Thousand Autumns Chapter 31-40

Chapter 31

First published on Ainushi.

Synopsis: May I ask Sect Leader Shen to please be a witness for us?

At this time, all guests had more or less arrived. The hall was filled with talented and distinguished people including members of the royal family, offsprings of notable clans, and even martial artists from a number of sects. This scene was hard to come by, and its happening was all because of the different identities of the two Su Brothers.
During this time, the culture was still quite open. Everyone had their own dinner table, and male and female guests were allowed to stay in the same room with only a small screen placed in the middle of the hall as a symbolic separator. The female guests were taken care of by Su Wei’s wife, while Su Wei’s mother, Lady Qin, sat at the head table. to her on each side were the two Su Brothers, Su Wei and Su Qiao. Servant girls streamed in and out with exquisite food and fine liquors, and for a moment, cheerful chatter could be heard everywhere. Everyone was having a good time.
Along with the music coming out from the lutes and the pipes of the musicians, dancer girls started swinging around trippingly. Shen Qiao couldn’t see very clearly, but he could still make out the lithe, graceful figures of those girls and their flapping ribbons — They were almost like a group of fairies descending to the earth, walking on paths covered with fresh flowers. The dance was divine, but there was a touch of unconscious glamour in it, completely distinctive from
 the now-popular Hu style and Rong style. Nor did it in anyway resemble the kind of dance in Southern Chen that was present in poetry verses such as, “Lowering her head and hiding her face behind her sleeves, the jade hairpin drifted amidst the autumn wind.” The guests were all amused by the fresh style and applauded one after another. After a couple rounds of wine, some of the guests who were fond of dances even started nodding to the rhythm.
Realizing that Shen Qiao was quite into the dance, Puliuru Jian explained, “This dance music is from Kucha. It’s called ‘Little Heaven’. The Kucha people are devout Buddhists. After the country was destroyed, their music spread to the Central Plains, so this song also has a Buddhist taste to it.”
Enlightened by this new information, Shen Qiao laughed, “No wonder these dancers all have their shoulders and bellies exposed and wear so many accessories. So it’s the Kucha Style!”
Puliuru Jian laughed back, “That’s right.”

Just as everyone was enjoying their good time, a servant hurried in from outside. He ran up to Su Wei and whispered something in Su Wei’s ears. Su Wei’s face stiffened, and he gave a signal.
With a long, sharp note, the dance suddenly stopped and the music disappeared. The guests, as if just awoken from a boundless paradise, all turned to the host puzzledly.
Su Wei got up and cupped his hands at them. “The news of my mother’s birthday has reached the Empress, and Her Highness has specially sent over a representative with congratulatory gifts. Please wait for a little bit, everyone. I’ll come back to entertain you all after I greet the messenger.”
Just as the Empress of Zhou’s last name Ashina suggested, she
 was from Tujue, a wife that the Emperor of Zhou had taken just for the sake of befriending the country. She never had contacts with the Su Family, and the Emperor of Zhou had already sent gifts for Mrs. Su’s birthday, so generally speaking, the event had nothing to do with her, yet out of everyone’s surprise, she decided to send over gifts as well.
This turn of events successfully confused everyone present. They all looked at each other in bufflement.
The messenger was from the Empress, so the host was obliged to go out and greet him. The music had stopped, and everyone was sitting upright in their seats with their necks stretched towards the entrance.
Su Wei tidied the hem of his robes. Just as he was about to head out, a crisp laugh came from outside: “There’s no need to trouble the Duke of Meiyang District. I’ll come in myself!”

It was a rather unfamiliar voice that most people in the hall didn’t recognize. All they thought was how rude the person was. Only Shen Qiao slightly frowned. A bad feeling started to grow inside him.
The person who came in was a lofty, bearded young man. Despite the Central Plains style clothing he was wearing, there seemed to be something swift and fierce about him.
His eyes were sharp and bright with an extreme aggressiveness in them. He didn’t look at Su Wei after he came in. Instead, he surveyed the room.
Except for the martial artists, everyone who was seen by him turned their eyes to the side. None of them said anything, but they all felt somewhat uncomfortable.
Puliuru Jian let out a surprised gasp and whispered, “Look at the spirit in his eyes. He’s probably a Xiantian expert already.
 How come I’ve never seen him in Chang’an before?”

Su Wei asked, “All members in the Su Family couldn’t be grateful enough for Her Majesty’s favor to us. May I please have your name?”
The man replied with a smile, “I’m Duan Wenyang. Duke of Meiyang District, there’s no need to be so courteous. Your mother is well-known for her compassion, and the Empress has long been hearing about it. It’s just that she hasn’t yet had the chance to meet her. Her Highness heard that today is your mother’s birthday, so she specifically asked me  to present this small token of congratulations.”
Su Wei cupped his hand at him. “We appreciate the Empress’s consideration. Anyone who comes is our guest.  Messenger Duan, if you have time, why don’t you come in and have a seat?”
Since the man was representing Empress Ashina, Lady Qin and Su Qiao, who were standing behind Su Wei, also bowed toward Duan Wenyang.
However, Duan Wenyang suddenly smiled, “I can wait a bit more before sitting down. Actually, there’s something else I would like to ask Lady Qin about.”
Su Wei knew that his mother, unlike Duan Wenyang, was born in a prestigious family and had never been to Tujue. They couldn’t have been related in the least, so what could it be that Duan Wenyang wanted to ask her about? Slightly confused, Su Wei commented, “Messenger Duan, you may go ahead.”
Duan Wenyang asked, “Lady Qin, someone has asked me to send you a greeting on his behalf. He would like to know if you still remember an old friend who had been waiting for you in Tujue’s royal palace thirty years ago?”
 Su Wei and Su Qiao were taken aback. They couldn’t help but turn to their mother.
Lady Qin’s expression stayed just as calm as ever as she kindly replied, “Young man, I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
Duan Wenyang’s laugh sounded bright and clear: “I know Lady Qin won’t admit it so easily, but do you really want me to tell everything in front of the public?”
There was no way that Su Wei hadn’t realized by now that the man was specifically targeting his mother. His tone dropped immediately: “Mister, aren’t you being a little too rude? Don’t tell me that the Empress has sent you over not to deliver the present but to nitpick us? There are no past grudges between the Empress and the Su Family, nor do we have any contacts. Why would the Empress act so impolitely on my mother’s birthday party? I’ll report to the Emperor myself about what happened today. Now, servants! Show our  guest  the  way out.”

The servants hurried over upon Su Wei’s order and were about to drag Duan Wenyang away. However, the man only slightly flipped his sleeve and they all fell to the ground.
Guests got up one after another as they all looked at Duan Wenyang in shock. Some of them looked rather unhappy and were ready to scold him on the host’s behalf.
Su Qiao shouted angrily,“How dare you pick a fight here?! Do you think the Su Family will let you walk all over us like this?”
He was about to launch an attack.

However, Duan Wenyang suddenly took a step back and said
 loudly, “Wait a second! I have something to say. You can do whatever you want if you just let me finish first. This is something of great importance. All of you are  honorable people of virtue and prestige. I would like to hear your judgement as well whether it was me being deliberately provocative or Lady Qin having a guilty conscience!”
Before anyone could react to what he had just said, he continued:
“Lady Qin, could you please return my master’s keepsake?”
Su Qiao was greatly enraged: “You Tujue bastard, making slanderous accusations at my mother! My mother was born of a noble family in the central Shanxi Plain. How could she possibly be related to Tujue? If you can’t explain it clearly today and restore my mother’s reputation, you won’t be able to get away easily even if you wanted to!”

He drew the sword out of its sheath. A killing intent was hiding underneath its water-like glimmers.
Li Qingyu walked out from the crowd and said, slowly and imperturbed, “One can eat the wrong food, but one should never speak the wrong words. Lady Qin is my senior brother’s mother, and I respect her just like I respect my own mother. If you insist on deliberately defaming her, the Chunyang Daoist Temple will not let it go.”
What he implied was that even if Su Wei didn’t present a memorial to the Emperor about what happened today and ask for an explanation through political means, the Chunyang Daoist Temple would also take it on. In that case, from now on, Duan Wenyang and his sect would have enmity with the Chunyang Temple.
After Li Qingyu went up Mount Xuandu by himself and defeated Lian Sheng, He Siyong and several others, he lost to Yu Ai by only half a move. Thus, the Chunyang Daoist Temple had potentially surpassed Mount Xuandu already in terms of influence. Not to
 mention that their Sect Leader, Yi Bichen, was also ranked among the Top Ten. Therefore, what Li Qingyu just said actually carried a lot of weight.
However, Duan Wenyang’s expression didn’t change at all. He was still smiling as he said, “The old saying says that with justice on one’s side, a person can travel to any place he wants, while without it, one can hardly move an inch. I heard that people in the Central Plains are reasonable, and that’s why I came here to ask for justice. Don’t tell me that you are just going to abuse your power and bully me anyway despite the right and wrongs! Lady Qin’s maiden name is Ning, and her courtesy name is Shuanghan. Am I right on that?”
The Su Brother’s hearts sank together with his words. They were both surprised and bewildered. He might have heard their mother’s maiden name somewhere, but her courtesy name was known to only a few people, much less Empress Ashina. Where did this strange Tujue man hear it from?
Duan Wenyang started explaining slowly, “Thirty years ago, Qin Shuanghan traveled far to the Tujue regions and became a disciple under my master. Taking advantage of his favor and trust, one night, she stole my master’s keepsake and returned to the Central Plains. Now, my master has asked me to find this person and retrieve the keepsake. I have been searching long and hard for her ever since I arrived in the Central Plains. To my surprise, during my accidental encounter with Lady Qin in Chang’an, it suddenly occurred to me that the Qin Shuanghan whom I couldn’t find anywhere was precisely the Duke of Meiyang District’s mother, Lady Qin!”
He then laughed, “These years, Lady Qin hides well indeed. Who could have thought that a person like you who rarely leaves her courtyard nowadays was once that renowned
 Alishavelei beyond the Wall!”

