Thousand Autumns Chapter 21-30

Chapter 21

First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: What does your life or death have to do with me?
Every expert had at least some degree of an expert’s manners, whether they were sensitive about their reputation or were unwilling to let go of their pride. People of high status usually wouldn’t do something like using another person as a scapegoat because they still cared about their face. Only someone like Yan Wushi who could destroy even The Strategy of the Vermillion Young without a second thought would be able to commit such a shameful act. No wonder it left Yu Ai hopping mad behind them, and it even rendered Shen Qiao speechless.
Yan Wushi brought him all the way down the mountain. They passed through Xuandu Town and arrived at the relay station in the countryside, a place they had stayed at before when they first entered the town. There was a sparse little forest, which could be regarded as a spacious spot.
He put Shen Qiao down.
Shen Qiao cupped his hands: “Thanks!”
He was injured during his fight with Yu Ai. All of his blood and qi had been stagnant ever since. After such a long time, he finally started to feel the warmth slowly returning, and sensation coming back to his limbs.
Yan Wushi just bluntly sneered, “So what’s the point of your trip to Mount Xuandu? It only proved what I said the other day was true: the human heart is worthless when interests
 are involved. Your martial brothers could betray you without any hesitation for the sake of their interests. In order to become the sect leader, they could let you fall off the cliff and yet turn a deaf ear to it. Qi Fengge boasted his sect as being orthodox and morally upright, but the conducts of his disciples are even comparable to the people from our Demonic sects. How amazing is that!”
He was very much aware that after Shen Qiao fell off the cliff, people from Mount Xuandu also took turns searching for him out there. However, at that time, he had already saved Shen Qiao and brought him back with him. So of course, those people went back empty-handed. But there was no need for Yan Wushi to speak on their behalf; he was more than happy to see Shen Qiao fall into despair from now on, turning from a softhearted, castaway sect leader into a person full of hatred toward everyone in the world.

But Shen Qiao didn’t take up the thread of the conversation. He found a large stone next to him with his hands and then slowly sat down.
Yu Ai was a little stubborn and very much a utilitarian. Ever since he was a child, he had to be the best in everything he did. Had he not grown up on Mount Xuandu, it was hard to say whether he would have become another Yan Wushi. But over these years, he had indeed put his heart and soul into Mount Xuandu. He hoarded nothing for himself, and the fellow disciples all had fraternal love towards one another. However hard-hearted he once was, all of these things should be enough to warm him up. Not to mention that Yu Ai was not Yan Wushi after all; therefore, prior to that event, even if his master Qi Fengge were to be reborn, he wouldn’t have anticipated it either, let alone Shen Qiao.

He orchestrated Shen Qiao’s defeat in the fight with Kunye and made him lose to a Tujue person under thousands of staring eyes. Since his reputation was completely swept away, Yu Ai naturally
 became his successor. No one would consider him unqualified. It was also a way to get it done once and for all, since even if Shen Qiao were still alive, he wouldn’t have the face to ask to become the sect leader again.
This sounded very plausible, but considering how excitedly Yu Ai had sworn back then that he had difficulties that he couldn’t voice, saying the reason he did it was to place Mount Xuandu above all other sects in the world, then the matter seemed a bit odd.

Assuming Yu Ai really had his own difficulties like he said and there were other reasons behind the event, then he was definitely not only referring to his secret collusion with the Tujue people to set up Shen Qiao’s fall from the cliff.
He must have been cooperating with the Tujue people on some other things as well that were even more important.
Shen Qiao knitted his brows. He could only feel the pricking pain everywhere inside his head and remained puzzled despite the amount of thought he put into it.
Ever since the Jin Dynasty moved to the south, many riots broke out from the five barbarians. Even though the regimes of each country had changed frequently during these years, the power of countries such as Zhou and Qi, which had extremely rich Western cultures, gradually sinicized due to their inheritance of the Han systems. People could still accept it, though reluctantly, if they were the ones to unify the world. But for a nation like the Tujue Khaganate whose people were still grazing on the grasslands even today, a barbarian nation that would invade the Central Plain from time to time, they could not be called wise rulers in any event.
The erratic and brutal image of the Tujue people had already left deep impressions in people’s hearts. Without enormous benefits, it was impossible that Yu Ai would act in the face of universal condemnation.
 In that case, what was he really scheming? What were the Tujue people able to promise him? Or what benefits could they bring to Mount Xuandu?
Shen Qiao couldn’t discuss these things with Yan Wushi.

Although their relationship was getting deeper nowadays, they weren’t friends yet. Because of the other person’s moodiness, it was even more impossible for Shen Qiao to ask for hearty advice from a mere acquaintance like him.
Shen Qiao had no other choice but to turn it back and forth in his own mind.
It was just that no matter how he thought about it, he felt like he was looking at it through a thin layer of window paper and could not get to the key point.
Yan Wushi suddenly asked, “Have you had enough rest?”

At a loss, Shen Qiao lifted his head. Because he was still thinking about other things, his face looked a little innocent and absent- minded.
“If so, then let’s fight.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He gave a bitter smile, “Sect Master Yan, how am I going to be your match? Didn’t you try it already last time?”
Yan Wushi found it strange, “Then why do you think I brought you out? What does your life or death have to do with me? If I want the remaining script of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, I can go search for it on Mount Xuandu directly. Why do I need to bring a nuisance like you? You bear two books of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang inside you right now. Restoring your martial arts is just a matter of time. But not
 everyone is as lucky as you. I have long been looking for a person who has mastered The Strategy  of  the  Vermillion Yang so that I can study this set of martial arts by Tao Hongjing through him. But I can’t fight with myself,  and neither can I practice with that Bald Donky Xueting. Aren’t you the perfect candidate then?”
Shen Qiao’s mouth twitched. He didn’t know what to say.

He said after a long time, “I only have thirty percent of martial power left, and I got injured while I was fighting with Yu Ai. I’m afraid that you ask more than what my body can offer.”
“That’s why I have shown you such a great mercy–letting you sit here to rest for a while.”
Shen Qiao said helplessly, “Now I suddenly feel that being forced to stay on Mount Xuandu isn’t as bad a choice.”
Yan Wushi said, “You have now regained your memory, that is to say, you can remember  and have  a fluent command of the part of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang you learned before. In addition to the section you heard in the Beyond Clouds Monastery that day, it should be enough for you to comprehend it and bring your realm to the next level.”
Shen Qiao thought for a moment, then sincerely nodded, “It is indeed the case.”
From this perspective, even though Yan Wushi’s motives weren’t pure and he often had the intention to take advantage of Shen Qiao or find amusement in his suffering, Shen Qiao would still thank him a lot.
Shen Qiao said, “I haven’t thanked Sect Master Yan properly since I left the spare mansion. Were it not for you, perhaps I would have already joined the strand of departed souls at the
 foot of Half-Step Peak.”

Yan Wushi replied, “What you should thank the most is the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang inside you. I wouldn’t feel like saving you were it not for its sake.”
Shen Qiao tried to console himself, “…All right. I’ll light some incense sticks for Master and thank him for passing on The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang to me.”
Yan Wushi said, “When I fought with Yu Ai, I didn’t find any inner qi inside him that came from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Presumably, Qi Fengge only passed it  to you.”
Shen Qiao nodded, “That’s right. On that day, Master only passed the Book of Wandering Spirits to me. He ordered me to memorize it verbally and prohibited me from writing it down. Everyone out there says there is one book of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang hidden on Mount Xuandu, but till today, I still don’t know whether that book is still there or not.”
Yan Wushi found it very interesting: “Does Qi Fengge not want Mount Xuandu to pass it on to the later generations or does he not want all of his disciples to make something of themselves? Why did he pass the Book of Wandering Spirits to only you?”

Shen Qiao slowly explained, “I also asked Master about it before, but he didn’t answer. Master and Immortal Tao were old friends when they were alive. I heard that Immortal Tao once regretted The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang after he completed it. He felt that it would pull people around the world into an endless fight if the book was out. Therefore, I think, perhaps, Master somewhat felt the same. On one hand, he wanted the fruit of his friend’s painstaking efforts of his
 entire lifetime to be passed on to later generations, while on the other hand, he didn’t want it to spread too widely as to make everyone fight over it. That’s why he made such a contradictory decision.”
Yan Wushi snorted disdainfully, “What a petty kindness! Regarding this matter, he was like that, and back then during his fight with Hulugu, he was also like that! Not killing Hulugu, therefore leaving hidden dangers for the later generation! The state of his martial arts was matchless, and yet it was in vain because his mind was no different from an indecisive woman! If that’s the case, why does he even bother to let Mount Xanadu’s disciples practice martial arts? Wouldn’t it be better if he just changed Mount Xuandu into an ordinary Daoist temple? If he wishes for a world without war, then why doesn’t he start with himself?”
These words were bitter and acrimonious to the bone, but they were not completely unreasonable.
There was something in common between Shen Qiao and his master — they both had kind, gentle hearts and always were considerate of other people. But there was also a difference between them. While traveling outside, he witnessed himself a time of famine and impoverishment, the suffering of the common people and the rich and powerful ones in the world all being drawn into the game. His way of thinking gradually changed. He found out that as long as Mount Xuandu was still inside this mortal world, it was impossible to detach itself from the world and stay out of everything. It would inevitably join the game sooner or later.

Unfortunately, before he could bring any change to Mount Xuandu, Yu Ai already couldn’t wait to remove and replace him, completely carrying Mount Xuandu towards an unknown path.
He slightly lowered his head and sank into contemplation.
 On the other side, Yan Wushi’s finger was already pointing toward this direction in silence with no warning.
Since Shen Qiao lost his sense of sight, he had been intentionally training his ears. After he heard some strange sounds, he hurriedly pushed against the stone and jumped up. Then he started retreating rapidly.
Mount Xuandu’s lightness skill was peerless in this world. Once the “Rainbow Shadow” [1] was carried out, Shen Qiao’s carriage changed at once. Like a lotus flower being tenderly helped up by a wind, or a pond of smiling blue water, or a willow branch unfolding itself — he moved with a flowing elegance that was hard to describe. One could vaguely picture what it was like when his martial power was in full bloom.

It was just that Shen Qiao’s martial power hadn’t recovered yet. Yan Wushi’s speed was much faster than his. He was only half a step slower, but the stone he had been sitting on a moment ago had already broken into pieces with a loud bang. Crushed rocks splattered in all directions and rained towards Shen Qiao.
Luckily, he was able to put up his inner qi just in time so that his face could escape the splash. It was just that half of his sleeve was shredded by the sharp rocks. The rocks even cut his wrist. Blood streamed down his fair skin at once.
“‘The tender wave of the spring water pities the reflection on it, that all of the infatuation has turned to dust.’ It truly does deserve its name!” Shen Qiao didn’t pay attention to the wound on his wrist; he instead concentrated on listening to the other person’s movements.

According to the way Yan Wushi did things, once he attacked, he would never leave any mercy for his opponent.
After being with him these days, Shen Qiao knew it very well.
 For today’s battle, he must fight till the other person was fully satisfied; otherwise, he would just die in vain.
Translator’s Notes:
[1] Rainbow Shadow ( 天阔虹影 Tian Kuo Hong Ying): Name of Mount Xuandu’s lightness skill (a kind of martial arts). Literally means Broad Sky Rainbow Shadow, (or Image of Rainbow on Broad Sky).

Chapter 22

First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Despite having experienced innumerable twists, setbacks, and all the rough and ragged paths of life, was there really someone that was still capable of holding onto their conscience?

Spring Water Fingering was one of the feats that Yan Wushi was well-known for. He had defeated countless masters with it in the past. Even Qi Fengge used two verses to especially describe it. One could see just how unique and exquisite this set of martial arts was.
Nowadays, Yan Wushi must have reached an even higher state.

However, few people were aware that this set of fingering arts came from a set of sword arts.
Yan Wushi was once a sword expert. He had a sword that accompanied him everywhere. Later, he lost the sword, and for a period of time, he couldn’t find a weapon that he was satisfied with, so he simply used his finger instead. No one would have thought that it would actually turn out well and that he would come up with this set of fingering arts because of it. It had a tender and sensuous name, but only people within it could understand what kind of storm they were facing.
If the person here had sharp eyes, then his eyes would have told him that Yan Wushi’s movement was clearly very slow, very graceful, and very soft. It was as if he was simply going to brush away the dead leaves on the other person’s shoulder. But his finger had already turned into numerous afterimages, so many that it was almost impossible to tell which “image” was his real hand.
 Shen Qiao was blind. Since a blind person would not be confused by his vision, his other senses had become even sharper.
What he felt was a tremendous pressure rushing toward him from all directions like a mountain pressing down from above. It was almost going to crush him flat while the inner qi surged back and forth. This pressure was not evenly distributed either. Rather, it followed the other person’s finger, sometimes pressing down on his shoulder and sometimes threatening his neck. It drifted from place to place, making it impossible to defend.
Shen Qiao was totally wrapped inside this pressure which the other person had constructed. It was like being surrounded by walls from all sides. The dense layers of inner qi were like numerous tide waves. He had nowhere to retreat, no place to advance. Once he exhausted the inner qi inside him, what awaited him was Yan Wushi’s finger–a finger as soft as spring water–to gently touch his body.

Then the only thing left for him would be death.

Shen Qiao only had thirty percent of his inner qi and was perhaps less capable than even a second-rate martial artist. Normally, people of this level didn’t even need to dream about surviving Yan Wushi’s attacks. But Shen Qiao’s advantage was that he already had all of Mount Xuandu’s martial arts in him, together with the two volumes of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Even though he might not have enough time to make use of all the contents he had just memorized, the recovery of his memories meant that his ability to cope with the enemy had also been restored. At the very least, he would not be as passive as before.
Using his hand as a sword as well, he lifted his sleeve and made a pose.
This was the opening move of Azurewave Sword Art–Mellow Breeze.
 Azurewave Sword Art was the exact sword art Yu Ai had used during his battle with Yan Wushi.
Even though Mount Xuandu was world-famous, it only had a few sets of martial arts. As for sword arts, there were only two sets of them.
Since Qi Fengge believed that the principle of martial arts was the same as many other principles in this world, it ultimately all came down to simplicity. Great art conceals itself. Instead of learning many different martial arts, it would be better to practice and perfect these two sets of sword arts until one could control and use them freely as one wished.
As its name implied, Mellow Breeze was an opening move that was gentle and forgiving, making people feel like they were bathing in a cool breeze. Shen Qiao didn’t have a sword in his hand, and he therefore had to put out two fingers together as his sword. After this move, he finally retrieved the familiar feelings from the past.
From his Dantian, his inner qi rose continuously and went upwards along Yangguan, Zhongshu, Zhiyang, and other acupoints. They aggregated at Fengfu, then flowed towards Sidu and Waiguan. [1] The other person forged his inner qi into layers of impenetrable defense, pressing toward him from all directions, but Shen Qiao happened to guide his own inner force to his fingertip just in time.
A white mark streaked across like sword light — this was the Sword Energy.

The Sword Energy flew out, and Shen Qiao changed his movement immediately afterwards. Imitating the “Three Refrains of Zither” in Azurewave Sword Art, he pointed a few times in succession with his finger. Each one of them directly pressed the nodes of this “net” that Yan Wushi had weaved using his inner qi.
With a deafening sound, haze rolled and closed in. Sparks fell upon
 the net, adorning it like beads!

If anyone else was here, they would have seen a dazzling light bursting out between the two people. Shen Qiao couldn’t see with his eyes, but he was actually able to break through the other’s attack by only relying on his grasp of Yan Wushi’s inner qi!
From the beginning of Yan Wushi’s assault to Shen Qiao solving it in the end, the people within might have felt like it had been a long time, but for the bystanders, it probably only lasted for a second.
Yan Wushi was a little surprised by this turn of events. However, what followed was an expression of interest growing on his face.
He collected his fingers together into a palm, and his figure floated like a cloud or a phantom. From different directions, he struck three more palms towards Shen Qiao.
These three palms were like the wind passing between mountains or air rising over the sea. They poured down high from the sky with a momentum so tremendous and boundless. In comparison, Yan Wushi’s attacks from before were nothing but child’s play. It was only at this moment that they finally tore down the mask of elegance and revealed their ferociousness nature underneath!
Three palms from three directions.

Yet there was only one Shen Qiao who had only two hands. It was impossible for him to withstand attacks coming from three different directions at the same time.
Shen Qiao chose to retreat.

After he dissolved Yan Wushi’s offense, no inner qi was blocking him from behind. He took several steps backwards. However, that was all he could achieve before the three palms from Yan Wushi arrived before his face!
 However skilled Yan Wushi was, he was just a human. He could not strike three palms at the same time. Despite his fast speed, there had to be a delay. It was just that the speed was too fast, making it impossible to tell the order.
But Shen Qiao could, because he was blind.

A blind person didn’t need to “see”, they “hear” instead.

After he was injured, he had experienced so much suffering which was unimaginable for him before. These pains formed a distinct contrast with his past after he regained his old memories.
There were also times when Shen Qiao felt lost and puzzled. He had also been grieved by his relatives’ betrayal.
Yet at this very moment, his heart was undisturbed.

When he was still Mount Xuandu’s sect leader, the state of his mind was placid too, but that was a kind of tranquility which belonged to someone who had never experienced any setbacks.
However, the tranquility he was experiencing now was a result of him going through the blasts, the storms, and all kinds of predicaments.
When the raging waves ceased, the moon climbed up above the clouds, merging the water and the sky into the same color.
There were no waves, no ripples, no grief, nor happiness.

It was like watching spring darkening the grass along the stone stairs or autumn thinning the layers of clouds upon the sky. It was like seeing a well reflecting the lonely lantern hanging above it or the moon shining on the colored glass below.
He was able to tell the order of these three palms. Within an instant, like a lotus flower, his hand unfolded and closed again–he
 was using the “Rising Waves in Mount Cang”, “Sun and Moon Within”, and “Purple Air from the East” of the Azurewave Sword Arts.
If the disciples of Mount Xuandu were here, they definitely wouldn’t have recognized that these moves originated from the Azurewave Sword Arts. In Shen Qiao’s hand, these moves possessed endless changes and were already something completely different from their original forms.
However, if Qi Fengge were to return to this world, he would certainly be able to tell that Shen Qiao wasn’t just using the forms of these sword moves; in fact, they were even beyond the formality of Sword Energy and had achieved the realm of Sword Intent!

Sword was the king of all weapons. It had always been highly praised by people in the martial arts field. Nine out of every ten martial artists out there used swords as their weapons. Although for most of them, their skills couldn’t even be said to have entered the hall of fame, let alone the discussion of realms.
There were four realms in sword arts: Sword Energy, Sword Intent, Sword Heart, and Sword Spirit.

For one to be able to control the sword with their inner qi was an indication that this person had already reached the state of “Sword Energy”. This was something all Xiantian experts were able to achieve. Shen Qiao had already reached this state before he lost his martial arts.
He was extremely gifted. Having practiced sword arts since his childhood, at the age of twenty, he had already broken through the formality of sword moves and entered the state of “Sword Energy”. Afterwards, Qi Fengge passed on the remaining script of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang to him. Integrating the qi-cultivation method inside the remaining script into his Sword Energy, his sword skills improved day after day. Had everything continued as it were,
 comprehending the “Sword Intent” would just be a matter of time.

