undeserving of his regard and mantle, I want to prove that Xuandushan entrusted into your hands was the wrong decision, I want him to open his eyes in the underworld and see clearly, he was wrong! I want him to remember, he has another disciple named Tan Yuanchun!”
This predatory da-shixiong before his eyes, there was no remnant of the amicable, good guy façade he had put on for so many years.
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything for a long time, only sighed in exhaustion: “Yuan Ying and Hengbo, they do not share your sentiments.”
Tan Yuanchun, a cold laugh: “That’s because they became disciples much later, since their ﬁrst days, shizun was distant towards them, Yuan Ying’s wugong was taught more by you on shizun’s behalf, of course they would have no expectations, you ask a person who has never eaten rice what it tastes like, how would they be able to answer?” “You know now, the good guy da-shixiong in your mind was fake from the beginning, I kept it up all these years, when shizun was alive I was afraid of disappointing him, after his death, I was afraid of revealing myself too early, ﬁnally I don’t have to pretend anymore, I can’t even tell you how refreshing it is!”
He threw his head back and laughed: “Refreshing! So refreshing!”
Shen Qiao watched him laugh, his pained expression fading, saying nothing, he stood.
Tan Yuanchun: “What have you decided? Directly kill me, or nullify my wugong, carve out my eyes, throw me out, so I too can experience the pains you suﬀered?”
Shen Qiao looked at him for a moment, suddenly drew his sword from its sheath, stepped forward, hand extended.
Tan Yuanchun could only see sword light ﬂash before him, an excruciating pain set off all over his body, trying to circulate his qi, he found his inner reserves completely empty, not a sliver of nieli left.
He did want him to experience life more painful than death! Tan Yuanchun couldn’t help but laugh.
Instead he heard Shen Qiao say: “You plotted against your shixiongdi, broke the sect rules, should receive death as punishment, but shizun previously entrusted you all to me, to protect my siblings, protect your safety and happiness, moreover to treat you with respect, and not to treat you any diﬀerently because you were not zhangjiao. As of today, Yu Ai is dead, shifu in the afterlife surely would not wish for another disciple to go join him, from today on, you’ll go to Qunling Peak and guard shizun’s gravesite, no matter the season, you cannot leave Qunling Peak, I will consider you dead.”
Without turning around once, his ﬁgure gradually grew distant until it vanished, but his voice still resounded.
Tan Yuanchun knelt-sat on the ﬂoor, the pain in his body had not faded, he could only stare blankly at Shen Qiao’s back.
After a long time, he suddenly burst into tears!
His cries echoed in the hall and spread outward, Shen Qiao paused his footsteps, raised his head to look at the sky.
It was a sunny day where visibility was for ten thousand li, not even half a cloud, the skies a clear blue, unaffected by people’s suffering or happiness.
Shen Qiao closed and opened his eyes, he lowered his gaze to shanhetongbei in his hands, suddenly remembering the scene in the cave where Yan Wushi had used this sword to scale ﬁsh.
The sadness in his heart unknowingly abated little by little.
After the dust settled, this chapter came to its conclusion. For Xuandushan, the price they paid was most painful.
Yu Ai was dead, Tan Yuanchun’s wugong was nulliﬁed, to spend the remainder of his days guarding a gravesite, not much different from death, of the other six elders, four were injured seriously, including Liu Yue, as he fought Tan Yuanchun and suffered internal injuries, would probably require seclusion to recuperate, the remaining two were also wounded.
As for the disciples, Le’an and Yunchang had gone to notify their shifu when Sang Jingxing and his people ascended the mountain, had only come back with Kong Zeng in the middle of things, they avoided the most ferocious of the killings of the disciples standing guards, when Le’an fought Xiao Se he was injured, but on account of the latter being not that interested in their ﬁght, Le’an’s injuries were not extensive. The remaining disciples were all seriously wounded, one had been hit directly by Sang Jingxing, falling over the precipice, bones completely crushed, luckily was caught by a branch when they fell, they hung there with their last breath, until someone was able to rescue them.
Looking around, it was all the injured and the elderly, wailing could be heard throughout.
But it was only after experiencing this event, those that still had illusions about collaborating with Tujue, ﬁnally saw Tujue’s true intentions, and they also ﬁnally realized, Xuandushan’s desire to re- emerge into the secular world and to rise among the Daoist sects, could not rely on external supports. The strongest supports could be embroidery on the brocade, ultimately, it all came back to one’s own abilities.
Shen Qiao reclaiming Xuandushan zhangjiao, this was pretty much undisputed, no need for discussion, with the exception of Liu Yue the other ﬁve elders took it upon themselves to ﬁnd Shen Qiao, expressing their hopes that he’ll succeed as zhangjiao, and their deep remorse over trusting Yu Ai previously.
Yu Ai vanishing, Liu Yue and Tan Yuanchun ﬁghting over the zhangjiao position, now with Shen Qiao’s return, this matter was no longer worth dispute, even if Liu Yue came out of seclusion, the zhangjiao position would not go to him.
Shen Qiao listened, for a long time he said nothing.
Everyone seeing this, was a bit ﬁdgety, afraid that Shen Qiao might still hate them, with the larger enemy beat back, now was naturally the time to clear the accounts.
Who knew that when Shen Qiao opened his mouth he would say: “The newly established Sui, wants to befriend the Daoist sects, the Sui emperor has allocated funds for me to build a daochang in Chang’an, which will be used to erect Xuanduguan, when I left the capital, Xuanduguan was nearing completion, in the future it will be Xuandu Purple Pavilion’s other site, my time is limited, I have no way of attending to it all, so in the matter of Chang’an’s Xuanduguan, I will have the elders rotate through every year to oversee it, what does everyone think?”
They all looked at each other, they didn’t expect Shen Qiao to talk about this matter.
They would know, since Xuandushan re-opened its doors, Yu Ai working with the Tujue, had ordered the recruitment of new disciples to happen in spring and fall every year, but in reality the yield was poor, of the ones seeking a master, there were very few of good calibre, frustrating the elders, they didn’t know how to expand Xuandushan’s inﬂuence within the Daoist sects and in people’s hearts.
If they could obtain the support of the Sui dynasty, in Chang’an establish their guan and teachings, then what had been diﬃcult in the past was easily resolved, not only that but Chang’an was a congregate of talent, if the elders could rotate overseeing things there, they would never need to worry about not ﬁnding good disciples again.
The sect being carried forward, themselves likely to have successors, how could they not be happy?
Lianshan was ashamed: “Zhangjiao is very forgiving, writing oﬀ priors, we however cannot go on as if nothing happened, brushing things aside, on the matter of rotating through as overseer of Chang’an, you don’t need to include me in this, I am willing to spend the remainder of my days teaching disciples, helping with sect matters, never setting foot oﬀ the mountain again.”
Of the four Xuandushan zhanglao that supported Yu Ai, Lianshan was closest to Yu Ai, of course he had his own interests, hoping that with Yu Ai as leader, he would also have more power.
But Lianshan was not capable of great evil, rather, Xuandushan from one generation to the next, disciples were selected with great care, with emphasis on character, of course there would be exceptions, but these were few. Facing the circumstances now, Lianshan also realized his mistake, seeing Shen Qiao’s generosity, he was moved, felt more ashamed, so these words he spoke from his heart.
Kong Zeng also said: “If we’re talking mistakes, I as a zhanglao, stood outside of it all, ignored the ﬂuctuations within my sect, trying to avoid all entanglements, I am more guilty of neglecting my duties, I implore zhangjiao to punish me accordingly, even if it’s to spend the remainder of my days guarding the tombs of our ancestors, I am willing!”
The other elders seeing this, all started to speak up about their own faults.
Shen Qiao knew that some things must be said: “Towards Yu Ai, I also made the mistake of negligence, otherwise I wouldn’t have been taken advantage of, I’ve said this before, he wasn’t wrong in his commitment to Xuandushan, the wrong was when he tried to ask a tiger for its skin, when he caused harm to his shixiong, now he is dead, in many matters there’s no use in talking more, since you all want to remedy things, then more the reason to listen to my words, unless in your hearts, wallowing in repentance for the past is more important than following zhangjiao’s orders?”
They rushed to say they wouldn’t dare.
Shen Qiao: “If so, then nothing more needs to be said.”
It was then that they could be certain that Shen Qiao had no intention of pursuing past accounts, they let out a breath they had been holding and felt very grateful.
Unlike the previous time when he inherited the zhangjiao position from Qi Fengge, this time, Shen Qiao with his own potential, formally became zhangjiao, no one was dissatisﬁed, or felt that he couldn’t live up to his name.
Lianshan said: “I heard when zhangjiao was outside he took on disciples, since you have returned, we should have someone bring those two shizhi back.”
He had always been capable, what others hadn’t thought of, he had already considered.
Shen Qiao was so busy he’d nearly forgotten: “Thank you shishu for the reminder, Shiwu and Qi-lang are currently guests at Bixia Sect, I see that Kong-shishu’s disciples Le’an and Yunchang are steadfast in matters, why not have them go on a journey, and bring them back?”
Kong Zeng nodded: “It’ll be a good opportunity for them to get some practice.”
They discussed a few more matters at length, mostly about Xuandushan’s policy decisions and future directions, in the end Shen Qiao decided on policies regarding the rebuilding of the sect and recruitment of disciples, and delegated tasks accordingly, to the two elders now responsible for assessing new disciples he said: “On my journey I met three people at the foot of the mountain, they had traversed a thousand li to seek out a master, unfortunately they didn’t get a chance to come up the mountain, if I could trouble the two of you to send someone down to see if they’re still there, then bring them up, assess them according to the regulations. Moreover, in the future recruiting disciples no longer needs to be restricted to the occasion of the spring and fall equinox, as long as someone is seeking a master, they can be assessed at anytime, however the number of people who are drawn here from now on will only increase, so the assessment must be strict, especially when it comes to personal character, maiming our own within the sect, I do not want to see a second time.”
The two elders expressed their agreement, Shen Qiao then told them the names of Duan Ying their group of three and the name of the inn where they were staying.
After sending away those two, Bian Yanmei came in: “Shen- daozhang: important people tend to be busy, ten thousand tasks in a day, don’t ruin your health!” Shen Qiao laughed: “Thank you for your concern, you’re an oﬃcial in court, have to deal with a lot of people regularly, yet you do it so easily, calm and collected, I admire that a lot, if it was you as zhangjiao, you’d be more suited to it than I by a hundred-fold!”
Bian Yanmei smiled: “Shen-daozhang ﬂatters me, in these years I’ve spent dealing with people, I neglected my wugong, have not improved at all, shizun is extremely upset, where there’s gain there’s loss, in the end how can anything be perfect?”
Shen Qiao: “Are your injuries improved?”
Bian Yanmei: “It’s all thanks to Xuandushan’s medicines, it’s much improved, since this matter has been resolved, I will not trouble you further, and have come to bid you farewell.”
Shen Qiao knew that he still had many affairs to attend to in Chang’an: “This time I thank you for your help, Shen Qiao is very grateful, in the future if there’s something you need, please let me know, I will try to help.”
Bian Yanmei smiled: “Shen-daozhang no need to be so polite, if you want to thank someone then thank my shizun, if I didn’t have his respectful elderly one’s instructions, how would I be able to act on my own?”
Shen Qiao: “Do you know the ﬁght between Yan-zongzhu and Hulugu, where it will take place?”
Bian Yanmei shook his head: “I do not, you’ll probably have to send someone to check the news.”
Shen Qiao unconsciously furrowed his brows: “Then as you see it, does your shizun stand a chance of winning?”
Bian Yanmei: “That day at shijiandaihui I was not there, I did not see Hulugu’s prowess, but I hear his wugong is exceedingly high, it would be hard to ﬁnd a rival his level in the world?”
Shen Qiao: “Yes, I fought him, even expending all my eﬀort, within ﬁfty moves, I was certain to lose.”
Bian Yanmei’s expression changed: “That strong? What to do, the ﬂaw in shizun’s demonic core still hasn’t resolved completely!”
Shen Qiao, rushed: “How could that be, last time I heard him say clearly that it’s been ﬁxed, otherwise when he fought Xueting, how was he able to win?”
Bian Yanmei sighed: “Did shizun say that to you? Truthfully, the day shizun fought Xueting, his nieli was compromised fundamentally, what was the close-to-ﬂawless demonic core, started to crack again, it would require a year and a half of rest, who knew that the situation at Xuandushan would change, if no one stayed Hulugu, he would certainly have helped his disciple Duan Wenyang by coming up the mountain to seek you out, so shizun had to execute this less- than-ideal plan, this challenge…”
Does not bode well.
He didn’t ﬁnish his sentence, but his heavy expression already spoke this sentiment.
Shen Qiao’s heart, along with his words, continued to sink little by little.
“You and Yan-zongzhu must have some way of communicating? Can you ﬁnd out where he is?”
Bian Yanmei: “I can, but what’s the use, this ﬁght will happen regardless, Shen-daozhang has no need to feel guilty, what my shizun does, he only does if he wants to, there’s no one who can force him.”
Shen Qiao was silent for a while, quietly said: “I know, but if I can’t see him, how can I be at peace?”
Bian Yanmei sighed: “In that case…”
His sentence unﬁnished, a disciple entered from outside to report: “Zhangjiao, there’s someone at the foot of the mountain seeking an audience, he says he’s Huanyue Sect disciple Yu Shengyan.”
Before Bian Yanmei could react, Shen Qiao had already said: “Show him up quickly!” He looked happy, even his voice rose in pitch.
Bian Yanmei laughed: “That’s great, no need to waste time trying to get in touch, shidi is sure to know where shizun is!”
After a while, Yu Shengyan followed the disciple over, Shen Qiao seeing him enter, rose to greet him.
In terms of wugong, position, or martial generation, he had no need to do so, seeing him stand, Bian Yanmei who had not planned to stand originally couldn’t not follow suite, he thought, my conversation with him must have sent Shen-daozhang into disarray.
On his way up, Yu Shengyan saw that although people’s expressions were bleak, everything was in order, he surmised that Xuandushan must have undergone a calamity, but the danger was already past.
“Congratulations Shen-daozhang on regaining the zhangjiao position, I bet I’m the ﬁrst one to come up the mountain to congratulate you? Daozhang ought to give me a large hongbao!” Seeing Shen Qiao and his shixiong welcoming him at the door, he was very moved, but didn’t put on any airs, rushed to pay his respects, and made this small joke.
Shen Qiao however was unable to smile: “Thank you, where are you coming from?”
Yu Shengyan saw Bian Yanmei who was standing behind Shen Qiao shoot him a look, momentarily was a little muddled, didn’t dare reply frivolously: “From, from Chang’an!”
He remembered the purpose of his journey, from his robes he took out a small bamboo canister: “Shizun brought Xueting to Tiantai Sect, in exchange he obtained from Tiantai Sect zongzhu a copy of the fragment of Zhu Yang Ce, he wanted me to bring this to Shen-daozhang.”