Su Qiao shouted, “Nonsense! My mother has never been to Tujue or anywhere outside the Wall. If you need to look for someone, go do it yourself. Don’t throw random dirt at the Su Family! You think you can humiliate us so easily?”
Duan Wenyang raised his eyebrows and asked aloud, “Lady Qin, are you just going to outrightly deny what you’ve done? If I remember correctly, the ring on your right hand is our holy relic and also the keepsake which represents the identity of my master. The engraving on it is a golden lotus characteristic to our clan. Are you saying that this is but another coincidence?”
This sudden turn of events startled everyone. All of them turned to look at Lady Qin’s hand.
There was indeed a ring on her finger, jeweled with a crystal. There seemed to be some golden patterns underneath the gem, brilliant and lustrous under the light, making it quite a scene.
Su Wei realized that this accident wouldn’t end up well today and blamed himself inside for not stopping Duan Wenyang the moment he came in.
Princess Qingdu asked with a deep voice, “No matter what your need is, today is Lady Qin’s birthday. We’re all here to cheer and celebrate her longevity, yet you have to come disturb us at such a time. You said you were ordered by the Empress. Then why don’t you come with me to the palace right now? Let’s ask her directly. I really want to know why the Empress would send you to ruin another person’s birthday party!”
Duan Wenyang was just as calm. “The Empress has sent me to deliver the present. I’ve already delivered it, and therefore I have already finished her order. The current business is
 related to my master. The Emperor is wise and just. Even if His Majesty hears about the ins and outs of the story, I’m sure he wouldn’t stop me from asking Lady Qin  for  what should have belonged to us!”
He added proudly, “Not to mention, with the fame of my master, he doesn’t need to purposely make life difficult for Lady Qin!”
Li Qingyu asked, “Who is your master?”

Duan Wenyang pulled a smile, “It’s Hulugu!”

The name created an even greater uproar among the guests.

What kind of person was Hulugu? Twenty years ago, he fought against Qi Fengge, the best martial artist at the time. This fight was known throughout the pugilistic world, and it was still discussed enthusiastically by people even till today. Hulugu lost and was forced to swear not to enter the Central Plains again in the next twenty years. It turned out that he kept his words. For twenty years, he had never set foot again on the Central Plains.
When a person’s martial arts reached the level of Qi Fengge and Hulugu’s, they wouldn’t easily lose their life even if they were defeated. Even though Qi Fengge was the best martial artist at that time, Hulugu wasn’t far from him. It was impossible for Qi Fengge to kill him, so he could only make him take an oath.
According to Yan Wushi’s way of doing things, if he had the chance to make the other person take an oath, he might have asked Hulugu to kill himself, thus eliminating the root for future troubles. But that obviously wasn’t Qi Fengge’s style. He sensed Tujue’s ambition towards the Central Plains, but he also respected Hulugu as a grandmaster of the generation and didn’t want to humiliate his opponent. Therefore, he only set a twenty-year covenant.
 Twenty years later, Qi Fengge was no longer in this world, but Hulugu didn’t come back to the Central Plains either. He only sent two of his disciples. One of them was Kunye who defeated Shen Qiao on Half-Step Peak, while the other suddenly dropped by the Residence of Su and said that the Su Brothers’ mother was actually a disciple of Hulugu.
The first event was no longer considered news. Mount Xuandu had already changed hands after Shen Qiao’s fall. As time went by, people stopped paying attention to the whereabouts of the former sect leader. Only at times when the battle was brought up would people sigh over the fact that Qi Fengge had no qualified successor to carry on his legacy.
However, the second event was now happening right in front of them, an event which could be counted as earth-shattering.
Regardless of its credibility, Lady Qin’s reputation was already hurt by the story. Su Qiao flew into a rage. He didn’t waste time on any more nonsense and was going to shut Duan Wenyang’s mouth with his sword.
At this time, Lady Qin, who was shielded by the Su Brothers with their bodies, suddenly asked, “If Hulugu wants his keepsake back, why doesn’t he come himself but send you?”
It sounded like she actually acknowledged the truthfulness of what Duan Wenyang had just said.
Su Qiao was shocked. He turned back and looked at his mother in denial: “Mom, you…”
Lady Qin shot a glance at him and replied coldly, “You? Do you know what this keepsake is for? The golden  lotus  is  the symbol of Tujue, and it’s also the holy relic in Zoroastrianism. With this ring, Hulugu could order all experts in Persia, Tuyuhun, Yutian, and Tangut to gather together in Tujue and
 help the Tujue Khan invade the Central Plains. Back then, Northern Zhou hadn’t even established itself, and the Eastern and Western Wei were in endless war against each other. Both countries were greatly weakened. They could no longer hold against Tujue if the latter were to launch  a massive invasion to the south. I took away his keepsake, so Hulugu was not able to pose himself as the orthodox of Zoroastrianism anymore. For Tujue, without the power to command all experts beyond the Great Wall, it was like losing one of its arms. Was there anything wrong with what I did?”
The Su brothers were completely dumbfounded. They didn’t know that their mother had such a history.
After Lady Qin finished, she turned back to Duan Wenyang and said, “This ring indeed belonged to Hulugu, and I was the one who brought it back to the Central Plains. However, it has been so many years. Hulugu has never once sent anyone to take it back. Why did he suddenly decide to send you after thirty years?”
Duan Wenyang replied calmly, “This was my master’s last wish before he passed away. As his disciple, I’m obliged to finish it for him.”
Lady Qin’s body shook slightly, but it didn’t seem like she was surprised in any way. After a long period of silence, she only said five words: “So that’s why. That’s why!”
Duan Wenyang said, “Since Lady Qin has already admitted it, things will be easy then. Could you please hand back the ring so my master’s last wish can be fulfilled?”
Afterwards, as if he suddenly remembered something, he looked around and fixed his eyes on Shen Qiao as though he had just noticed him. “What a coincidence! Sect Leader Shen also happens to be here! In this case, may I ask you to please be a
 witness for us?”
Translator’s Notes:
I’m proud to announce that we got a new translator on board for this project starting next chapter! Welcome Tin! Hooray~ And with my schoolwork finally ended, I hope we’ll be able to deliver a few more chapters over the vacation. The next few chapters will be mainly about MC and the events happening at the residence. We’ll try to finish this part fast to bring ML out again!

Chapter 32

First published on Ainushi.

Synopsis: There are rumors that you have a deep relationship with Sect Master Yan, that you two are together all the time…
Under everyone’s gaze of astonishment, Shen Qiao appeared to be quite calm. “Shen is no longer the sect leader. I’m afraid that I’m going to disappoint Brother Duan.”
When Kunye requested to fight with Shen Qiao, Duan Wenyang was the one who delivered the letter. Therefore, Shen Qiao’s identity was not a secret to him.
He was Kunye’s elder martial brother, but because of his Han blood lineage, his status in Tujue was actually lower than Kunye’s, which was the main reason why Kunye was the one who fought as the representative of Hulugu, not him.
Duan Wenyang laughed, “It’s true that the greatest hermit retreats in the noisiest fair. With your reputation and prestige, if you have told them who you were, I’m afraid that even those from the Chunyang Daoist Temple would have to wait after you. You don’t need to attend the party under Sect Master Yan’s name. There are rumors that you have a deep relationship with Sect Master Yan, that you two stay together all the time. Are you telling me that it is true?”
No one expected that they would witness two great dramas in a row when they thought they were only attending a birthday party.
 For a moment, the hall overflowed with buzzing whispers. One after another, the guests all fixed their eyes on Shen Qiao. Even Puliuru Jian who was sitting next to him was greatly astounded and turned to Shen Qiao as well.
After Shen Qiao fell off the cliff, neither he nor his dead body were found. People all thought he probably felt guilty about bringing humiliation to Mount Xuandu and was too ashamed to come out again, that he might have concealed his identity and simply retreated deep into the mountains. However, to everyone’s surprise, he actually showed up on a birthday party held by aristocrats of Northern Zhou.
Li Qingyu studied him carefully. Deep inside, he was greatly disappointed.
Before he went to Mount Xuandu, he once felt sorry for not being able to fight with Shen Qiao. Looking at the other person’s sickly and emaciated body right now, he felt an even greater sense of sorrow. But this time, he was not sorry for the loss of a rival, but for the fact that this rival was no longer worthy to be his rival.
Shen Qiao remained silent. He didn’t answer any more questions from Duan Wenyang.
With a sigh, Lady Qin took off the ring and handed it to her son. “This ring originally belonged to Hulugu. Time has passed. Even though things have remained the same, people have changed, as well as the situation. I ought to return it to its rightful owner now. Here, take it.”
She was born into a noble family, but not only did she travel afar to study in Tujue, she even had such a deep connection with Tujue’s grandmaster Hulugu. Ever since their childhood, Su Wei and Su Qiao always thought their mother was just a usual well-bred lady. Her relationship with their father was also extremely affectionate and harmonious. Now, judging by the complicated feelings in their
 mother’s words, it seemed like her relationship with Hulugu was even beyond the normal master-apprentice kind.
Hulugu seemed even more of an eccentric then. After losing such an item, he’d delayed for so long and had not come to demand it be returned until this day, thirty years later, when Duan Wenyang appeared and finally exposed the truth to the world.
Su Qiao itched to know the truth, yet was unable to ask in the current setting, so he could only relinquish the ring to a Su Family servant and have them hand it to Duan Wenyang.
Duan Wenyang took over the ring and made a Tujue salute. “I can’t thank Lady Qin enough for how highly principled you are. With this keepsake, I can finally report to my master’s spirit.”
Lady Qin asked, “How did Hulugu pass away?”