Unfortunately, there was the challenge on Half-Step Peak. Shen Qiao fell off the cliff, and everything suddenly came to an end.
If it weren’t for the strand of inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang which had remained inside his body, which granted him the chance to start over, all of the martial arts which he painstakingly accumulated in the first half of his life would have definitely gone to waste.
Yan Wushi was not an ordinary person. He definitely had found out about it as well. He kept pushing harder and harder, but Shen Qiao didn’t just collapse on the ground–it even stimulated him to enter the realm of “Sword Intent”. Yan Wushi was greatly astonished.

In addition to his surprise, there was also a trace of excitement springing up inside him.
He would force Shen Qiao to fight him from time to time only because the other person carried the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. He hoped to be enlightened through these fights. It would help him extract the essence of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang and patch up the martial arts that he had created himself.
Therefore, the stronger his opponent, the happier he became.

Right now, Shen Qiao’s mind was in a state of complete tranquility and peace.
After he comprehended the “Sword Intent”, his state of mind had entered a whole new world from there. It was spacious, clear, and so mysterious that it was hard to describe.
This piece of land was boundless, like the ocean absorbing all rivers, or the cliff rising thousands of meters into the sky.
 This piece of land was also extremely limited with only a square inch to move around and nothing to lean on.
However, the place where the Sword Intent lies is where the Daoist Intent shall be!
One begets Two, Two begets Three, and Three begets all things.

There was no ground under his feet, but the ground would be there once he set foot on it. There was no light before his eyes, but there was light in his heart.
With such a mindset, even if he could not see with his eyes, Shen Qiao could still clearly sense the traces of the other person’s attacks.
He waited quietly.

Yan Wushi pointed toward the center between his eyebrows.

Shen Qiao didn’t fall back. Instead, he chose to raise his hand and take it straight on.
When he lifted his right hand, the spreading palm happened to block that one finger from the other person.
In a split second, all metal and rocks around them cracked and burst open like shooting stars backgrounded by the curtain of night!
Shen Qiao only heard a loud explosion next to his ear. Immediately afterwards, blood spurted out from his nose and his mouth. He lost control of his body and flew backwards, hitting a bulky trunk in the end. Then he fell heavily to the ground!
However, Yan Wushi let out a gasp and looked rather surprised.

It was because the move he just used carried at least half of his martial power. With Shen Qiao’s current cultivation level, even if he
 had comprehended the Sword Intent, his foundation was so terribly damaged. It was already remarkable enough that he had caught sight of his attack and blocked it without dying right on the spot.
Form this alone, one could see that Shen Qiao’s aptitude and potential were indeed amazing. He could still comprehend the Sword Intent even under the blow of betrayal. No wonder Qi Fengge had chosen him to be his mental disciple.
Although Shen Qiao didn’t die, he wasn’t much better than that.

There was no way he could have taken the blow from Yan Wushi’s finger, but he took it anyway. In addition to the fight with Yu Ai earlier on Mount Xuandu, he finally passed out from exhaustion.
Yan Wushi bent down and held Shen Qiao’s chin in his hand. The other person’s countenance was like a cold jade. It was pale and dull. Even his lip had lost the color of its blood, and it was as if he would breathe his last at any moment.
However, ever since he was greatly injured after falling off the cliff, nine times out of every ten days, he would have this sort of complexion. Now, it just looked a bit more serious.
Amidst this gloomy paleness, however, his tightly closed eyes, his feather-like eyelashes–they all had a delicate yet special ascetic sense of beauty. Since he was unconscious, he appeared to be even more docile and adorable.

Such an obedient appearance was exactly what had confused Mu Tipo on that day, letting him mistake a carnivorous flower as a dodder herb.
But this flower’s temperament was rather good, and it was always so soft-hearted. Therefore, it would repeatedly find itself in trouble. It might seem like he invited those troubles onto himself, but he would be fully prepared every time as if he had already anticipated the
 consequences of his soft-heartedness. If other people looked down on him because of his soft heart, that would be truly stupid of them.
“Look at you. How tired you are! How miserable your life must be! Your master died, and even your position as the sect leader was snatched by someone else. All of your martial brothers that grew up with you either betrayed you or didn’t agree with your way of doing things. Utterly isolated from your family and friends, with a body so seriously wounded, you had to leave Mount Xuandu, not having anything to your name.”
Using his softest tone, Yan Wushi coaxed him by speaking next to his ear, “But you don’t have to live as abjectly. If you just follow me back to the Holy Sect and start to practicing the Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin, I’ll even teach you the volume of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang that I’ve learned. By that time, not to mention regaining your martial arts, even taking it one step further will be close at hand. This will be way faster than you taking three or five years to recover by yourself. At that time, whether you want to take back your position as the sect leader or kill Yu Ai for revenge, neither would be an issue. What do you think?”
Now was the time when Shen Qiao’s will was at its weakest. His head was dreamy and confused, and his body had no strength to resist. It was the easiest time to invade his mind. Furthermore, Yan Wushi had used the Devilish Charm [3] on his words. They greeted Shen Qiao’s ear over and over and pierced straight into his heart, pounding heavily against his Daoist Core.
Shen Qiao’s brows knitted in pain, his body struggling feebly, but Yan Wushi didn’t loosen his grip. He even repeated his words two more times.
“Yu Ai allied with Kunye. Because of them, you fell off the cliff and lost all of your martial arts. Do you not hate them?
 Without martial arts, without position and  status,  even clowns like Chen Gong and Mu Tipo dare to hop around in front of you. Is there really not even a tiny bit of hatred in your heart, hm? Don’t you want to kill them? I can help you with that too.”
If other people were to pass by, they would have thought the two of them were whispering intimately in each other’s ears. The scene seemed so flirtatious, while in fact, that wasn’t the case at all.
Yan Wushi tightened his grip a bit more and it left a red mark on Shen Qiao’s chin which would probably turn into a bruise the next day. However, it was not the reason behind Shen Qiao’s suffering. The source of Shen Qiao’s pain came from the words which were being poured repeatedly into his head like incantations, and he could neither dodge nor escape the voice.
He gritted his teeth as hard as he could. Even though he had already lost his consciousness, there seemed to be a thread in his subconscious mind that had kept him tightly bound so he couldn’t open his mouth to accept.
Once he opened his mouth and agreed, he would then start to lose his true self.
“Why won’t you answer me? It’s just a word. I can do anything for you if you just open your mouth.”
I don’t want to become that kind of person. Even if I’m going to do it, I’ll do it myself.
“What kind of person do you want to become? Is it not good to be able to seek vengeance at your delight? You can kill anyone you want. Besides, they betrayed you first. You owe nothing to them.”
Shen Qiao shook his head. Fresh blood started to spill out from the
 corner of his mouth, and the expression on his face began to look increasingly painful. A normal person could no longer withstand such torture, but he just wouldn’t open his mouth.
Some people were ignorant of the malevolence in this world and blindly offered their kindness. It ultimately not only implicated the others but themselves as well. While some others were capable of seeing through the malice, yet they were still faithful to their hearts, remaining gentle and soft-hearted.
But people were born evil. Despite having experienced innumerable twists, setbacks, and all the rough and ragged paths of life, was there really someone that was still capable of holding onto their conscience?
Yan Wushi let out a quiet laugh. He wiped away the bloodstains at the corner of Shen Qiao’s mouth. Putting his hands through his armpits, he carried him in his arms and walked towards the town.
Author’s Short Play Time:
Qiao Qiao is always spitting blood, does it make you guys feel good? →_→
Old Yan: Very good.
Shen Qiao (dying) raised his hand: I-I don’t feel good…. Translator’s Notes:
[1] All of these are acupoints, indicating the path inside one’s body.
[2] This sentence came from the Daoist scripture, Daodejing. It is the fundamental philosophy of Daoism. Dao (The Way) begets One (nothingness), One begets Two (Yin and Yang), Two begets Three (Heaven, Earth, and Man), Three begets all things (Everything in this world).
 [3] Devilish Charm [魔音摄心]: A martial arts skill practiced by the
three Demonic Sects by attaching inner qi into their voices in order to hypnotize and lure others into doing what they say.

Chapter 23

First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: How hard of a bone does he have inside him?
Shen Qiao felt like he had slept for a long time, but he wasn’t completely unconscious. At least he was still aware of people talking loudly next to his ear and the wheels under his body rambling on as they rolled forwards.
He had fainted, but the inner qi inside him never stopped circulating. The benefits of practicing The Strategy of Vermillion Yang was now revealed–the wounds on his body were gradually healing without him knowing it.

Even though the restoration process was extremely slow, by the time Shen Qiao woke up, those feelings of distress and nausea had already disappeared. It was just that he had been drowsing unconsciously these days, so after waking up, he was inevitably a little absent-minded as if he was still in a dream. He covered his head with both hands, appearing to be at a loss.
He looked around and found himself inside a carriage. Yet the carriage had come to a halt, so he couldn’t tell what was outside.
Shen Qiao recalled carefully. He was fighting with Yan Wushi before he passed out, so Yan Wushi had probably taken him away.
Just as he was thinking hard about it, the carriage’s curtain was lifted up, revealing Yan Wushi’s face.
“You’re awake?”
 Just this one sentence nearly made Shen Qiao’s hair stand on end.

He couldn’t say he had a close relationship with Yan Wushi, but he still had some understanding of the man’s temperament and his way of doing things. Were it not for the fact that, no matter how he looked at him, the person before him had that same face, Shen Qiao really would have thought he was possessed by some ghost.
For when had the Demonic Sovereign–whom everyone dreaded at the mention of his name, whose behavior was so perverse and volatile, who took pleasure in mocking and ridiculing others–ever spoken in such a tender tone?

Shen Qiao hesitated, “Sect Master Yan… did something happen?”
“You were seriously injured and was out cold  for  many days. Luckily, the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang has been acting inside you and protecting your heart meridian. Just a few more days of rest and you should be all right. We’ve just entered Ying Prefecture and I found an inn to stay at. Come.”
He came forward and bent down, lifting Shen Qiao towards his chest.
Shen Qiao felt his blood run cold. He wished he could turn around and run away at once. Unfortunately, he had just woken up after many days of sleep, and his body was still too weak to resist. So he could only let the other person have his way.
Yan Wushi put up a gentle smile. He ignored Shen Qiao’s expression–the kind of look as if one had just spotted a ghost, and carried him into the inn. He walked all the way from the lounge to the backyard, allowing others to crowd around him however they wanted. Even the servant who was guiding them kept looking back. However, he didn’t mind any of it and remained the same as before.
 “Just to let misters know, this is the prettiest yard. Not just within our inn, but throughout the  whole  Ying  Prefecture City. Just take a look at the bonsai and the water, it doesn’t lose by much even if you compare it to  the  courtyards  in those luxurious mansions. And if you want to enjoy  some spring scenery, you don’t have  to go out to the countryside and climb the hills. All you have to do is to stay in this yard and you can have all the spring sceneries of our city!”
The servant was really eloquent. Unfortunately, Shen Qiao couldn’t see, and neither could he feel the beauty the person was describing. He could only guess from the servant’s attitude that it probably cost a considerable amount to rent this place.
On the other hand, Yan Wushi seemed to be quite interested. He didn’t command the servant to shut up. In fact, he even asked him to give a complete presentation and would comment a few lines once in a while. It cheered up the servant even more. Talking non-stop, he introduced the whole yard and every little detail in it.
Yan Wushi was carrying a grown man in his arms, but he somehow still had the mood to stroll around the courtyard without feeling tired. After seeing this, the servant’s reverence of him grew even greater.
Shen Qiao’s body was terribly in need of rest. He had only been awake for so long before he started to feel tired again that he almost fell asleep in Yan Wushi’s arms.
The servant was finally sensible enough to leave. Yan Wushi carried Shen Qiao into the bedroom and laid him down on the bamboo couch next to the window.
The bamboo couch was covered with a thick, soft fleece blanket. As soon as he lied down, Shen Qiao could hear all of his bones moaning in comfort.
But Yan Wushi wasn’t in a hurry to leave. Instead, he sat down
 next to Shen Qiao.

Shen Qiao asked, “Is there only one bedroom with the yard that Sect Master Yan has rented this time?”
Yan Wushi seemed to be taking things easy, “Of course there are more. But since I am the one who rented the yard, I can sit wherever I want. You have slept for several days, and I have been taking care of you throughout the trip. Yet you don’t thank me; you even try to change the subject instead. So this is what the upbringing of the sect leader of Mount Xuandu is like?”
Shen Qiao thought to himself, ‘that’s because you’re acting weird.’

As he was thinking about this, the other person suddenly reached over and straightened out his wrinkled collar. It gave Shen Qiao a good scare. This time, not only was he surprised, he was actually horrified.
He couldn’t bring himself to believe that when he woke up from his slumber, Yan Wushi had completely changed his temperament.
Neither was he able to figure out what the other person was scheming.
“Sect Master Yan, please stop teasing me.”

“How can you call it teasing? Putting aside the ones out there, do you know how  many  disciples  in  the  Cleansing Moon Sect want me to treat them in such an amiable and pleasant way? Rarely do I want to treat a person  nicely. Others can’t get it even if they beg me for it!”
Shen Qiao’s mouth twitched.

“Or could it be that I have accidentally  offended  Sect Master Yan without realizing while I was unconscious? If that
 was the case, I apologize to Sect Master Yan. Sect Master Yan is the bigger person here, so please don’t bother with a blind man.”
Yan Wushi suddenly burst into laughter, “Shen Qiao! Oh, Shen Qiao! They all say you’re kind and sincere, but from what I see, that’s hardly the case. What kind of sincere man cuts other people off all the time by making use of the fact that he is blind?”
Shen Qiao pursed his lips and didn’t make a comment.

Using his right hand, Yan Wushi took Shen Qiao’s pause. The latter shuddered but didn’t dodge. It was hard to say whether he failed or if he had no intention to do so at all.
“You still can’t see?”

Shen Qiao nodded, “Perhaps it’s because I exhausted my inner qi before losing consciousness. Now there are still dull burning sensations around my eyes. It’ll probably take a couple more days.”
“No hurry. It’s still a long way from here to Northern Zhou. We will be riding a carriage along the way, so you can take your time to recuperate.”
Shen Qiao frowned, “To Northern Zhou?” “Why? You don’t want to go?”
This question was sheerly unnecessary.

There were no similarities between the two people’s sects, their pasts, their temperaments, or even their conduct and personalities. For someone extremely conceited and arrogant like Yan Wushi, it was impossible for him to understand why Shen Qiao could still stay so calm even when he had fallen into such a situation. Not to
 mention as he was now being carried around — Shen Qiao was forced to parade through the streets. Eventually, someone would recognize that he was Mount Xuandu’s former sect leader. By then, it would definitely attract lots of gossip.

There would always be people that would remain Shen Qiao over and over again about the bitter experiences that he didn’t want to be reminded of. As the sect leader of the world’s leading Daoist Sect, he had lost both his martial arts and his position, and he was betrayed by his junior martial brother. Everything he had defended with his heart and soul was disapproved of. Everyone thought what he did was wrong. It was as if all the beliefs and ideals he had had since his childhood were completely overthrown.
What was more pitiful was that he was also blind. For him, there was no difference between night and day. When placed in an unfamiliar environment, a few extra steps were all it took to trip him, let alone the little things like washing up and getting dressed in the morning.
Compared to only having your ears available when facing an enemy, these trifling details were much more frustrating.
Yan Wushi could hardly understand this kind of loser mentality, and neither was he interested in doing so. What really interested him was this person, Shen Qiao.
Even for a martial artist, if they lost all of their martial arts and changed from someone who could easily take away other people’s lives into a weakling who would be bullied by all kinds of people, even if they did not become hysterical at a time like this, they would at least be overwhelmed by anxiety and depression.
As for this person who seemed so gentle and soft, how hard of a bone did he have inside him that he was able to stay this calm?
Shen Qiao nodded, “I’m afraid Sect Master Yan’s schedule for
 the trip will be affected by me again. I’m really sorry.”

Yan Wushi thought he wouldn’t want to go to Northern Zhou. He was expecting him to decline or raise an objection. However, Shen Qiao’s compliance came to him as a surprise. He suggested with his tongue in his cheek, “Or you can choose to go back to Mount Xuandu, find a place in Xuandu Town, and wait for an opportunity to meet with the other martial brothers and elders. Maybe they hold different opinions from Yu Ai and will support you in reclaiming the position of the sect leader.”
Shen Qiao knew perfectly well that Yan Wushi was probably just fanning the flames, trying to stir up hatred between him and Mount Xuandu, but he still shook his head and answered his question, “My martial arts is failing me right now. Besides, I lost to Kunye. I don’t have the face to lead Mount Xuandu again even if I do go back. Since Yu Ai is already the regent sect leader, he must have control over the mouthpiece of the sect. I would end up being held hostage if I put myself in it. It would be better for me to stay away from them, then maybe I can make some things clear.”
Speaking of this, he smiled, “Didn’t Sect Master Yan once say that it was because of my ignorance of temporal affairs and my obliviousness of human minds that I have fallen into the current situation? Sect Master Yan holds an important position in Northern Zhou, so if I follow you, I can definitely learn a lot so as not to make more mistakes and recommit the same errors. It would be my blessing then.”
Yan Wushi raised his eyebrows, “So you don’t care anymore about Yu Ai’s cooperation with the Tujue people?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “There are lots of hidden stories behind it. I believe that Sect Master Yan can tell as well. After Hulugu left after his defeat, there hasn’t been any news about him for more than twenty years. Kunye showed up in
 the pugilistic world under Hulugu’s order. His  appearance can’t be as simple as challenging me. There must be a deeper conspiracy behind his collaboration with Yu Ai. I heard that Sect Master Yan happened to come into contacts with Kunye before. From your opinion, do you think he is a reckless person?”
Yan Wushi didn’t hide the truth from him, “His aptitude isn’t bad. Given enough time, he may become another  Hulugu. During our fights, even though he couldn’t win  against  me even if he went all out, he obviously held back a trick or two. I don’t know why he didn’t put out all of his  efforts  so  I teased him a few times, but he remained the same. In the end, he couldn’t put up with me any longer and ran back to Xiongnu.”
The implication was that if Kunye really was a hot-headed, brainless person, even if he was fully aware that he wasn’t Yan Wushi’s match, he couldn’t have tolerated it for such a long time without trying his best even once.
Shen Qiao’s eyebrows slightly furrowed as he pondered over it.