Shen Qiao received it, twisted the bamboo canister open, from inside he pulled out a silk scroll, it was covered completely with words.
The silk scroll was light in his hands, but for some reason, Shen Qiao felt he was holding a hundred pounds of gold, its heft he could barely lift.
His grasp on the silk tightened, his heart a disarray of feelings, it was hard to describe.
“Then do you know where your shizun is currently, and the ﬁght between him and Hulugu, where it will take place?”
Yu Shengyan: “This ﬁght will happen at Banbu Peak.”
Shen Qiao froze.
Back then his ﬁght with Kunye had also been at Banbu Peak, his subsequent injury and fall, rescue by Yan Wushi, everything had started there.
Now, it is to be Banbu Peak again. Yu Shengyan added: “Huanyue Sect has a residence not too far from Banbu Peak, I think shizun will arrive in advance, and settle there for the time being.”
That residence, he didn’t need to elaborate, Shen Qiao remembered, after he was brought back by Yan Wushi and his disciple from Banbu Peak, it was where he had rested.
Inexorably, he had come full circle.
Mentioning this, Yu Shengyan was a little awkward, back then he had seen the amnesic Shen Qiao, lied to him about being a disciple of Huanyue Sect, and urged him to call him shixiong.
Yu Shengyan’s face thickness was not cultivated as much as his shifu, if it was Yan Wushi here, he wouldn’t be the least awkward, in fact he’d probably shamelessly say something that would make Shen Qiao awkward instead.
Shen Qiao thought of this, kind of wanted to laugh, but couldn’t, he gripped the silk scroll tighter in his hand, a plan had formed in his head.
Duan Ying the group of three had travelled a thousand li to seek a master, but met a noseful of dust, hadn’t even been able to ascend the mountain, they were greatly discouraged, after hesitating a day, Zhong Bojing departed ﬁrst, he planned to go to Qingchengshan to try his luck, after all Chunyangguan was also a reputable, large Daoist sect.
Duan Ying and Zhang Chao were left, they didn’t know whether to go or stay, were in the middle of debating when a visitor came, they were wearing the robes of a Xuandushan disciple, and said that they were here to take them up the mountain to be assessed as a new recruit.
The two of them were half suspicious half believing, but didn’t want to give up on this last thread of hope, hurried after their visitor up the mountain, after much trial and tribulation, ﬁnally passed the tests, they even had an audience with a Xuandushan zhanglao, they were overjoyed, they felt they were the embodiment of luck follows great sorrow, who knew that after Zhang Chao was led away by a disciple to rest, Duan Ying was brought by another zhanglao in front of Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao had already packed his belongings, was preparing to go on a journey, and had to explain some last minute things to the disciples, in this myriad of affairs he found time to see Duan Ying, he asked him: “Are you willing to enter my tutelage, and become my disciple?”
Duan Ying had already been struck dizzy by this huge turn of fate, the elder had to remind him before he ﬁnally realized: the mild- tempered, easy to talk to, kind Daoist the three of them had met at the foot of the mountain was actually Xuandushan’s zhangjiao, ranked among the top ten martial masters in the world, Shen Qiao!
Shen Qiao saw the other in a fugue, so he repeated his words again, then said kindly: “If you don’t want to, you can also enter the tutelage of another zhanglao, no matter.”
“I’m willing! Willing! I’m extremely willing!” Duan Ying snapped back into attention, his face a bright red, as if he wanted to say this phrase a hundred times over.
Yu Shengyan watched this scene from the side, couldn’t help smirking, he thought, Shen Qiao’s judgment when it came to taking disciples wasn’t great, look at the other’s dumb face, compared to himself, he was really lacking.
As soon as he had this thought, he saw his shixiong Bian Yanmei roll his eyes at him.
Yu Shengyan, baﬄed: What did I do this time? The author would like to say:
Lao Yan: This venerable one disagrees, he already is head-over- heels for me.
Shen Qiao (in rage): Ridiculous!
Acquiring a new disciple, the shifu couldn’t just drop him and leave, Shen Qiao personally explained to him Xuandu Purple Pavilion rules, then brieﬂy described Shiwu and Yuwen Song’s circumstances, Duan Ying memorized everything, and listened intently.
Shen Qiao said to him: “While I’m away, you cannot let your homework lapse, I will have Kong-zhanglao pass on to you our sect’s niegong cultivation and Canglang Sword Style, every morning when the disciples rise at dawn to train, you’ll join them as well, when I return I will check your homework, if there’s progress, then I’ll teach you the next stages of wugong. You should remember, to a martial arts practitioner, calibre is important, but diligence can make up for it, although your calibre isn’t considered top-notch, it’s above average, if you are diligent in your studies and work hard, you may achieve much in the future.”
Duan Ying expressed his agreement, hesitating, asked: “Shizun, I heard shixiongdi say, disciples can go home during holidays and festivals?”
Shen Qiao: “That’s right, if your family live in the nearby townships, you can go back monthly, no need to wait for special occasions, if they’re farther, you can go back once a year.”
Duan Ying, mumbling: “And if there’s nowhere to go back to?”
Shen Qiao, surprised: “As far as I know, your parents are both alive?” Duan Ying, a bitter smile: “To tell you the truth shizun, my birth mother was my father’s concubine, my brothers and sisters are all in the oﬃcial lineage, only I am the bastard son…”
Shen Qiao said kindly: “I see, you don’t want to go back, not returning is ﬁne too, apart from you, my two other disciples, they are younger than you, but became my disciples earlier, when you see them, you should address them as shixiong, they are both orphans whose parents are both deceased, in the future you should treat each other well, there’s lots of shixiongdi on the mountain, if you don’t go anywhere during holidays and festivals, the mountain will still be lively, don’t be afraid.”
He had the impression his shifu wasn’t too experienced in these matters, after all his two disciples were barely out of childhood, now speaking to Duan Ying, he’d unconsciously used the tone for placating children.
Duan Ying was amused, and moved, felt his heart warmed.
Duan Ying was from the south, the Luling Duan family wasn’t a noble family, but was still a prominent local martial arts family, he had no need to reject what was on hand to seek something far, traversing a thousand li to Xuandushan to seek out a master, but just as he had said to Shen Qiao, every family has a volume that is diﬃcult to read, Duan Ying wasn’t willing to stay at home and be mistreated, he couldn’t even access the wugong that could only be passed on to children in the lineage, so he said goodbye to his family, and went to seek out a master in the wider world.
He started at Linchuanxuegong, after all the Ru sect was prominent in the south, many people regarded Linchuanxuegong as a sanctuary for the study of martial arts, moreover the sect leader was the southern dynasty empress’ shixiong, Linchuanxuegong had a powerful inﬂuence in the south, its followers as ubiquitous as cloudcover, but the larger the reputation, the higher the gate, Duan Ying had no powerful backer no history, his calibre also wasn’t high enough to inspire awe, he was quickly eliminated in the preliminary tests, he didn’t give up, toiled until he had an opportunity to have a audience with the sect leader, he spoke to Ruyan Kehui, and although Ruyan Kehui was amiable, ultimately did not accept him as a disciple, Duan Ying understood, they were dismissive of his body’s limitations.
Before he met Shen Qiao, Duan Ying had thought that all the grandmasters in the world were like Ruyan Kehui in that they highly valued natural calibre, so coming to Xuandushan, he didn’t hold out unrealistic hope, he felt that as long as he could become a Xuandushan disciple, study martial arts earnestly, he’d be satisﬁed, he didn’t expect this type of extraordinary surprise at the end.
Knowing the experience of loss, Duan Ying cherished all the more this hard-won opportunity, and understood clearly how rare it was to have a shifu like Shen Qiao, in order not to disappoint his shifu, he practically immersed all of his time in training, everyone including his parents would not have expected it, that this previously very mistreated bastard son, would after an unknown amount of years stun the world, and become a grandmaster of a generation.
That’s the epilogue, as of now, the new disciple Duan Ying hearing Shen Qiao’s words revealed a sheepish smile: “Thank you shizun, go on your journey without worry, this disciple will certainly train hard, will deﬁnitely not let you down, take care on your journey!”
Shen Qiao clapped him on his shoulders, reiterated his encouragement, then let him take his leave.
On account of acquiring this new disciple, he had to delay another day, but things always follow one another, not long after Duan Ying left, another person entered bringing two messages. One message came from Qingchengshan Chunyangguan, Yi Bichen hadn’t received news yet of Shen Qiao becoming zhangjiao, the letter was intended for the zhangjiao, in it aside from formalities, went on to discuss the ﬁght set between Yan Wushi and Hulugu, it went on to invite the Xuandushan zhangjiao to attend the ﬁght together.
For the central plains wulin, this ﬁght, was not merely for the title of number one under the heavens, it also meant the showdown between the Tujue and central plains, if Yan Wushi lost, it was not only his face that was lost. News of the Banbu Peak ﬁght had spread far, when the time came there were sure to be many important ﬁgures in the audience, Yi Bichen was interested, the others would be no exception, it’ll probably turn out to be a gathering of all the prominent masters of the central plains wulin, on Yinghui Peak, to observe the ﬁght on Banbu Peak.
Chunyangguan as a Daoist sect of the central plains, would not exclude themselves, after all the incident of shijiandahui ruined by Hulugu’s appearance midway, Yi Bichen wouldn’t admit it, but he had deﬁnitely not been happy about it.
Yi Bichen had seen with his own eyes the threat of Hulugu, he estimated his odds of beating Shen Qiao in a ﬁght at ﬁfty-ﬁfty, and Shen Qiao had lost to Hulugu, he himself was certainly no match for Hulugu, and to his knowledge, even Ruyan Kehui, Guang Lingsan, or Yuan Xiuxiu, these people were also unlikely to match Hulugu.
A Yan Wushi losing wasn’t terrifying, the terrifying thing was that the central plains wulin would thereafter have no one who could force Hulugu to submit.
After Qi Fengge, there was no Qi Fengge.
The day of Shen Qiao and Kunye’s ﬁght on Banbu Peak, Yu Shengyan had been excited, Yan Wushi had no interest whatsoever, the reason being that once you attained his level of mastery of martial arts, it wan’t hard to deduce from existing information who would win. Of course, Yan Wushi wasn’t a god, the subsequent events leading to Shen Qiao’s severe injury and fall, he hadn’t been able to anticipate.
But this ﬁght was entirely different. One side was the master who twenty years ago lost by one move to number one under the heavens Qi Fengge, the other side was the demonic zongzhu who killed Xueting-chanshi, ranked by Liuligong as number two under the heavens, who also similarly had crossed paths with Qi Fengge an indeterminate number of years ago.
Between them there was no common point at all, but similarly on account of Qi Fengge these three words, there emerged a tiny, remarkable connection.
In this ﬁght, who would win who would lose?
Likely even themselves included, no one knew the answer.
There were many who had thought along the same lines as Yi Bichen, so this ﬁght, was certain to capture the attention of the world.
The one sent to deliver the message from Yi Bichen was Su Qiao, he was shocked to see Shen Qiao appear on Xuandushan, after recovering, he congratulated Shen Qiao, and then apologized: “My shifu doesn’t yet know that Shen-daozhang has reclaimed the zhangjiao position, otherwise he’d surely would have sent a gift along.”
Shen Qiao smiled: “Thank you, but this matter doesn’t deserve any congratulations, please tell your master when your return, that I will see him on Yinghui Peak, on the ﬁfteenth day of the third month.”
Banbu Peak’s precipitous drop, its summit was even more rugged, narrow, two people having to face off against each other would already be very trying, there would be no space for onlookers, to watch, they could only stand on the adjacent Yinghui Peak.
Saying this, Shen Qiao remembered Qin-furen, casually asked: “The ﬁght at Yinghui Peak, will Qin-furen be in attendance observing?”
Su Qiao shook his head: “My mother says the past is past, she’s not willing to see an old acquaintance, when it’s time I will attend with my shifu, my mother likely will not.”
Shen Qiao: “I see, then please give my regards to your mother and brother.”
Su Qiao smiled: “I will.”
The two of them conversed a while more, Su Qiao knew that as zhangjiao he was certain to be busy, said his goodbyes ﬁrst, but he had travelled a great distance, sending him back immediately after receiving the letter was not appropriate, Shen Qiao urged him to stay the night and return in the morning, he summoned the disciples responsible for welcoming guests, and asked them to host him well.
The second message was brought by a common-looking young woman, she introduced herself as a Hehuan Sect disciple, here under orders from her sect leader.
Shen Qiao had no goodwill towards Sang Jingxing to speak of, he had just seriously maimed the other on Xuandushan, now the other had sent someone to the mountain, the message couldn’t be good, but Shen Qiao didn’t want to make things diﬃcult for this woman, regardless he was in no rush to depart today, so he decided he might as well have an audience with the Hehuan Sect delegate too.
Who knew the ﬁrst thing out of her mouth was: “I am Hehuan Sect disciple Bingxian, this time I am here on orders, ﬁrst to congratulate Shen-daozhang reclaiming leadership of Xuandushan, second, after ten days, our sect will be holding a ceremony to mark the succession of our new zongzhu, so our zongzhu sent me to extend this invitation to attend to Shen-daozhang.”
Shen Qiao was quite shocked: “Succession ceremony? Isn’t your zongzhu Sang Jingxing?”
Bingxian pressed her lips in a smile, declared: “Sang-zongzhu is dead, the zongzhu position will be passed on to Sang- zongzhu’s disciple, Bai-zongzhu said that she had several life-and-death encounters with Shen-daozhang, this ceremony, who else would she invite?”
This smile, on her ordinary face became very affecting.
For any sect, the death of the leader would not be a joyous occasion, but this young woman was clearly in high-spirits, even if Shen Qiao felt that Sang Jingxing’s death was not enough to absolve his sins, he still felt something was off about Bingxian’s manner.
Bingxian seemed to see through his confusion: “I do not dare sully Shen-daozhang’s ears, before Bingxian was a Hehuan Sect disciple, I was previously a daughter of a honest household held captive by Sang Jingxing in a temple, only after his death were we able to escape, Bai-zongzhu saw that I wanted to learn martial arts, and that my calibre wasn’t bad, and so let me formally join the sect. Sang Jingxing, after he was maimed by Shen-daozhang on Xuandushan, died shortly after his return from his wounds, our sect was leaderless, everyone was unsettled, out of consideration for the grand scheme of things did zongzhu accept this heavy responsibility, carrying the burden of leadership.”
Her tongue was brilliant as a ﬂower, her description of the struggle for the position of Hehuan Sect zongzhu were as if it were something everyone avoided like a terror, Bai Rong taking over as zongzhu, in her mouth became a philanthropic act.