Duan Wenyang sighed, “My master went into a closed- door meditation in search of a breakthrough in order to achieve the State of Harmony between Heaven and Man. He set a period of three years and asked us not to disturb him during this time. Who would have thought that when we went in to check on him after the time was up, Master had already died in a seated posture!”
Those present at the scene who were of an older age still remembered how the Hulugu of years past had ambitiously swept away the experts of the Central Plains and was finally stopped by Qi Fengge. Regretfully, the fate of even the prodigy of their generation was to become but a pile of dust to be scattered. No matter how fierce and heroic the future internal disputes and fights were in both the political and the pugilistic world, it no longer had anything to do with Hulugu or Qi Fengge.
All capable and genius individuals eventually went with the wind,
 leaving only lament and sighs behind.

Lady Qin remained silent. No one knew what she thought of it.

Su Wei and Su Qiao, hating that Duan Wenyang had disrupted their mother’s birthday party, didn’t bother to remain polite. “You already have the ring, please quickly leave our house!”
“Misters, don’t be in such a rush to throw me out. There’s another purpose of my visit this time: I would like to ask you for a person.”
Su Qiao thought that he was trying to make the situation unfavorable for his mother, so he replied coldly, “We don’t have the person you want.”
Duan Wenyang smiled and said, “Second young master of the Su Family, how can you not even ask for details before refusing? Don’t worry, I won’t cause trouble for Lady Qin. Since the ring was returned and my master’s wish has been fulfilled, I have no reason to disturb her further. The person I am speaking of is someone who Taspar Khan himself commanded me to find.”
Su Wei retorted, “Then you should’ve sought out His Majesty about it. The Residence of Su is but a small temple, and you are far too impressive to be found here! Guards! See him out!”
“Wait a second! Duke of Meiyang District, do you have a sister who married Yuan Xiong? There are long-term grudges between him and the Tujue. Now, since the two countries have formed an alliance, our Khan has ordered me to bring him and his family back to Tujue for punishment. I would like to ask the Duke of Meiyang District to turn them in please!”
Su Wei’s face changed slightly.
 Whom the other party had spoken of was actually his cousin and her family. Since his cousin’s husband, Yuan Xiong, had gravely offended the Tujue, they were fearful that the Tujue people would take advantage of the alliance and come to ask for them, and therefore they had fled to his house. Su Wei had secretly taken them in, but unexpectedly, Duan Wenyang had discovered this and spared no pretense in confronting him.
“I don’t know where they went. If you are looking for someone, then find them yourself! This has nothing to do with the Su Family!
Duan Wenyang said, “I’d like to ask the Duke of Meiyang District not to put me in a difficult situation. I took into consideration the relationship between my deceased master and Lady Qin, so I only dropped by to ask for them rather than asking the Emperor directly. If I waited for the Emperor of Zhou to give orders, by that time, I’m afraid that your family would end up very embarrassed.”
Su Qiao was greatly enraged, “You specifically chose my mother’s birthday to come by and show off your  prowess! First, you asked for the ring and we gave it to you. Now you’re pushing the limit even further? Do  you  really  think that we are afraid of you?! I said they weren’t here, and that’s the truth. Get lost!”
Duan Wenyang’s smile disappeared too. He narrowed and fixed his eyes at Su Qiao, then said slowly, “I heard that second young master of the Su Family was a disciple of  the  Chunyang Daoist Temple, so I assume your martial arts must be superb. Since we happened to meet here today, I would like to ask you for some advice on my skills!”
Su Qiao sneered, “Ah-huh! So you’ve finally revealed your true intention. You’re obviously here to crash the party, but you insisted on pretending to be innocent and harmless. You have come here and asked for it yourself today, so don’t go
 crying and telling on us in front your Khan if you end up dead or disabled!”
As soon as he was finished, he was already pouncing on Duan Wenyang.
He didn’t just throw himself over randomly. Instead, it was paired with his sword art. His movements were effortless, so assured and incredibly beautiful that some onlookers immediately shouted out praise.
Faced with Su Qiao’s martial arts that was intricate like a flower in heaven, Duan Wenyang did not panic or rush, nor did he retreat. He only waited for the light of his opponent’s sword to reach directly in front of him, then stretched out his empty hand towards the center of the sword light.
As his bare hands encountered the sword, his hands not only remained unharmed, but also completely halted the sword.
The audience watched fixedly, only to see Duan Wenyang’s right hand firmly braced against the sword’s blade. Pinching the blade of the sword, he slightly twisted his wrist, and though he appeared to not have used any strength, the sword trembled to the point of letting out a sound.
Su Qiao’s sword almost flew out of his hand.

An expression of disbelief appeared on his face.

His martial arts could not compare with his younger martial brother Li Qingyu’s, but he could still be counted within the top ranks in the pugilistic world. Never had he encountered a fight in which he was almost utterly defeated right off the bat.
Just because his opponent was Hulugu’s disciple, they were already on different levels?
 Su Qiao refused to accept such a fact. He quickly changed tactics and did not hesitate any longer. Instead, he pulled his hand back and retreated some steps before he made a sharp turn with the help of the pillar. The sword light, shrouded in his inner qi, rushed once again towards Duan Wenyang’s face, while his other hand which was also charged with energy, stretched toward his opponent.
“This room is too small to enjoy the fight!” Duan Wenyang didn’t take it head on. Instead, he laughed brightly and leapt outside.
Su Qiao chased his heels, unwilling to let him go. The two people fought from the inside to the outside of the house, sword light radiating in all directions in a split second, washing the surroundings with its dense, chilling aura. The guests naturally followed them outside.
One person’s sword was forceful like a torrential river, obscuring the sky and earth as it surged forth, while the other person was entirely unarmed, wandering within the sword’s light and appearing to constantly be at risk. His situation seemed precarious, but at the same time, he skirted past the danger again and again and clung onto his life. It was a breathtaking scene for the onlookers, while other people like Princess Qingdu who were unversed in martial arts and also disinclined to see blood being shed chose to stay inside to accompany Lady Qin.
The amateurs were only there for the drama while the professionals were studying the battle. Those with higher levels of martial arts found that although each step Duan Wenyang took seemed to be filled with danger, he was actually the one who held the upper hand.
Puliuru Jian gasped in surprise and whispered to Shen Qiao, “It seems to me that second young master Su is the one that’s being teased.”
Shen Qiao nodded. “I feel the same way.”
 Puliuru Jian was surprised by Shen Qiao’s response, “Can you see now?”
Shen Qiao replied with a smile, “I can’t see, but I can hear.”

Puliuru Jian asked, “How?”

“The movement of his sword, his inner qi, his steps, and even his breaths all have their own sound. People who are blind tend to have sharper ears. Duan Wenyang is  only testing the martial arts of Chunyang Temple, so he’s not in a hurry to win. Unfortunately, Su Qiao didn’t realize it and ended up falling into his trap.”
Shen Qiao and Puliuru Jian were definitely not the only people present who had realized it. However, as the winner was yet to be decided, if anyone were to interfere right now, on one hand it would be unfair, and on the other hand they would seem to be thinking less of Su Qiao. Therefore, even his martial brother Li Qingyu had no choice but to wait and see the result of their fight.
Hearing him say this, Puliuru Jian casually asked, “They are both Hulugu’s disciples. How is Kunye compared to Duan Wenyang?”
Only after he said this out loud did he realize it might be inappropriate to ask, and hastily added, “I didn’t mean to intentionally poke at Brother Shen’s sore spot!”
Shen Qiao laughed, “Don’t worry. Even though Kunye is strong, his martial arts are of a fiercer and more brutal style, and he couldn’t use them as freely as Duan Wenyang. In my opinion, I’m afraid that Duan Wenyang has grasped a better understanding of the essence of their master’s martial arts and is slightly more skilled than Kunye.”
After hearing Shen Qiao’s words, Puliuru Jian turned serious. “If
 that’s true, I’m afraid the reason of his visit today is not only to take back the keepsake or to take Mister Su’s cousin, but to make a name for himself as well.”
Shen Qiao nodded. “That’s exactly what I thought.”