Many things started to connect, and the truth was settling into a faint shape. But at the moment, the shape didn’t seem to be clear enough. It was like an enormous ball of string. Everything was in utter confusion and chaos. He still couldn’t grasp the end of that thread and thus remained puzzled in regards to many aspects.
He sighed, “It seems that things are really like what Sect Master Yan has said. I knew little about the current situation of the world, and I was so narrow-minded yet so self-satisfied with being a stick-in-the-mud. As for what Yu Ai has done, I am responsible for it too. It’s because of my ignorance that I can’t even guess what they’re trying to do.”
Yan Wushi sneered, “Where did you get all these emo-like
 reflections? Absolute strength nullifies  all  schemes.  As  long as you are strong enough, it won’t be a big problem even if you kill all of them. If these people dare to betray you, then they should be prepared for you to get back at them. Don’t tell me that if you can understand their  intentions,  you’ll even try to forgive them?”
Shen Qiao felt rather hopeless towards his “kill them if things don’t work out” attitude, “According to you, since Yu Ai is able to control Mount Xuandu, all of my martial brothers and the elders in the sect must have given him acquiescence to do so. My eldest senior brother, who has always been a peacemaker, also thinks that Junior Brother Yu is much more suitable as a sect leader than me. So should I just kill them all? These people are the pillars and cornerstones of Mount Xuandu. How can Mount Xuandu still be called a sect without them?”
Yan Wushi said almost maliciously, “Even if you can regain your martial arts in the future and you are able to take back the sect leader position, your friendship with your martial brothers and sisters can never go back to what it once was. Their betrayal will haunt you like a fish bone stuck in your throat. You’ll never be able to get over it. As for them, even if you forgive them for what they did, do you think they’ll believe that you don’t mind?”
He continued to press on as he talked, his warm breath almost touching Shen Qiao’s face.
Feeling uncomfortable, Shen Qiao turned his head away. “Everyone has evil intentions in their minds. The only difference is executing it or not. There’s no need to give such harsh criticism.”
Yan Wushi asked, “Oh? So does that mean that there are evil intentions in your mind as well? What are your evil
 intentions? Why don’t you tell me about them?”

Shen Qiao wanted to retreat, but an arm blocked him at the waist.
Having no other choice, he slightly arched his back.

Without him realizing, he was already pushed to the corner, and his back was tightly pressed against the wall. There was probably a painting hanging behind him as the roller at its end was right below his shoulder blades, hurting him badly.
“Ah-Qiao, what are your evil intentions? Tell me.”

This “Ah-Qiao” almost gave Shen Qiao goosebumps, but before he could show the astonishment on his face, he was immediately lured by the other person’s deep voice. With his mind in a trance, he opened his mouth and was about to answer.

Knock knock knock!

A stream of knocking sounds came from outside.

It slightly shocked Shen Qiao, and he sobered up at once.

“You used Enchantment [1] on me?!”

“This is called the Devilish Charm. The Cleansing Moon Sect is also one of the three Sun Moon Sects. Of course I know everything that the Harmony Sect knows. That silly girl Bai Rong, her skill is still far from perfect. If you listen more often, then you won’t fall into her traps so easily next time.”
Sect Master Yan wasn’t ashamed in the least bit even with his trick being laid bare. In fact, he spoke with such a lofty tone as though it was an honor that Shen Qiao was able to make him use it.
Modest a gentleman as Shen Qiao was, how was he able to argue
 over Yan Wushi’s pettifogging? He was so angry that he started to laugh, “So according to Sect Master Yan, I should even thank you instead?”
Yan Wushi commented, “Sure. Thank me.”
Translator’s Notes:
[1]Enchantment (魅术 Mei Shu): A more literal translation would be Art of Seduction, referring to the skills of enticing/seducing/luring people.

Chapter 24

First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Goosebumps eventually disappear if one has enough of them.

It was the servant from the inn. He was holding a soup bowl and a plate in his hands.
“Mister, here is the medicine decocted according to the prescription you’ve written. The kitchen has also prepared lotus seed syrup and some desserts. You two can have some for now, and we’ll send the other dishes over at dinner time.”
Filling a prescription and decocting the herbs should have been the work of a pharmacy, but since Yan Wushi offered enough money, it was no longer a problem. He had been throwing money all over the place, so of course, the inn treated him like a god of wealth, attending and fawning on him as hard as they could.
Yan Wushi took over the bowl of medicine and said to Shen Qiao, “You need to recuperate from your injuries, and this medicine can speed up the process. Here, I’ll feed it to you.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Servant: “…”
Words as soft as water poured out from that face which one could tell was extremely arrogant from a glance. It was so incompatible no matter how one looked at it. The servant didn’t know that they just had a little confrontation inside the room. Listening to this wringing- wet tone alone had already made him dumbfounded.
 That mister appeared to be somewhat sickly, but he was a grown man no matter what. Could it be… that they were cut-sleeves?
The servant couldn’t help but shiver.

Shen Qiao was truly scared of Yan Wushi now. He had no idea what the other person was playing with this time.
Just a moment ago, he had been trying to force out the evil intentions in Shen Qiao’s mind with Enchantment, and yet in the next second, in front of an outsider, his attitude had turned 180 degrees. The speed of him switching faces was definitely beyond impressive.
Yan Wushi ignored the other two people’s reactions. He stared at Shen Qiao almost dedicatedly and spoke with an even softer tone, “Don’t be afraid. I already blew it cold for you. It’s not hot anymore.”
Shen Qiao squeezed out two words with much difficulty, “Sect master…”
His mouth was immediately stuffed with a spoon. The bitter and astringent medicine filled his mouth in a split second, forcing him to swallow the liquid first before saying anything else. One spoon after another, Yan Wushi finished half of the medicine in just a moment. He was gazing almost dotingly and meticulously, and together with the tenderness on his smiling face, it seemed like he was staring at his true love.
Shen Qiao couldn’t see Yan Wushi’s expression, but the servant could. Feeling all of his hair standing on end, he thought to himself, if he stayed any longer, what should he do if this cut-sleeve mister fell for him as well and asked the landlord to take him away?!
He immediately put down the food and smiled apologetically, “Enjoy your meal, misters. I’ll leave for now. Just ring the bell if you need something else!”
 Yan Wushi grunted in reply and didn’t even turn his head back. The servant heaved a sigh of relief. He wiped away the cold sweat on his forehead and sloped off in a hurry.
Right after he left, Yan Wushi promptly pushed the bowl into Shen Qiao’s hands. “Drink it yourself.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He could tell from its smell that all of the ingredients in this bowl of medicine were good for qi recuperation and blood regeneration. But the change in Yan Wushi’s attitude before and after was indeed too bizarre that he couldn’t help but ask, “Sect Master Yan, were you suspicious of the identity of that servant?”

“Then how come…”

Yan Wushi suddenly laughed, “Why? Don’t tell me you’re so addicted to being fed now that you want me to feed the rest to you as well.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yan Wushi held Shen Qiao’s chin in his hand and commented, “From what I see now, you’re actually quite  good-looking. Most of the disciples in the three Demonic Sects practice Enchantment and they all have good appearances. However, if you weren’t so sick all the time, you would look even better than them.”
It would be a different case if he was manipulated by others like this when he was seriously wounded since he wouldn’t be able to resist anyway. But Shen Qiao’s mind was completely clear now. He couldn’t help but lean his head backwards, pushing Yan Wushi’s hand to the side.
 The other person didn’t force him either. He simply let go of Shen Qiao.
“Have you ever heard of a ‘lip-cup’?” asked Yan Wushi.

“What’s that?” The other person sounded way too serious. Shen Qiao didn’t suspect him leading the conversation elsewhere.
Yan Wushi laughed, “When prostitutes in a brothel feed wine to their customers mouth-to-mouth, it’s called a ‘lip-cup’. Well, it’s not a problem for me if you want me to feed the medicine to you the same way.”
Shen Qiao was an upright gentleman who had always kept a pure heart and few desires. When had he ever heard flirtations like this? He immediately pursed his lips, but his pale face was inevitably suffused with a thin layer of redness. However, rather than shyness, it was caused by fury.
Yan Wushi finally had enough teasing. Seeing the change in Shen Qiao’s expression, he burst into laughter and seemed to find it very amusing.
Shen Qiao’s face was livid with rage.

Ever since then, Yan Wushi seemed to have his mind set on some weird interests. It was as if he was addicted to teasing Shen Qiao. He often play-acted in front of others just to see Shen Qiao change his expression.
Shen Qiao’s temperament was good, and his mind was secure as well. After a few rounds, he was already able to keep a straight face in front of all sorts of harassment and harsh comments. However, Yan Wushi didn’t lose interest in him at all. In fact, he even pushed further as if he was determined to find the other person’s bottom line.
Fortunately, although he asked Shen Qiao to travel together with
 him, Yan Wushi didn’t restrict Shen Qiao’s freedom. Of course, it was inconvenient for Shen Qiao to go other places, so he spent most of his time in his room sitting by the window, listening to the wind, the rain, and the rustling outside. He tried not to cause any trouble for others.
Occasionally, there would be exceptions as well. This was a big inn with lots of people coming and going, including merchants and government officials. It was reckoned to be one of the largest inns in the whole City of Ying Prefecture, the best place to gather information. The most beautiful courtyard in the city was certainly not the only reason why Yan Wushi chose to stay here.
The inns and taverns at this period of time were already separated into common dining-halls and compartments on the inside. The compartments were divided into big compartments and private compartments. The private ones were reserved by small groups for private meetings, while the bigger ones were classified according to scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants by the innkeepers in order to attract customers.
Merchants could ask to sit in rooms where there were a lot of merchants. Even if they didn’t know each other beforehand, they might be able to become friends after the meal, and they could also expand their networks and even set some deals by embracing the opportunity. It was indeed a benefit for both sides. Same for the scholars and the martial artists. Of course, there were also merchants pretending to be scholars and they insisted on joining the scholars’ compartments, but they ended up becoming laughingstocks most of the time. Generally speaking, people wouldn’t want lose their faces like that.
Yan Wushi should have belonged to the pugilist group, but he had another identity. Ying Prefecture was already within the borders of Northern Zhou. If he were to reveal his position as the Junior Preceptor of the crown prince, perhaps even the officials of the Ying
 Prefecture would come over to kiss up to him. Surprisingly though, he didn’t join either side. Instead, he led Shen Qiao into a merchant compartment.
Shen Qiao was now gradually getting used to being in the dark. Having Yan Wushi guide him, he slowly followed with the help of his bamboo stick. He didn’t need anyone to support him, but Yan Wushi insisted on holding him by his wrist. This intimate scene induced everyone to glance at them from the corner of their eyes. Shen Qiao wasn’t able to pull back his hand, so he had to let Yan Wushi have his way.
Ever since they arrived at the City of Ying Prefecture, whenever there were other people around, Yan Wushi would treat Shen Qiao as gently and softly as possible.
The others didn’t know the story behind their relationship. Looking at the two of them, especially the ambiguity in which Yan Wushi stared at Shen Qiao, they simply classified Shen Qiao as some sort of boytoy. It was just that they had never seen a blind boytoy. When they saw the two of them walk in, they all found it strange yet amusing at the same time as they gazed at Shen Qiao.
They took a seat and shared the table. Yan Wushi politely refused the servant’s help and personally arranged the tableware for Shen Qiao. He then grabbed Shen Qiao by the hand and pointed out where and what the dishes were one by one. He was acting so considerately that even if people from the Cleansing Moon Sect were present, they probably wouldn’t dare to recognize Yan Wushi.
If it was a few days ago, Shen Qiao would have felt uncomfortable from head to toe. But goosebumps eventually disappear if one has enough of them. He took over the chopsticks without the slightest change in his face, thanked Yan Wushi for it, then slowly tasted the food.
Seeing how they completely ignored others around them, everyone
 started to lose their interest. They simply cursed a few times in silence, then went back to their original topics.
Everyone present was a merchant traveling through the country. They might be strangers toward each other, but when they decided to eat in this compartment, they more or less had the intention to exchange information and make friends. Not to mention that merchants were naturally good at socializing. After exchanging a few sentences, the atmosphere was once again as lively as before.
Someone said, “I heard that the Emperor of Zhou was planning on going down south to attack the Chen. Is it true? If any of the brothers sitting here is well-informed, please be kind and give us some suggestions. I’ve been traveling back and forth frequently this year and would like to prepare in advance. It’s not a big deal with the goods, but I’d rather not lose my life over it!”
Many people echoed after hearing what he said, “That’s right!”

Someone asked him, “Xu Er’lang, where did you hear about this?”
Xu Er’lang replied, “I heard it from my relative. He’s a servant that lives in the residence of the local Sir Governor. His information should be reliable.”
Another person said, “I heard about it too. It’s most likely true. Just think about it. Ever since the Emperor of Zhou returned to the throne, His Majesty has been very aggressive and he has made vigorous efforts to build a strong state. A populous and affluent land as the South  is  nowadays,  the Chen Dynasty also occupies vast territory. If the Emperor of Zhou wants to unify the whole country, he’ll certainly try to seize the Chen Dynasty first!”
“Well, I don’t think so!” Someone immediately disagreed, “Just
 two years ago, Chen and Zhou were still allies against the Qi during the Northern Expedition in the Taijian era. If what you predicted is true, that means it won’t be long before the Zhou Dynasty casts aside their alliance and decides to turn around and attack the Chen Dynasty. In that case, they’ll surely lose their righteousness and be held in contempt by the whole world!”
“Huh! What a funny joke! Losing one’s righteousness? We as businessmen still need to consider whether we can make enough profits. How much do you think righteousness is worth? Can it fill our stomachs?”
Everyone started talking at once. Seeing that a fight was about to start, Xu Er’lang quickly tried to smooth things over, “All of you, don’t take it seriously! ‘Amiability makes you rich.’ That’s the most important thing for us businessmen. As for military and political events, those are what the big guys need to worry about! How does it concern us? What we care about is just which parties are involved in the war or whether there will be a war or not!”
Due to his interruption, the slightly awkward atmosphere was finally relieved. The two people who were debating both looked a bit embarrassed and sat back down to enjoy their food and wine.
Among the customers, a Southern-looking man in casual clothes who had been quiet previously suddenly spoke, “In my opinion, all of your conjectures are wrong. If the Emperor of Zhou wants to start a war, the Chen Dynasty definitely won’t be his first choice. It should be safe to travel between Chen and Zhou to do business for the time being.”
The others asked, “How so?”

He explained, “People always pick the weak members of the herd. Compared to the Chen Dynasty, the Qi Country is
 obviously more of a pushover. Even if Zhou is  not  coming after the Qi, it will probably be the Tujue. Briefly speaking, in the short term, the Emperor of Zhou will not be in a hurry to start a war with the Chen Dynasty.”
Shen Qiao also put down the chopsticks in his hand. He straightened his back and listened attentively.
Though he was once the head of an entire sect, the leader of the Daoist school, since Mount Xuandu had secluded itself and he also did not pay any attention in this area, he knew very little of the outside world compared to these merchants that traveled all over the country. This shortcoming was gradually exposed after he left home, and he was very aware of it himself. Therefore, every time he heard others talking about the situation of the world, he would listen with rapt attention.
Author’s Notes:

1 min ago from Great Zhou wifi

If someone treats you differently before and behind other people–intimately before others, but coldly and indifferently otherwise–what is he trying to do? Urgent, I’ll be online waiting for help! (PS: We’re not friends.)
1 Retweet 7 Comments 16 Likes More Comments + SpringDreamNeverWakes Please be more specific.
 I think he might want to confess to you, but was too shy to do it.
ShenQiao replied SteamedBun2.0PlusVersion-JuicySteamedBun This conjecture is completely invalid, and it better never comes
true (⊙﹏⊙)b XinXin
I think he might want to pursue you, so he is intentionally making other people think you two are together.
ShenQiao replied XinXin
I think all of you are too naive… YanWuShi

ShenQiao replied YanWuShi Didn’t I blacklist you already?! YanWuShi replied ShenQiao Well well
ShenQiao replied YanWuShi

Chapter 25

First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Ah-qiao, he’s insulting you.
“Tujue?” Someone else asked curiously, “Why would the Emperor of Zhou start a war with the Tujue? Why would he fight over their wild, unmanned land rather than the affluent Central Plains?”
The man replied, “While wars and expeditions continue on in the Central Plains, the Tujue people are also expanding in the northern region. They have even defeated the powerful Persian Empire. China has an abundant amount of natural resources — its rich and fertile land also fosters many talented people. Aggressive as the Tujue people are, how could they let go of this great opportunity? Right now, under the reign of Taspar Khan, the Tujue have never been more powerful in its history. With the arrogance of its people, this advantage in strength is guaranteed to lead to ambition. If they want to invade the Central Plains, the two countries, Qi and Zhou, will certainly be the first to bear the brunt.

“From the Northern Zhou’s perspective, the Qi’s national power is declining each day. Thus, Qi country is their perfect target, while the Tujue are also a pain in their ass. If the Emperor of Zhou is a wise leader, he will not let this great opportunity slip by. Compared to these two, the Chen Dynasty should be put off for a later time. Not to mention, the Great Chen is not a weak country that one can easily manipulate. Even if Yuwen Yong wants to attack the Chen, it won’t be a matter of just a few words. All of you are simply worrying too much.”
 “What this mister said does make sense.” They all whispered to one another.
Someone asked, “Mister, since you referred to it as the ‘Great Chen’, does that mean you’re a citizen of the Chen Dynasty?”
“That’s right.” The man admitted it straightforwardly.

Someone else commented, “Mister, I’ve been observing your behavior and manners. You don’t look like a common merchant — you’re more like a scholar. This is a gathering place mostly for the merchants, so I’m afraid it will bring disgrace to your status if you stay here.”
The man explained with a cough, “I’m not a scholar, nor am I a merchant. I’m just here to join the fun.”
He was talking with such confidence and composure a moment ago, but his body remained seated upright like a pine tree. Everyone here was a merchant who had traveled through countless places. How could they not tell from the man’s behavior that he was obviously from an aristocratic family? However, since the man had no desire to reveal his identity, they didn’t question him either. The topic thus returned to the local customs of the Zhou Dynasty.
Shen Qiao was slightly moved by his speech and sunk into contemplation. Before he realized it, Yan Wushi had already fed the stewed goose into his mouth.
He even asked affectionately, “Ah-qiao, does it taste good?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
It would be ungraceful to spit out things that were already in his mouth, so he had to swallow it with much difficulty. Even his face was slightly distorted because of it.
 Were it not for the fact that Shen Qiao slightly understood Yan Wushi’s personality, he would really believe that the other person wanted to take him as a boytoy. However, in fact, the reason why Yan Wushi did this was simply because he had a sudden impulse to see Shen Qiao get angry. It was but amusement for him, just like when he decided to save Shen Qiao under Half-Step Peak back then.
Yan Wushi had nothing to do with what people would call ‘a good person’. He would never act or save others for the sake of helping people. If someone else was saved by him, they might just take it for granted and wouldn’t feel indebted to Yan Wushi at all. But Shen Qiao was a genial and upright gentleman. Besides, in his mind, the other person had done a favor for him. No matter what Yan Wushi’s original intention was, he had benefited a lot from it after all. As long as Yan Wushi was not doing anything immoral, Shen Qiao would let him go and wouldn’t fuss about it.
However, this personality of Shen Qiao’s was exactly what made Yan Wushi want to continuously toy with him. He wanted to find the other person’s bottom line. In fact, he would grow happier every time he saw Shen Qiao get mad.
After being tricked once, when Yan Wushi passed over another spoonful of soup, Shen Qiao refused to open his mouth no matter what.
The others didn’t know what was going on between them. All they could see was one person trying to feed the other person, while the latter was rejecting the former rather reluctantly. This further confirmed their assumptions about their relationship. It was common to see cut-sleeve men since the Wei and Jin dynasties. The merchants were all knowledgeable and experienced men. Despite being a little speechless on the inside at how open these two people were in public, they didn’t react over it.
Shen Qiao had gotten a lot thinner due to his illness. Much of his dignity as a sect leader was also lost. When he was neither mad nor
 intentionally keeping his solemnity, he looked like a perfectly delicate and harmless sick beauty. Yan Wushi appeared to be a man not to be trifled with, but his attitude toward Shen Qiao was rather careless as he continued teasing him now and then. Seeing that he didn’t seem to be extremely fond of Shen Qiao, someone else itched to have a try. He came over and tried to strike up a conversation. “Good evening, mister. May I have your name? I’m Zhou Fang, from a merchant family in Longxi. I wonder if we can get to know each other a little bit?”
Yan Wushi didn’t even get up. He remained where he was and asked lazily, “What’s up?”
Zhou Fang could be counted as a local big shot in the Longxi area. Seeing that Yan Wushi neither said his name nor paid any attention to him, he couldn’t help but feel a little unhappy, “Is he your favored boy? Mister, I’m willing to pay 20 gold if you let me have him.”
Yan Wushi replied with a laugh. He turned around and said to Shen Qiao, “Look, Ah-qiao. Even if you don’t make a living in the pugilistic world, you can still earn a lot of money with your face alone. After I sell you to him, I’ll find a chance to take you away and find you another buyer. This way, within less than a month, we’ll be able to afford a large residence with beautiful servants in Chang’an!”
Shen Qiao was already used to Yan Wushi’s nonsense. He didn’t even pay attention to him but said to Zhou Fang, “Mister Zhou, you are mistaken about me. I’m not a boytoy.”
His manner was naturally revealed the moment he opened his mouth. It was gentle and slow, much like the wind passing through a forest. Just by listening to Shen Qiao’s tone alone, Zhou Fang knew he was the one being frivolous. A person like Shen Qiao would never become someone’s boytoy.
 “That was rude of me, please don’t mind it.” Zhou Fang was a little embarrassed. “May I know your name, mister? Will you grant me the pleasure of knowing you?”
“I’m Shen Qiao.”