Shen Qiao remembered, that day Sang Jingxing was gravely wounded, but he was able to escape, with his abilities, he’d surely be able to ﬁnd a way to continue living, unless…
Realizing something, he met Bingxian’s sparkling eyes: “So Sang Jingxing is dead, but there must be other zhanglao in the sect, regardless, Yuan Xiuxiu’s disciple Xiao Se, he has a shot at taking the zongzhu position too, Bai Rong becoming zongzhu, didn’t he have anything to say?”
Bingxian smiled: “The zongzhu position can only be occupied by whoever’s capable, those zhanglao aren’t as capable as zongzhu, so they can only listen to her commands, if not, then that’s disobeying zongzhu, and punished according to sect rules, as for Xiao-zhanglao, only a wise man understands his circumstances, if he’s willing to act according to zongzhu’s wishes, zongzhu will value him highly.”
The meaning being, Bai Rong had control of the entire Hehuan Sect, even Xiao Se could not raise any waves, and was forced to submit to her.
Shen Qiao was very surprised, couldn’t help but admire Bai Rong’s power.
Before he had seen the other’s capacity for ruthlessness and also taken pity on her, he had thought she would be better off leaving Hehuan Sect, little did he know that was not her intention, that she’d rather endure insult as part of her larger plan, taking advantage of Sang Jingxing and Yuan Xiuxiu’s inner conﬂict, secretly gain a foothold bit by bit, ultimately becoming the victor.
Bingxian: “Zongzhu has more that she would like me to pass on to Shen-daozhang.” Shen Qiao: “Go ahead.”
Bingxian cleared her throat, when she spoke again her voice was identical to that of Bai Rong’s: “Shen-lang, I know you don’t like Hehuan Sect’s dual cultivation practices, before I couldn’t change it, now as zongzhu, I will eliminate this bit by bit, even the pretty girls that Sang Jingxing kidnapped to degrade while he was alive, I’ve released them all, those that want to stay I’ve let them stay, are you happy? But dual cultivation is a shortcut to martial arts practitioners, many would not relinquish the fatty meat already in their mouths, I have no way of eliminating the practice in a single night, after all there’s quite a few people in the sect waiting to watch me crash and burn, everything will come along slowly, but you can’t look down on me, using this as an excuse, and not talk to me anymore!”
The sweet voice, as if Bai Rong was standing right before him, extremely vivid, if he closed his eyes, he’d probably believe that Bai Rong was actually here.
Since wandering the secular world, Shen Qiao had opened his eyes to human relationships and affairs, the intention hidden behind these words, he was not a piece of wood, how could he not understand it? But Shen Qiao also knew, he yielded to many people and many things, but towards Bai Rong, he could not yield an inch.
Otherwise to mislead others was to mislead yourself, no need to create more debts.
“You can pass this along, say Xuandushan congratulates Bai-zongzhu on her succession, but this poor one is about to embark on a long trip tomorrow, your esteemed sect’s succession ceremony, this poor one has no way of personally attending, apologies to Bai-zongzhu.”
Bingxian stared at him for a while, abruptly sighed: “The goddess has intention, but my lord has a heart of stone?”
She had been kidnapped by Sang Jingxing, was not some young girl naïve to the ways of the world, she was extremely skilled as an orator, and so was sent by Bai Rong with this message, she had thought that in the face of the affections of her sect’s zongzhu, a powerful martial artist and beauty, and her willingness to change for him the foundations of her sect, no man in the world would remain unmoved, what they might say in refusal didn’t indicate the moorings their heart, who knew this Daoist had truly a heart of stone, was not even moved in the slightest.
Under her breath, Bingxian couldn’t help but sigh for Bai Rong.
These affections were destined to be as fruitless as water running past.
Shen Qiao said: “If I waver, give ambiguous words, it will only mislead her.”
Bingxian wanted to call him a hypocrite, but seeing the other in their otherworldly Daoist robes, his calm expression, like a celestial who walked out of a painting, no words could leave her mouth, in her heart she kind of understood why zongzhu would like this person.
Swans startling, a brief glance, a whole life delayed, henceforth, no tenderness left in the world.
She thought, maybe in the world, there will always be someone, some thing, worth waiting and trying for.
The next morning, Shen Qiao bid farewell to everyone on Xuandushan, and travelled towards Banbu Peak with Yu Shengyan.
Bian Yanmei had to head to Chang’an to deal with Huanyue Sect matters, could not join them, this ﬁght no matter the outcome, Huanyue Sect still had to go on. Weapons had no eyes, in this kind of life-death duel, it was more likely that one of their lives would end there.
If Yan Wushi died, would Huanyue Sect be able to survive, this was an unknown.
Whether it was Bian Yanmei or Yu Shengyan, neither if them wanted to consider the existence of this possibility, but as the eldest disciple, Bian Yanmei had to make some preparations in advance for the worst possible outcome.
The author would like to say:
Lao Yan: Why does Bai Rong (diminutive) appear earlier than this venerable one?
Shen Qiao: Because peerless grandmasters need to ferment before showing off
Lao Yan: A-Qiao, when you say it that way it makes me happy
Shen Qiao: After all this ﬁght could be the last appearance you make in your life→_→
Lao Yan: …
Shen Qiao didn’t expect that when he saw Yan Wushi again it would be like this.
Beforehand, hearing Bian Yanmei’s words, Shen Qiao hadn’t said anything, his mind though couldn’t help but wander.
At the pinnacle of Yan Wushi’s wugong, fighting Hulugu, he might be a notch below, but this notch would not decide the match, in a fight there’s ten thousand permutations in a breath, when masters cross paths, they’ll have to regard heaven and earth and person, one careless move, a wrong judgement, and perhaps the entire outcome will be overturned, but if the flaw in Yan Wushi’s demonic core was still present, then this small difference will be magnified, the chances of losing more certain.
Shen Qiao turned it over again and again in his mind, he thought for a long time, but could not devise a method that would guarantee his victory.
It was an impossible task of course, moreover the opponent was Hulugu, even if it was his shizun Qi Fengge in this position, he wouldn’t dare say that he was certain to win.
Like this, with his head full of worry he arrived outside the residence in Funing County, standing beside the unlatched doors he heard a lazy voice inside say: “No, A-Qiao, don’t bite that.”
A-Qiao? Don’t bite?
Shen Qiao, completely befuddled, pushed the doors open, and saw Yan Wushi half-reclining on his seat on the veranda, in one hand he held a jade flask of wine, his other elbow supported his weight, his face brimmed with the pleasure of idleness, hearing the door open, he raised his head, and saw Shen Qiao and Yu Shengyan enter.
In front of him stood a small deer, at the age where it was still unsteady on its feet, it was bleating, the sound similar to that of a goat, but slightly lower in pitch, the small deer extended its neck grasping the jade flask with its teeth, in a struggle with Yan Wushi.
Shen Qiao was momentarily dumb, he just didn’t expect that a person soon to be facing off against the number one martial artist under the heavens would have no sense of urgency, and would sit here leisurely…playing with a deer.
“A-Qiao?” Yan Wushi saw Shen Qiao and Yu Shengyan the two of them, completely overlooked the latter, motioned for Shen Qiao to come over: “You’re right on time, I just had them open a jar of mulberry wine, it’s one I buried ten years ago.”
The small deer thought he was calling him, let go of the jade flask and nudged his head over, only to have his head shoved away by Yan Wushi, his liquid black eyes revealed a rather pitiful expression.
Shen Qiao extended a hand to pat it, the small deer wasn’t afraid, turned its neck to rub against the palm of Shen Qiao’s hand, Shen Qiao thought maybe he had heard wrong, couldn’t help but ask: “Does it have a name?”
Yan Wushi: “Yes, it’s A-Qiao.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Don’t you think he looks a lot like you?”
Shen Qiao looked at the small deer, the other was a sika deer, hadn’t yet reached the age to grow antlers, even its ears were soft and furry, on its neck it had a small white spot, and its eyes, pure and uncorrupted, dependent and trusting towards humans, sure it was cute, but Shen Qiao couldn’t see the slightest resemblance between them.
“I heard, you challenged Hulugu to a fight?” Shen Qiao addressed the matter at hand directly.
Although it was a question, but the answer was already known, this question was merely the preface.
Yan Wushi: “Yes.”
This “yes” was so nonchalant, as if he were about to attend a very leisurely flower viewing, and not some life and death duel.
Yu Shengyan was very observant and did not come inside, after he greeted Yan Wushi he wandered off to another section of the residence, in the courtyard only the two of them remained.
And one deer.
Shen Qiao, dust and wind blown from his rush over, at this moment was gradually placated by his presence, his emotions settled little by little, he sat down by his side, but his upright sitting posture was a distinct contrast to Yan Wushi’s brazen casualness.
Yan Wushi watching him found it a bit funny: “Are you worried about me, A-Qiao?”
The small deer again thought it was being called, wobbled over on its little legs.
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yan Wushi doubled over in laughter.
Shen Qiao, exasperated: “I have a matter, I would like to discuss with Yan-zongzhu.”
Yan Wushi stopped laughing, his eyes flashing: “Oh? Shen-zhangjiao now holds such an esteemed position, there’s no need for you to use the term ‘discuss’?”
Shen Qiao slowly said: “The fight with Hulugu, I will go in your stead, may I?”
It was rare for Yan Wushi to be at a loss, although his pause was very brief.
He recovered quickly: “You’ve already fought him.” And lost.
Shen Qiao: “I know, but twenty years ago he fought my master, twenty years later, my master is no longer with us, but logically I should continue this fight on his behalf.”
Yan Wushi suddenly broke into a smile: “You think that to divert Hulugu, so that he won’t go to Xuandushan to find you, was the reason I sent him the challenge letter?”
Shen Qiao: “I heard, your demonic core remains flawed, the last fight with Xueting only aggravated it.”
On Yan Wushi’s face passed a fleeting unreadable expression: “Bian Yanmei said this?”
Shen Qiao nodded.
Yan Wushi thought hard, should he admit to his disciple’s words, or just directly say that his disciple was lying.
If he admitted it, Shen Qiao would for sure persist that he go in his stead to fight Hulugu.
To say his disciple was lying, Shen Qiao would for sure be upset.
On this point, Yan Wushi for the first time decided that having a too capable disciple was not that great after all, but the disciple takes on his work, as for the black pot naturally the disciple will take it on as well.
So he said: “Last time you already checked my meridians, my injuries were not severe.”
He extended his arm.
Shen Qiao placed his hand over his wrist, after a moment, remained unconvinced: “Just from the meridians alone, it would seem your injuries are mostly recovered, but whether there’s a flaw in your demonic core, there’s no way to tell.”
Yan Wushi: “It’s fixed.”
Shen Qiao was even more unconvinced: “Then Bian Yanmei didn’t know that you’d recovered?”
Yan Wushi: “Perhaps.”
Shen Qiao: “This fight, you could have avoided it, or delayed it substantially.” In the end, he had been the cause.
Yan Wushi chuckled, then raised his chin, gestured towards the haitang on the other side: “What do you think of those flowers?”
Shen Qiao: “Incandescent, the red most enchanting.”
Yan Wushi casually picked up a fallen leaf by his side, flicked his fingers, and a branch of haitang fell to the ground.
Another flick, another branch of haitang fell to the ground.
Petal and leaf can be deadly weapons, this phrase was demonstrated aptly by Yan Wushi here.
A few more times, Shen Qiao couldn’t bare to watch any longer, and caught the other’s wrist: “What are you doing!”
Yan Wushi: “Ruining the flowers!”
His tone remained lazy, his posture unchanged, he didn’t move his hand, let Shen Qiao continue to hold it.
Shen Qiao: “They were blooming just fine, and weren’t bothering you, why hurt them?”
Yan Wushi smiled: “See, A-Qiao, this is where you and I are most different.”
“As I see it, those flowers have already bloomed past their peak, if they go on, will only wither with each passing day, I send them on their way, leaving their most beautiful snapshot in your heart, isn’t it better this way?”
His tone was casual and unhurried, he hadn’t moved his wrist, still in Shen Qiao’s grasp, but he did close his fingers, made a crushing motion, that fallen leaf was shortly rendered into powder, rustling down between his fingers.
“Many people toil away their days like flies for personal gain, entangled in small details, getting in their own way at every turn, this is a commoner’s sorrow, people of the jianghu are quick to act on virtue and revenge, put another way, it’s also to cast off a commoner’s sorrow. Living in the world, if you can’t live ferociously, to your own will, then what’s the point? People are the same as flowers.”
“Back then I was able to challenge Cui Youwang, Qi Fengge, now naturally I can challenge Hulugu, the outcome is undetermined, but it’s because it’s undetermined that makes it exciting, if the outcome was already decided, then how is different from a pool of deadwater? So this fight, you were part of the reason, but most importantly, it’s for myself.”
Reaching this point in their conversation, Shen Qiao would have nothing more to dissuade him.
Shen Qiao knew that he and Yan Wushi were two very different people, he relied on taking things step by step, slow and steady, Yan Wushi however, liked to do the least expected, risking his own body, but Yan Wushi himself didn’t consider it risky, he actually enjoyed the process, even if he were to die by Hulugu’s hands it would be no big deal, to him, this was how you live.
For most people, they would consider it overconfident and too arrogant, but this was Yan Wushi.
As he was thinking this, he heard Yan Wushi say: “A-Qiao, do you know?”
“En?” Shen Qiao turned to him.
Yan Wushi: “Before, I divided people into two categories.”
Shen Qiao remembered: “One category was opponents, the other was ants.”
Opponents could stand and sit as his equal, ants would not enter his field of vision.
The Shen Qiao from before, in his eyes was an ant.
Yan Wushi, unhurried: “But now, my way of thinking has changed. A-Qiao, you are different from most people in this world, in your marrow is a sensitivity to the world’s suffering, to the point you’re willing to shortchange yourself, not seeking anything in return, before I thought you were no different from the others, you can start out naïve and kind, but circumstances change, they’ll teach you how to adapt, but you exceeded my expectations, history is like running water, and you are that rock, no matter the current, you will never turn.”
Shen Qiao smiled: “It’s rare to hear good things about me from Yan-zongzhu, it’s no small feat, this poor one is very honoured.”
Yan Wushi: “Do you still hold grievances against me in your heart?”
Shen Qiao shook his head: “No, just the opposite, I really respect you, in this world there aren’t many who can live according to their will, Yan-zongzhu is certainly one of them. Before I left the mountain, all I knew of the world and the jianghu, was merely that inch of space told to me by my master, I’d never seen it with my own eyes, if I didn’t have Yan-zongzhu’s lessons, I might not be alive today here talking with you.”
This solemn and sincere expression and tone, Yan Wushi found it very cute, he didn’t restrain the impulse to reach out his hand, patted Shen Qiao’s head: “So you still won’t admit it looks like you? Turn around and look at it.”
There were plenty of smart people in the world, but not many could know themselves, acknowledge their own shortcomings, and be willing to address them, those willing to talk about it were even fewer, rare as a phoenix feather.