Because of Su Qiao, more than half the guests who attended the birthday party today were somehow related to the pugilistic world, including quite a lot of experts from the younger generation such as Ling Qingyu who might even have the ability to strive for the Top Ten. If Duan Wenyang could defeat them, it meant he had achieved a higher level in martial arts than all these people, and it would cause a stir not any smaller than the battle between Kunye and Shen Qiao that day.
The Tujue people advanced gradually and carefully. They allied with the Northern Zhou, but at the same time, they also maintained an ambiguous relationship with the Northern Qi. On one hand, they were helping the Northern Zhou launch an attack on Northern Qi, while on the other, they also accommodated Qi’s feudal aristocrats and officials seeking refuge. One could almost say that they had two minds and were vacillating. However, because of their strong national power, neither Northern Zhou nor Northern Qi dared to offend them. They had never concealed their ambitious desires.
Now, the new generation of Tujue experts arrived at the Central Plains one after another as if they wanted to continue Hulugu’s grandiose hegemony that he couldn’t finish in his lifetime. First, Kunye requested to fight Shen Qiao and made a name for himself with that one battle, grinding Mount Xuandu beneath his heel. Now Duan Wenyang had come to the Residence of Su to challenge all the martial artists. Had Kunye not suffered losses in the hands of Yan Wushi, the Tujue people might even have been more swollen with arrogance.
While they were talking, Duan Wenyang suddenly let out a loud laugh, and the dazzling sword light disappeared in a split second.
 With a muffled groan, Su Qiao had already fallen down from the roof before many people could even make out what kind of move Duan Wenyang had used.
“Brother!” Su Wei immediately stepped up and propped him up.
“Are you hurt?”

Su Qiao shook his head. His face crinkled in pain, but he refused to make any sound.
Duan Wenyang also leaped down from the roof in quite a casual manner. None of the people present had a good opinion of him, but they all had to acknowledge his strength.
Su Wei shouted angrily, “Duan Wenyang! That was too much! Do you really think that no one in the Su Family could stop you?!”
Duan Wenyang sneered, “Duke, you’re wrong. Your little brother was the one who attacked first, how could you blame me for it? If you agree to turn in Yuan Xiong and his family, I promise that I’ll leave immediately and not disturb you anymore.”
“How aggressive! We’ve made so many concessions, yet you’re treating us like nothing but pushovers! Well, since this is the case, let me see how many skills Hulugu has taught you!” Lady Qin walked out from inside. She was already fifty in age, but probably because she practiced inner art, she didn’t seem old. In fact, there was something mature and elegant in her that made her look more like a beautiful middle-aged woman.
Duan Wenyang lamented, “Speaking of it, I should have addressed you as my senior martial sister. Unfortunately, Master has already driven you out after you escaped Tujue with his ring. I heard that in those days, Master cared a great deal about you that he even intended to pass his mantle to
 you. Lady Qin first enticed Master with your beauty, then stole his ring and left. Thinking  back on it today, don’t you feel guilty for what you’ve done?”
“Shut up!” Hearing him insult their mother, the Su brothers were naturally exasperated.
Yet Lady Qin only replied with a sarcastic smile, “Since when did a junior like you have a say in the history between me and Hulugu?! Does Tujue lack so much talent that Hulugu had to take in disciples like you who can only fight with their mouths?”
She said to Su Wei, “Bring me your brother’s sword!”

Before Su Wei moved, someone stated, “Lady Qin, you don’t have to lower your status and bother yourself with arguing with some Tujue barbarians. There’s no need to trouble you. Since he fought with a disciple from the Chunyang Daoist Temple, then we should be the ones to finish it.”
The person who spoke was none other than Li Qingyu. His expression was indifferent, quite expressionless in fact, and his tone was flat without even a hint of killing intent.
But such a tone actually made Duan Wenyang’s face turn serious. He studied Li Qingyu carefully and said, “You must be Mister Li, the other one of the Two Jades of Qingcheng. From what I saw, your senior brother isn’t even worth a finger of yours. What a grievance it is that you have to share the title of Two Jades together with him!”
Li Qingyu ignored his provocations. He just unsheathed his sword, its tip pointing to the floor. His wrist appeared to be half-hanging and half-raised. There was something languid and nonchalant about his entire posture, and it didn’t seem like he was much more serious than he was a moment ago.
 Duan Wenyang’s expression gradually worsened. Without anyone noticing, there was already a horsewhip in his hand. The whip was black and thin. It was hard to tell what it was made of, just that it seemed completely dull and opaque but at the same time perfectly ordinary.
Puliuru Jian couldn’t figure out the knack in it. He lowered his voice and asked Shen Qiao, “Brother Shen, can you make out what is special about his whip?”
Shen Qiao shook his head. “I can’t see very clearly. What kind of whip is it?”
Puliuru Jian described it to him.

Shen Qiao thought for a moment and muttered, “If my guess is correct, the whip is made by  soaking  the skins  of Southern Sea alligators into the secret potions of the Miao tribes. It’s extremely tenacious, most sharp weapons out there can’t cut it.”
Puliuru Jian gasped, “So it is a treasure indeed. Now it looks like Mister Li has met his match!”
Not only him, everyone was looking forward to it. A marvelous fight was about to start, how could they not feel excited?
Right after Puliuru Jian finished, Li Qingyu moved. His attack was very different from Su Qiao’s.
Su Qiao was very fast, fast and fierce. He was trying to win with his speed, shrouding his enemy with his sword energy, leaving the other person with no place to escape. It could even affect his opponent’s mentality, a style that was very effective against people who were weaker than him. However, for an expert like Duan Wenyang whose inner qi was as solid as a bastion of iron, he was strong enough to ignore Su Qiao’s sword energy and go straight for his enemy.
 In comparison, Li Qingyu’s movement was much slower, almost as if he was taking it calmly. In other people’s eyes, all he did was send his sword flatly forward and then twirl it a little bit. The tip of his sword wasn’t even pointing at Duan Wenyang but at the side, toward the ground. The action was carried out in such a laid-back manner that it was almost like a bud slowly blooming under the sun.
However, in Duan Wenyang’s eyes, together with that twirl, inner qi was rushing from the other person’s body to the tip of the sword, then from the sword to the ground, blowing up the grey bricks as it moved. Cracks suddenly appeared all over the floor, and brick fragments along with the air stream they were wrapped in were shooting straight at him!
At the same time, before Duan Wenyang made his next move, Li Qingyu had already leaped up. He became one with his sword and turned into a white beam. As if the inner qi that served as a barrier around Duan Wenyang was simply nonexistent, the beam, along with the purple and blue sparks and lightning created by the sudden thunderstorm, pierced right through!
From slow to fast, from gradual to rapid, all these changes happened within a split second. Anyone who wasn’t paying full attention might not even understand what was happening.
Duan Wenyang wielded his whip forward and it directly hit the person as well as his sword!
The two streams of inner Qi clashed together, like two kings confronting each other face to face. For a moment, the wind surged vigorously, as if a storm had arrived, ready to turn over the sea. There were only two possibilities: either Duan Wenyang’s whip was shredding Li Qingyu’s sword to pieces, or Li Qingyu’s sword energy was destroying Duan Wenyang’s whip.

However, beyond everyone’s expectations, Duan Wenyang’s whip missed. The others all saw that Li Qingyu had already fallen into the
 shadow weaved by the whip, but somehow the shadow failed to envelop him completely. Instead, his figure blurred, and he suddenly appeared on the left, right, and behind Duan Wenyang. The “Li Qingyu” in all three directions were all repeating the same action — sending the tip of sword forward.

Just then, Shen Qiao and the others heard someone quietly exclaim, “Sword Intent! Li Qingyu has learned the Sword Intent!”

Chapter 33

First published on Ainushi.

Synopsis: Hiding under Sect Master Yan’s shelter… A stray dog lives a better life than you.

There were four stages in sword arts: Sword Energy, Sword Intent, Sword Heart, and Sword Spirit.

The amateurs saw a man using inner qi to wield his sword and its sword energy running boundless, and they thought the man must have profound skills, when in fact it was only the first stage to the unfathomable realm of sword arts.
Of course, not everyone could achieve the first stage of Sword Energy so easily. Some people spent their entire lives searching for it and yet they still couldn’t find the way in. Most people still depended on countering their opponents through sword moves and techniques in order to win. Shen Qiao too did not find his way easily. ly, he had been pushed by Yan Wushi to his limit and lingered between the edge of life and death, and only after he found a way out the impasse was he finally able to comprehend the Sword Intent.
Since Li Qingyu had already reached the stage of Sword Intent at such a young age, one could see just how incredible his aptitude towards martial arts was.
However, it might have something to do with the fact that he had just comprehended the Sword Intent and was still inexperienced, or perhaps because he hadn’t reached that stage yet at that time, that he would lose to Yu Ai by a hair’s breadth on Mount Xuandu.
 All in all, the two words, “Sword Intent”, were enough to make everyone view Li Qingyu a little differently.
On top of Yi Bichen who was already one of the Top Ten, there now was Li Qingyu. The rise of the Chunyang Daoist Temple was simply unstoppable.
Duan Wenyang didn’t just resign to his defeat. Even though he couldn’t figure out which “shadow image” was the real Li Qingyu for a period of time, but instead of trying to identify the images, he chose to thrash his whip at the floor and use the counterforce to leap high into the air. He jumped at the branch next to him, his whip wrapping itself around the branch as he himself immediately tapped on the tree with his foot. He then turned around and dived down right at Li Qingyu. The afterimages left by his whip spread out layer upon layer, covering all the shadow images below!
Before his body arrived, his inner qi was already coming down together with the images of his whip, shrouding the entire space underneath it. No matter which “shadow image” was the real Li Qingyu, one thing was certain: he must first break through the “wall” which Duan Wenyang had constructed around him in order to resolve the passive situation he was in.