“‘Qiao’ as in ‘the wood (Qiao) in the south’?”

“It’s ‘Qiao’ as in ‘I came to appease all gods in the world, including the ones in rivers and high mountains (Qiao)’.”
Zhou Fang let out a gasp. He smiled apologetically, “It’s a rather rare character. Well, this small misunderstanding today actually led to us getting to know each other. Therefore, please excuse my rudeness, mister. I’ll definitely come to your place with a formal apology some other day.”
Shen Qiao laughed, “Mister Zhou is too polite. There’s  no need to come over. My eyes are bad, and I’m afraid it’s not very convenient for me to treat my guests. If we ever meet again in the future, I’ll make sure to treat you to some wine.”
Since Shen Qiao had already ended it here, it would be inappropriate for Zhou Fang to insist anymore. He cupped his hand and left a few more lines in courtesy, then excused himself.
Yan Wushi had a lot of fun watching the exchange. He didn’t say anything to interrupt their conversation and only laughed after Zhou Fang had left, “Ah-qiao. You are not cute at all. We could have had that 20 gold, but now it’s gone.”
This kind of conversation happened countless times every day. Shen Qiao was already used to it. He simply ignored Yan Wushi as if he didn’t hear anything.
He wanted to get back to his room but Yan Wushi stopped him, “It’s early spring right now. Flowers are  blooming  in  the city’s outskirts. Let’s go take a look first before returning to
 your room.”

When Yan Wushi opened his mouth, rather than asking for opinions, it was usually to state his decision.
Shen Qiao was not his match in martial arts right now, but that didn’t mean that he absolutely had no right to make decisions when they were together. After hearing what Yan Wushi said, he shook his head, “No thanks. Sect Master Yan may go as you please. I’ll just return to my room.”
Yet Yan Wushi grabbed him by the wrist and refused to let him go, “You stay in your room all day long and do nothing but stare blankly. I’m being considerate of you by letting you take a walk for relaxation.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
It was true that he stayed in his room all day long, but he wasn’t just doing nothing. He was either practicing martial arts through meditation or studying The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Therefore, over these days, while his body was getting better and better, his martial power was slowly recovering as well. Right now, he had already regained about fifty percent of his martial arts before he was injured. It was just that The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was truly a broad and profound book. He couldn’t even say he had fully comprehended the volume Qi Fengge passed onto him back then.
Now he had the Book of Free Will on top of that. It might seem like something one could go into a rapture about since other people wouldn’t be able to get it even if they asked for it. Shen Qiao thought about it day and night, only to feel that Tao Hongjing was indeed a heavenly talent. What he wrote was so profound and abstruse that it was not something one could comprehend in a short amount of time. Since he was blind, he didn’t need to walk around during daytime, so he just pondered over it in his room by himself. In fact, he would be occasionally enlightened with ideas about this and that, which could
 count as entertainment out of the boring meditation.

But when Yan Wushi wanted to do something, others never had the chance to refuse. Shen Qiao was not his equal, so he could only let Yan Wushi drag him away.
They hadn’t walked far before a voice came from behind, “Sect Master Yan, wait for a moment, please!”
They stopped and turned back. Shen Qiao squeezed his eyes and studied the people who had come. Since he had been injured quite a few times, his body condition was not very stable, and it was the same for his eyes. Sometimes he was able to approximate people’s silhouettes, while other times it was just pitch-black. His eyes had recovered a little more recently. Under the sunshine, he recognized from their clothes that it was the person who had been talking during the meal.
From the way they nailed Yan Wushi’s identity, they obviously came prepared. Perhaps they were also the reason why these two people appeared in the compartment a moment ago.
The man in the yellow robe approached them and stopped at about five or six steps away from them. He cupped his hands and saluted, “I am Xie Xiang from Linchuan Institute. Greetings to Sect Master Yan.”
There was another person with him who was slightly older. “Zhan Ziqian from Linchuan Institute. Best wishes,  Sect  Master Yan.”
Yan Wushi made no comment. He glanced at Zhan Ziqian, then turned his eyes back to Xie Xiang. “So you’re Ruyan Kehui’s favorite disciple?”
Xie Xiang replied, “I don’t deserve Sect Master Yan’s compliment, but Ruyan Kehui is indeed my master.”
 Yan Wushi was surprised, “Why did you think I was complimenting you? I haven’t finished yet. You look just so- so.”
Xie Xiang’s mouth twitched. Shen Qiao: “…”
Zhan Ziqian: “…”
Shen Qiao was good-tempered. Yan Wushi had been trying to stimulate him in every possible way, so he got used to and was already insensitive to these insults and ridicules that were as sharp as blades. Yet he still sympathized with this young man in front of him.
He heard about Xie Xiang before. He was from the Xie Family in Chen Commandery, and he was the most remarkable disciple in Linchuan Institute within his generation. Rumor had it that Ruyan Kehui was going to pass his mantle to Xie Xiang, and the latter didn’t disappoint his master either. Despite his young age, he already had a deep understanding of everything Ruyan Kehui had taught him and was one of the top experts from the young generation.
Moreover, it was said that he was surpassing his master even in Confucian studies. Linchuan Institute often invited Confucian scholars from all over the world for debates, and Xie Xiang would always come first in such events. For a person like him, others would treat him with courtesy at least for the sake of his master, not to mention that he was an outstanding person as well. When had he ever been taunted like this?
A person whom Ruyan Kehui cared about a lot would not be an impulsive person. Anger only flashed across his face and Xie Xiang had already resumed his composure, “I’m here to deliver an invitation from the Master in Charge of Linchuan Institute. He would like to meet Sect Master Yan in Huiyang Restaurant in
 Changan on May 5th.”

Yan Wushi sneered, “If Ruyan Kehui wants to see me, he can come himself. What’s with all of this?”
He turned around and was going to leave at once. Xie Xiang’s tone of voice grew deeper, “May I know if Xiang has the chance to exchange a few moves with Sect Master Yan?”
Yan Wushi pulled a smile and suddenly pointed at Shen Qiao, “If I say you aren’t even his match, will you believe me?”
One could only blame that Shen Qiao’s appearance was too deceptive. In addition to the intimacy Yan Wushi had shown a moment ago, even Xie Xiang was mistaken about Shen Qiao. He frowned. Without even glancing at Shen Qiao, he retorted, “Sect Master Yan is a legendary hero. Why would you bring disgrace to yourself by insulting me with your boytoy?”
Shen Qiao had already moved a little farther from them, but Yan Wushi pulled him back at once and spoke with a tone that was almost dripping with honey, “Ah-qiao, he’s insulting you.  Are you just going to tolerate it?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He was just quietly standing on the side. Why would he be implicated still?
Author’s Notes:
Shen Qiao: Sect Master Yan is so skilled at fanning up the flames and driving a wedge between others. I really admire how you wish to bring the world into chaos.
Yan Wushi: That’s because I like you, therefore granting you this honor.
 Shen Qiao (surprised): That was a sarcasm. Can you not tell? Yan Wushi: Ah-qiao, even your sarcasm is so gentle (づ ̄3 ̄)づ╭ Shen Qiao: … (Speechless)

Chapter 26

First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: I bet you treated that Junior Brother Yu of yours with even more compassion and tenderness before, right?

Yan Wushi had dragged him into this convolution. However, even without the trouble caused by him, Shen Qiao would still have liked to meet Xie Xiang.
He could tell Xie Xiang was not a bragger just from the speech he gave in the hall about the state of the world.
Shen Qiao spoke up, “I was quite enlightened by mister’s brilliant views. May I have the pleasure of asking for some advice on my martial arts as well?”
No one would despise listening to kind words. After hearing what Shen Qiao said, Xie Xiang could no longer throw a dark face at him even though he didn’t have a favorable opinion of Shen Qiao. It was just that he was anticipating Yan Wushi to be his match, but now it was this person whom no one had heard of. It would diminish his prestige whether he won or not, so he replied coldly, “Thank you for your praise. Xie still has errands to run for my master. I’m afraid I don’t have time.”
Yan Wushi suggested almost sarcastically, “You want to fight with me, don’t you? I’ll fight you if you win against him first.”
Linchuan Institute was a famous Confucian sect, and Ruyan Kehui ranked third among all contemporary martial artists. As his disciple, how bad could Xie Xiang be?
 In the past, Shen Qiao spent most of his time on Mount Xuandu and rarely set foot in the outside world. To put it in a good way, one could say he was otherworldly, but to put it in a bad way, his ignorance of the changes happening in the world was exactly the seed which induced the later coup on Mount Xuandu. Now, as he traveled in the mundane world, it was inevitable for him to come into contact with all kinds of people. He lost over half of his martial arts, and it was not something he could fully recover overnight, nor could he regain it simply by locking himself inside the room and mulling over it.
Therefore, even though he clearly knew Yan Wushi was just fanning the flames, Shen Qiao still insisted, “The untalented me would appreciate some guidance from Mister Xie.”
Xie Xiang didn’t know who Shen Qiao was, and neither was he aware of the fact that all of Shen Qiao’s identity, status, and martial arts was once on the same level as his master’s. No matter how good his self-control was, he finally started losing his temper after being provoked by Yan Wushi over and over again.
Having a fit of the sulks inside him, he couldn’t help but sneer,
“Fine, I’ll show you my guidance then!”

He lunged toward Shen Qiao immediately after he finished talking. It was not a causal move. With his fingers slightly bent, his hand moved as fast as lightning. However, if one looked at it closely, the movement was rather beautiful. It was very much like plum flowers blooming or the sprinkling of fragrance powder from a beauty’s hand
— it rustled by as if thousands of flowering trees were blooming in
riotous fusion.

The style of Linchuan Institute’s martial arts was more simple and unadorned. It followed the principle that “great arts conceal itself”, all of which except the “Golden Devastation” Xie Xiang was using right now. A dazzling sight to watch, it was the only set of martial arts from Linchuan Institute that prevailed on its complication
 and speed. It was also what Xie Xiang had used to make his name in the pugilistic world.
Xie Xiang was very confident of the success of this move, and neither did he plan to give Shen Qiao a heavy blow. He just wanted to break Shen Qiao’s arm so that in the future, the other person would not be carried away by the little victories he possibly had.
What he didn’t expect was that his fingertips only barely touched Shen Qiao’s sleeves before he missed!
He couldn’t hold back his surprised gasp and stepped forward for another try.
And he missed again!

Those were two extremely exquisite moves. If Shen Qiao had dodged it purely with blind luck the first time, there was no way he was just as lucky the second time.
Xie Xiang was not stupid. He too realized that Shen Qiao was not as weak and gullible as he appeared to be.
He became a lot more serious and even took out his weapon. It was a jade ruler. Even though it was made of jade, it was a piece of jade of extremely rare quality. The color of it was even brighter than that of red jade, to the point that one could almost see blood dripping out of it. If Xie Xiang were to fill this jade ruler with his inner qi, it would probably break the bones of anyone it hit.
However, Xie Xiang had hit a snag right now. Not only was his red ruler unable to hit Shen Qiao, it couldn’t even get close to him. Whenever it was about to touch the other person, there would always be an invisible stream of inner qi pushing his ruler to the side.
Xie Xiang purposely wanted to prove himself. The red light surrounding the ruler suddenly brightened!
 It brought howling storms with it along the path, whistling and showering down at Shen Qiao!
Each hook and stroke it made could nearly tear down the heavens and the earth, and the stream of air brought up by its moves wrapped layer after layer around Shen Qiao. However, they could only swirl around him at a distance of three inches away from his body — they couldn’t advance any further!

Xie Xiang was genuinely surprised. When he saw Shen Qiao’s attacks just now, he thought he already had an idea of Shen Qiao’s strength. What he didn’t expect was that the real situation was way beyond what he had anticipated!
Shen Qiao didn’t even try to see with his blurry vision. He simply closed his eyes and listened with his ears.
When Xie Xiang approached him and split open Shen Qiao’s surrounding inner qi with his red ruler and then jumped to attack him from above, he also raised his bamboo stick just in time to block that jade ruler.
Two weapons clashed with each other, but surprisingly, the bamboo stick didn’t break!
In this short period of time, these two people had already exchanged several dozen moves.
Zhan Ziqian wasn’t concerned about the fight in the beginning, but now he couldn’t help but worry about his junior martial brother. He held his breath as he watched the two of them exchanging moves, fearing that he would make a sound that might disturb Xie Xiang. He slowed down his breaths and didn’t even blink.
In contrast, Yan Wushi was still leisurely standing there with his hands clasped behind his back, his face full of satisfaction as he enjoyed the show.
 Linchuan Institute’s martial arts were mostly of a profound and imposing style, but the more Xie Xiang fought, the fiercer his attacks became. In the end, his moves were completely ruthless. He had rarely experienced any setbacks ever since he appeared in the pugilistic world. Even for the ones he had, it was against other seniors and experts, and some of them were even ranked in the Top Ten. It was not a shame to lose to those people, but as for the person in front of him right now, not only had Xie Xiang never heard of him, he was even blind!
Xie Xiang couldn’t even accept a draw, let alone losing to him.

Both of them were being careful with their moves. Therefore, even though they were fighting in the middle of the street, they intentionally kept the battle circle small. Xie Xiang was a little arrogant, but he didn’t want to implicate the innocent people around them either. It was just that after a few hundred rounds, along with the inner qi flowing away from his body, Shen Qiao lightly sensed a lack of energy. It would be a disadvantage for him if this fight continued on. Thus, he pushed the bamboo stick heavily against the ground and jumped up with his sleeves spread out like an ascended immortal coming down to the earth as he stroked a palm towards his opponent from midair.
Xie Xiang followed closely after. He also made a palm stroke with one hand while immediately attacking with the jade ruler in his other hand. They fought palm-to-palm in midair, and both of them shook slightly. After that, they simultaneously withdrew their inner qi and slowly landed on the ground.
Seeing Xie Xiang’s ghastly face, Zhan Ziqian hurried over and asked, “Junior brother, are you alright?”
Xie Xiang put his hand over his chest and frowned. He then slowly shook his head. When he looked at Shen Qiao again, the emotion in his eyes was completely different from the one he had before, “It was my fault to look down on others.”
 Shen Qiao replied, “Mister Xie is too humble. I’m injured as well.”
Looking quite dejected, Xie Xiang said, “There are countless talents and experts hiding in this world. It was me thinking too highly of myself. I should never speak so arrogantly.”
He looked back at Yan Wushi, “Sect Master Yan was right. I can’t even win against your man, how can I be qualified to fight you?”
He then cupped his hands and left without giving Shen Qiao another glance.
“Hey! Hey!” Zhan Ziqian tried to call him, but seeing that Xie Xiang didn’t even turn his head back, he had no choice but to chase after him. Right after he walked a few steps away, as if he had remembered something, he stopped, turned around to cup his hands at Shen Qiao and pulled an apologetic smile before he continued to chase after his junior martial brother.
Shen Qiao didn’t seem to be in better condition either. Xie Xiang was Ruyan Kehui’s proud disciple and the next Master in Charge of Linchuan Institute. Although his martial arts couldn’t compare to those of the Top Ten yet, the gap was not impassable. Fighting him while having only half of his martial power and a sick body, Shen Qiao actually came out with a draw with much difficulty.
Xie Xiang was at most experiencing a little bit of lurching with his inner qi, but Shen Qiao directly spat out a mouthful of blood.
Yan Wushi heaved a sigh on the side, “Well, it seems like we can’t go enjoy the flowers today!”
As he was expressing his remorse, he picked Shen Qiao up, carried him in his arms, and walked towards the inn.
Shen Qiao frowned and tried to struggle, “Sect Master Yan, I
 can walk by myself…”

“If you move again, I’ll feed you with lip-cups once we go back.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Sometimes, he really felt that Yan Wushi would be better as a rogue or a gangster than as a sect master.

One would simply get used to injuries if they were wounded frequently enough.
Shen Qiao took another nap after they returned. When he woke up again, it was already pitch-dark outside. A faint and warm kind of plum fragrance filled the room. The candle flame was flickering as Yan Wushi was nowhere to be found.
He found his way up, put on his shoes, and got off the bed to ring the bell in the outer room. He was already proficient with this set of movements. Other people wouldn’t be able to tell at all that he had problems with his eyes if they didn’t closely look at him.
Soon, he heard someone knocking outside.

After the servant got the permission from Shen Qiao, he pushed the door open and came in with an attentive smile, “Mister, do you need anything?”
Shen Qiao asked, “What time is it now?” “It’s about 6 pm.”
“Is there still food in the kitchen?”

“Yes, there is. If there’s anything you would like, just tell me. The stove is still on, we can cook at any time!”
 “Then can I have a bowl of plain congee and some side dishes please?”
The servant took note of his request. Seeing that Shen Qiao had no other instructions, he was about to leave, but Shen Qiao stopped him again, “If it’s possible to cook some more complicated dishes, then could you please bring me a bowl of cat ears [1]  and some marinated beef as well?”
“You’re being too polite, mister. If guests need them, we’ll always have them ready all year round! I’ll tell them to prepare and send the dishes over right now. Just wait a moment!”
Shen Qiao nodded, “Thank you for your trouble.”

All of these dishes were easy to make. Marinated beef was a cold and simple dish. They only needed to cut it into slices, and the cat ears were made fresh from flour dough and were boiled in a pot. Plain congee and small dishes were even simpler. In less than an hour, the dishes had already been delivered to the room.
Shen Qiao picked up the plain congee and started to slowly sip it. He only had a few gulps before someone pushed open the door again.
There was no need for him to spend the effort to look. He already knew who the person was just by the sound of their steps.
It was crisp and chilly in the night. Yan Wushi walked in with a swirl of cold air and sat down by the table.
“You’ve been easy to feed throughout the journey — just some plain congee and side dishes would be enough. So, did you order the cat ears and marinated beef for me?”
Shen Qiao only replied with a smile. Yan Wushi was right. He added two more dishes because he thought Yan Wushi would probably
 return soon.