On Shen Qiao, there was a close-to-glass kind of transparency.
He actually understood everything, and was willing to use kindness and tolerance to accept all that was different from him.
Shen Qiao was unprepared for his gesture, scooted away slightly, finally turned his head to look.
The small deer was looking back at him earnestly with round eyes, in the black orbs was reflected his silhouette.
Shen Qiao felt his heart soften, he reached out to pet the other’s neck, the small deer lowered its head, licked the palm of his hand, Shen Qiao couldn’t help but smile.
Yan Wushi: “Thank you, A-Qiao.”
Under the heavens, who would have the fortune of hearing Yan-zongzhu’s thanks?
Shen Qiao froze, turned to look at him.
Yan Wushi laughed, looking at him: “Thank you for returning my badness with kindness, how many times you’ve saved me, I’ve lost count, shouldn’t I say a word of thanks?”
Shen Qiao: “You’ve also saved me countless times, what need is there to say thanks?”
Yan Wushi, meaningfully: “If you put it that way, then our relationship has gotten to the point where there is no need to say thanks?”
Shen Qiao felt there was something wrong with this phrase, but couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it.
Only to see Yan Wushi suddenly reach out, pull, with one motion he had pinned the person underneath his body, the speed with which it was done was totally in keeping with that of a martial master!
Before Shen Qiao could react, he heard the other say: “You know I have a lot of enemies, when it comes to life and death companions there’s only you, this fight between me and Hulugu, life or death is uncertain, to find someone I can entrust things to after I’m gone, I can only think of you.”
Very close, warm breath hit Shen Qiao’s face, his entire person was rendered useless, he didn’t know whether to push the other away first, or to reply to what Yan Wushi had just said, in that moment, his mind was blank.
“What, what after you’re gone?”
The author would like to say:
The closer to the conclusion, the more I have to run the content through my brain a couple times, so as to not rush it, so the word count is a little less~
Lao Yan has truly performed this phrase: As long as the peony blooms, becoming a ghost is cool, my life is a plaything…
A moment’s distraction, attention diverted by the other’s question, the two of them maintained this interesting position, no one would remind Shen Qiao, the small deer wouldn’t, Yan Wushi also wouldn’t.
And Yan-zongzhu’s expression was plaintively serious, most of the time his mouth carried a smirk, whether a smile-not-smile, or an arrogant laugh, it gave the impression that he was recklessly casual, but now, there was no trace of a smile on his face, becoming this imperceptible force that stopped people in their tracks, pausing whatever they were thinking to fully listen to what he was about to say.
Only to hear Yan Wushi say: “Huanyue Sect’s disciple selection, seeks quality and not quantity, so under my tutelage I still only have Bian Yanmei and Yu Shengyan these two. When it comes to martial calibre, Bian Yanmei is not the pinnacle, can only be considered above average, his smarts are elsewhere.”
Shen Qiao agreed with this statement, Bian Yanmei’s interpersonal and political skills were far from average, these years the deep roots that Huanyue Sect had established in court, even after Yuwen Yun’s intended death blows, were able to rapidly re-ﬂourish in the new dynasty, this would have been impossible without Bian Yanmei’s efforts, Yan Wushi might be have his capability, but likely not his patience.
“As for Yu Shengyan, he is naturally gifted in martial arts, but he’s still too young. If I die, the two of them will be rather powerless and alone, when the time comes I’ll need you to help look after them.” If I die…
Shen Qiao froze.
Hearing this, in his heart surged an unprecedented, indescribable feeling.
Outside the Tuyuhun capital, Yan Wushi ambushed by ﬁve grandmasters, when Shen Qiao had rushed over he had already been lying on the ground, unconscious, that time Shen Qiao also believed he had died, but…
That time Shen Qiao had sighed, but it was out of unresolved debts and grievances, out of pity for the death of body and soul of a grandmaster of a generation, and not like now, where numerous unknown sentiments threatened to overwhelm him.
“Are you grieving for me?” Yan Wushi saw his expression, and burst out laughing.
Shen Qiao collected himself: “You said the ﬂaw in your demonic core was ﬁxed, this ﬁght with Hulugu, you can go into it fully.”
Yan Wushi smiled: “That’s right, but there are exceptions to all things, nevermind that the opponent is Hulugu himself. Or based on your understanding of me, are you hoping that I arrogantly state that I am certain to win?”
Shen Qiao also smiled: “If Yan-zongzhu said something along those lines, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.” He ﬁnally felt something was off about their position, extended a hand to push the other away, trying to get up.
But Yan Wushi didn’t move, not only did he not move, he kept him pinned down, his position was quite technical, immobilizing the other completely, without letting Shen Qiao feel any discomfort. Shen Qiao thought he was still waiting for his answer, so said: “I understand Yan-zongzhu’s will, I will do my best to protect them, if Huanyue Sect has trouble, as long as they’re not doing anything against the logic of the heavens, I will also do my best to defend them.”
In the jianghu, a promise was worth a thousand gold, with Shen Qiao’s character, this promise was worth even more than a thousand gold, unless he died, this promise would hold in face of all thunder and storms.
He remembered Yan Wushi’s “entrust things to after I’m gone”, suddenly felt it was extremely laughable and lamentable.
Bian Yanmei and Yu Shengyan those two, how would they overlap in anyway with the words “powerless” or “alone”? Even if they were left to the jianghu, they would only bully the vast majority, and not the other way around.
After his response, Yan Wushi still hadn’t moved.
With a sincerity and softness that Shen Qiao had never heard before, he asked: “A-Qiao, you treat me so well, how can I repay you?”
Shen Qiao: “To treat friends sincerely, why seek a return?”
Yan Wushi, as if not hearing his words, continued: “What others dream of in gold, gems, fame, fortune, it’s all worthless in your eyes.”
Shen Qiao corrected him: “That’s not right, I also like fame and fortune.”
Yan Wushi: “En?”
Shen Qiao: “Xuandushan couldn’t remain separate from the world, and for me to protect Xuandushan, I also can’t remain separate from the world, in the jianghu, potential is the most powerful backing, but Xuandushan is also a Daoist sect, a Daoist sect cannot be separate from the dynasty, before you were able to connect me with Yang Jian, let Xuandushan stake a foothold in Chang’an, I’m very grateful to you.”
Yan Wushi, a small smile, this person understands everything.
Shen Qiao: “So fame and fortune is useful, but one needs to be aware not to get entangled.”
Everyone knew this principle, it was easy to say but hard to do, Yu Ai, Tan Yuanchun likely also thought this way, but who would be able to persist until the end?
Yan Wushi, softly: “That’s why you’re special, these things to you, truly exist outside of the self, I gave it some thought, and was unable to think of anything that could truly repay you, I can only give you myself as repayment, what do you think?”
No! Shen Qiao gaped, seeing him about to lower his head, he no longer hesitated and aimed a palm strike at his chest!
Yan Wushi made to grab his wrist, but then he couldn’t maintain his centre of gravity, was forced to move a little to one side, Shen Qiao’s other hand sliced towards his other shoulder, in an instant the two of them had exchanged multiple moves, Shen Qiao took the opportunity to strike back, pinned him under his body instead.
Yan Wushi, amazed: “So you like this position, you should have said earlier!” That expression, innocent however you look at it!
By Shen-daozhang’s life experience, even if he didn’t know what exactly the other was alluding to, could still understand the ambiguity in those words. Now he really believed the other’s demonic core was ﬁxed, otherwise with the ﬁght looming, how could he still have the time to tease others!
Shen Qiao made to seal his meridian points, Yan Wushi wouldn’t let him succeed, arms ﬂying, a blink of the eye and multiple moves were exchanged again, every move was a ﬂawless knife point.
The two of them were both highly ranked martial masters, Shen Qiao might be a notch behind, but the difference wouldn’t be that signiﬁcant, at this point Yan Wushi simply gave up, opened himself up to the other’s palm strike.
As expected, Shen Qiao paused, and couldn’t do it, instead Yan Wushi took the opportunity to pin him under his body again.
The beauty in his embrace, it would be hard to ﬁnd a second under the heavens, but his most moving attribute wasn’t his appearance. Everyone that had crossed paths with him knew, this person had a heart like the sea in which all rivers run into, steadfast in storms and setbacks, and yet he would never displace his suffering onto others, on any day, he could be the most kind and closest friend, in a crisis, he could be the most trustworthy life and death companion.
Shen Qiao wasn’t wrong, in Yan Wushi’s eyes previously, aside from disciples, there were only two categories of people, one was opponents, the other ants, but now, Shen Qiao’s weight in his heart clearly didn’t belong to either category, more than that, and even heavier, more heavy than even Bian Yanmei could imagine.
This intention, whenever it had begun wasn’t important, the important thing was that Shen Qiao in their interactions had slowly let his guard down, and was willing to treat him like a friend again, willing to make such a large promise for him, but this wasn’t enough.
For Yan Wushi, this was far, far from enough. What he wanted was a particularity that only occurred once in heaven and hell, a position that someone else couldn’t casually imitate or steal away, he had always been domineering, what he wanted, had to be the best, that no one could replace.
Yan Wushi had not overtly demonstrated this intention, nevermind forcing a bow against its curve, compared to his previous methods, this would be considered gentle, all of it was because he understood Shen Qiao too well.
This person seemed acquiescent, in truth he had a peerless backbone, any method that crossed a line, might lead to them walking away, distancing him farther and farther, look at Yu Ai, it couldn’t be a better lesson of a previous cart crash.
So Yan Wushi changed his usual methods, incrementally he drew the other towards his trap, not intense at all, he hadn’t even sealed the other’s meridians when they exchanged moves— if he had sealed the other’s meridians, he could force the other into a position of passivity, forced to listen, but what was the point of that?
No point at all.
Shen Qiao succumbed to softness and not to harsh measures, Yan Wushi using this opportunity to regain the upper hand, it was not totally unexpected.
“You don’t want anything, I can only deliver myself to you, isn’t that enough?” From their position, Yan Wushi should be looking down, a sense of superiority, but Shen Qiao could sense behind his grin that he was holding back, found it enraging and funny.
“Do you still remember, back then what happened in the cave?” He slowly lowered his head, the tone of his voice light and warm. What happened in the cave, Shen Qiao remembered two instances, one was after Yan Wushi and Ruyan Kehui fought, Shen Qiao thought he had been injured, pursued him into the caves to see if he was ok, the result was nearly being choked to death, the other, was when the other had used his shanhetongbei to scale ﬁsh.
His thoughts stopped there, Shen Qiao’s expression darkened.
“I implore Yan-zongzhu to let go, I’m not used to talking to people like this.”
“There’s no one else here anyway.” Yan Wushi laughed, pulled him up into his arms, half pressed to the wall, in this way Shen Qiao went from a lying down position to a sitting position, but he was still half trapped in the other’s embrace.
Shen Qiao: “…”
The other had not sealed his meridians, the point being if he wanted to break away, he’d have to move against Yan Wushi, if he struck out lightly, the other could nullify it effortlessly, if he struck out forcefully, the other would just give up, a plaintive ‘do as you will’, then Shen Qiao couldn’t. This was totally…
A dead pig doesn’t fear boiling water.
Yan Wushi: “I’m about to meet my death, and you don’t even have the patience to listen to me say a few words?”
Shen Qiao sighed, gave up struggling: “Speak.”
Yan Wushi smiled: “But I thought about it just now, and instead of speaking, I should just act.”
Topic to topic, Shen Qiao could not keep up with this train of thought, blankly: “Ah?”
And then he couldn’t say anymore, his voice was cut-off abruptly, his vision obstructed by a shadow, on his lips there was heat and softness, the other pried open his teeth, advanced ruthlessly.
From the side there was a brief yelp, Yu Shengyan was at the doorway, the deer had bitten his robe from behind, he had been intending to step back, and had nearly tripped over the deer.
Shen Qiao struck out a palm towards Yan Wushi’s shoulder, straightened his torso, standing up, breaking away.
But his lips were a bit swollen, his hair a bit messy, his expression very unnatural, embarrassed and annoyed, uncertain if he was more embarrassed or more annoyed, but looking like this, he couldn’t even start to maintain composure.
Yu Shengyan saw his shizun begin to look his way, would rather have dashed his head open on a pillar.
With his wugong, he wouldn’t have made this kind of mistake, the fault lay with his timing.
He had puttered around the whole residence, thought that the two of them would have ﬁnished their discussion by now, so he could go greet shizun, who knew he’d arrive right on time for this “see no evil”.
Yu Shengyan laughed dryly: “That, can you pretend I was never here?”
He had no more courage to greet his shifu, turned around and vanished, running far away as he could.
Da-shixiong, is it too late for me to go stay with you in Chang’an, wuwu!
The author would like to say: This work is certain to be different from Dawang’s other works, because even to the end, there will be no clear declaration or words of love, even something like I like you will not appear.
Because according to the style of this work, they have a kind of know-in-the-heart-no-need-to-declare scenario to make sense of things, these matters, if stated matter-of-fact is boring, Lao Yan feels A-Qiao can understand, A-Qiao is also not someone who says things aloud, touching on the point is enough, lightly skimming the surface, something that’s there or not, I don’t know do you guys understand?
I know nowadays many works are not written this way, everything has to be said loud and clear, but this work doesn’t.
Two days before the duel.
Almost everyone had their eyes on this ﬁght.
The inns in Funing County had long ﬁlled up, countless jianghu people had ﬂooded into this obscure town, it resembled the time that preceded Shen Qiao and Kunye’s ﬁght.
The difference was, back then although Shen Qiao had a large reputation, it was not on account of his martial prowess, his ﬁght with Kunye attracted attention because on some level, it represented the continuation of Qi Fengge and Hulugu’s legacies, people looked to them to see a shadow of the two grandmasters of yore.
This ﬁght between Yan Wushi and Hulugu, many people saw it as the face-off between the central plains wulin and the Tujue.
The Buddhist, Daoist, Ru sects, along with various other major and minor sects, of the people who had heard the news, eight or nine times out of ten they had rushed over.
Rumour has it that one inn was completely rented out by Linchuanxuegong, even their sect leader Ruyan Kehui was here personally, prepared to witness this ﬁght with his own eyes.
Tiantai Sect Fayi-chanshi, Qingchengshan Chunyangguan Yi Bichen, Xuandu Purple Pavillion, Fajing Sect, Liuligong, Bixia Sect, even the faraway Tuyuhun Jushe-zhizhe…all of these people, were either here personally, or sent a disciple as a delegate, clearly not willing to miss out on this once-in-a-thousand-years showdown.
There was ten thousand pairs of eyes! It was going to be more brilliant than the ﬁght between Shen Qiao and Kunye!
At the same time that it drew the world’s eyes, it also signiﬁed the peril of a large spectacle.
Win, then you were peerless under the heavens. Lose, then you descended into the abyss.