However, just like the impression Duan Wenyang left on others, his inner qi was confident and unrestrained, yet at the same time, it was unreasonable and tyrannical. It was everywhere, but at the same time, like climbing a precipice covered with ice, or finding an antelope hiding among the trees, there was no place to start. It went in with every opening, yet there was no trace to be found. The inner qi was simply unstoppable.
Rolled up by the inner qi, the leaves in the courtyard all parted their branches and started to circle around the two of them rapidly, wrapping them inside and leaving the others blind to the battle progress within.
 No one knew what feelings those who were battling right now had, but the onlookers were all extremely nervous.
Those from the Chunyang Daoist Temple knew that Li Qingyu was a tough swordsman, but they still feared the possibility of unexpected results, especially Su Qiao. He had just fought with Duan Wenyang in person a moment ago, and he knew better than anyone else how strong that man was. It was still unclear whether his martial brother could win the battle or not.
If Duan Wenyang defeated Li Qingyu, probably no one else present would be his match. By that time, whether they could take away Su Wei’s cousin and her husband was just a small matter. If news got out, it would definitely boost the Tujue people’s morale while reducing the Central Plains’, which was probably the reason why they had chosen today to pick a fight.
Just when Su Qiao was coming up with all these conjectures, the fallen leaves around them suddenly stopped and fell back to the ground.
The two of them were standing face to face. Li Qingyu was still standing where he was when he started, but the sword he held originally dropped not far from him, while Duan Wenyang’s whip was still in his hand.
Both of them looked absolutely normal without any sign of injuries. Li Qingyu’s face was expressionless, and Duan Wenyang looked the same as before.
Everyone felt a little confused.

Duan Wenyang broke into a laugh and spoke first, “Just as I expected, Mister Li’s reputation is well-deserved. Being able to reach the stage of ‘Sword Intent’ at such a young age, your future prospects must be limitless. I’m willing to admit my defeat!”
 Li Qingyu said slowly, “I’m not your match. There’s  nothing for me to say.”
Everyone was shocked by the conversation, their eyes wandering back and forth between Duan Wenyang and Li Qingyu.
One of them said “willing admit my defeat”, while the other person said “not your match”. So who was the winner after all? And who lost?
Duan Wenyang laughed, “I was coming to ask for Yuan Xiong’s family, but I was granted the chance to exchange martial arts with one of the most famous contemporary new talents. At least my trip wasn’t wasted this time!”
Xie Xiang suddenly spoke up, “If Brother Duan wishes to continue, the Linchuan Institute would be more than willing to keep your company.”
Duan Wenyang looked around. Clasping his hands behind his back, he said in absolute arrogance, “Oh? What can the Linchuan Institute do? I might give it a thought if Ruyan Kehui himself comes over, but you’re definitely not my match. I heard that there was going to be a gathering of talented martial artists here. The Linchuan Institute, the Chunyang Daoist Temple, and the Six Harmonies Association are all far-famed sects and associations in the pugilistic circle of the Central Plains. To my surprise, there are too much exaggerations in the rumors that these sects are better known by repute than in face. Among all people present, only Mister Li is worthy enough to be my opponent, and the rest are not worth thinking much of.”
He paused a little bit and continued, “Ah, I almost forgot. There is also Sect Leader Shen. Your skill might be better  than theirs, but that was before your defeat in the hand of my junior martial brother, Kunye. The Shen Qiao right now is just
 a tiger without its teeth. What was that saying that  you people from the Central Plains had? Oh, if a tiger went down to level land, even dogs could assault him. Look at you right now. Not only are you unable to return to Mount Xuandu, you even have to hide under Sect Master  Yan’s shelter.  A stray dog lives a better life than you. If I were you, I wouldn’t have the face to live in this world anymore, and I probably would have killed myself out of shame a long time ago!”
He had a smile on his face, but the eyes he was looking at Shen Qiao with were utterly cold and indifferent.
Obviously, Shen Qiao was no longer an “opponent” in his eyes, but rather an insignificant “passerby” or even “trash”.
It was extreme public humiliation. Puliuru Jian felt that he would not have been able to tolerate it himself if it happened to him. Yet Shen Qiao only stood there looking so docile and meek as if he didn’t hear it, looking more like he had fallen asleep while standing. The kind of endurance and self-cultivation he had was simply impressive, but at the same time, it made people look down on him.
Xie Xiang could watch Duan Wenyang humiliating Shen Qiao with cold eyes, but he couldn’t ignore the fact that this person regarded the Linchuan Institute as worthless. Judging by the way Duan Wenyang said it, it seemed like he only thought the Chunyang Daoist Temple worthy to be his opponent and made little of all the rest of the sects. Xie Xiang responded with a sneer and was about to justify his anger.
But Su Wei suddenly spoke up, “Duan Wenyang, you’ve made my mother’s birthday party your  personal  training  ground and brought enough mess to it already. Since you came as a representative of the Empress, I’ll definitely report what happened here today to the Emperor and seek justice from His Highness. Now, I request you to please leave this place immediately.”
 Duan Wenyang laughed heartily, “I’ve already experienced Mister Li’s Sword Intent and am very satisfied. Even if the Duke of Meiyang District hadn’t ordered me out, I was going to leave myself anyway. But I’m sure we’ll meet again soon!”
Upon finishing, he turned around and left at once. Unable to stand it anymore, Xie Xiang shouted, “Stop there! Xie Xiang from the Linchuan Institute would like to ask Brother Duan for your advice!”
Before his voice faded, he had already unsheathed his sword, and his body turned into a rainbow charging toward Duan Wenyang!
However, Duan Wenyuan seemed to be expecting such an action from him. Without even looking back, he tapped on the ground and leaped right onto the roof. Then he disappeared without a trace, leaving only a lingering laugh behind him: “Mister Xie wants to use me to make a name for yourself, but please excuse me for not wishing to keep you company. I’ll wait till you also reach the stage of ‘Sword Intent’! Hahaha!”

Xie Xiang lost his target. He had no choice but to retrieve his sword and land back onto the ground, gazing in hatred at the direction where the other person had disappeared.
On the other side, someone suddenly exclaimed, “Mister Li, are you alright?”
Everyone immediately turned their heads to where the voice came from. Li Qingyu took out a handkerchief and spat some bloody spittle on it. He shook his head: “I’m fine, just some internal injuries. A few days of rest would be enough.”

Only then did the other people realize what he meant by “I’m not his match.” If Li Qingyu wasn’t Duan Wenyang’s match even after he had comprehended the Sword Intent, then to what extent could that Tujue man’s martial arts be? Would he become the second
 Hulugu?

They all looked at each other with ghastly expressions at the thought of it.
Xie Xiang felt his heart sinking as well.

He believed that his aptitude wasn’t bad, and over the years when he was traveling in the pugilistic world, the opponents he had encountered gave him an illusion that even if he couldn’t make it to the Top Ten, he wouldn’t be far from it. However, all of a sudden, experts sprung out one after another. First there was Li Qingyu who had already comprehended the “Sword Intent”. Then there was Duan Wenyang who was even stronger than Li Qingyu. It was said that ‘The new generation excelled the old’, but even within the current generation, the new people were already replacing the older ones, like the constant discovery of taller mountains.
He felt slightly depressed, while on the other side, Li Qingyu had already walked over to Shen Qiao. “Sect Leader Shen.”
Shen Qiao said, “Shen is no longer the sect leader. Mister Li doesn’t need to address me like this.”
Li Qingyu ignored him and continued by himself, “I’ve already comprehended the stage of Sword Intent, yet I’m still slightly inferior to Duan Wenyang. Could it be that his junior martial brother Kunye is even stronger than Duan Wenyang?”
Shen Qiao shook his head and answered, “Kunye is strong, but not as good as Duan Wenyang.”
Li Qingyu said, “Back in those years, Qi Fengge was the best martial artist in the world. I always looked up to his martial arts and his bearings. However, Sect Leader Shen, as the mantle disciple of his, you couldn’t even defeat Kunye.”
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything.
 Li Qingyu softly sighed, “‘ When you were born, I was not. When I was born, you were already old.’ What a pity that I couldn’t witness Qi Fengge’s martial arts and his bearings myself! I once thought that there would  be  qualified successors in Mount Xuandu to carry on  his  legacies,  but, what a misfortune, what a misfortune!”
His face was still indifferent as usual. But when he said the word “misfortune”, one could really feel the sense of regret in his voice which couldn’t have been more sincere.
This was a person who followed the Way of martial arts with utmost sincerity. He would not belittle those who were only mediocre in aptitude or those who were unable to study under a good master. From Li Qingyu’s point of view, Shen Qiao had the advantage of both: he was way ahead of others in both aptitude and in educations and trainings he received later, yet he still ended up like this. Therefore, not only did he look down on Shen Qiao, there was also a faint anger that resulted from extreme disappointment.