Yan Wushi teased him, “You and I are but strangers that met each other by chance, and we are more like enemies than friends. Yet you still show so much consideration on trivial matters such as these. I bet you treated that Junior Brother Yu of yours with even more compassion  and  tenderness before, right?”
Shen Qiao put down his bowl and pulled a bitter smile, “Bringing up the topics that I don’t want to talk about… Sect Master Yan is truly good at touching other people’s sore spots!”
“I thought you were too impenetrable and senseless that no matter how much you were betrayed, you would treat everything just like before!”
Shen Qiao knew he was going to start on his humans-were-born- evil theory again, so he simply closed his mouth and didn’t talk anymore.
However, it seemed like Yan Wushi had found pleasure in the detail of Shen Qiao preparing midnight snacks for him. With a sudden change in topic, he sighed with a smile, “Ah-qiao, you’re so gentle and considerate. If you find your sweetheart one day, aren’t you going to look after that person even more attentively? Whoever is lucky enough to be liked by you must have cultivated for several lifetimes for such a blessing!”
The word “Ah-qiao” shocked Shen Qiao like lightning that even his limbs turned numb. He couldn’t help but refute, “Please don’t joke like that, Sect Master Yan. I’ve decided to not marry anyone for the rest of my life ever since the day I converted to Daoism.”
“Isn’t there something called Daoist partners  in  Daoist sects? Well, if two people become Daoist partners, they don’t
 need to care about secular etiquette like weddings anymore, right? You can’t return to Mount Xuandu anyway, why don’t go back to the Cleansing Moon Sect with me? If you don’t want to be my disciple, I can offer you other ‘title’!”
Shen Qiao felt his hair stand on end while listening to him — there was even a slight shift in his expression.

Considering that this person always acted on impulse, completely ignoring all social conventions, in addition to his unpredictable behavior, Shen Qiao couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not. He frowned and replied, “I appreciate Sect Master Yan’s immense fondness [2] of me….”
Right after he said the words “immense fondness”, Yan Wushi let out a snort on the side, and Shen Qiao shut his mouth almost immediately.
Yan Wushi still failed to hold it back and burst into loud laughter. He laughed so hard that in the end, he even fell to the side. Pressing his hands against his stomach, he teased Shen Qiao, “Having something to laugh about after eating one’s fill is just like having a snack after a meal. With Ah-qiao’s seasoning, the joy is just too much for me to take!”
Till this point, how could Shen Qiao not realize that he had been tricked again? He tightly pursed his lips and closed his eyes. No matter what the other person said, he refused to say another word.
Translator’s Notes:
[1] cat ears: Not real cat ears. They’re flour-based “noodles” that resemble the shape of cat ears.

[2] immense fondness : It’s a standard start to reject people politely.

Chapter 27

First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Shen Qiao had the intent to kill.
Ying Prefecture was quite far from Chang’an. The distance was almost equivalent to traveling halfway across Northern Zhou. However, with Yan Wushi’s level of lightness skill, arriving there in two days was not impossible at all. Therefore, as soon as he received Yan Wushi’s letter, Bian Yanmei, Yan Wushi’s eldest disciple, immediately sent people to take care of his master’s residence in the capital so that Yan Wushi could move in right away when he arrived.
Yan Wushi didn’t have an active position in the court of Zhou. But because the Emperor of Zhou relied heavily upon him, he was given a title as the Junior Preceptor of the Crown Prince. This position was said to “serve the crown prince”, but the crown prince, Yuwen Yun, had his own officials from the Eastern Palace [1] and erudite councilors to teach him. There was no need to bother Yan Wushi about it.
In order to show how much he valued Yan Wushi, the Emperor of Zhou even gifted him a residence so he would have a place to live in during his stays in the capital.
The Cleansing Moon Sect had enough money, and Yan Wushi had his own mansion in Chang’an. In fact, he rarely stayed at the Junior Preceptor’s Residence. Therefore, even though it was equipped with all the necessary servants and furniture, since it had long been without a master, the place inevitably seemed a little unattended. The only reason why Bian Yanmei ordered them to hurry and fix it up was because this time, Yan Wushi had specifically instructed that he
 was going to stay there.

However, he had been waiting for a couple of days and his master still hadn’t shown up. Bian Yanmei was a little puzzled, but with Yan Wushi’s ability, he didn’t need to worry too much. Perhaps his master was delayed by some events on the road. It was just that recently, the Emperor of Zhou kept calling him in to report to the palace and he kept asking him where Yan Wushi was, saying that he wished to meet him in person soon. Because of this, Bian Yanmei sent several people to wait in the relay stations along the road to keep himself informed of his master’s arrival at the capital.
It wasn’t until today, March 3rd, the Maiden Festival, a day when all the girls in the city would go hiking in the city’s outskirts, did he finally receive the news which was sent out ahead of time from the relay station in Luo Prefecture. It said that Yan Wushi was going to arrive soon.
Master was coming. As a disciple, of course it was his duty to go out and greet him. Bian Yanmei intentionally set all of his businesses aside and came out from the city to wait for Yan Wushi in person. Unfortunately, because it was the Maiden Festival today, the place was particularly crowded. Not only did the pretty daughters of the commoners hike out there, even the precious ladies of the wealthy and the noble families had come out in carriages. In addition to the numerous servants they brought and the merchants traveling in and out, the scene could even be compared to that of the Lantern Festival — it was jam-packed.

Under such a situation, no matter how skilled Bian Yanmei was in martial arts, it was of no use unless he was going to step on other people’s heads and the tops of their carriages. That would certainly cause a lot of trouble, and it wasn’t even necessarily going to be much faster. Therefore, he simply gave up the idea of riding a carriage and decided to walk.
His personal servant, Ji Ying, had been with him for many years.
 Bian Yanmei’s everyday life while living in the capital was mainly taken care of by him — a loyal and devoted person, and he was pretty good in martial arts. He insisted on going together. Bian Yanmei thought for a moment and agreed.

They avoided the crowd and took a detour through the little alleys. However, they were still blocked by the carriages at the city gate for quite a while before they were finally able to come out.
There was a tea stop three miles away from the city. Due to its crude furnishings, not many people stopped there during their spring hikes. However, from this place, one had a clear view of anyone entering the city. Bian Yanmei walked in and ordered two cups of tea, then sat down to wait together with Ji Ying.
Ji Ying looked quite nervous, “Mister, could it be that we have arrived late? Maybe Master Yan is already inside the city?”
Bian Yanmei replied, “Unlikely. We arrived pretty early. Let’s just wait a little longer.”
Seeing the way Ji Ying was holding his tea cup without drinking it, he couldn’t help but laugh, “It’s not your first time seeing Master. Why are you still so nervous? It’s not like Master is going to eat you!”
Ji Ying was about to cry, “I was being inconsiderate last time when I was handling a matter, and Master Yan gave me a lesson for it. I just hope he won’t give me another one this time!”
“Relax. If Master finds out that you don’t belong to the Cleansing Moon Sect, he will just kill you at the most and won’t give you a lesson.”
Ji Ying was taken aback. “Mister, I don’t understand what you’re talking about…”
 Bian Yanmei smiled, “You’re indeed very good at imitating Ji Ying’s behavior and his speech that you almost deceived me. Unfortunately, you’ve made an enormous mistake.”
Since he was already exposed, “Ji Ying” stopped putting on the humble expression of a low-level servant. “I would like to hear about it.”
“Ji Ying respects Master, but he is also afraid of him. In fact, he is much more afraid of him. He would never ask to come out and greet aster together with me. You were good at imitating everything else, but you missed this one.”
“Ji Ying” broke into a series of sinister laughs, “You have proved yourself to be capable enough as Yan Wushi’s eldest disciple, but I wasn’t planning on pretending all the way either!”
The smile on Bian Yanmei’s face disappeared. “Who are you?
Where’s Ji Ying?”

“Ji Ying” asked back quite proudly, “How can a smart person like you not have guessed my identity? If you know who I am, then why do you still need to ask where your servant is? We’re old enemies. How can you not recognize me?”
Bian Yanmei froze for a moment and his expression changed. “The Harmony Sect? You’re Huo Xijing!”
Huo Xijing was notorious for his face-switching art. There was no way for a person whose face was peeled by him to remain alive. Even though Ji Ying also knew a little bit of martial arts, he definitely was not Huo Xijing’s match. In fact, had Bai Rong not interrupted him in the middle, even Shen Qiao and Chen Gong would not have escaped successfully when they ran into Huo Xijing last time.
No one could tell how old Huo Xijing really was. He might be in his
 thirties or forties, or he might be over fifty or even sixty already. He would change into a new face every once in a while and he especially would pick those pretty ones. Over these years, he had peeled over dozens or possibly even hundreds of faces. Both the orthodox sects and the underworld gangs would cringe at the sound of his name.
Of course, the Harmony Sect was widely known for hunting others through the art of seduction to cultivate. They didn’t have a good reputation to start with, but still, for someone like Huo Xijing, whom everyone loathed or even hated to the bone, his reputation was corrupted to a certain degree.
Huo Xijing laughed out loud, “Brother Bian, why are you looking at me like this? In fact, you can even say that we’re disciples from the same origin. We haven’t had a chance to meet each other for many years, and I really want to catch up with you. I haven’t come to kill or fight!”
Bian Yanmei replied coldly, “Ji Ying was with me for many years, yet you peeled his face and killed him. I would be a disgrace to my family if I don’t avenge him today!”
Huo Xijing quickly retreated several steps before the other person could attack, “Brother Bian, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t know he was your man when I took a fancy to his face that day. He only told me about it after I was halfway done. You see, even if I stopped then, he wouldn’t have been able to save his face or his life anyway. It would be better to benefit me instead. In any case, with the presence of this face, you can always remember him. I come today to pay respects to your master under the order of my master. There’s an important matter he would like to discuss.”
He made little of Ji Ying’s life. At first, he thought once he dropped Sang Jingxing’s name, it would at least give Bian Yanmei some scruples. However, much to his surprise, the other person attacked at once without any hesitation. Bian Yanmei gathered his fingers
 together and extended them towards Huo Xijing like a knife, the eerie chilliness coming down right at him from above was as if the inner qi had solidified.
Huo Xijing barely managed to dodge it. He had to retreat a dozen or so steps before he could find an opportunity to fight back. But the other person followed closely after, every move of his powerful and oppressive. The little tea stop became a battlefield in an instant. The tables and chairs around them were in disarray. The owner and the customers fled in fear and were nowhere to be seen within a short moment.
For the same set of Spring Water Fingering, it carried an arrogant and domineering momentum when Yan Wushi used it. In Bian Yanmei’s hands, however, it was more swift and fierce. He integrated the Cleansing Moon Blade Style into the fingering art. There was no blade in his hand, but the power was greater than if there was: with a spirit like the rippling of autumn water, the momentum of his hand was enough to cut through a mountain single-handedly. Clearing the road with blood and filling the river with corpses, it enveloped every inch of the space around them, nothing could escape!

Huo Xijing was the disciple of Sang Jingxing, one of the Top Ten experts. He himself was also shameless enough to fawn on his master and he even hunted beautiful girls to present to his master on a regular basis. He could be considered as a favored disciple by Sang Jingxing and thus was often unbridled in what he did. Otherwise, with all the evil deeds he had committed such as peeling other people’s faces, he would have been arrested and chopped to pieces by his enemies long ago.
As a result, his self-ego started to boost over time. He didn’t take Bian Yanmei seriously since this eldest disciple of Yan Wushi’s was responsible for handling the relationship between the Cleansing Moon Sect and the imperial court of Northern Zhou. He often busied himself with maintaining contacts with those government officials,
 and he even held a government position himself; he must be using his brains most of the time instead of his hands and was therefore not necessarily outstanding in terms of martial arts.
However, taking one’s enemy lightly often brought calamity to oneself. Even though he would not fall under the other person’s control in a minute, it was also not easy for him to gain the upper hand.
Bian Yanmei deliberately wanted to take his life. He wasn’t going to show mercy on him simply because they were both from Demonic sects. It was just that Huo Xijing’s level of martial arts didn’t allow him to do things so easily. They exchanged a few hundred moves, but neither could do anything to the other person. Bian Yanmei was able to gain a little bit of an advantage, but that was all.
Huo Xijing was a little tired of fighting and was pondering whether he should continue or just leave. If he continued, he might be able to find a chance to backstab Bian Yanmei. He could then use him to threaten Yan Wushi to give in, or he could bring him back to his master for credit. But coming from the Demonic sects, neither of them was the naive and innocent type, and hence it wasn’t easy to plot against Bian Yanmei. Despite having fought for a long time, Huo Xijing still couldn’t find an opening.
Right at this moment, he heard someone flatly say, “It would be a shame to say you are my disciple if you can’t even take down trash like him.”
As if the voice had exploded next to his ear, Huo Xijing felt his chest shake so badly that he nearly spat out blood. He was greatly shocked, and his face paled as he was going to flee despite everything!
The distraction in this split second was exactly what gave Bian Yanmei the opportunity to hit Huo Xijing’s unprotected opening. The latter cried out of pain and flew backwards, but he somehow
 managed to turn over in midair and even tried to use the chance to escape!
However, his body unexpectedly halted in the middle of the leap and immediately crashed onto the ground!
Putting his hand over his chest, Huo Xijing panted, staring blankly at the handsome man in black who had appeared under a tree not far from him.
to him was another person who was supporting himself with a bamboo stick and appeared to be quite sickly.
Without a doubt, the man in black was Yan Wushi.

Huo Xijing was exceptionally obsessed with beautiful faces. The moment he saw the person next to Yan Wushi, he immediately realized that it was the man from that day whose face he wanted to peel but was ruined by Bai Rong.
However, at this very moment, he couldn’t bring up any interest in that face no matter what because he didn’t even know whether he would be able to save his only life.
“Greetings, Sect Master Yan. I’m Huo Xijing. I’m here to pay respects to our grand elder [2] on behalf of my master, Sang Jingxing.” Huo Xijing forced out a smile as if he was facing a mortal enemy.
The furies of those whose faces were peeled by him probably had never imagined that the brutal and arrogant Huo Xijing would one day act in such a humble and submissive manner.
Just like how the old saying had it, “the biter is sometimes bitten.” Now, Huo Xijing wished he could shrink into a ball and dig himself into a crack on the ground. It would be the best if the other person couldn’t even see him.
 “Grand elder? Am I that old?” Yan Wushi replied nonchalantly.
There was a smile-like expression on his face.

Huo Xijing was racking his brains trying to find some words to flatter Yan Wushi with so that the latter would let him off. However, with this sudden interruption, his expression froze at once. He gaped at the other person speechlessly, and he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Bian Yanmei repressed the excitement inside him and bowed reverently, “Greetings, Master. Has  everything  been  going well with Master lately?”
Yan Wushi shot a glance at him, “You spend all your time dealing with court officials. Presumably, you don’t practice martial arts often enough so that you can’t even win against trash like him?”
Bian Yanmei was greatly embarrassed, “Master was right. I’m sorry.”
As for the “trash” Huo Xijing, the deep grudge in his heart caused his face to darken, but he dared not speak a word.
After Yan Wushi appeared, he had already given up the thought of gaining any advantages from the other party. The best choice for him right now was to run away, but there was also the problem of how. While the other two people were talking, Huo Xijing kept looking around from the corner of his eye, searching for the best escape route.
He had killed the servant of Yan Wushi’s disciple. As a master, even if he didn’t take revenge himself, he wouldn’t stop his disciple from doing so. All of them were from the Demonic sects. Neither was any more innocent than the other. Huo Xijing knew there was no way that Bian Yanmei was going to suddenly have mercy on him and let him off, but since Yan Wushi was here, it was practically impossible
 for him to escape.

Huo Xijing glanced around and spotted Shen Qiao who was standing behind Yan Wushi.
A plan came to his mind. He took action immediately and sprung up from where he was, throwing himself at Shen Qiao!
But he would soon realize it was the worst decision he had ever made.
It all happened within a blink of an eye before anyone could respond to it. Bian Yanmei wasn’t sure about the relationship between Shen Qiao and his master. He was a little surprised when he saw Huo Xijing’s action, but since Yan Wushi didn’t move, he remained still as well.
You couldn’t say Huo Xijing was slow. His figure almost became an afterimage as soon as he pounced on Shen Qiao!
He was about to catch the other person’s wrist, but Shen Qiao suddenly slipped away from his hand like a fish.
Huo Xijing’s heart sank at once. He sensed that something was not right. Without hesitating, as soon as his attack missed, he immediately pulled back and retreated.
He didn’t even dare to spare a glance at Yan Wushi’s direction, fearing that even wasting a moment like this would affect his escape!
However, things once again went beyond his expectations. The person coming after him wasn’t Yan Wushi. It was the person he had tried to sneak attack just now!
The bamboo stick was turquoise and smooth. Because it was constantly struck against the ground, it was a little split at the end. Nowadays, literati and officials often liked to buy carrying poles from the porters at the foot of the hill before climbing mountains in case
 they became exhausted halfway up. Shen Qiao’s bamboo stick was no different from those.
The bamboo stick lunged towards him in a seeming ordinary and simple way. There wasn’t any beautiful and fancy moves. However, Huo Xijing’s expression changed. He detected the dense cold air bubbling up within it. It came towards him right in the face like a hatchet next to his neck or a sharp blade above his head. It was still at first, but when it moved, it was like the wind and rain carrying the cloud forward with them.
Only then did Huo Xijing realize that what he thought to be a
“pushover” was actually a “hot potato”!
It was too late to regret. If Shen Qiao was the only one present, then there would be nothing to be scared of. But Yan Wushi was right on the side, and it made him extremely anxious. He wasn’t in the mood of involving himself in a prolonged fight, so he had no choice but to retreat in a hurry — a retreat that lasted several dozen meters.

Who would have thought that Shen Qiao would closely chase after him? His footwork seemed so light that it almost made himself appear to be nonexistent. But it was steady like a monolith at the same time, so he was actually able to keep Huo Xijing close at hand.
While watching coldly from the side, Bian Yanmei was actually quite surprised. The footworks of the Cleansing Moon Sect particularly focused on agility and aesthetics. The footwork Shen Qiao was using resembled the Cleansing Moon Sect’s style to some degrees, but they were still quite different. It seemed to contain the changes from the primordial eight trigrams and Zi Wei Dou Shu [3]. One might think they could easily see through it with the first glance, but looking closely at it again, it was just as chaotic and confusing. The mystery and profoundness of it would take up one’s lifetime to study carefully.
 The other person seemed to have some problems with his eyes. It should have been an obvious sign, but after searching through his mind, he still couldn’t think of such an expert in the pugilist world. He turned to his master, and the latter wasn’t even the least bit surprised. Therefore, Bian Yanmei had to hold back all of his questions as he continued to watch the fight.
Shen Qiao indeed wanted Huo Xijing dead.