This was not merely a martial arts confrontation, but also a confrontation of reputation and of life. No one was naïve enough to believe that the two of them would stop after a friendly scrimmage,
twenty years ago Qi Fengge and Hulugu’s ﬁght, Hulugu had been seriously injured, almost dead, only then did he undertake the twenty year vow to not return to the central plains, wandering the outskirts in seclusion, Qi Fengge was not much better off— many people believed that it was because of the severity of the injuries sustained in this ﬁght, that he developed a chronic condition, leading to Qi- zhengren’s later death, this was merely a rumour, no one had any evidence.
Nevertheless, for many run-of-the-mill jianghu people, who were unlikely to ever catch a glimpse of the pinnacle of the cultivation world, to be able to be present here, even if they were unable to ascend the steep Yinghui Peak, and could only sit waiting in Funing County, it was still the most marvellous chance of a lifetime.
“I heard that the biggest gambling house in Funing Couty has opened up this round, accepting bets for the outcome in zongzhu and Hulugu’s ﬁght.” The one speaking was the head manager of the residence, he was currently respectfully relaying his report to Yan Wushi.
Yu Shengyan had not dared to make an appearance in front of Yan Wushi these past few days, who knows where he’d run off to. Although they were in a countryside residence, they were not cut off from the news, just the opposite, the head manager would send someone to get the most recent news everyday, the most recent sect to arrive in the county, where they were staying, where Linchuanxuegong’s people went today, etc., all of it would make its way back here.
As one of the parties in the face-off, Yan Wushi was way more idle and settled than anyone could imagine.
Currently he held a piece of walnut shell that had been broken apart by the maidservant and threw it at the small deer: “A-Qiao, come here.”
The small deer was snuggling against Shen Qiao coyly, lowering its head to drink water from his cup, but was struck by a piece of walnut shell, it didn’t make a fuss, continued to drink its water like a well- mannered someone.
“…” Shen Qiao couldn’t keep watching however, the deer had a name that was identical to his, clearly this was not done with good intention, the deer was well-behaved, not troubling anyone, but someone kept on bullying and teasing it.
Another walnut shell was thrown, this time it didn’t hit the deer’s head, it was intercepted mid-ﬂight by a leaf, made tangent with the head manager’s ear, then embedded itself in the pillar behind him.
The head manager broke out into a cold sweat.
Shen Qiao, apologetic: “Sorry, I hope I didn’t scare you?”
The head manager shook his head continuously, he by what virtue and what ability, could undertake an apology from this person.
Yan Wushi started laughing.
Shen Qiao really wanted to roll his eyes at him, but that would be messing around too much, he petted the unknowing small deer, he thought, when I get a chance how about I get you a new name.
Yan Wushi asked abruptly: “What are the odds?”
The head manager was blank for a moment, then realized he was asking him, rushed to say: “One to ten.”
Shen Qiao had not gambled before, but he knew what one to ten meant, he was surprised: “On whom?”
Head manager: “On master winning.” Shen Qiao : “And if Hulugu wins?”
The head manger coughed quietly: “One to two.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yan Wushi wasn’t upset, instead he smiled: “Looks like they don’t expect much from me!”
Hulugu’s reappearance in the central plains, his ﬁrst ﬁght had been his shocking stage entrance on Qingchengshan, ﬁrst beating Yi Bichen and then Shen Qiao, two of the top ten martial artists, both grandmasters, in a turn of an eye they had lost, this martial record, was enough to stun the world.
Yan Wushi was powerful, but with Hulugu in the spotlight, he lost some of his lustre.
Moreover, Hulugu was of the same martial generation as Qi Fengge, once your wugong surpassed a certain stage, age no longer restricted your body, establishing physical limits, in contrast it signiﬁed more experience.
Shen Qiao, blandly: “When you’re like this, I also don’t expect much.” Yan Wushi raised an eyebrow: “This venerable like what? Unless you mean before the match, I should be reduced to a mess, unable to sleep or eat? Or should my eyes overﬂow with tears, holding onto your leg saying A-Qiao I don’t want to go anymore?”
Shen Qiao gave him a look, didn’t say anything.
Yan Wushi tried to reassure him: “I don’t think there’s anything to be worried about, you also shouldn’t be worried, I’ve entrusted Huanyue Sect to you, if worst comes to worst my skull will bust open another crack, it’s not like it hasn’t opened before.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yan Wushi smiled merrily and shrugged: “Another crack, maybe Xie Ling can come back, then you can whisper sweet nothings to each other again.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He was a person of the jianghu, his wugong was also exceptional, moreover he had fought with Hulugu, naturally he understood what this ﬁght entailed, and because he understood, he had been wracking his head these days for something that might help Yan Wushi, giving him a better chance in the ﬁght.
But the path of martial practice, how easy would it be to take a shortcut? Shen Qiao had been able to reconstruct his meridians, but that had been under the condition where he had nulliﬁed his own wugong completely, although the saying goes construction is built on wreckage, if you were doing ﬁne who would go about “wrecking”? Yan Wushi to be able to ﬁx the ﬂaw in his demonic core was already a godsend, if there was no Zhu Yang Ce” scroll from Chen Gong, his chances of winning against Hulugu would have been even lower. Shen Qiao was deep in his thoughts, brain spinning, going over his past experiences, these days he appeared more solemn and rarely spoke, now he paused for a long moment, intercepted two more walnut shells aimed at the small deer: “I’ve been thinking, I remember back then after shizun’s ﬁght with Hulugu he had some reﬂections, but it’s been many years, I was very young, my memory isn’t clear, after a lot of thought I’ve only remembered portions, maybe it won’t be much help, but if you know a little, it’s better than nothing.” Yan Wushi made a sound to show he was listening, waited attentively for the rest.
Shen Qiao arranged his thoughts: “Shizun said, Hulugu was a martial genius, he’s practically well-versed in all weapons, can be considered an expert, but in the end he chose no weapon, using only his bare hands, it’s not only because his niegong is deep and no longer requires a weapon as extraneous embroidery, it’s more because he’s encapsulated all of the weapons into his technique. But there’s strength and weakness in everything, in this world, except for the heavens, there is no such thing as perfection, Hulugu included, he must have a weakness. Twenty some years ago, he lost to shizun by only one move, also because his nieli was a notch below shizun’s, but this time, if you’re going to stake it out on nieli, it’s not to your advantage, so you must search for an opening elsewhere.”
Saying this he seemed to realize: “This is probably not useful to you, you can use it as a reference.”
Two people ﬁghting, it was hard to put a ﬁnger on many observations, impossible to pass on, only if you were the one involved would you know, even if Shen Qiao had a brilliant, ﬂowery tongue, he’d still wouldn’t be able to explain it, but he was clearly hoping the other would win, that he had expended so much energy picking these things out from his memory. Yan Wushi looked at him with a doting gaze: “It’s me who’s going to ﬁght Hulugu, but you’re the one who’s nervous, it’s hard on you.”
Shen Qiao smiling-crying: “This ﬁght is no small thing, just look how many people are in Funing County right now and you’ll know, only you could be so idle! No need to mention your disciples, haven’t you noticed these two days the people in this residence are all extremely high-strung?”
Yan Wushi laughed haha, standing up: “I know you worry about me, why use others as an excuse? Sitting around all day like this is boring, come, I’ll take you out to play.”
Shen Qiao frowned, seeing that he was already walking out, could only follow behind.
Yan Wushi brought him into town, but not to any inn or to visit any wulin grandmaster, instead he walked a familiar path into a gambling house.
Shen Qiao raised his head to look. Tongfu Gambling House.
Inside it was bustling with activity, on account of the new jianghu arrivals it was even more lively, many people were taking advantage of the time before the ﬁght to come here to wager and to waste time, most people had surrounded the table where they were taking bets for Hulugu vs. Yan Wushi, a solid barricade of people, Yan Wushi found a staff member and had them place a bet on his behalf, that he’d win, and then pulled Shen Qiao to the other side.
“This is betting da-xiao, the easiest to play, three dice, if the sum is less than ten it’s considered small, more than eleven it’s big.” He said to Shen Qiao, seeing the other’s vacant expression, smiled. This was a completely foreign, other world to Shen Qiao, rambunctious yelling everywhere, there were those who were yelling since they’d won, and those wailing because they’d lost, Shen Qiao’s Daoist robes certainly did not ﬁt in here, his features also stood out too much, if it wasn’t for the fact that most people in the gambling house were not of the jianghu, someone would have long recognized him.
Nevermind Yan Wushi, the other’s aura, get too close and you’d have diﬃculty breathing, no one dared to cast more than a few glances in his direction.
Here, what determined the outcome was not wugong, but luck. Who knew how many people had won a thousand gold in one roll and then lost their entire family fortune here, year after year, the gambling house continued to be busy, the people coming and going may have gone through several iterations.
Shen-daozhang, who did not ﬂinch in the face of Taishan collapsing, standing here now was kind of at a loss.
Yan Wushi might have found Shen Qiao like this very cute, thought that this trip was indeed worthwhile, he reached out a hand to pull him, all the while smiling: “Qi Fengge has certainly not brought you to a gambling house before?”
Shen Qiao frowned, the meaning clear: why would shizun bring him to this kind of place? Yan Wushi pulled him to the front of a table, using a tone reserved for placating children: “It’s really fun, see, this kind of wagering da-xiao, it has everyone’s attention, they’re afraid to miss even one dot on the dice.”
Shen Qiao looked around him, indeed, everyone was very focused, their eyeballs glued to the porcelain shaker in the host’s hands.
In the moment the porcelain shaker was lifted, the results revealed, everyone’s expressions changed, the anticipation evaporated, some rejoiced, some sighed.
Shen Qiao could not understand their affect, he was a not a creature of this place, he was a bystander, with no point of entry.
Yan Wushi put the wood chip he’d exchanged earlier in his hands, here it represented ten liang, that amount was enough to feed a common family for most of the year, here it was a considerable wager, but Huanyue Sect had money, of course he didn’t even blink: “You try it.”
“Place your bets! Hands away from the table!” The porcelain shaker after a long interval, was snapped onto the tabletop, the host yelled.
Shen Qiao hesitated, he ﬂicked his ﬁnger, the wood chip silently landed in the “small” box drawn on the table.
This gesture had been extremely graceful, the host looked up in his myriad of tasks, saw that it was a pretty young Daoist, with a sword on his back, he thought, maybe he was here to cause a scene?
The porcelain shaker revealed, it was small.
This table was one to one odds, Shen Qiao won another wood chip, meaning that he had twenty liang.
The second round, another wager, this time he wagered ‘big’. The outcome, was indeed ‘big’.
Several rounds followed, he was correct in every round, even the guests around began to notice him, they thought, even young Daoists are gamblers now, though that didn’t stop them from all placing bets after Shen Qiao.
The host began to panic, secretly reported it to the manager, the manager sent someone over, seering that the other was of the jianghu, and looked extremely like the kind you did not vex, rushed to present them a large gift, very respectfully invited them to leave, also letting them know that there was another gambling house in town called Sifang Gambling House, even larger than theirs.
Yan Wushi started laughing as soon as they exited, laughed until he had to hold onto Shen Qiao’s shoulder, his waist bent over.
Shen Qiao: “…Stop laughing.”
Yan Wushi was on the verge of tears from laughing: “This is the ﬁrst time I’ve been kicked out of a gambling house, it’s all thanks to you, did you use your nieli to listen to the host’s dice?”
Shen Qiao: “…I didn’t know that was not allowed in gambling.”
There was a touch of self-pity he was not aware of.
Yan Wushi: “That’s the rule, even if Qi Fengge were here he wouldn’t be able to use nieli, otherwise there’d be no gambling house that would let him enter again.”
Shen Qiao was quickly at ease again, smiled: “Regardless, if you hadn’t dragged me along, I wouldn’t have gone in.”
He looked at the heavy money pouch in Yan Wushi’s hand, curious:
“You won a lot? Not using nieli?”
Yan Wushi laughed: “This gambling house has a good reputation among the townspeople, the host doesn’t cheat, everyone according to their luck, one more source of joy, don’t you feel that using your nieli to listen to the dice, knowing the outcome beforehand, is no fun?”
Shen Qiao didn’t like gambling, but he could appreciate his words, hearing this he nodded: “To suspend certainty, it would be more interesting.”
Yan Wushi played with the money pouch by tossing it up in the air, a blink of an eye and it had landed in the broken bowl of the beggar sitting by the side of the road, with utmost precision, the beggar had not expected wealth to descend from the sky one day, was completely dumbstruck.
The person who had tossed the money hadn’t even looked at him once, as if the thing he had thrown away was merely a rock.
“That’s right, life is a bet throughout, birth is a bet, those born to aﬄuent families, well-fed and dressed, those born to beggars, a life of poverty; marriage is also a bet, those couples that get along, those couples that bicker ceaselessly. An ordinary household, or an extravagant one, even the emperor’s household, where is it not a game of chance?”
Shen Qiao thinking to himself, if he hadn’t been accepted by Qi Fengge as a disciple, no matter how talented he was, it was more likely than not that in a chaotic world, he’d have long become a wandering ghost.
The other using gambling as an example, different songs to the same tune, it was not incorrect.
Shen Qiao shook his head: “Yan Wushi, you’re a gambler at heart.”
For the thrill, he was willing to bet his life, there was probably no crazier gambler under the heavens than him.
Yan Wushi smiled: “A-Qiao knows me, if the ﬁght with Hulugu was nine out of ten certain, why would I go, it’s only because the outcome is unknown that it’s interesting, without this thread of uncertainty, life would be so tasteless!”
Shen Qiao, a ghost of a smile on his lips: “People who see the world as you do, probably do not number many.”
Yan Wushi: “Come, money won, I’ll invite you to dinner.”
Shen Qiao reminded him: “…You gave your winnings to the beggar.”
Yan Wushi: “Winning money is for the high, a high then dinner, what does it have to do with the winnings?”
The meaning being, I’m happy.
Shen Qiao was wordlessly dragged away by him. The author would like to say:
Aside from Lao Yan’s indeﬁnite morality, doing as he pleases, there’s no good-bad bottom line, his free-spirited attitude towards life garners people’s admiration, but of course he needs the ability to back it up.
Yan Wushi: A-Qiao, I’m inviting you to dinner.
Shen Qiao: Oh ok…How come I have a bad feeling about this. Yan Wushi: That’s a false impression (laughter).
“Hmm, what place do you think my shizun has brought him to?” Yu Shengyan asked, time-saturated, he leaned against the veranda, currently he had a stalk of grass in his hand, playing with the deer, he was a little surprised, as shizun was not one to cherish small children or animals, how did he suddenly get a pet deer here?
The head manager smiled: “If you’re curious, why don’t you follow them and find out.”
Yu Shengyan shook his head rapidly: “I am definitely not doing something that speeds up my death, it’s only that the day after tomorrow will be the fight, and it looks as if shizun is not concerned in the least, truly a case of the emperor doesn’t worry, but the eunuchs worry to death. You’ve been at shizun’s side before I became a disciple, you must understand shizun’s thought process better than me?”