First there came Duan Wenyang’s despise, then Li Qingyu’s sigh, not to mention all the strange looks from people all around him. Anyone with pride and guts, if not burst with anger, would have at least pulled their faces and felt too ashamed to stay at this place any longer.
However, Shen Qiao was simply able to endure what normal people couldn’t, or perhaps he wasn’t enduring anything at all. He was not shaken even a bit; his face as calm as usual. In fact, he even nodded and agreed to what Li Qingyu said, “Master indeed had extraordinary bearings, and few could compare with him. It was a pity that Mister Li didn’t have the chance to see him when he was alive. Otherwise, with Mister Li’s astounding talents, Master surely would have appreciated you  very much.”

Even Puliuru Jian had to respect Shen Qiao’s self-restraint for the
 fact that he was able to say something like while at the same time playing down and eventually avoiding the other person’s judgement at him.
Li Qingyu didn’t seem to be expecting such a reaction from Shen Qiao. He only said flatly, “You were a fine man, why did you choose to dance with the devil thus abandoning yourself?”
The “devil” he was referring to was Yan Wushi of course.

Shen Qiao was the sect leader of a Daoist Sect, but he ended up tagging along with a “devil” like Yan Wushi– a degenerate for sure in other people’s eyes.

However, Yan Wushi, the sect master of a demonic sect in other martial artists’ eyes, was in fact the Junior Preceptor of the Crown Prince appointed by the Emperor. Puliuru Jian frowned. Before Shen Qiao could answer, he interjected, “Mister Li’s skill is superb, and Jian admires you very much. However, the more talented a person is, the more modest and open-minded he should be. Mister Shen’s health is not good, and he hasn’t offended you in any way. I don’t think it’s right for someone coming from a prestigious sect to be so outrightly aggressive and provocative when starting a conversation.”
Ling Qingyu glanced at Puliuru Jian. He didn’t say anything, nor did he intend to stay longer. He turned around and decided to leave right away.
Su Wei stopped him. He first bowed toward Ling Qingyu, then said out aloud, “The birthday party today has turned out a little disappointing due to an unwelcome guest, and we take full blame for that. I couldn’t thank you all enough for standing up for us and helping us out. Since my brother is injured, I’m very sorry that we have to cancel the banquet. I apologize to all guests and promise that I’ll arrange another dinner some other day, so I hope you all could please forgive us.”
 The incident today was out of everyone’s expectations. They naturally wouldn’t blame the host for it and even offered their consolations. Some of the aristocrats who were close to the Su Family were already discussing with him regarding the memorial to present to the Emperor about what happened.
Some other guests took their leave, while Ling Qingyu was guided by one of Lady Qin’s servant girls to the back to take a rest and treat his wound.
Puliuru Jian suggested to Shen Qiao, “Mister Shen, why don’t we leave too?”
Shen Qiao nodded, but before he said anything, something expected happened!
“I thought of a good idea before I left. Since you all refused to turn in Yuan Xiong and his wife, I’ll just invite Lady Qin over to my place first. Let’s see which person is more important to you — your mother or your cousin?!”
The voice sounded from afar, but it came through so crisp and clear as if it was spoken right next to their ears. This skill to concentrate one’s voice into a beam was even harder than the art of Secret Acoustic, a more widely-known skill for sending one’s voice directly into another person’s ear without other people hearing it.
Su Qiao and Su Wei’s face changed in shock at once. The former was a pure scholar who didn’t even have the strength to truss a chicken, while the latter had just lost to Duan Wenyang a moment ago. His right hand was still temporarily disabled, but he didn’t have time to think that much and immediately charged towards the direction of his mother.
But before he was able to get close, he was suddenly thrown to the opposite direction and fell heavily onto the ground. The others couldn’t even tell how he was injured!
 No one had expected that Duan Wenyang would return immediately after he had left!
Yet thinking about it carefully, he never agreed to give up taking Yuan Xiong and his wife with him when he left. Therefore, it was clearly part of his plan, and he didn’t go that far at all.
In such a critical moment, it would be useless to play with words anymore, scolding him for how despicable and shameless he was for not keeping his word. Let it be the pugilistic world or the imperial court, or even the political situation of world as a whole, it all came down to the law of the jungle. Whoever had a bigger fist had the final say.
Therefore, the moment when Su Qiao was thrown to the side, Li Qingyu, Dou Yanshan, Xie Xiang and some of the others all lunged at the same time, trying to stop Duan Wenyang.
These people were all first-rate experts in the current world of martial arts. Even if there was still difference between them and the Top Ten, they were not very far from it. Like Li Qingyu, he was probably already qualified to be listed among the Top Ten. He might have been slightly inferior to Duan Wenyang when they fought alone, but now, with several people launching attacks at the same time, there was no way that they would miss.
However, they had miscalculated.

Duan Wenyang didn’t go for Lady Qin. He changed his target in the middle and went straight for Su Wei!
Lady Qin was a disciple of Hulugu in her early years. Even though it had been many years since she last fought, her martial arts still wouldn’t be that bad. But Su Wei was different. This Duke of Meiyang District was a pure scholar who knew nothing of martial arts. Duan Weiyang’s movement was straightforward and crisp without any hesitation. He clearly had a plan in his mind and the words just now
 were just a bait.

They were already a little behind, and now they were stopped once again as the other person swung his sleeves and struck another palm. By the time they managed to attack again, Duan Wenyang’s fingers were already touching Su Wei’s neck. There was simply no way for them to save him in time.
Su Qiao let out a cry, “Brother!”

Lady Qin’s face changed drastically as she snapped, “Don’t hurt my son!”
But Duan Wenyang suddenly made a sound of surprise.

It was not because of Su Qiao and Lady’s scolding, nor did it have anything to do with Li Qingyu and the others arriving on time.
A bamboo stick came out of nowhere and blocked him right from the front.
Duan Wenyang subconsciously reached out to push it away, but the stick was able to slide away each time like a mud fish. It was so slippery that it left people with no place to apply force. The inner qi rippled along the movement of the bamboo stick. It was not all that overbearing. Instead, it was soft, continuous, and vigorous, forcing Duan Wenyang to give up on Su Wei temporarily in order to concentrate on dealing with this opponent who had suddenly arrived.
When he saw who his opponent was at last, his face almost overflowed with surprise.
Translator’s Note:
Lmao. There’re two poetry lines in this chapter, but I was a little lazy to add a footnote hahaha. But they’re pretty self-explanatory. And this short event will finally end the next chapter~ With a very cool Ah-qiao! Expect a lot more interactions between our Qiao Qiao
 and shameless Yan very soon! \^0^/

Chapter 34

Shen Yan took the white porridge and drank slowly. As soon as he took a few sips, the door was pushed open.

He didn't have to open his eyes to study, just to hear the footsteps, he knew who was coming.

In the cold night, Yan Wushi came in with a chill and sat down at the table.

"You've always been good on the way. Clear porridge and vegetables are enough. Are these cat ears and beef sauce prepared for me?"

Shen Yan smiled, but did not answer. He really thought that Yan Wushi might be coming back soon, so he called two more by the way.

Yan Wushi joked: "You and I meet each other like friends and enemies. You can still be so considerate at the bar. For your brother Yu, I'm afraid that you will be more considerate and gentle?"

Shen Ye put down the bowl and smiled bitterly: "Which pot is not open and which pot, Lord Zeng is really good at exposing human scars!"

Yan Wushi: "I'm still your copper wall and iron wall, ignorant and unconscious, no matter how betrayed, you can still be as usual!"

Shen Yun knew that he would also say that the set of human nature is evil, and simply closed his mouth and stopped talking.

Who knows that Yan Wushi found pleasure in the details of preparing his supper for himself, and then he turned and smiled and said, "Ama is so gentle and considerate. If he finds a sweetheart in the future, would he not be more caring, who would be fortunate to be loved by you I ’m afraid it ’s the blessing of many generations! ”

Shen Zhe was so numb and numb by his sentence, Ai Lei, he could not help saying, "Don't joke, Lord Zong, since I entered the gate, I'm determined not to marry for life."

Yan Wushi chuckled and stretched out his hand to caress his hair: "Aren't you saying that there is an apostle in your door? Once you become an apostle, you don't need to care about the mundane etiquette, anyway, you can't go back to Xuandu Mountain anyway. Then, it would be better to follow me back to Wan Yuezong. If you do not want to be my disciple, I will give you another name! "

Shen Yan was terrified and his face changed slightly.

In view of this person's thoughts, one out, he disregarded the worldly etiquette, and often behaved unexpectedly. Shen Chen could not figure out whether his words were true or not. He frowned, "Yan Zongzhu loves ..."