It was only because this notorious man was already up to his neck for his crimes. As soon as he found a beautiful person to his liking, he would peel their face and then put it on himself. On occasions when this strange hobby broke out, he could sometimes switch to two or three faces in one month. The ones whose faces were taken away by him sure couldn’t have survived. Besides, Huo Xijing didn’t care whether his target belonged to the pugilistic world or not. Once they were locked by him, their chances of getting away were slim.
Of course, the families of those victims hated Huo Xijing in their hearts and souls, but the man was very skilled in martial arts and he was also protected by the Harmony Sect. Therefore, many people simply couldn’t do anything to him. Some who tried to avenge their relatives even ended up getting murdered.
Buddhism had the saying of “carrying out the heart of bodhisattva through thunderlike methods”, and the doctrine of Daoism also stressed, “eliminate the evil, promote the virtuous”. Shen Qiao was gentle and soft in nature and did not become angry easily. But once he was truly in rage, he was the type that pressed it to the end. Right now, he had already made up his mind to get rid of this source of evil called Huo Xijing. Hence he showed no mercy in his attacks. Each move of his was quick and fierce, determined in completely rooting out the wickedness.
If it was before he was injured, Huo Xijing by no means could be a match for Shen Qiao. But now, with only half of his martial power left and the inconvenience of his eyes, even though The Strategy of the
 Vermillion Yang was effective on ridding impurity and promoting purity; Quietus was a rare poison after all. Its effects were too drastic and it damaged his body at that time. As a result, there was still some remaining poison inside his body which hadn’t disappeared. It was not something one could detoxify by merely saying so.

Therefore, the two of them kept on fighting, and one actually couldn’t tell who had the upper hand.
Huo Xijing didn’t want to fight against Shen Qiao at all. Although Yan Wushi didn’t join the fight, his presence alone was like a ferocious beast glaring at his prey on the side. No one could tell if he would suddenly attack when he felt like it. He was anxious to get away, but Shen Qiao refused to let him go. The more Huo Xijing fought, the more fretful he became. He wished he could just choke Shen Qiao to death and be done with it, but he simply wasn’t able to, so he could only sink deeper into the swamp.
When a person was distracted by his own impatience, they would inevitably show flaws in their movements. Shen Qiao couldn’t see clearly right now, but he mostly had been using his mind to deal with his enemy. At this moment, facing his temporarily unguarded opponent and using his stick as a sword, he turned the feint into a real move, pointing right at Huo Xijing’s heart!
The bamboo stick appeared to be light as a feather and gentle as a lover caressing one’s cheek, though Huo Xijing was very much aware that it would probably pierce through his chest if he were hit by it. He clenched his teeth and halted his forward movement, then forced himself to bend backwards in the hopes of avoiding the other person’s offense while striking out a palm at the same time. The palm was filled with inner qi, and the wind and thunder surged within it. He thought the other person would surely withdraw.
However, not only did Shen Qiao not retreat or dodge to the side, neither did he slow down his momentum or take a look at Huo Xijing’s palm coming right at him. After the clash, his body was
 uninjured, and the palm passed directly through him as if he was a specter.
Shadow Shifter? Huo Xijing turned pale with fright. Wasn’t that Qi Fengge’s supreme feat which he was known for throughout the world during those years?
Before his body could react, he felt a sharp, pricking pain on his back.
The pain was so hard to endure. It was as if a hand was trying to pluck his heart directly out of his chest. Huo Xijing couldn’t hold back and shrieked!
Yet Shen Qiao wasn’t able to pierce all the way through him with his bamboo stick. Tightly grasped by an invisible hand, the stick couldn’t advance any further!
Shen Qiao’s expression changed! Author’s Notes:
Yan Wushi: Ah-qiao, you looked so magnificent and awe-inspiring just now. It’s rare to see a normally gentle person taking such a thunder-like approach. I’ve developed a whole new level of respect for you.
Shen Qiao: I don’t know why, but listening to you complimenting me somehow makes me shudder.
Yan Wushi: The director, King Meow, said we should let you improvise more in such scenes and that I shouldn’t interfere.
King Meow (the author): You’re the one having fun watching the play! You go count yourself how many times Sect Leader Shen has spat blood since he appeared in the story!
Yan Wushi (lets out a light ‘ah’): At least he hasn’t died yet, right?
 Shen Qiao (turns away): Forget it. I’m going back to my solitary cell on Mount Xuandu.
Yu Ai: Brother, come (づ ̄3 ̄)づ╭ Translator’s Notes:
[1] Eastern Palace: Where the crown prince lives.
[2] grand elder: Huo Xijing’s was using a polite way to address old people.
[3] Zi Wei Dou Shu: A branch of Chinese astrology.
[4] Sect Breakdown: (with their school and supported country) I understand there are a lot of names going on and it might be quite hard to follow, so I’ve listed some of the ones that appear more often. Later as more characters show up, I will update a detailed one.

Chapter 28

First published on Ainushi.

Synopsis: Shen Qiao already had no place to retreat and could only close his eyes and wait for his death.

Shen Qiao smelled some kind of fragrance. He slightly frowned and reacted extremely quickly by immediately letting go of the bamboo stick. With another performance of Shadow Shifter, he was already a great distance away from his previous location.
It was called ‘Shadow Shifter’, but frankly speaking, it was just a brilliant lightness skill. Within a second after Shen Qiao withdrew his hand, the bamboo stick cracked and exploded, its fragments darting rapidly towards him!
If he had pulled his hand back just a little later, he would have ended up just like that stick.
The bamboo stick was destroyed in a moment, but Shen Qiao’s movement had not stopped at all. Fast and swift like the wind, he quickly retreated to the tree he was originally standing under and raised his sleeves at the same time. The bamboo chips shooting right at him fell and scattered all over the ground as if they had run into some sort of invisible barrier.
“Was I so cut off from the world? Since when did we have such an expert in the pugilistic circle?” Along with the fragrant breeze and a stream of laughter, a woman in white appeared next to Huo Xijing.
 She was extremely beautiful, her white dress and silk belt rustled and danced in the wind like an immortal character who had stepped out from the preceding dynasty’s paintings. Only her eyes weren’t as cold. On the contrary, they were glistening and alluring; even her voice was so delicate and sweet to its core that one could almost feel their bones getting lighter when hearing it.

When Bian Yanmei saw her, however, not only did he show no sign of being bewitched, he became even more solemn and alarmed.
Huo Xijing was lying on the ground spewing blood. He thought his doom was near, but then he suddenly saw this woman appear. He went into rapture, reacting in the exact opposite of Bian Yanmei: “Sect master! Sect master help me! They’re  trying  to  kill me!”

As if he had found the floating wood which could save his life, he wished he could throw himself at her and hold onto the woman’s thigh as he wept. Fortunately, he was still able to keep the last of his senses and restrained himself from performing such an action, and he continued to cry for help only with his mouth.
The woman didn’t even look at him. She swiped her glance across Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei, then fixed her eyes on Yan Wushi, smiling as she greeted him, “It has been over ten years since I last saw you, Yan-lang [1]. It’s hard to imagine how ten years have passed so fast, yet you are still as handsome and as graceful as ever. You have really won me over!”
Yan Wushi didn’t reply. It was Bian Yanmei who spoke up, “Huo Xijing just killed my servant. Judging by the way Sect Master Yuan speaks, are you going to just pretend that it never happened?”
Yuan Xiuxiu’s eyes wandered about as she smiled sweetly, “Huo Xijing indeed belongs to our Harmony Sect, but he falls under Sang Jingxing’s order and has nothing to do with me. The
 reason that I came today is to discuss an important matter with Sect Master Yan. If Sect Master Yan complies with my request, I might as well leave him at your disposal.”
Huo Xijing’s face turned ghastly.

Bian Yanmei sneered, “Aren’t Sect Master Yuan’s words a little too heartless? They say, ‘once a lover, always a lover’. No matter how you put it, Sang Jingxing has a rather deep relationship with you, and hence there is some sort of kinship between you and his disciple as well. If news gets out that you don’t even care about his life or death, it’ll probably disappoint your other disciples!”
Yuan Xiuxiu didn’t even turn a hair: “If other people wanted his life, of course I wouldn’t let them have it. But if Yan-lang wants it, I must of course do you this favor!”

She looked at Yan Wushi. There seemed to be endless tenderness and affection in her eyes. “We haven’t seen each other for ten years, do you really not wish to talk to me?”
If any other woman acted like this, Bian Yanmei might have believed that there was some kind of history between them and his master. But the Harmony Sect and the Cleansing Moon Sect were of the same origin, so he was very aware that every word this woman spoke, and even every expression of hers, carried Enchantment with it.

However, despite knowing about it, whenever he heard her voice or saw her smile, Bian Yanmei would still be ravished and affected by it. Thus he could only force himself to not look.
Yan Wushi finally said, “There’s something I want to tell you since long ago.”
“Go ahead, Yan-lang,” said Yuan Xiuxiu, her eyes smiling.
 “If you want to dress up like a fairy, then don’t put on such a licentious look. It may work with other men, but it only makes me sick. It would be better if you can cover your face too next time so as to not spoil my appetite.”
Bian Yanmei and Shen Qiao: “…”
Yuan Xiuxiu: “…”
Bian Yanmei had a hard time holding back his laugh.

Yuan Xiuxiu’s face turned livid from anger. She glared at Yan Wushi as though he was already a dead man.
However, only a moment later, she resumed the smile on her face. “Yan-lang is right. I’ll change my style as soon as I return. I’ll change into anything you like if only it makes you happy.”
Yan Wushi raised his brows. “It’s been ten years, but you haven’t changed at all. You’re still as hypocritical as ever.”
Pretending to not have heard it, Yuan Xiuxiu suggested softly, “Can we find a quiet place so I can tell you everything in detail?”
“You know I can only stay patient for so long.”

“Yan-lang, you’ve really got a heart of steel. I wonder what kind of woman it takes to attract you. Back then, I tried every possible way to entice you, but you still didn’t agree to spend a night with me. I almost thought I was unattractive to men!” Yuan Xiuxiu sighed. “I’m sure Yan-lang knows that Zhou intends to start a war against Qi?”
“So what?”

Yuan Xiuxiu continued, “When the Sun Moon Sect was still far-famed, no one had even heard about sects like the
 Linchuan Institute. Nowadays, like how a monkey can reign the mountain when the tiger is away, it’s all because our Sun Moon Sect has fallen apart. So they took advantage of it and came to the top. If the Cleansing Moon Sect and the Harmony Sect sincerely work together, how can the old bald donkey Xueting and that old pedant Ruyan Kehui be our match?”
Yan Wushi made no comment.

Yuan Xiuxiu was confident that her Enchantment would be irresistible to anyone else, but when she was facing Yan Wushi, who not only had strong martial power but was also from the Demonic Sect, no matter how brilliant her Enchantment was, it was no use.
Hatred began to grow inside her, but her expression was still and just as adorable as before: “If Yan-lang agrees to convince the Emperor of Zhou to give up on attacking Qi, I’m willing to do anything for you!”

“Then surrender.”

Startled, Yuan Xiuxiu slipped out a “What?”

Yan Wushi explained, “Didn’t you just say you were willing to do anything? If you can remove the name  ‘Harmony’  and merge your sect with the Cleansing Moon Sect, then I can convince the Emperor of Zhou to not attack Qi.”
The smile on Yuan Xiuxiu’s face started to fade. “Yan-lang, why do you have to be so aggressive? The Linchuan Institute is looking beyond seeing a war between Zhou and Qi. If that happens, we would just be letting the Southern Chen have the advantage at no cost. If you agree to convince the Emperor of Zhou to stop, I’ll try to persuade the Emperor of Qi to cede all land to the north of Heng Prefecture and Shuo Prefecture to Zhou. How does that sound?”
 “To the north of Heng Prefecture and Shuo Prefecture is the Great Wall. If I remember correctly, that area borders Tujue’s territory.”
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled, “Don’t tell me that the Emperor of Zhou will decline the offer of such a large piece of land!”
“Qi is but a fly in the web, why should the Emperor of Zhou seek the small instead of the big and covet this petite benefit?”
He really took his time, retorting only after the other person made an argument. Till this point, Yuan Xiuxiu finally understood that Yan Wushi had no intention to cooperate with the Harmony Sect at all. He was just monkeying with her.
The smile on her face had now completely disappeared. “Yan- lang, I didn’t think you would still be so arrogant after so long. You were injured by Cui Youwang ten years ago. Do you really think that now, after Cui Youwang’s death, you’re already the best in the world?”
“I don’t know if I’m the best in the world, but I’m better than you at least. Sometimes I too find it a little strange. Ambitious a man as Sang Jingxing is, why didn’t he replace you but instead resigned himself to stay as your adulterer?”
Yuan Xiuxiu giggled, “You think it’s strange? Then why not give it a try yourself? Or maybe you’re the kind that only knows how to talk but is all show in bed!”
She was obviously enraged by Yan Wushi. Before her voice faded, her sleeves had already puffed up. A dozen or so thin, transparent needles darted towards Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao!
They traveled even faster than the gale in a storm and were almost invisible to the naked eye!
 Yuan Xiuxiu didn’t think she could injure Yan Wushi with these needles. Meanwhile, she herself swung into the air like an spectre, and a pair of black swords had already appeared in her hands. The light covering the swords brightened, blocking Yan Wushi from both his left and right!
Admittedly, the Harmony Sect was known for their Enchantment and sexual cultivation, but as the sect master, Yuan Xiuxiu’s strength should never be looked down upon. Among the contemporary Top Ten martial artists, simply because she was a woman and seldomly displayed her skills in front of others, she was ranked only second to last. However, from her fight against Yan Wushi alone, it was very clear that her actual strength was much greater than people thought.
With Yan Wushi’s current level of martial arts, her being able to exchange a dozen or so moves without showing any signs of a disadvantage was already enough evidence of how greatly Yuan Xiuxiu was underestimated.
This was a marvelous and intense battle between two grandmasters. Bian Yanmei knew there was no room for him to interfere, but he didn’t want to let such an opportunity out of his grasp for him to observe and study. Dazzled by its brilliance, he was entirely absorbed in the fight to the point of almost becoming selfless.
Realizing that it was an opportunity hard to come by, Huo Xijing decided to sneak away regardless of his serious injury.
However, as soon as he applied his lightness skill and before he could even make a few steps, he heard the wind whistling behind him. By the time he wanted to wring his body to dodge it, it was already too late. A light chill spread itself out on his back, and he looked down subconsciously.
A blood-tainted tree branch penetrated his back and directly pierced through his heart. There were even some small lumps of
 flesh at its tip — those pieces were his heart!
Huo Xijing’s eyes popped out. He was still wearing the face of Bian Yanmei’s servant, and because it had turned stiff, the scene was particularly creepy to look at. As if he couldn’t believe he would die like this himself, he tried to turn around and remember his enemy, but a large glob of blood spouted out from his mouth as soon as he moved. He fell forward, then became still.
Huo Xijing, the living devil in people’s eyes who had done all the evil deeds he possibly could, ended up meeting his judgement at this place.
It almost seemed like he had a hard time accepting that fact — his eyes were wide open as if he was still putting up a struggle in the other world.

Shen Qiao had just killed a person, but there was no trace of pleasure on his face. He supported himself with the tree on his side and sat down slowly, not even casting a glance to the fight between Yan Wushi and Yuan Xiuxiu. Closing his eyes to rest, he unconsciously fell asleep.
In the eyes of an outsider, the reason Yuan Xiuxiu was able to become the sect master was none other than her practice of sexual cultivation — where she made good use of her beauty — in addition to her affair with Sang Jingxing. As the disciple of Cui Youwang, the latter man supported and helped her secure the position of sect master. He then willingly placed himself under her, serving only as an elder in the Harmony Sect.

However, for all those people who thought this way, had they had the chance to fight against Yuan Xiuxiu themselves, they would have realized how ridiculously wrong they had been.
 There was no way this woman could have become the sect master of the Harmony Sect, where powerful martial artists as many as there were trees in a forest constantly cheated against each other, if all she had was her relationship with a man.
It was just that Yuan Xiuxiu was willing to come out as the weak and delicate one. So she never corrected their mistakes but instead used it to deceive her enemies.
It was rumored that she had an affair with Sang Jingxing and it was through his support which made her the sect master, but Yan Wushi knew that in reality, the situation in the Harmony Sect was much more complicated. Yuan Xiuxiu and Sang Jingxing were only on the same footing of reciprocal tolerance. Like this time, when Sang Jingxing asked Huo Xijing to go find Bian Yanmei, he definitely didn’t inform Yuan Xiuxiu about it. Therefore, it was no surprise when Yuan Xiuxiu only answered lukewarmly to Huo Xijing’s cry for help.
Yan Wushi fought with her ten years ago. Even though he was able to gain an upper hand at that time, it was only by a little. Now after ten years, his martial power had greatly increased, but it was unlikely that Yuan Xiuxiu’s had stayed the same.
The Harmony Sect also practiced The Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin. It was true that Yuan Xiuxiu’s progress was not comparable to Yan Wushi’s at the eleventh stage, but she had at least reached the tenth stage. Not to mention, when the Sun Moon Sect disintegrated, the Harmony Sect was quick in snatching the Book of Harmony [2]. It recorded the sex cultivation technique, and it was also where they had taken their sect name from. However, only a few knew that the Book of Harmony contained not only sexual techniques but also Meditation Ways for cultivating inner qi, sword arts, etc..
Yuan Xiuxiu’s weapon was a pair of swords, which was inspired by a set of two-person sword arts in the Book of Harmony. Originally, this set of martial arts required a man and a woman to cooperate and
 use their swords to keep off the enemies, but Yuan Xiuxiu deliberately did the opposite and practiced both sets of sword arts herself.
Such a woman was clearly not easy to deal with.

Yuan Xiuxiu didn’t dare to act carelessly when facing Yan Wushi. She brought the tenth stage of the Fundamentals of Phoenix-Qilin to its full extent. Her two swords had nearly turned into two rays of black light, appearing to engulf everything in the world. The storm centered around her swirled up like a dragon emerging out of water. It grew by leaps and bounds, and soon, not even a single cloud could be seen. The sky had lost all of its light, and even Yan Wushi was wrapped inside the storm!
Bian Yanmei couldn’t even make out their moves. At this moment, he finally realized how self-centered he was. He once flaunted himself as a first-rate expert, while in fact, there was yet another tier above it. If he didn’t work hard, he might not even reach the level of a grandmaster before he died.
Black snow filled the sky, like an army of devils marching over from the east, filling people’s ears with the sonorous, endless shouting of the hundreds of soldiers.
Bian Yanmei almost couldn’t keep himself stable amidst Yuan Xiuxiu’s inner qi and had to use his own inner qi to block it. As he retreated, he remembered how he had also attributed Yuan Xiuxiu’s achievement to her beauty and the man behind her. Yet henceforth, he dared not think like that again.
There weren’t many people in this world who could fight against Yan Wushi head-to-head without showing any disadvantages.
However, a person’s bitterness was only known to themselves. In the battle circle herself, Yuan Xiuxiu was not as relaxed as Bian Yanmei thought she was.
 She had already brought her inner qi to the fullest extent. The swords in her hand were shifting from solid objects to shadowy figures. They left her hand and charged about, taking their shapes at whichever place she wished. But there seemed to be an invisible attractive force around Yan Wushi which none of her attacks were able to break through. In fact, her pair of swords even showed a faint sigh of being sucked in by it.
She retrieved her pair of swords after seeing the feather-light palm that Yan Wushi struck at her. However, the other person actually avoided the seemingly invulnerable screen she put up with her swords and appeared before her in an instant. Frowning, Yuan Xiuxiu had no other choice but to take it with her fair, delicate hand.
Their palms clashed, and amidst the explosive rumble, the screen suddenly disappeared. Yuan Xiuxiu quickly retreated, her figure floating backwards like a kite, swaying and undulating in the wind like a rootless duckweed in water. After about ten steps, her feet were once again firmly planted on the ground.
Smiling sweetly as if nothing had happened, she said, “Sure Yan- lang didn’t let this ten-year Meditation go into waste, I was halfway to death during the fight. My little heart is still thumping so badly now!”
Yan Wushi stood where he was. He had no plan to hunt her down. Of course, if he really wanted to kill Yuan Xiuxiu, he would be able to do so. Yet the fight would then become a life and death struggle, and he would have to pay a price himself. Besides, the death of Yuan Xiuxiu would benefit the other people in the Harmony Sect more so than it would benefit the Cleansing Moon Sect.
Yuan Xiuxiu clearly knew it too, so she was not in a hurry to leave.