The head manager bowed slightly: “I am unfit for Er-langjun’s praise, master’s thought process is unfathomable as the sea, not something I can decipher, but in master’s dealings, he usually walks one step and predicts three steps, this time the fight with Hulugu, is probably the same, master has auspicious fortune in all things, surely he will emerge unscathed.”
Yu Shengyan couldn’t help smiling, this head manager held shizun in the highest esteem, from his words one could see that in his eyes, there was not a single fault to be found on shizun.
“Tell me honestly, the county’s open betting pool, did you put in a wager?”
The head manager opened his eyes wide, then coughed quietly, mumbled: “A small sum.”
Yu Shengyan pressed further: “How much is a little?”
The old head manager: “Around twenty liang.”
Yu Shengyan: “That little? You just said shizun is bound to win!”
The head manager laughed: “A small bet for fun, does it have to be everything I own? If you’re bored, you should go wander around town, there’s now countless jianghu people gathered there, an opportune time to cross paths.”
Yu Shengyan: “With the fight looming, I won’t be going around causing trouble.”
He really wanted to follow Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao into town to see the action, but back then he had stupidly slighted shizun, so now he could only be an honest turtle withdrawn to the residence, distractedly chatting with the old head manager.
The head manger seeing that he was in low spirits, moved to a different topic: “Then as you see it, the place master and Shen-daozhang have gone, why don’t we bet on it?”
Yu Shengyan: “What will we bet?”
The head manager smiled: “That set of Han dynasty jade flask and jade cups I received last time, hasn’t Er-langjun had his eye on it for a long time, how about that as the prize?”
Yu Shengyan had recovered a bit, sat up abruptly: “Then I’ll use that set of glass weiqi that shixiong gifted me. When they get back though, I’m not brave enough to go up and ask them, how will we know?”
Head manager: “That’s easy, Shen-daozhang is easy to talk to, we’ll ask Shen-daozhang when he gets back.”
Yu Shengyan: “They will definitely eat a meal while they’re out, that can’t be counted, shizun bringing Shen-daozhang out, it can’t be solely to have a meal.”
The head manager nodded: “Then I’ll guess, they’ve perhaps gone to visit a friend, right now Funing County is a myriad of masters, even Ruyan-gongzhu is here, master has probably brought Shen-daozhang to meet an old friend.”
Yu Shengyan laughed haha: “Zhang-shu, you’re going to lose your prized possession to me!”
Head manager, smiling: “Er-langjun hasn’t even made your guess yet, how do you I’ve lost?”
Yu Shengyan: “By shizun’s character, why would he pay someone else a visit, as for Ruyan Kehui they’ve already crossed paths, shizun will likely not seek him out again, the day after tomorrow is the fight with Hulugu, right now he should be conserving his energy.”
The head manager, confused: “Then you mean?”
Yu Shengyan: “Life’s four joys, eat, drink, sex, gambling, I’ll guess, if they’re not at the gambling house, then the brothel.”
Head manager: …
He’d never heard that the four joys of life were these four.
Head manager: “Master has all sorts of beauties waiting to throw themselves at him, this residence also has beautiful entertainers, why would he need to bring Shen-daozhang to that kind of place?”
Yu Shengyan: “This is where you don’t understand, Shen-daozhang hasn’t made the connection, from a young age such a pure cultivator, like a piece of wood, in this world the place that will most likely teach understanding is a pleasure house, he doesn’t need to personally experience it, just by looking, he’ll make the connection, shizun has to bring Shen-daozhang to experience the difference between the male and female body, then he has a comparison, only then will he understand life’s higher pleasures!”
Head manager: “What comparison?”
Yu Shengyan: “The difference between shizun and a woman…”
He stopped speaking, thought: that was a close-one, I’d nearly said what shouldn’t be said out loud, the scene I’d witnessed earlier, I’d better forget it as soon as possible.
Mumbling, moving on: “In summary, if not the gambling house then the brothel, when they return, if Shen-daozhang is in a faint flush, averted gaze, that’s the expression after going to a pleasure house.”
Head manager: “…” You speak as if you’re an expert on this.
Yu Shengyan saw his strange expression: “Are you going to bet or not, are you not willing to part with that jade set, do you regret it already?”
The head manager replied immediately: “You have my word, no reason to go back on it, I’m making this wager!”
Yu Shengyan threw his stalk of grass at the small deer’s head, stood up and laughed: “Then I’ll wait to claim my prize, when the time comes don’t be too hurt!”
His mood had improved drastically, walking a few steps, he turned around and motioned to the small deer: “Come here, I’ll bring you to eat barbecue meat.”
Then he asked the head manager: “Did shizun give it a name?”
Head manager: “…a name was given.”
Yu Shengyan: “What is it?”
Head manager: “…A-Qiao.”
Yu Shengyan paused: “Which character Qiao?”
The head manager held back a laugh: “It’s the one you’re thinking of.”
The two of them looked at each other, staring, Yu Shengyan suddenly burst out: “Can I retract my guess on them going to the brothel?”
The head manager, laughing: “You’re going to go back on your word?”
Yu Shengyan, exasperated: “Fine, fine.”
He motioned to the small deer again: “Shen-daozhang, want to eat barbecue meat?”
Head manager: “…”
The small deer returned an innocent look.
Shen Qiao was not eating barbecue meat, and was not at a brothel, he was currently by the lake.
This lake was not far from the residence, they were seated in the pavilion, Yan Wushi had his staff brine the fresh caught fish and shrimp into drunken fish and drunken shrimp, then had it served, plus a pot of wine from a good vintage year, to the observer it was truly beyond even the life of a celestial.
Yan Wushi had always known how to enjoy himself and relax, although he was no stranger to a life wilding it out with no fixed address, when he didn’t have to shortchange himself, he definitely did not hold back.
“Where did you find all these staff on short notice?” Shen Qiao was a bit alarmed.
“There’s a yiguan close by, previously there wasn’t much business, I bought it, sent over some staff from the residence, we do some food and drink business with travellers coming here to fish, they can stay overnight at the yiguan too, no need to rush back into town.”
Shen Qiao smiled: “Only you would do such a thing.”
Yan Wushi: “This location is close to the marvellous scenery of Banbu Peak and Yinghui Peak, naturally it draws the literati and the artists, its not a completely forgotten place.”
Shen Qiao heard his meaning, this yiguan’s main purpose was for finding out news and transmitting communications, after all it was beside an official transit corridor, many travellers would stay the night at the yiguan, as for the talented cooks and maidservants, they were at the express service of Yan-zongzhu, whether or not the business did well was not important.
The dishes before them had mostly been cooked with wine, fragrant and rich, intoxicating.
Shen Qiao was not someone who abstained entirely from alcohol, but seeing the full cup of wine poured before him, was a little conflicted: “My alcohol tolerance is not very high.”
This wine was the kind you could tell in one glance that got people drunk very quickly.
Yan Wushi filled his own cup to the brim, then drained it: “I’m about to meet my death, and you’re not even willing to drink a cup of wine.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Knowing that he was saying this on purpose, Shen Qiao still raised his cup, drank it in two sips, it burned down his throat, he felt his entire body burning, starting with his stomach.
“This is shaojiu?” He wondered.
Yan Wushi shook his head: “Not quite, it’s got some additional chilli and pepper, so it has more bite, with seafood’s colder nature, this counterbalances it.”
The maidservant was peeling a drunken shrimp, placed the plump flesh in the plate in front of Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao put it in his mouth, the sweet freshness of the river combined with the fragrant wine was endlessly flavourful, he set his chopsticks down, seeing the maidservant about to place more on his plate, waved his hand: “I’m afraid I’ll get drunk if I eat more, no more.”
Yan Wushi shook his head: “After this meal, who knows after Banbu Peak if the person seated across from you is still me, and you still think moving your chopsticks is too much, truly you wound me.”
Shen Qiao: “…Stop using this event as an excuse, Hulugu is powerful, but you’re also someone with no brakes, how could you die so easily!”
Yan Wushi sent the maidservants away, poured him another cup, blandly: “Variables are constant, I may be arrogant, but I can’t proclaim a certain victory, this fight, Hulugu will want to demonstrate to the world that by defeating me he has long surpassed Qi Fengge, and well as flaunting the might of the Tujue. If he’s in a position to kill me but doesn’t, that runs contrary to his reputation, if I can kill Hulugu but don’t follow through, that also runs contrary to my character.”
Shen Qiao quietly sighed, unable to deny him, ultimately gave up refusing the wine.
Yan Wushi harboured no good intentions, he hadn’t had a chance to get Shen Qiao drunk, now was an opportune time to enjoy this beauty’s drunken countenance, so finding his weakness, poured him cup after cup, Shen Qiao hadn’t been kidding when he said his alcohol tolerance was poor, after three cups, his cheeks were faintly flushed, his gaze not as sharp as his usual.
This scene, was a rare occurrence, the next time he wanted to get Shen Qiao drunk it would not be so easy, he should’ve gotten someone to paint him. Yan Wushi thinking this, reached out a hand to touch the other’s face, it was very hot.
Shen Qiao held his forehead, didn’t cause a drunken frenzy, it was just that his reactions were a bit slower, not understanding why the other had reached out a hand suddenly to touch his face, he stared in a daze for a long while, then gradually revealed a pained expression.
Yan Wushi hadn’t expected his alcohol tolerance to be so low, watching him wobbling about to fall over, had to move over to hold him up: “Do you want to throw up?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, with his hands covering his face, he was silent for a long time.
No matter how powerful Yan Wushi was, he wouldn’t be able to discern exactly what this gesture meant, but he dealt with it very directly, reaching out a hand, he pulled down the other’s hands that had been covering his face.
Yan Wushi was extremely perceptive, he felt the wetness on his fingers immediately.
Then looking at Shen Qiao’s eyes, misty and wet, it was hard to tell if it was the alcohol fumes, or if he was crying.
Yan Wushi finally gave up maintaining his teasing, mirthful expression, his face gradually changed.
He had just wanted to admire the beauty’s drunk countenance, he hadn’t expected the beauty to cry, it was true that Shen Qiao had cried before, and all those times he’d been affected to the core, overwhelmed with sadness.
Shen Qiao’s character was soft-hearted, but inside he was steel, not someone who cried at the drop of a hat. He frowned slightly, as if not expecting this movement from Yan Wushi, but the wetness welling in his eyes was just welling, it had not yet coalesced into a falling tear.
“A-Qiao, you’re grieving for me, you’re afraid that this fight between me and Hulugu, I’ll go and never return, is this the case?” Yan Wushi said softly.
Shen Qiao sighed, the wine was to blame for the emergence of his sadness against his will, otherwise he would have appeared just a bit more sombre than usual.
He propped himself up on his elbow, as if to break free from Yan Wushi’s embrace, but his body on wine was like cotton, for the moment he’d lost a martial artist’s agility, his efforts were a bit futile, he could only stay as is: “It is a bit strange, if it was me facing Hulugu, I would only feel that this day was inevitable, my spirits would be like the high clouds, there would be no room for anything else in my mind, but if a friend were to do the same, I’m only left with worry.”
“Friend.” Yan Wushi played with this word in his mouth, “If it was Li Qingyu and Hulugu having this fight, would you also be this worried?”
Shen Qiao began to consider this earnestly, his brow furrowed tighter and tighter, but he gave no answer after a long duration.
What more of an answer was needed? Yan Wushi smiled, his hand caressed Shen Qiao’s hair: “A-Qiao.”
Shen Qiao rubbed his forehead: “…en?”
Yan Wushi: “A-Qiao.”
He buried his entire face into Shen Qiao’s neck, crushed this name, turned it over a thousand times in his heart.
Shen Qiao seemed to realize the ambiguity of their position, felt that his neck was being scratched by the other’s hair and was very itchy, he couldn’t help but push the other aside, he stood up and wobbled over to the lake, bent over to wash his face in the lakewater, the icy water hitting him, in a short time his senses came back to him.
Yan Wushi walked over to support him: “Let’s go back.”
Shen Qiao nodded, aired his grievance: “I’m never drinking again.”
Yan Wushi laughed at him: “Your own tolerance is poor, so you should practice.”
Shen Qiao had a headache: “Unless someone is having a match with Hulugu again, otherwise no one will be able to get me to drink this parting wine again.”
Yan Wushi laughed and laughed.
Shen Qiao circulated his qi to dispel some of the alcohol, although his head was quite fuzzy, at least now he could walk on his own.
By the time they returned to the residence it was evening, the small deer was munching on grass in the front yard, Shen Qiao’s thoughts were not as clear as usual, his manners were also a bit childish, he actually went up and hugged the deer’s neck, whispered to it: “I’ll change your name for you, ok?”
On the other side Yan Wushi waved: “A-Qiao, come here.”
Without waiting for Shen Qiao to figure out who he was calling for, the small deer had already abandoned Shen Qiao, pranced over to him.
Shen Qiao held back his vexation, leaned on a pillar and rubbed his head, he thought, why was he concerned for this person back there, clearly it was unnecessary.
After that, he didn’t remember when he went to bed, or how he returned to his room, everything was as if in a dream, through a curtain, muddled, like a flower in the mirror or the moon in the water.
When Shen Qiao woke from his long, long sleep, it was as if he had slept past every season, he felt very rested, and refreshed.
After he washed up, he summoned a maidservant to ask for the shichen, the maidservant said: “You’ve slept a full day and night, right now it’s mao shi, on Banbu Peak, master and Hulugu have probably started their fight.”
Shen Qiao was extremely shocked, he couldn’t believe he’d slept for that long, turning his thoughts in his head, he realized it was very likely that Yan Wushi had played him again, while he was drunk he had sealed his sleep acupoint.
But there was no time to say more, he grabbed his shanhetongbei sword, his body a blur, he ran in the direction of Banbu Peak.
Chapter 128 (End)
Banbu Peak was still that Banbu Peak.
For a hundred thousand years it had stood here, the rise and ebb of human histories, dynasties cycling, it was not affected in the slightest.
On account of yesterday’s rain, the clouds overcast the sun, on the river swirls of condensation rose into fog, even the adjacent Yinghui Peak was enshrouded in white cloud, inadvertently a celestial landscape.
The people in the landscape had no mind to savour the scene, did not have any illusions about having ascended.
With the many days of rain, the rocky path was unusually slippery, combined with Yinghui Peak’s vertical rise, anyone standing at its base looking up would be forced to inhale sharply, nevermind speak of climbing it, it would be akin to treading on thin ice, even the martial arts practitioners with qinggong and nieli were forced to walk slower than usual.
After all, today’s Yinghui Peak was the site of a grand occasion.