As soon as the word "love" came out, Yan Wushi laughed next to him, and Shu Shen immediately shut his mouth.

In the end, Yan Wushi couldn't help but laughed directly. Afterwards, he actually touched his stomach and fell to the table, ruthlessly ridiculed: "It makes you laugh when you're full, as if you have a meal. It's unbearable! "

This is the end of the sentence. Where can Shen Yun still not understand that he has been tricked again? He clenched his lips tightly, closed his eyes and raised his mind, no matter what the other person said, it was a half sentence and he would not say more.

Chapter 35

It really wasn’t Bai Rong’s fault for being over-alarmed . The fear that the disciples of the Demonic Sects had toward Yan Wushi was simply too great .
Back then, before he entered Closed Door Meditation, Yan Wushi had fought all three Demonic Sects by himself and was close to unifying them . He wiped out more than half of the elite disciples in the Mirror of Arts Sect, and the Harmony Sect also suffered great losses . If he hadn’t lost to Cui Youwang and needed to heal his wound by entering Closed Door Meditation because of that, it would be hard to say what the situation of the three sects would be like today .
Despite all that, the fear toward the name Yan Wushi was already carved into their bones .
Bai Rong was still young . She didn’t have the chance to fight against Yan Wushi during that time . Not long ago, she was ordered by her master to sneakily attack Yan Wushi’s eldest disciple, Bian Yanmei, but she accidentally bumped into Yan Wushi on the way . She barely managed to escape with all her strength, and ever since then, she developed a deeper understanding of the name, “demonic sovereign” .
If Shen Qiao wasn’t alone today, she would never risk coming up to him .
Now, as she saw Shen Qiao using the “Spring Water Fingering”, the dreaded narrow escape she made a few days ago emerged again from the bottom of her heart .
The finger came at her, but Bai Rong was too scared to take it
 directly . She slid to the side and retreated . However, unwilling to let go of the prey at hand, she pasted herself tightly onto the side of the carriage and slipped the long way around it in an attempt to bring Shen Qiao under control from behind .
Who knew that Shen Qiao would have eyes on his back as well . His pointing finger turned midway into a palm, softly drifting with almost no force . But the unceasing and profound strength contained within it was something that Bai Rong didn’t dare to take lightly .
As it was now, how could she not realize that she had failed miserably from underestimating the other? Seeing Shen Qiao spitting blood earlier in the carriage, she had assumed that he had exhausted all his strength, but he unexpectedly still had so much left!
Bai Rong’s palms were soft and tender . The pair of pretty and delicate hands was enough to invoke the tenderness in any man’s heart to make them reluctant to attack . However, Shen Qiao was an exception . Since he couldn’t see, any Enchantment Art based on appearance had no effect on him .
Their palms closed in on each other’s quietly without a sniff of powder . It looked more like a girl clinging to her loved one instead of a fight .
Bai Rong felt as if her chest was hit by a hard blow . Her eyes widened in disbelief . She clenched her teeth and struck her other hand out at the carriage . The carriage burst apart in an instant, sending the frightened horse galloping forward . Shen Qiao leaped up and landed on the horse’s back . Reining the horse as hard as he could, he finally forced the maddened horse to slow down with a neigh .
A soft sigh came from behind, “Mister Shen is so sentimental and soft-hearted that you won’t even harm a horse . I’m actually a little jealous of Sect Master Yan now!”
 Seeing that Shen Qiao was distracted by the horse, Bai Rong refused to give up and caught up with him from behind . Her words sounded affectionate, but they did not stop her from attacking ruthlessly . She lunged straight at Shen Qiao’s back and didn’t care at all if Shen Qiao ended up disabled . He could still recite the Book of Free Will as long as he was alive and able to talk!
Shen Qiao heaved a sigh as well . Instead of turning back, he lowered himself and slipped to the side of the horse . Grabbing the reins in one hand, he pressed the horse onto the ground with the other to make sure it wouldn’t be harmed because of him . As soon as the horse was down, he immediately tapped on the ground with his feet and went straight toward Bai Rong .
Bai Rong had already suffered a loss and dared not to fight him face to face again . She immediately withdrew her palm and vanished into the woods, leaving only a series of laughs: “Mister Shen is willing to save even a horse, yet you’re so heartless to me! I guess I’ll just come play with you some other day!”

After making sure that the other person had finally left, Shen Qiao didn’t even have the strength left to stand . He tried to bend down while holding the horse’s back, but his legs suddenly failed him and he knelt right on the ground .
The horse knelt on the ground and finally calmed down . It neighed a few times and tilted its head and stared at Shen Qiao, its watery eyes filled with puzzlement .
Shen Qiao gave it a light pat . “Sorry, I’ve caused you trouble…”
Before he could finish, blood welled up in his throat and he was unable to keep it down . He covered his mouth subconsciously, but blood continued to seep out between his fingers .
Shen Qiao simply put his hand down to let the blood pour out .
 Then he wiped the stain on his lips with the sleeve .

He breathed out a sigh of relief, only to be greeted by a fit of lightheadedness . His ears were buzzing, and his head was swimming
. In fact, he had a strong desire to just fall down like this, close his eyes, and not care about anything in this world .
Such a state was not uncommon to him . Ever since he was injured, his body was often like this, prone to feebleness . As his martial arts recovered, the situation didn’t get any better . For one thing, his wounded meridians were constantly stirred by his frequent involvement in battles . Because of it, they were getting damaged at a faster rate than he could repair . And for the other, he had reached a bottleneck in cultivating the inner qi of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang and hadn’t made any progress for a long time while the inner arts of Mount Xuandu alone was not sufficient enough to fully heal his damaged foundation .
However, despite being used to it, he still felt very sick and he had to lean against the horse to rest with his eyes closed . He was going to wait for the dizziness to pass before getting up . Otherwise, his current state wouldn’t even allow him to ride the horse back to the city .
Right at this time, however, he heard someone speaking from a place not far from him, “Sect Leader Shen, have you ever heard the saying, ‘The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind it’?”
The voice was neither too sharp nor too low, nor was it deliberately making a show of force . It simply asking a question very politely .
It was as if he was asking for directions rather than picking a fight .

Shen Qiao didn’t open his eyes . He only answered with a hoarse voice, “Your voice sounds a little unfamiliar . We haven’t met before . ”
 The person who just arrived answered courteously, “Yes, this is our first time seeing each other . I didn’t think that Bai Rong was going to be faster than me . However, it was actually to my fortune that Bai Rong was a step faster than me, otherwise I wouldn’t be the one to reap the benefits . Are you okay?”
Shen Qiao shook his head . “I can’t get up . Sorry about that .

The other person was very considerate, “It’s no problem . ”

Despite having said that, he showed no intention of coming over to
help . Neither did he leave .

Shen Qiao sighed, “I still don’t know your name . ”

The other person laughed, “Even though we just met, I already feel like I’ve been such old friends  with  Sect  Leader  Shen that I almost forgot to introduce myself . My family name is Guang . I’m from the west of the Yellow River, and I’m currently traveling around without a set residence . ”
‘Guang’ was a rather rare name . The number of people in the pugilistic world with that family name could be counted on one hand .
Shen Qiao said, “How is Shen honorable enough to have the sect master of the Mirror of Arts Sect grace me with your presence?”
Guang Lingsan greeted, “I have long admired Sect Leader Shen’s reputation . It was a pity that we didn’t have  the chance to meet until today . I was deeply regretful when I heard that Sect Leader Shen fell off the cliff . Little did I expect to be blessed to see your graceful bearing of defeating two people in a row! How lucky am I!”
Shen Qiao forced a smile, “Sect Master Guang can save all
 those courteous quotes . Can you please go straight to the point? Otherwise, I’m afraid I can’t hold on any longer and will pass out soon . Then I won’t be able to hear what you’re trying to say . ”
Guang Lingsan didn’t need to experience it himself to know that Shen Qiao must be in great agony right now . Seeing how the other person was still able to chat and laugh, he actually felt some respect for him .
Guang Lingsan said, “Sect Master Yan took an item from the Mirror of Arts Sect and still hasn’t returned it to this day . So I have to invite Sect Leader Shen to spend some time in the Mirror of Arts Sect . ”
Shen Qiao replied, “Then I’m afraid you’ve miscalculated . I probably have no other use to Sect Master Guang apart from wasting food . A pair of chopsticks that Sect Master Yan uses is probably worth much more than me . ”
Even talking had now become a laborious job for him; he closed his eyes immediately after he pulled through the sentence . His eyebrows were slightly furrowed and his face extremely pale, as if he was going to breathe his last in the next second .