She glanced at Huo Xijing’s dead body, and only then did her expression finally change. “People should check with its owner even before beating a dog. Huo Xijing holds a relatively high
 position in our sect, yet Yan-lang’s man killed him just like that?”
Though he wasn’t the one who killed Huo Xijing, since Yan Wushi was here, Bian Yanmei didn’t need to pay her much respect, “Huo Xijing killed my servant, does he not deserve to die? Over these years, the Harmony Sect has killed so many Cleansing Moon Sect disciples. Sect Master Yuan, why don’t we clear all our debts together?”
However, Yuan Xiuxiu actually pulled a smile after hearing it, “Judging by the way you said it, you must not be the one who killed him.”
This woman’s attitude changed in no time, and she acted immediately upon her instincts. One second she was still smiling and talking all sweet, and in the next second, with her half-finished sentence, she had already flashed next to Shen Qiao, reaching for his neck!
Shen Qiao was really too tired, so tired that he ended up falling asleep under the tree after he killed Huo Xijing.
But as a martial artist, he still kept his intuition and awareness of danger. He had already sensed it as soon as Yuan Xiuxiu came at him. A normal person usually opened their eyes first and would only react after they found out about the situation, but Shen Qiao immediately grabbed onto the tree behind him even before he opened his eyes. He moved behind it and used its trunk as cover.
In just the blink of an eye, a scratch mark appeared on the trunk!

It was not left by Yuan Xiuxiu’s hand, but by her inner qi. Clearly, if Shen Qiao was late by half a second, this mark would have appeared on his neck instead of the tree.
Even though Shen Qiao was able to dodge the first one, he couldn’t
 dodge the second. Before he could catch his breath, Yuan Xiuxiu’s second palm was already there.
Shen Qiao had already lost his bamboo stick and he had no weapon left. There was not enough time for him to escape. He had to block it with his hands. However, he only had half of his martial power left. It might have been enough to handle an ordinary expert, but when facing a grandmaster-level martial artist like Yuan Xiuxiu, the odds were close to none.
The moment they came into contact with each other, Shen Qiao immediately retreated several steps. It wasn’t until the fifth step when his back bumped into a tree did he finally stop. His face was deathly pale, as he managed to keep down the sweet gulp of blood with much difficulty.
However, that was already well beyond Yuan Xiuxiu’s expectations. No matter how unlikable Huo Xijing was, he was still a disciple of the Harmony Sect. As the sect leader, she had to stand up for him. At first, she thought two moves would have been enough to finish Shen Qiao, but to her surprise, the other person was actually able to take one of them head-on.
When the third one came, Shen Qiao already had no place to retreat. He could only close his eyes and wait for his death.
Yan Wushi could have stopped Yuan Xiuxiu when she made her first move, but he decided to look on with a cold eye. Hence, Shen Qiao didn’t think there would be an exception this time.
Author’s Notes:
Yan Wushi: Describe me in one word. Eldest disciple Bian Yanmei: Cool.
Youngest disciple Yu Shengyan: Handsome.
 Shen Qiao: …Good.
Yan Wushi [satisfied]: Describe me in two words. Eldest disciple Bian Yanmei: Very cool.
Youngest disciple Yu Shengyan: Very handsome. Shen Qiao: Bye bye.
Yan Wushi: …
Translator’s Notes:
[1] Yan-lang: She addresses Yan Wushi as (Yan-lang), which is commonly used between women and their husbands or lovers.
[2] Harmony: Original Chinese word here is He Huan, which means “happy to be together”, which is also an implicit term for sex. I translated it as Harmony because it was shorter and sounded better lol.

Chapter 29

First published on Ainushi.

Synopsis: But your hand feels good.
Yuan Xiuxiu was just testing Shen Qiao with her first attack. Had Yan Wushi tried to stop her, she probably would not have continued. But the fact that Yan Wushi didn’t gave her the impression that this boytoy was not that important to him. She giggled at the thought of this, and didn’t hold back on the third palm. She was going to make Shen Qiao pay with his life for Huo Xijing’s.
But things were different this time.

She wasn’t able to land her hand on Shen Qiao’s head. Yuan Xiuxiu’s expression turned ghastly. She forced herself to bend in mid- air and, with an almost impossible posture, dodged the finger pointing toward her from behind.
She didn’t even stay afterwards. Her figure swayed like the willow branches in March as her toes tapped on the twig next to her. Soon, her white dress disappeared from everyone’s line of sight into the faint distance, leaving only a stream of sweet laughter behind: “Yan- lang has been so cruel to me. I’ll leave for now, and let’s talk about our old friendship some other day!”

Shen Qiao didn’t think that Yan Wushi would stand up for him. Neither did Bian Yanmei, but he dared not say a word and only hurried over to greet them, “Welcome back to Chang’an, Master. It was my incapability that had caused today’s event. I should be punished for it!”
 Yan Wushi didn’t reply. He just helped Shen Qiao up and asked,
“Are you okay?”

Shen Qiao only shook his head and didn’t reply. He was already too weak to answer.
Yan Wushi simply picked him up by the waist. Shen Qiao had already slipped into a half-asleep, half-dazed state. His body, after losing the ability to struggle, appeared particularly supple.
“Return to the city first,” he said to his disciple.

In contrast with Yan Wushi’s calmness, Bian Yanmei was actually quite shocked by his action.
He didn’t think too much about it when he first saw them together. Later, when Shen Qiao killed Huo Xijing, he was so immersed in the fight between Yan Wushi and Yuan Xiuxiu that he didn’t notice it until Yuan Xiuxiu attacked Shen Qiao. However, seeing how Yan Wushi remained completely unmoved, he just followed him and looked on from the side.
Although, it didn’t seem like things were heading the way he assumed they would.
Bian Yanmei was a little confused.

On their way back, he found an opportunity and asked him,
“Master, how should I address this person?”

Yan Wushi said, “He’s Shen Qiao.”

Bian Yanmei bent his head and tossed the name around in his mind. It sounded quite familiar to him.
Yan Wushi continued, “He’s the sect leader of Mount Xuandu.”

Bian Yanmei was flabbergasted once again. When he looked back at Shen Qiao, his eyes were so wide that they were almost going to pop out of his head.
Who was Shen Qiao?

The sect leader of Mount Xuandu. What kind of place was Mount Xuandu?
The number one Daoist Sect under the Heaven.

After they sealed the mountain, its figure wasn’t as dominating as it used to be, but it was still the sect which had once produced someone like Qi Fengge. Anyone would stand in awe upon hearing its name.
However, the leader of such a sect…was now lying in his master’s arms?

It was not like Bian Yanmei hadn’t heard about Shen Qiao falling off the cliff during his battle with Kunye, but he had been focusing mostly on the affairs within the imperial court of Northern Zhou. He didn’t go watch the fight himself, and neither did his junior martial brother, Yu Shengyan, have the chance to tell him about it since he had gone to train at the foot of Half-Step Peak as instructed by Yan Wushi. As a result, Bian Yanmei was unaware of the ins and outs of the story that happened afterwards.

He cleared his throat, “I heard Shen Qiao carried on Qi Fengge’s mantle and was ranked among the Top Ten. How come he couldn’t even take three palms from Yuan Xiuxiu?”
“He only has half of his martial arts left. Besides, since I force him to stay busy with me every night and he doesn’t get enough sleep, it’s natural for him to be somewhat tired
 during the day.”

He sketched it in such a casual manner, yet Bian Yanmei couldn’t help but expand his thoughts on it.
What did he mean by “forced to stay busy every night and didn’t get enough sleep”…
It really wasn’t his fault to have misunderstood the sentence.
The reality was that in the past few days, Yan Wushi had been forcing Shen Qiao to fight with him in order to bring out Shen Qiao’s potential. Since he showed no mercy during these fights, Shen Qiao had no choice but to brace himself to face them, pulling himself back from the verge of life and death each time; while during the day, he would be pressed by Yan Wushi again to discuss martial arts related topics such as the Demonic Core and the Daoist Core. After many days, his body naturally couldn’t take it anymore, so he would fall asleep after killing Huo Xijing.

Perhaps Yan Wushi had no intention of investigating what his disciple was thinking, or perhaps he had deliberately left it ambiguous. In any case, the sentence successfully led Bian Yanmei to some dubious misunderstandings, and he started to look at Shen Qiao with a different pair of lens.
When Shen Qiao woke up, he was already in the Residence of the Junior Perceptor. Yan Wushi had been summoned by the Emperor of Zhou and was not in the residence at the time, but Bian Yanmei, on the other hand, was quite interested in Shen Qiao. He wasn’t in a hurry to leave, so he lingered for a while longer. When the servant reported that Shen Qiao was now awake, he directly went to see him.
Thereupon Bian Yanmei discovered how different Shen Qiao was when he was asleep and when he was awake.
 When he was asleep, Shen Qiao appeared to be gentle and harmless, almost like a pushover. Anyone who saw him lying in Yan Wushi’s arms would have mistaken their relationship.
Of course, Bian Yanmei’s thought had now completely gone on that track. He sent people to find out about it afterwards. In addition to what he heard and saw himself, it wasn’t hard for him to reach a conclusion: This sect leader of Mount Xuandu must have been seriously injured after he lost to Kunye. He was too ashamed to return to Mount Xuandu and met Master; therefore, he half-willingly agreed to be taken under Master’s wing and become his boytoy. It was a disgraceful decision, so he didn’t dare to let others know about his identity, and even less so to make it public.

However, when he saw Shen Qiao sitting next to the table neatly dressed, he was no longer as certain of his conjecture. Because even though the other person still looked pale with his eyes unfocused and an almost otherworldly pretty face, one could never associate him with those kinds of boytoys who attached themselves to others.
“Sect Leader Shen has come a long way here. You’re our guest. Since I’m afraid that Master will be quite busy these days, you can stay in this Residence of the Junior Preceptor first. Just tell the servants if there’s anything you need.”
“Many thanks, Mr. Bian. I’ve caused you a lot of trouble.”

Bian Yanmei couldn’t help but laugh, “Master brought you here, and this residence is Master’s property. It’s my duty to take care of you, so you don’t need to think of it as trouble.”
He was still slightly disappointed at this moment, feeling that it was rather lamentable that the disciple of someone like Qi Fengge, whose bearing was unsurpassable, would end up as other people’s boytoy. If he had died after the defeat, all problems would have ended with his death, and he would at least leave a tragic yet honorable impression. But with him living on like this, remaining alive
 only for the sake of it–it was simply despicable.
However, Shen Qiao shook his head. “The reason why I killed Huo Xijing earlier was because this person was guilty of a monstrosity of unpardonable crimes. In order to prevent him from harming more lives, I had no choice but to stop killing with kill. However, Huo Xijing was a disciple of the Harmony Sect after all. I can only hope that my action won’t cause problems for you.”
Bian Yanmei didn’t know he was referring to this. It gave him a start, but he soon replied, “The Harmony Sect and the Cleansing Moon Sect have long since been enemies,  and  Huo  Xijing killed my servant. In fact, I should be the one to thank you for killing him.”
Shen Qiao laughed at himself, “If someone else wants to kill another person, I would normally try to talk them out of it–hypocritical of me indeed. But when I saw someone like Huo Xijing, I was actually the first to act. Clearly, all of my efforts in the past with cultivating my heart and disposition are but a lie to myself.”
He still looked pale and exhausted. Even his self-mocking words were so mild, having no deterrence at all.
Bian Yanmei couldn’t help but pity him and he even started comforting him, “Actually, even the Confucian school has a saying like this: ‘If evil is repaid with kindness, then what should kindness be repaid with?’ Huo Xijing was a sinister and erratic man. Even as a disciple that originated from the same Holy Sect, I had no good impression of him. Truthfully, I’m afraid that many people would like to thank you for his death.”
They talked a little more. Seeing that Shen Qiao was too tired to continue, Bian Yanmei finally got up and took his leave.
 After he exited the room and with the chilly wind blowing in his face, he finally remembered that when he first came, he didn’t really care about Shen Qiao. However, after a decent conversation, not only was his disdain completely gone, he even felt that the other person was rather amiable, making people want to come into contact with him.
Shen Qiao clearly sensed what he was thinking too, and that was why he had intentionally brought up Huo Xijing’s death. On one hand, it was to stress the favor he had done with Huo Xijing, while on the other hand, it was to let Bian Yanmei know that even though he was now staying by Yan Wushi’s side, he was not anyone’s property.
After he figured this out, the last bit of disdain left in Bian Yanmei heart vanished like smoke in the air.
When Yan Wushi came back, Shen Qiao was playing weiqi in his room.
There was no opponent, so he was playing with himself, holding the white pieces in one hand and the black ones in the other with his eyes closed. He was trying to memorize the board layout as he felt about the pieces that were already laid down.
Every move of his was slow–he had to think for a long time after each one, but every piece he placed would land precisely on the intersection between the horizontal and vertical lines.

Even though Shen Qiao’s martial power was returning, the condition of his eyes was unstable. Sometimes he was able to see blurry images, but other times he was not any different from a blind man. He accepted the fact rather calmly, but he had to prepare for the worst circumstance, intentionally training his ability to hear and sense the surrounding environment.
 Standing by the door, Yan Wushi watched him for a long time before he finally walked in.
Shen Qiao didn’t notice him at first. He was single-heartedly immersed in the chess game. It wasn’t until the other person had laid the item he was holding onto the table did he finally open his eyes to study the blurry figure that had appeared in his line of sight.
“Sect Master Yan?”

When he saw the person who had just come in, a smile naturally climbed up his face.
Yan Wushi asked, “I heard you met Princess Qingdu out there today and even managed to leave a good impression on her?”
Shen Qiao ended up laughing, “We happened to run into each other, and it can’t be counted as a good impression. Her Highness is the Heaven’s precious and talented  daughter, while I’m just a commoner. Sect Master Yan must be joking.”
Yan Wushi didn’t restrain Shen Qiao’s freedom after they arrived in Chang’an. Shen Qiao could still walk around in the city if he wanted, although that would be all. If he was going to exit the city, the guards at the city gates were already informed by Bian Yanmei. They would immediately stop him and report back here.
Yan Wushi smiled, “You can’t say that for sure. I heard that during your trip to City Ye with Yu Shengyan, you met Han Feng’s daughter. Didn’t she fancy you too? Well, it’s a pity that Princess Qingdu is a serious person. If she knew that you lived in my residence, she definitely wouldn’t take you as a decent man. You missed such a great marriage. Otherwise, if you married a princess, returning to Mount Xuandu would be a piece of cake with the help of the imperial court.”
Shen Qiao felt a bit helpless. “Isn’t Sect Master Yan a bit too
 bored? I did nothing but exchange a few greetings with Princess Qingdu, yet you’ve already come up with such a story from it.”
Caressing Shen Qiao’s face with his hand, Yan Wushi replied in a frivolous tone, “Do you think Princess Qingdu is like the pretty daughter of some humble family who talks amiably to anyone? You’ve lost your martial arts and your status, but it’s not like you’ve lost your face too. This face of yours alone can attract not a few love affairs. Isn’t Mu Tipo one of them too? I’d say that when you go out next time, you should wear a veil like those noble ladies, so you won’t run into as many pink troubles. Otherwise, it would greatly embarrass me if rumor gets out and everyone says that my boy is  flirting around out there.”
According to Shen Qiao’s understanding of Yan Wushi, the person would tease him in such high spirits only when he was in a particularly good mood or the exact opposite.
Now the only question was which one it was today.

Just as expected, in the next moment, he heard Yan Wushi ask, “I have good news and bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?”
Shen Qiao asked, “Is it good news for me? Or is it good news for you?”
“Of course it’s for you! It’s heartbreaking to see you think of me with such malicious suspicion.”
He came closer as he talked, his voice quite low, with a somewhat dubious tone.
No matter how many times this happened these days, Shen Qiao just couldn’t get used to it. He turned his head to the side at once,
 avoiding the warm breath the other person was going to blow at his face.
He turned his face away, but not his ears.

His ear and earlobe were immediately suffused with a thin layer of redness, like a pink mark on white jade, making people want to feel it with their hands.
And that exactly was what Yan Wushi did. Having nowhere to escape, Shen Qiao had to lift a hand to block him. With one of them sitting and the other one leaning like this, they exchanged a dozen or so moves and it ended unsurprisingly with Shen Qiao being completely pulled into Yan Wushi’s arms.
Yan Wushi clicked his tongue. “You’re too skinny. It doesn’t feel good when I hug you.”
Then he pushed Shen Qiao away. Shen Qiao: “…”
Yan Wushi: “But your hand does.”
Shen Qiao had long, slender fingers. Due to his sickness, they were cold and pale and felt quite good in the other’s hands. Yan Wushi played with his hands as if he was playing with a piece of white jade. The action warmed up the originally cold hand, and it now felt more like a piece of warm jade.
He always did as he pleased, and other people’s feelings had never been a concern for him. As long as he enjoyed it, he didn’t care whether Shen Qiao liked it or not. In fact, if Shen Qiao was unhappy about it, he would find it interesting and would probably going to take it even further.
As expected, when he looked up and saw Shen Qiao’s expression, he laughed, “Ah-qiao, are you unhappy? I was going to tell you
 news about Mount Xuandu. Do you not want to know?”