On any other day the path belonged to the occasional woodcutter or wandering poet, today there was an intermittent stream of jianghu people equipped with their weapons ascending the mountain, the path up the mountain was not man-made, merely worn down from the steps of previous travellers over time, where there were scant human traces, there would be a vertical cut in the cliff face like a knife, a straight-drop, nowhere for a body to stand, only those with exceptional qinggong could continue onwards, those with average wugong were forced to stop here, and only sigh as their gaze fell upwards.
It could be described from the base to the peak there were nine extremely treacherous segments, these nine segments would serve as an authenticity test to anyone’s wugong, as for the number of people who could reach the peak, they could be counted on one hand, so the ones able to watch the ﬁght from Yinghui Peak, were even fewer.
Many people had traversed more than a thousand li to get here, for the sole purpose of witnessing this monumental peak battle, even if for a few kernels to brag to their children later, how could they bear just standing at the base of the mountain, therefore no matter how treacherous the climb, many were still willing to make the attempt, step by step along the path.
“Brother, if this Yinghui Peak is so diﬃcult to ascend, why don’t we try Banbu Peak? Isn’t Yan Wushi and Hulugu ﬁghting on Banbu Peak anyways, even if we reach the peak here, we’d have to observe the ﬁght from across the river, it wouldn’t be nearly as clear as watching from Banbu Peak, and the fog is so heavy today!” The one speaking was Kuaiji Wang’s Wang Zhuo, on the day of shijiandahui, he’d nearly been injured by Duan Wenyang and had been rescued by Gu Hengbo.
Youth had no immunity against beautiful woman, and Wang- sanlang was no exception, he secretly admired Gu Hengbo in his heart, and wanted to make the connection, but he didn’t count on Gu Hengbo ignoring him, at the end of shijiandahui she had chased after the departing Yuan Zixiao, Wang-erlang couldn’t stand to see his brother wallowing around all day, when he heard of the match between these two grandmasters at Banbu Peak, he had brought his brother along to watch the match.
Although the two of them were talents among the new generation in the jianghu with uncommonly good wugong, faced with Yinghui Peak’s nine treacherous segments, they were ultimately stuck at the last one.
In front of them, there were no stairs, just a sheer rock wall, the vertical rise exceeded three zhang, that it to say, if you wanted to reach the peak you had to jump over this cliff face, there was nowhere in the middle to pause, on account of last night’s rains, the loose rock collapsing, this cliff face was even more slippery and smooth, there was no other option besides jumping over it in one go.
The two Wang brothers stared at this cliff face, there were seven or eight others who were similarly stuck at this segment, they’d all been set on watching the ﬁght from the top, they’d all passed the previous eight segments, and now were stuck here.
Wang-erlang gave his brother a look: “Do you think everyone else is dumb, if Banbu Peak was a easier climb than here, everyone would be there already, why would they be here? It’s said that the top of Banbu Peak is only a square cun in size, it would be a feat to stand there, to be able to exchange moves the ﬁghters must be extraordinary, what other space would be left to observers?”
Wang-sanlang, dumbstruck: “Then what should we do, we’ve come such a long way, but can only stand here?”
He squinted in the direction of Banbu Peak, he gave an exasperated sigh when he realized his view was completely obstructed by this rockface, even if he stretched his neck he’d only be able to see a stretch of white cloud, nevermind the ﬁgures on the mountain.
Faced with this scenario, Wang-erlang had also been caught by surprise, he said kindly: “Now you realize, outside of people you know, there’s more people, outside of your patch of sky, there’s more sky, just now Chunyangguan’s Li-shaoxia and Su-shaoxia, they were able to go up.” Wang-sanlang thought of Gu Hengbo, turned even more gloomy: “They must have started already on Banbu Peak, I wonder what the situation is?”
Wang-erlang also really wanted to know, including the two of them, the ten of them looked around at each other, some were not ready yet to give up, wanted to make another attempt, taking a breath they jumped, their body rising vertically in the air like a heron opening its wings, a wild goose mid-ﬂight, extremely graceful.
Ten pairs of eyes were ﬁxed upon that person, they saw that the highest point of the other’s jump was more than half-way up the cliff face, but by then the other had ran out of steam, he had to alight on the rock, intending to push off it, but beneath his feet it was slippery beyond compare, there was no way to maneuver around it, his body began to fall, despite exerting himself to his limit, there was no way to go any higher, he was forced to come back down.
This person, coming short in front of the crowd, was a little awkward: “My skills are unreﬁned, apologies for the scene.”
If any of the others could go up, they wouldn’t be standing around, they all reassured him: “You’re being too humble, your qinggong is already very good, it’s just that it rained last night, so the path is even more treacherous than usual, otherwise we’d all be up there already!”
Everyone commiserated, and chatted a bit more, Wang-erlang asked: “The two of us just got here, how many people have been able to go up?”
Someone responded: “Not many, but also not too few, Ruyan- gongzhu, Yi-guanzhu, Duan Wenyang these masters we don’t need to mention, there were also a few from the younger generation that went up, I recognized Li Qingyu, Su Qiao, and Xie Xiang, but not the other.” Someone else added: “I recognized him, it was Chixiajianpai Chao Yu.”
Wang-erlang was surprised, he’d fought Chao Yu before, the other had been a notch behind, who knew Chao Yu could also jump up from here, it was clear that he was inferior to him in this aspect.
At this moment, another person made an attempt to jump up, with the same conclusion and descent, everyone was very discouraged: “It’s now close to chen shi, a shichen has passed, the ﬁght has probably long started, has the outcome been decided, as I see it it’s better to go wait for news at the base of the mountain, better than being stuck here unable to go up or down.”
This made sense, but with just one last segment in their way, who could bear giving up now?
The one who had just tried jumping sighed: “Ay, I can only blame myself for thinking qinggong was useless, didn’t focus on it, and now I’m stuck here, this is so upsetting…”
Before his words trailed off, he made a sound of surprise: “Look, another person is coming, I wonder if he’ll be able to get here!”
Everyone turned to look, indeed there was a human form approaching, at breakneck speed, a blink and he was right before them.
The Wang brothers recognized this newcomer, they cried out:
Shen Qiao didn’t realize when his name had gone from “Shen- daozhang” to “Shen-daozun”, he had no mind to dwell on it, all he cared about right now was the match on Banbu Peak, so even though he recognized the Wang brothers, he only nodded his head, and had no intention of having a conversation.
Of the ten people here, half of them recognized Shen Qiao from shijiandahui, the other half didn’t, they hadn’t been in attendance then, but even if they didn’t, hearing the unmistakable “Shen- daozun”, they would’ve known who Shen Qiao was.
Of the other half of the people there, the look they were giving Shen Qiao instantly changed into one of awe and respect.
Wang-sanlang seeing that Shen Qiao’s steps hadn’t slowed, and was about to continue on his way, out of reﬂex called out to stop him: “Shen-daozun please wait!”
A furrow appeared in Shen Qiao’s brow, but he did stop, turned back to look at him.
Wang-sanlang, hesitating: “Can I ask if Shen-daozun has seen his shimei recently?”
Hengbo? Shen Qiao shook his head: “I have not seen her since shijiandahui.”
Wang-sanlang hearing this could not hide his disappointment. Shen Qiao: “Are you wanting to go up?”
Wang-sanlang was a bit embarrassed: “Yes, but this rock face is too high, nowhere to step in the middle, so…”
Shen Qiao looked at it, and said: “I can bring you along.”
Shen Qiao: “Are you coming?”
Wang-erlang was faster to react, accepted the offer: “Yes, yes, thank you Shen-daozun! It’s just that we are two people, I’m afraid that you’ll have to make two trips…” Shen Qiao: “No matter.”
Wang-erlang didn’t know what he meant by “no matter”, just felt his shoulder grasped tightly by a hand.
Before he could react, his vision blurred, his feet left the ground, Wang-erlang felt himself lifted entirely like a parcel.
Shen Qiao, with a person in each hand, without pausing half-way, directly ascended the rock face!
Not only the Wang brothers, but everyone watching the three of them vanish from their ﬁeld of view, were all rendered speechless, no words came out.
They had seen Li Qingyu and the rest jump up from here, their qinggong was good, but if you had them bring two people along with them, they might not be able to do it, hence it was clear how exceptional Shen Qiao’s qinggong was.
They were all stunned, some were sad and regretful, they regretted not having been able to speak up, so that Shen-daozun could have brought them along too, after a long time, someone ﬁnally sighed a long sigh: “Outside of people you know, there’s more people, outside of your patch of sky, there’s more sky, Shen Qiao is already so powerful, what realm has Yan Wushi and Hulugu reached, I realize there’s no need for me to watch this match, I ought to go home and cultivate a couple more years and then see!”
Saying this, shaking his head, he made his way down the mountain gloomy and forlorn.
The people left were not nearly as pessimistic, but they had similarly received a slap to the face by Shen Qiao’s demonstration.
After passing this segment, there were no more overtly diﬃcult segments, Shen Qiao said to the two of them: “I’m going on ahead, you won’t be late even if you follow slowly.”
Wang-erlang hurried to say: “Thank you Shen-daozun for your help, the remaining part we can do on our own, after you!”
Shen Qiao nodded, sped up his footsteps, in a moment, he’d reached the top.
At the moment there were several people already standing at the top, Shen Qiao took a brief glance, and recognized several familiar faces.
Everyone was entirely focused on watching the two ﬁgures on the adjacent Banbu Peak, they hadn’t yet registered Shen Qiao’s arrival.
With respect to distance, Banbu Peak and Yinghui Peak were not that far apart, but on account of the river running between them, the two peaks were divided.
Fog continued to swirl and enshroud, but the mountain wind was piercing, dissipating the fog intermittently, needless to say the people able to reach the top, their wugong and eyesight must be ﬁrst-rate, so it was not diﬃcult for them to see clearly the situation on the opposing peak.
Shen Qiao had no time for small talk with the others, as soon as he arrived, his attention was drawn completely to the other side.
Yan Wushi and Hulugu the two of them, neither held any weapon in hand, yet in the space between every move every exchange, robes billowing, sleeves ﬂying, perhaps it was the cut of the mountain wind, or the surging of zhengqi, that entire mountain of fog was being dissipated by their exchange, giving the observers on Yinghui Peak a clear view of the match.
By the time Shen Qiao arrived, the two of them had been ﬁghting close to a shichen, looking at them, it appeared no one had any intention of drawing things to a conclusion, in between palm strikes landing, boulders cracked, mist dispersed, the force so strong, it could be heard clearly on this side.
As a martial master, and as someone who had entered the realm of the grandmasters, Shen Qiao soon realized, these two were holding nothing back, if they continued this way, there was no way it would end in a “enough”, but an “until death” outcome.
If Shen Qiao could realize this, Ruyan Kehui, Yi Bichen, and the others beside him naturally could realize this as well.
On Yinghui Peak, the wind howling, robes in an erratic dance, Xie Xiang and the rest of the masters from the younger generation were forced to circulate their qi to steady their balance, on the opposite Banbu Peak there was even scanter vegetation, the wind was even more ﬁerce, but for Yan Wushi and Hulugu, they were not affected in the slightest.
The wind roared around them, but was drawn instead by their zhengqi, taking on the form of a cyclone, with the two of them as the centre, subjugating that which had been unyielding.
Xie Xiang was quick to speak, was not able to hold things in like Li Qingyu could, witnessing this he couldn’t help but ask his shifu: “Shizun, as you seen it, who has a greater chance of winning?”
He didn’t say who would win, just whose chance of winning was greater, it meant he also saw the situation as an impasse, uncertain, intractable.
Ruyan Kehui intentionally tested his disciple, asked him instead:
“Who do you think?”
Xie Xiang furrowed his brow in thought for a long time, then said:
“It’s probably Hulugu?”
Ruyan Kehui: “Why?” Xie Xiang: “These two are both extraordinary martial masters, although it’s not clear right now who is superior, but with respect to the depth of nieli, it should be Hulugu that comes out ahead.”
Because Duan Wenyang was also present, Ruyan Kehui wasn’t willing to make any self-deprecating remarks to inﬂate the other’s ego, so he didn’t say anything, but in his heart, he did not necessarily think this way.
It was true that Yan Wushi was extremely powerful, his reputation well-known, but Hulugu was Hulugu, he was able to on Qingchengshan defeat Yi Bichen as easily as splitting apart bamboo, to achieve this feat of strength, Yan Wushi likely wasn’t quite there, so in this ﬁght, although to outsiders may look uncertain, but to them at their level of martial arts mastery, the conclusion may have started to reveal itself from the very beginning.
Although they didn’t like Yan Wushi, they still lived within the same central plains wulin, if he lost, it would be a huge blemish on the central plains wulin, so Ruyan Kehui and the others naturally hoped that he would win this ﬁght.
Even if the likelihood was not great, but at least it was not zero.
Needless to say everyone watching each had their own views, but the two that were on Banbu Peak were immersed in their own scenery.
Hulugu had not crossed paths with Yan Wushi previously, but before the ﬁght, his disciple Duan Wenyang had amassed every piece of information relevant to Yan Wushi, Hulugu also knew that the man was arrogant, back then when his wugong had yet to reach any pinnacle, he had dared to challenge Cui Youwang and Qi Fengge, to send him a challenge letter now then, was not that out of character. He was devoted to the path of martial arts, so to be able to cross paths with a worthy opponent, he considered it a very good thing.
Banbu Peak, jagged rock formations, strange vegetation and growths, the area available to stand on was no larger than a square cun, it might ﬁt three people sitting cross-legged, but if you wanted to ﬁght in this space against the strong headwinds, it would be a sincere test of your gongli.
Both sides fought with no embellishments or extra ﬂair, after starting it was hard edge grating against hard edge, Hulugu had trained with numerous weapons, had incorporated the might of these weapons into his hands, every move every strike contained the form of various swords, sabres, long spears, his movements had the semblance of toppling mountains and turning seas, as if it were the oceans raining down, its crashing waves, oppressive and controlling, intending to trap Yan Wushi.
Currently, strong winds surged from every direction, directed by Hulugu’s nieli, surrounding Yan Wushi, inch by inch it tore apart the zhengqi defences the other had set up, roaring, it intended to tear that person apart completely!
Between heaven and earth as if only one person remained, Yan Wushi’s nieli was strong, but he had no way of resisting the will of heaven and earth, at some point his nieli would run out, at that point Hulugu’s offensive would surge forwards, leaving no chance for escape.
It looked like the winds combined with nieli had trapped Yan Wushi entirely, if he wanted to advance or retreat half a step he’d feel its pressure and would not be able to cross it.
But if he was that easily defeated, then he wouldn’t be Yan Wushi.
The headwinds cutting in every erratic direction, from the southeast, then northwest, the peak was entirely open to the elements, meaning the wind was ceaseless, where there was gain there was loss, this was the logic of the universe, if Hulugu wanted to borrow the might of the headwinds, he would have to expend more nieli for it to happen.