Taking the opportunity that Yan Wushi’s guard was low, Shen Qiao flicked his finger and drew his hand back into the sleeves, refusing to show another inch of it.
Yan Wushi glanced at his sleeves with pity, then said, “It was unfortunate that you didn’t stay that day to take a look at the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference yourself. I heard that Li Qingyu, the disciple of Yi Bichen from the  Chunyang  Sect, came down the mountain for the first time, yet he defeated Liansheng, the disciple of Monk Xueting, He Siyong from the Linchuan Institute, and two elders of Mount Xuandu. In the end, even your Junior Brother Yu joined the match himself and was finally able to beat him by half of a move. The name, Li Qingyu from the Chunyang Sect of Mount Qingcheng surprised everyone on the spot and was already well-known to the world.”
Shen Qiao also looked astounded when he heard the news. “Li Qingyu? I heard he was the last disciple of Yi Bichen’s, but he rarely appears in front of others.”
“That’s right. The Jade Terrace Daoist Conference on Mount Xuandu was precisely the first battle to make his name.”
Liansheng and He Siyong were both renowned experts among the younger generation. They weren’t as good as the Top Ten, but not many people in the pugilistic worlds could win against them.
Even though he lost by half a move to Yu Ai in the end, considering Yu Ai’s status and seniority, it was not a shame but rather an honor for him.
Just think about it. Yu Ai was Qi Fengge’s disciple, and Qi Fengge was the best martial artist of his time. If he lost with only half a move to Yu Ai, wouldn’t it imply that they were already at a similar level
 and that Li Qingyu was even going to surpass Yu Ai in just a few years time? One should be aware that not only was he still young, this was also his first time setting foot in the secular world. He had already achieved so much. Given enough time, how could you tell if he was not going to become another number one martial artist under the Heaven?
As for Mount Xuandu on the other hand, first there was Shen Qiao’s defeat in his fight with Kunye. Even though there was a greater cause behind it, other people didn’t know the story and would just think Shen Qiao was unworthy of his name and his martial arts were far more inferior to his master’s. The reason behind Yu Ai’s invitation to the sects all over the world to the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference on Mount Xuandu was none other than to formally announce that Mount Xuandu was going to open itself to the world once again. He could also use the chance as a start, making everyone stand in awe of Mount Xuandu’s name. However, no one would have expected the appearance of someone like Li Qingyu. Not only did the conference fail to bring back the awe-inspiring image of Mount Xuandu, it even ended up establishing a name for Li Qingyu instead.
It didn’t mean that Mount Xuandu would be reduced to a second or third-rate sect, but this was certainly a calamitous start for Yu Ai and the others. And when other people spoke of Mount Xuandu again in the future, there would inevitably be less reverence and more of a subtle shade.
After all, there was only one Qi Fengge. Without him, Mount Xuandu was no longer the magnificent place it used to be. No wonder he had decided to seal the mountain–he probably had foreseen that his later generations of disciples would turn out to be a disappointment, so he had no choice but to make such a bad decision.

Everyone would think like this.

Shen Qiao was a quick-witted person. Yan Wushi only said a few
 sentences, but he had already guessed everything that was going to come afterwards.

Chapter 30

First published on Ainushi.

Synopsis: I offered you food and a place to live, yet…
Shen Qiao said, “I’ve heard about this genius that Yi Bichen took in as a disciple in his late years since a long time ago, and that he was a prodigy in martial arts who had read through and learnt by heart every single script in the Chunyang Daoist Temple at the age of fifteen. However, instead of revealing him to the public, Yi Bichen sent him to travel alone in the Western Regions around the Kunlun Mountains. Looking at it now, Yi Bichen is indeed very forethoughtful. He has spent ten years polishing this sword. Once it is unsheathed, its splendor is guaranteed to shine!”
Yan Wushi asked curiously, “You always like to be the good guy. After this event, Mount Xuandu might even lose its title as the ‘Number one Daoist Sect under the Heavens’, yet you still gave Li Qingyu such high praise. Do you not feel sad for your junior brother’s great loss and the humiliation your sect has suffered?”
Shen Qiao replied, “Yu Ai is rather conceited and tends to be extreme. It might be a good thing if he learns his lesson this time. Nothing stays as the top forever. There are ups and downs for a sect as well as a person.”
Yan Wushi laughed, “You’re indeed quite lighthearted.”

Shen Qiao asked, “Didn’t you say there was good news and
 bad news? What’s the good news?”

“I already said the good news. Li Qingyu stole Mount Xuandu’s limelight and greatly embarrassed your Brother Yu. Isn’t that good news for you?”
Shen Qiao felt a bit speechless. “What about the bad news then?”
“The bad news is that what’s been concerning you has come true at last. Yu Ai might actually have a deal with Tujue.”
Shen Qiao frowned at his words. “How so?”

Yan Wushi deliberately paused for a good while. It wasn’t until Shen Qiao couldn’t help but lean forward with an eager expression did he finally explain slowly, “Right after the Jade Terrace Conference, Erfu Khan’s envoy arrived at Mount Xuandu and asked if they could send a preacher to Eastern Tujue.”
Shen Qiao knitted his brows even tighter.

Yan Wushi asked, “You know who Erfu Khan is?”

Shen Qiao nodded silently.

He didn’t spend all this time doing nothing. Besides comprehending The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, he was also keeping an eye on the major events around the world.
With Tujue being a powerful country nowadays, even Northern Zhou and Northern Qi had to feign civility when dealing with them. But Tujue’s social and political system was totally different from the Han system. Although Taspar Khan was already the highest ruler of Tujue, he also appointed his nephew and younger brother to supervise the Eastern and Western Tujue areas respectively.
 And this Erfu Khan of the Eastern Tujue was exactly that Taspar Khan’s nephew, Shetu.
It was said that he was an extremely ambitious and aggressive man whose ability and sagacity were not any less than his uncle Taspar Khan’s — he was a person destined to rise above the ordinary.

Mount Xuandu was thousands of miles away from Tujue and hadn’t been involved in secular affairs for years. It naturally stirred up a lot of speculations when Mount Xuandu started establishing a connection with Tujue immediately after it reopened itself to the public. It at once reminded Shen Qiao of Yu Ai’s scheme with Kunye to make him fall off the cliff.
But what benefits could a close relationship with Tujue bring to Mount Xuandu?
Shen Qiao said, “He’s asking a tiger for its skin.”

Yan Wushi chuckled, “Not necessarily. With Tujue being so powerful right now, anyone who doesn’t want to start a war has to make a concession. Didn’t the Emperor of Zhou marry his Empress from Tujue as well?”
Shen Qiao shook his head. “The Emperor of Zhou seized his power from Yuwen Hu’s hands and has  reigned  for  many years since then. He must have experienced all kinds of difficult situations already. I heard that in order to break free from Tujue’s control, he has been intentionally treating Lady Ashina coldly. So he’s a wise man on that for sure. However, even though Yu Ai is also a smart man, Mount Xuandu has secluded itself for too many years. Not to mention that he is also overly confident about himself that he even wants to cooperate with the Tujue people, I’m afraid that he will end up bringing harm to himself.”
 Yan Wushi picked up the invitation which he left on the table not too long ago and pressed it against Shen Qiao’s chest. “Now you’re but a castaway disciple in the eyes of Mount Xuandu. Why even bother with it? Here’s an invitation to a birthday party. I don’t have time for it, but I’m sure you’ll be interested.”
The candle light was dim, and Shen Qiao didn’t open his eyes to read it. He took the invitation and felt it with his hands for a while. His fingers were extremely delicate and smooth. From the thin layer of ink alone, he had already discerned the two characters on it –Su Wei.

He tilted his head and asked puzzledly, “I don’t recognize the name.”
“Su Wei, also known as Su Wuwei, is the Duke of Meiyang District, a position which he inherited from his father. He married Yuwen Hu’s daughter, a relationship which  should have implicated him, but he is rather talented. The Emperor of Zhou, who always favors talented people, wants to make use of his talents. Therefore, he is able to stay unaffected. However, he declined the offer, saying he was too ill for it, and studied at home instead. His mother’s fiftieth birthday is in two days, and even the Emperor has sent over congratulatory gifts on his behalf.” 
“However,” he suddenly changed the topic, “Su Wuwei has a brother named Su Qiao who’s actually a martial artist. Guess who his master is.”
Seeing that the other person was listening attentively, he tried to grab Shen Qiao’s hands to play with once more.
But Shen Qiao was well-prepared and decided that he might as well put his hands behind his back. After a while, as if he found this action a little childish, he moved them back to the front and hid them inside his sleeves instead.
 Yan Wushi clicked his tongue, “I offered you food and a place to live and provided you with so much information, yet you are so stingy that you won’t even let me touch your hand!”
Shen Qiao was not moved by him at all: “There are countless beauties within the residence who would be more than willing to come up and serve you if Sect Master Yan lets them.”

“Ah-qiao, you’re such a boring person!”
Despite the complaints, he still told Shen Qiao: “Su Qiao studies under the Chunyang Daoist Temple. He’s the senior martial brother of none other than that Li Qingyu who lost to Yu Ai.”

Shen Qiao thought for a moment. “Li Qingyu is famous among martial artists. Even I have heard about him before. But I don’t remember hearing much about this Su Qiao.”
Yan Wushi explained, “He was born into an aristocratic family, so he naturally doesn’t have a high-profile like Li Qingyu. Since Su Qiao and Li Qingyu are martial brothers, however, the latter might show up to Su Wei’s mother’s birthday party the day after tomorrow. Don’t you want to meet this rising star who challenged all of Mount Xuandu by himself and nearly beat your brother?”
Shen Qiao felt the writing on the invitation with his hand, then nodded slightly. “I see. Much thanks, Sect Master Yan.”
Yan Wushi laughed, “I’ve never dealt with the Su Family before. Just because of my high position, they had to send over an invitation for the sake of it. If you decide to go with my invitation, then bring a gift on my behalf, and that should show enough civility.”
It was strange for someone like him to take notice of the problem
 of “civility”, but Shen Qiao didn’t put too much thought into it:
Su Wei was born into the Su Family in the capital, a branch of a family that was considered notable. His Father, Su Chuo, was an important official of the Western Wei, and his wife was the daughter of Yuwen Hu. Speaking of it, she was actually the Emperor’s niece. Although the Emperor of Zhou had sent Yuwen Hu to his death, he didn’t involve the latter’s family and even took good care of this niece of his.
At that time, most of the honorable families had marriage connections with the royal household, and the Su Family was no exception. It was Su Wei’s mother’s birthday, and guests streamed in to wish her longevity. Horses and carriages came and went in front of the residence, nearly causing a traffic jam. The Su Family had to send out a person to control the traffic so as to not block the other passengers on the road.
Shen Qiao came by carriage as well. The arrival of the carriage from the Residence of the Junior Preceptor immediately roused Su Wei who was receiving guests inside.
Yan Wushi didn’t hold any actual position that dealt with political affairs in the imperial court, but the Emperor of Zhou trusted the Cleansing Moon Sect. It was said that the sect helped a lot in killing Yuwen Hu and successfully seizing the power. Su Wei was a typical scholar-official. He wasn’t interested in politics, but he didn’t want to make enemies either. Sending an invitation to Yan Wushi was but an act of courtesy — he didn’t expect someone from the Residence of the Junior Preceptor to actually show up. After hearing the news, he immediately came out to greet the guest himself.

The moment the person in the carriage got down, Su Wei was somewhat taken aback.
 Despite the few contacts he had with Yan Wushi, he knew the person in front of his eyes was definitely not him.
“May I ask who this is…?”

“I’m Shen Qiao. Sect Master Yan went to the Palace upon His Majesty’s order. I’ve come over to send wishes on his behalf. Hopefully, Official Su wouldn’t mind.”
With his words, in addition to the carriage of the Residence of the Junior Preceptor he had arrived in, Su Wei was finally relieved and laughed, “I see. Mister Shen, this way please.”
He had welcomed the person in, but he was also wondering deep inside.
Yan Wushi was from the pugilistic world–this Su Wei knew. The Cleansing Moon Sect was regarded as a demonic sect by many people–this he had heard about from his brother Su Qiao. But the person in front of him didn’t seem like a martial artist or a court official. Despite appearing a little sickly, he still looked sage-like. Could he be some distinguished intellectual whom Yan Wushi was friends with?
He was not the only person who was wondering. The guests, seeing that the host had gone out to greet a blind man personally, were just as curious.
In Northern Zhou, Yan Wushi was a name that could strike people’s ears like the roar of thunder, but only a few had actually met him in person. Many people thought Shen Qiao was the Sect Master of the Cleansing Moon Sect when they saw him walking next to Su Wei. When they saw that even Princess Qingdu, who was known to be rather serious and reserved, went over to talk to him, they grew even more curious.
Because of Su Qiao, not all guests present were officers from
 powerful families — there were some martial artists as well.
The leader of the Chunyang Daoist Temple didn’t come himself, but he had sent his disciple, Li Qingyu. Li Qingyu had created a great sensation a few days ago at the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference on Mount Xuandu. There was not one person who hadn’t heard of his name. Seeing that the Chunyang Temple was showing the potential of replacing Mount Xuandu, everyone wanted to seize the opportunity to make friends with the new high and mighty, so a lot of people had gathered around him as well.
Su Qiao and Li Qingyu had quite a close relationship. While the former introduced Li Qingyu to many family friends of the Su Family, the latter didn’t forget to present his martial brother either as he talked to other pugilists.
Shen Qiao politely declined Princess Qingdu’s invite to sit closer and remained in the seat the host had assigned him.
Since he represented Yan Wushi, his seat surely wasn’t bad. The guest next to him, seeing that Shen Qiao had a problem with his eyes, specifically asked the servant girl to move the dishes to the right-hand side on Shen Qiao’s table so he could eat more easily.
Shen Qiao appreciated his kindness, “Thank you so much. I’m Shen Qiao. May I know your name?”
The other person laughed, “You’re very welcome, Mister Shen. That’s not a big favor from me. All I did was throw in a few sentences. I’m from the Puliuru Clan. My name is Jian.”
Puliuru Jian was sitting next to Shen Qiao, but he didn’t ask Shen Qiao for his status or background, nor did he show any curiosity or concern over Shen Qiao’s eyes. He only talked about the host, Su Wei, saying that he was a talented and renowned man who was also an expert in poetry and law. There was a lot of admiration and respect in his words.
 Since they were talking about literature, they could not really avoid touching upon topics regarding the different schools of thoughts. Northern Zhou was heavily influenced by Buddhism. Before, during the reign of Yuwen Hu, Zen Master Xueting was even given the position of the Great Preceptor. Now, with Yuwen Yong on the throne, despite his efforts of trying to clear Yuwen Hu’s influence, the people’s bias toward Buddhism was not something that could be eliminated within a short amount of time. Puliuru Jian was a Buddhist himself, but he was also interested in Daoism and was not against it. He was obviously surprised by Shen Qiao’s profound insight on Daoism. After they chatted for a while, he already felt like he was in sync with the person.
After they had become acquainted, seeing that Princess Qingdu had again sent someone to invite Shen Qiao over, Puliuru Jian teased, “Throughout the entire capital, only a few can make the Princess lower herself just to get to know them. You can’t imagine how many people will be jealous of you if they knew about this.”
Shen Qiao said, “I must have amused Brother Puliuru.”

Puliuru Jian continued, “I heard that Su Wei’s brother, Su Qiao, is from the Chunyang Daoist Temple. That must be the reason why so many martial artists have shown up here today.”
Shen Qiao asked, “Brother Puliuru knows them all?”

Puliuru Jian replied, “I used to admire those martial artists for living a life free of constraints, and I even spent a few years loafing about on horses trying to be like them. So I recognize a few faces.”
Shen Qiao asked, “Then could Brother  Puliluru  introduce them to me?”
 Puliuru Jian replied briskly, “No problem!”

He then started pointing people out to Shen Qiao, “Su Qiao you already know, and next to him is Li Qingyu. Together they are referred to as the Two Jades of Qingcheng, although in terms of fame, Li Qingyu is slightly more famous. You must have heard about his impressive acts on Mount Xuandu a few days ago. The one talking to them right now is Zhangsun Cheng, a disciple of the Zhongnan Sect. The Zhongnan Sect is but a small sect, but Zhangsun Sheng is also the descendent of a noble family. He excels in marksmanship and few can compete against him. As for the person in yellow next to him, his name is Dou Yanshan.”
Shen Qiao let out a surprised gasp, “The chairman of the Six Harmonies Association?”

That night in the Beyond Clouds Monastery, many parties tried to get their hands on the Book of Free Will of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. However, what the Six Harmonies Association had taken pains to escort was smashed to powder just like that by Yan Wushi. It was true that Yun Fuyi and the others also heard what Shen Qiao had read aloud, but after they returned, how could they guarantee there was no mistake in what they had written down? Yan Wushi’s action had successfully put people’s trust to trial ー Dou Yanshan must have hated him to the bones.
Seeing that it was not Yan Wushi but Shen Qiao who had walked in, he only cast a glance at Shen Qiao and remained in his seat, not showing any intention of coming over to exchange courtesies.
Puliuru Jian continued, “Zen Master Xueting was once granted the position as the Great Preceptor by Yuwen Hu. Because of this, even though Yuwen Hu is already dead, there is still a deep connection between him and the Su Family. So to say,
 he should have come today, but somehow  he  still  hasn’t shown up yet, not even sending a disciple over,  which  is rather strange.”
“And the man and the woman over there should be from the Jade Cloud Sect of Mount Tai and the Glass Palace of Fangzhang Island. Those two sects have a good relationship with the Chunyang Temple, and they probably showed up because of it.”
“The rest are nothing remarkable, just some nobodies from ordinary sects. Knowing them wouldn’t help you much, so I won’t waste my breath on them.”
Actually, among the people he didn’t mention were also a lot of experts who were quite famous in the circle, but they all became “nobodies” in Puliuru Jian’s mouth. “Strong authority governs”
— this rule in the pugilistic world was expressed to its fullest at this
moment. They might be like a duck in water on their own small pieces of land, but the people Puliuru Jian dealt with on a daily basis were all experts from the top class of the Zhou, so it was natural for him to think nothing of those.
Shen Qiao took note of every person he mentioned. He was far from them, and because of his bad eyes, he couldn’t even make clear of those people’s faces. He could only remember them by the shape of their figures, the color of their clothes, and their manners.
While they were talking, two more people entered the room. Shen Qiao found them a little familiar. After they finished exchanging greetings with the host, they looked around and their eyes happened to come into contact with Shen Qiao’s.
Xie Xiang was slightly startled and only nodded at him, but Zhan Ziqian who was next to him was already walking over. “Mister Shen, so you’re here too!”
 Shen Qiao laughed, “It’s Brother Zhan. What a coincidence!”

“Yeah!” Zhan Ziqian had a good impression of Shen Qiao and wanted to sit next to him to talk more, but Xie Xiang came over and said, “Brother, the host has assigned the seats already. Isn’t it rude to sit around randomly?”
Zhan Ziqian was forced to halt his step. “It’s a great fortune to be able to meet Mister Shen here today. In fact, I have a favor to ask Mister Shen. Could you please stay for a moment after dinner?”
Shen Qiao was not related to the Linchuan Institute in the slightest, and neither was Zhan Ziqian aware of his identity. They were just two strangers coming together by chance, and Shen Qiao really couldn’t think of anything that the other person needed to ask him for help about, but he still nodded, “Sure.”
As soon as Xie and Zhan left, Puliuru Jian said, “The Linchuan Institute is preeminent in Southern Chen and regards itself highly. You can tell just by looking at that Xie Xiang. This time, Zhou wants to ally with Chen to attack Qi, and they must have come together with the envoy from Chen. However, once they are in Chang’an, it’s no longer up to them. You don’t have to be so courteous to them.”
Shen Qiao laughed, “Xie Xiang is a bit arrogant, but Zhan Ziqian is quite amiable.”
The fact that Xie Xiang still remembered to maintain a battle circle as small as possible during their fight the other day clearly indicated that he was just arrogant, but not vicious in nature. Under such a contrast, Shen Qiao didn’t find the aloofness Xie Xiang had displayed in front of him hard to bear.
While they were still chatting, the dinner had already started.
 Author’s Note:
People all over the country have sent over their congratulations that Ah-qiao didn’t spit blood this chapter.
Yan Wushi: I see— (meaningfully) Shen Qiao: I have a bad feeling…
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