Yan Wushi was at a disadvantage, but not a ripple crossed his face, his feet had not moved, he closed his eyes slowly, channeling his entire body’s nieli at once, forming a barrier, temporarily halting Hulugu’s offensive, but facing Hulugu, this kind of weak defence would not last long, merely buying a moment, soon the barrier would disperse and his entire body would succumb to the onslaught of air striking in every direction, and he would die a mutilated corpse.
Yan Wushi did not need that long, the reason he closed his eyes just now was to hear more carefully the course of the headwinds.
Heaven and earth did not conform, the headwinds too could not be predicted, but human maneuvers left behind traces, no matter how much Hulugu wanted to be one with heaven and earth, ultimately he could not achieve a perfect merger, there would be an opening.
A moment was enough!
Yan Wushi opened his eyes suddenly, a palm strike aimed at Hulugu, this was followed immediately by his form leaping into the air, another palm outstretched.
The impasse had been resolved, not only that, he had gone from the defensive to the offensive!
During the duration of a shichen in their ﬁght, Hulugu had come to appreciate his opponent’s wiliness, he hadn’t counted on being able to beat Yan Wushi with this one move, so he was not surprised, his sleeves ﬂew outward, his body ﬂoated back, landing on a single pine needle, his presence rendered nil, blowing in the wind.
But this was enough for him to launch himself again several zhang into the air, his form hidden in the white fog, almost like encountering a ghost.
Naturally it was no ghost.
Hulugu utilized the blindspots in people’s ﬁeld of vision to mislead his opponent, combined with his extraordinary speed, no trace could be seen, he was able to create this illusion for the people watching, in broad daylight, no need for the cover of night, this level of skill, was enough to terrify everyone.
The people watching couldn’t stop the slight grimace from showing on their faces, some people had already started to speculate, if it was them encountering such a scenario, whether they’d be able to overcome it.
No need to mention the Wang brothers, as for Li Qingyu, Xie Xiang, and the rest, these young people, talented and smart, a little proud, asking themselves sincerely, they knew that if it was them in this scenario right now, eight nine times out of ten they would have no way of resolving it.
How many years before I can enter the same realm as Yan Wushi and Hulugu?
This question, at this moment, drifted into many people’s thoughts. Yan Wushi had not moved.
Because he knew moving was futile, the other’s speed was fast enough to mislead everyone’s eyes, so if he tried to pursue the other, it would be a waste of his energy.
It was clear to Yan Wushi, the moment the other ﬁnally stopped, would be the moment Hulugu struck out in full force!
So he chose stillness as movement, his hands that were hidden in his sleeves began to mobilize his nieli, amassing zhengqi. A lifetime’s cultivation, would meet in the next strike.
Hulugu had been prepared to strike ﬁrst, but he discovered something that shocked him: Yan Wushi had no opening!
A person’s wugong no matter how high, even if they had reached the realm of all-encompassing all-tolerance, would still have an opening.
All lifeforms, trees and living things, people, nothing could be ﬂawless.
Yan Wushi was also no exception.
Hulugu understood, the reason the other had no opening was because he could not discover his opening, and not because the other had achieved perfection, existing on the same plane as the heavens.
He was astonished to ﬁnd, this person’s resolve, manner, cunning, was more impressive than Qi Fengge’s from back then.
With time, he might as well achieve something great, breaking open the upper limits of martial arts cultivation, a direct ascent into the heavens.
This kind of ascension had nothing to do with death and the soul, it was more or an awareness of the logic of the heavens, catching a glimpse of the end-marvel of the chaotic universe!
Hulugu had trained for decades, along his way he had lost to Qi Fengge, was willing to wander the outskirts for more than twenty years, he had never been short on patience, but here facing Yan Wushi, he couldn’t help but feel a sliver of envy rise from the depths of his heart.
Yes, envy. The other was younger than him, his calibre was not necessarily higher, but he had a chance in breaking open the limits of martial arts cultivation, just this stroke of luck alone, was not something everyone had a claim to.
To be human was to be jealous, Hulugu was not a celestial, he could be as well, but this minuscule twinge of jealously he quickly tossed into the back of his mind.
He decided to strike.
Hulugu’s ﬁve ﬁngers were deﬁned but not overtly fair, from Tujue, as well as being a martial artist, his hands had the usual calluses, and were a bit darker in places.
But this pair of hands contained the force of heavy thunder, the huge strength that would instantly stun a crowd.
Sleeves billowing on account of the surging zhengqi, he closed his ﬁve ﬁngers, like gentle waters resolving in an instant into an icy, jagged knifepoint, he struck towards Yan Wushi’s head!
Almost at the same time, Yan Wushi jumped, turning in mid-air, meeting Hulugu’s palm strike head-on.
Strength meeting strength, one was bound to become the weaker one!
Hulugu recognized Yan Wushi’s potential, he also recognized, when he was Yan Wushi’s age, he had not achieved his level, but this did not mean he would concede defeat and let the other win.
They both knew, the two of them crossing paths, even if wasn’t today, sooner or later, the day would arrive.
After Qi Fengge, in the world there was only Yan Wushi who was worthy of being Hulugu’s opponent. They were like old rivals, today’s ﬁght would end with death.
Their auras met, zhengqi exploding in every direction, in an instant trees ruptured boulders ﬂew, the noise of the collision, even the fog- ﬁlled sky could not avoid it in time, the fog dispersing in the wind, as for the two of them their bodies were protected by the barrier of their coalesced zhengqi, rock particles and dust could not get near.
Everyone held their breath watching this moment. It was merely an instant!
The opposing colossal zhengqi collided in mid-air, Hulugu drifted to the ground, Yan Wushi retreated slightly, then landed.
Wang-sanlang felt tongue-tied, unable to utter half a sentence, he tugged on his brother’s sleeve once, ﬁnally spat out a few words: “This…is Hulugu’s victory?”
Wang-erlang did not reply, his gaze remained on Banbu Peak, unable to shift in the slightest.
The others watching, were mostly like this.
Hulugu and Yan Wushi, they were mere inches apart, standing across from each other, looking at each other, from a distance, they resembled more friends meeting after a long parting than opponents locked in a life and death struggle.
Could it be that it was not over yet?
As soon as he had this thought, Hulugu moved!
He used a speed unimaginable to Wang-sanlang to lunge at Yan Wushi, and the latter seemed to have anticipated the other’s move, both sides lunged at each other, in an instant a dozen more moves were exchanged, Hulugu had incorporated a decade’s worth of saber training into his palm style, the ﬁerce aura was like a saber’s edge, wildly surging, swallowing, nothing held back as it crashed towards Yan Wushi.
Yan Wushi suddenly smiled.
From this all encompassing, immaculate palm style, he saw a hint of an opening that had been well-concealed by Hulugu.
Maybe it was a remnant of something left behind by Qi Fengge twenty years ago, maybe it was that this time he felt rushed, or maybe he was just eager to defeat Yan Wushi.
Regardless, it was something Yan Wushi was happy to notice.
He remembered the words Shen Qiao had said to him previously, Hulugu was highly skilled in the use of many weapons, incorporating it all into his palm style, for the purpose of perfecting it, but close to perfection did not mean ﬂawless.
All things in the world were imperfect. He suddenly extended one ﬁnger!
The other’s aura had transformed into ten thousand forms, but he only extended one ﬁnger!
This one ﬁnger was pointed directly at the other.
Hulugu’s expression changed, he realized that Yan Wushi had found his opening.
Faster than can be described, Hulugu’s palm aura had already landed on Yan Wushi, and Yan Wushi’s ﬁnger, which similarly had coalesced a decade’s worth of experience, like splitting bamboo, landed directly over the other’s heart.
The sound of a huge explosion, Hulugu was ﬂung backwards, he reacted in time to grab hold of a branch, was able to pull himself back, landing heavily on a boulder, he spat out a huge mouthful of fresh blood, his face went from purple to white, almost transparent.
In contrast Yan Wushi was still standing there, having not moved, just his outstretched hand from earlier fell forward weakly, trembling.
“You…win.” Hulugu spat out blood with every word uttered. With every mouthful of blood lost, his complexion worsened. Yan Wushi still had not moved.
Hulugu’s gaze had drifted from him to the unhurried clouds overhead, the deep blue sky.
His lifetime’s regret, was not that he couldn’t help Tujue conquer the central plains, was not his loss against Qi Fengge, then Yan Wushi, but that now he could advance no further on the path of martial arts.
After death, if reincarnation exists, maybe in the next life he’ll have another chance to chase after the pinnacle of martial arts cultivation?
He slowly closed his eyes.
“Hulugu…is dead?” Wang-sanlang faltered, he looked at Yan Wushi, his gaze seemed to be stuck there.
“It appears so, Yan-zongzhu…” Wang-erlang’s tone was a little hesitant, because he had no way of knowing how Yan Wushi was.
No one brought up the idea of departing from the mountain, it was like they had not quite yet recovered from that ﬁght, Ruyan Kehui and Yi Bichen, were still for a long time, as if they were realizing something remarkable and unspeakable.
Yu Shengyan however was extremely worried, he felt for sure his shizun was injured, but the distance was too great, he couldn’t stretch out a hand, if it were to wait until he ran down the mountain and then back up Banbu Peak, who knew how much time would be wasted.
The situation didn’t allow him to think further, he turned his head intending to head down the mountain, but his shoulder was held back by a hand.
Yu Shengyan looked back, it was Shen Qiao.
“I’ll go.” Shen Qiao only said these two words.
In the next moment, Yu Shengyan had opened his eyes wide, disbelieving.
Because Shen Qiao made a movement that no one could have expected.
He broke off a branch from a nearby tree, then cast it into the air, the tree branch had been infused with nieli and ﬂew a large distance, Shen Qiao rose in the air, with one breath he jumped in the direction of the tree branch, his form drifting at ease, as if he were one of the celestials.
Shen Qiao intended to jump from here to Banbu Peak?! How… was that possible?!
Wang-sanlang was dumbstruck.
It was true that the two peaks were not that far apart, but no matter how remarkable your qinggong, to cross this kind of distance, it was a little forced, and there was nowhere to pause in the middle, if you weren’t careful and fell, what awaited was a ten thousand zhang drop, then the relentless river waters! He suddenly realized what purpose the branch Shen Qiao casted out served.
The other’s qinggong was unparalleled, in the jianghu it would be hard to ﬁnd a close rival, but also no one had attempted to jump from Yinghui Peak to Banbu Peak, with the river in between, truly it was to risk your life, Shen Qiao was now drifting in mid-air, approaching his limit, his body began to sink, Wang-sanlang’s heart also dropped.
But Shen Qiao did not lose his footing, he had superb control of his position, this dip, he was able to step solidly onto that tree branch, borrowing its force, he ﬂew up again, drifted towards the opposite side.
That tree branch after being stepped on, lost its forward momentum, descended rapidly.
Everyone was staring in a daze at Shen Qiao’s departing form, even Ruyan Kehui and the rest had stunned expressions, it was so out of the norm.
Wang-sanlang’s gaze had gone from one of awe to one of worship.
Shen Qiao ignored everyone’s reactions, his attention was solely on Yan Wushi.
How strong was Hulugu, and he was dead, how would Yan Wushi be unscathed?
With the Wang brothers’ observation skills, they might have no way of knowing, but Shen Qiao saw it clearly at a glance, Yan Wushi was not only not unscathed, his condition would not be much better than Hulugu’s.
However, he didn’t expect that just as he landed on Banbu Peak, he’d have to catch the other’s collapsing body. “Yan Wushi!” Shen Qiao’s expression changed, he was holding onto him and could only feel a rush of ice!
Yan Wushi’s eyes were squeezed shut, expressionless, from the corner of his mouth there oozed a dark red, dripping down his chin.
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything just rummaged for his medicine jar, poured out several capsules, carefully fed it to the other, then placed a hand on his meridians. On examination, although he was prepared, the devastation still hit him as if his internal organs were being crushed!
Yuanqi exhausted, yang loss apparent, all signs point to withering, no chance for survival.
No chance for survival…
In that moment, Shen Qiao’s face took on the same hue as Hulugu’s.
His hands began to shake, he forced down his agitation, from his robes he took out another bottle of medicine, poured out almost all of its contents, as if to make him swallow it all at once.
On learning of the occasion of the ﬁght, Shen Qiao had prepared these medicines, he had purposefully sought out Xuandushan’s multigenerational remedies for severe injuries, just in case, but he had hoped he wouldn’t have to use them.
Don’t overdo things, what remained of Shen Qiao’s logic reminded him, he forced himself to take a deep breath, counted out three tablets, and fed them to the other.
After a long while, Yan Wushi’s complexion still had not improved in the slightest.
Shen Qiao’s heart was a ﬁeld of ice. He was supporting the other’s head, but his own body had gone numb, he was kneeling, the pebbles grinding through his robes into his knee, he did not feel the pain at all.
Shen Qiao tightly held on to Yan Wushi’s wrist, the force so great it looked like he wanted to crush the other’s wrist.
The wind howled in all directions around them, the people gathered on Yinghui Peak had not yet dispersed, but all of this, had no way of diverting Shen Qiao’s attention.
He closed his eyes, hoping that everything before him was a dream.
When he opened his eyes again, that see-the-world-as-a-plaything, insufferably arrogant person was still lying in his arms, eyes closed, life at a close.
He had never known that grief and pain in its extreme, his heart crushed, would feel like this.
“Yan Wushi,” Shen Qiao, his voice coarse, whispered next to his ear: “If you wake up…”
“If you can wake up, I’ll do anything you want, even if it’s just to tell me, all this was another set up to deceive me…”
Shen Qiao couldn’t continue, he was shocked to realize that the other had held such a heavy weight in his heart.
This weight exceeded a thousand pounds, heavier than he could bear.
His body shaking, he lowered his head, and slowly pressed his lips to the other’s cheek, forehead, then in a gentle caress, he buried his face into the other’s neck.
The fabric of the robe collar slowly became wet, Yan Wushi moved slightly.
Shen Qiao: “…”
He suspected that it had been a false sensation, he didn’t even have the courage to lift his head.
Then in the next moment, the other’s weak voice reached his ears:
“Did you just say, you’ll do anything?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
The author would like to say:
(laughter) Isn’t this ending very interesting?
Ok, the novel has ended, after this will be the extras, still lots to consider.
Many thanks to everyone who’s come all this way with Shen Qiao, experiencing the sorrows of living, seeing all kinds of cruelty and warmth, a hundred breaks a thousand returns, remaining steadfast to his original course.
And thanks to everyone who’s come all this way with Lao Yan, playing with the world, playing with others, although cold-hearted, disdaining kindness, ultimately he’s willing to give way for Shen Qiao alone.
The impetus of writing this story, was to write how two people with entirely different worldviews might collide, to write how Shen Qiao this good of a person might survive the risks and evils of the world, the good thing is that this story starts well and ends well, and the characters too.
Ok, I’ll see you in the extras! xx (～￣▽￣)～