Guang Lingsan also feared that Shen Qiao was going to die, so he reached out with his hand wanting to feel his pulse and replenish his inner qi .
As soon as he touched the other person’s wrist, Guang Lingsan suddenly moved and rapidly retreated a couple meters!
On the ground, a shallow dip appeared right where Guang Lingsan had been standing .
“They all say that the reason why Sect Master Yan brought the injured Sect Leader Shen back is because you want to
 humiliate him and make him your toy . But from what I’ve seen, it’s not necessarily true!” said Guang Lingsan with a smile . “It has been many years since we last met  .  Sect  Master Yan’s demeanour is even more elegant than before!”
“They all say that the reason why Sect Master Yan brought the injured Sect Leader Shen back is because you want to humiliate him and make him your toy . But from what I’ve seen, it’s not necessarily true!” said Guang Lingsan with a smile . “It has been many years since we last met  .  Sect  Master Yan’s demeanour is even more elegant than before!”
Yan Wushi glanced at Shen Qiao . The latter had either fallen asleep or passed out . He was already completely unconscious, his hands hanging softly next to his body and his eyes closed . There was a large stain of blood at the end of his sleeve .
Yan Wushi’s eyes shifted back to Guang Lingsan . “During the years that I was not around, the Harmony Sect suppressed the Mirror of Arts Sect so badly that you couldn’t even stay in the Central Plains anymore and had to move to Tuyuhun . Aren’t you a bit too incompetent as a sect master?”
Guang Lingsan laughed, “Of course I’m not as capable as Sect Master Yan . You even have the former sect leader of Mount Xuandu in your hands, not only to warm up your bed but also to help you cultivate . And you can use him as a tool to test your martial arts as well . That’s killing three birds with one stone indeed, and other people won’t have your  luck  no matter how jealous they are . I thought about borrowing him for a few days at first, but I didn’t expect that Sect Master Yan would value him so much that you would rush  over without a halt . ”
Dressed like a scholar, he looked gentle and refined, yet he spoke just like the typical style of the demonic sects, without any restraint .
 Yan Wushi said, “I heard the Mirror of Arts Sect has been doing so well in Tuyuhun these past years that even Kualuyu Khan is acting at your beck and call . Well, farther from the Emperor, freer from the law . You must have felt like a fish in water over there . ”
When he spoke, it was always in a lightly provoking manner . People with violent temper would undoubtedly be riled up . But because Yan Wushi was also exceptionally skilled in martial arts, they couldn’t fight him for it . Over time, such a tone had actually become some kind of symbolic characteristic of his .
Guang Lingsan replied with a faint smile, “We cannot compare with Sect Master Yan . The Emperor of Zhou relied heavily on you . The Northern Zhou was your Cleaning Moon Sect’s territory; The Harmony Sect monopolizes the trust of the Emperor of Qi; The Southern Chen has the Linchuan Institute, while the Buddhist and Daoist sects are glaring covetously on the side . Our Mirror of Arts Sect is so lonely and weak that we have no choice but to move to farther places . Well, it’s our choice either . ”
Yan Wushi’s phoenix eyes slightly narrowed . “If that’s the case, why don’t you stay in Tuyuhun and continue  running  your sect? What’re you coming to the Country of Zhou for?”
“I came to see Sect Master Yan of course . I would like you to return the Redolent Bone to the Mirror of Arts Sect . ”
Yan Wushi sneered, “Return? Is your name carved on it?”

Guang Lingsan said coldly, “It originally belonged to my deceased master . Why wouldn’t it be mine?”
Yan Wushi laughed out loud, “You didn’t dare talk to me like this just ten years ago . Did  you  suddenly  grow  countless guts in ten years?”
 Although the world of martial artists only respected the strong, there was at least a layer of window paper called morals and ethics . But the disciples of the Demonic Sects really put the principle to its extreme . The powerful ones could have anything they wanted, while the ones who were weak had no one else to blame even if they were killed . Ten years ago, before Yan Wushi entered Closed Door Meditation, the other two sects dared not to even breathe loudly under the pressure of Yan Wushi . However, ten years could also make people forget many things, including fear .
Of course, Yan Wushi’s martial arts improved drastically over the ten years of Closed Door Meditation, but the others also had made their advances . Not to mention that Guang Lingsan was also one of the great experts in the Top Ten — even if there was a gap between them, it would not be an impassable chasm .
With a quiet groan, Shen Qiao struggled to open his heavy eyelids .

A blur of light came into his sight . It was no longer complete darkness, but what he could see was still very limited, not much better than an open-eyed blind . So he simply closed them again .
He heard a gentle voice next to his ear, “Mister Shen . You’re awake . The medicine is ready . It’s still hot . Let me help you with it . ”
It was Ruru’s voice . Shen Qiao recognized it . She was a servant girl taking care of him during his stay in the Residence of the Junior Preceptor .
“…I’m in the Residence of the Junior Preceptor?” Shen Qiao could only recall running into Guang Lingsan and then losing consciousness afterwards .
Ruru covered her mouth as she laughed, “Of course you’re in
 the Residence of the Junior Preceptor . Why would Ruru be here otherwise? Master brought you back . ”
She brought the medicine to Shen Qiao and helped him drink it . Then she went on to smoothen the blanket underneath him, “The doctor was here . He said that and you had a deficiency in both qi and blood, so you should take more blood-enriching supplements . ”
Shen Qiao nodded, asking, “Where’s Sect Master Yan?”

Shen Qiao nodded, asking, “Where’s Sect Master Yan?”

Ruru replied, “Master is in the study talking to the eldest young master . ”
In her words, ‘eldest young master’ referred to Bian Yanmei .

There were probably soothing ingredients in the medicine he just took . Shen Qiao didn’t say much before he fell unconscious again . He slept for another few hours . By the time he woke up again, the room was already bright, showing the blurry silhouette of a man next to him .
“Sect Master Yan?” He felt his way as he sat up .

Yan Wushi put down the book, but he didn’t come over to lend him an arm . He only answered with a groan .
Shen Qiao asked, “Guang Lingsan has left already?” “Yes . We had a fight . ”
“Although his skill in martial arts is good, he should not be your match . ”
That was all he said . He didn’t seem to be surprised that Yan Wushi had shown up there in time, neither did he ask about it .
 Yan Wushi said, “I heard you fought with Duan Wenyang  in the Residence of Su . ”
“That person is surprisingly skilled in martial arts . Given enough time, he will not be any less than the Hulugu of those years . ”
“How does he compare to Kunye?” “Even better than Kunye . ”
“In that case, it was a pure fluke that you won today . ”

Shen Qiao didn’t claim credit for himself, “That’s right . Duan Wenyang fought with Li Qingyu first and was slightly injured, therefore giving me the advantage . ”
Yan Wushi said, “I took your pulse just now . When you fell of the cliff that day, the poison of Quietus had already seeped into your bones and destroyed your foundation . At first I thought The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was able to repair your meridians, but looking at it now, having only two incomplete books produced very little effect . What is even more troublesome is that if you repeatedly fight with other people and get injured, it will only damage your ‘Daoist Heart’ even more . If this continues, by the time your Daoist Core is completely destroyed, even the immortals will not be able to save you . However powerful The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang is, it won’t be able to do things that even the immortals cannot do . ”
The Daoist Heart was not a heart . Its meaning lay in the fact that it was the foundation . Shen Qiao had built his foundation since he was young through the practice of the inner art of a Daoist sect, and this foundation was his “Daoist Heart” . If a person’s Daoist Heart was destroyed, all the rest of the moves and techniques became useless since he would never reach the peak of martial arts again .
 This was precisely Shen Qiao’s current state . Due to poison and injuries, his Daoist Heart was almost destroyed . Gradually restoring it with the aid of the inner qi of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang should have been the best healing method .
But the problem was that Shen Qiao only knew two volumes of it . Besides, as long as he was still in the pugilist world, there was no way he could stay uninvolved . Every time he fought, he would inevitably stir up his inner qi and bring even more damage to the Daoist Heart which hadn’t recovered yet . The process eventually became a vicious cycle in the long run . If one day the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was no longer able to repair it, that meant that his foundation had collapsed completely, making it impossible to save .
Speaking of it, Yan Wushi had also contributed to the frequent injury of Shen Qiao’s root meridians . If he hadn’t forced Shen Qiao to fight him again and again, Shen Qiao wouldn’t have so many new wounds piling on the old .
However, Sect Master Yan looked very serious at the moment, like he’d selectively forgotten his own faults .
Shen Qiao didn’t know whether he should describe him as shameless or egotistical . “Since you said it like this, I’m sure you have a solution already?”
Yan Wushi remained calm and composed . “That’s right . As long as you’re willing to discard the Daoist Heart,  let  me plant the Demonic Heart in you and then you can start practicing The Fundamentals of Phoenix-Qilin  .  Everything will be readily solved . ”
Shen Qiao sighed, “I have to respect Sect Master Yan for the effort you’ve spent in articulating this plan and  carrying  it out step by step . Once I have the Demonic Heart planted in me, my temperament will inevitably become erratic, brutal,
 and bloodthirsty . It’s a happy thing for you, but to me, it’ll be like losing my true self . Even if I could advance greatly in martial arts, what would be the point then?”
Yan Wushi remained calm and composed . “That’s right . As long as you’re willing to discard the Daoist Heart,  let  me plant the Demonic Heart in you and then you can start practicing The Fundamentals of Phoenix-Qilin  .  Everything will be readily solved . ”
Shen Qiao sighed, “I have to respect Sect Master Yan for the effort you’ve spent in articulating this plan and  carrying  it out step by step . Once I have the Demonic Heart planted in me, my temperament will inevitably become erratic, brutal, and bloodthirsty . It’s a happy thing for you, but to me, it’ll be like losing my true self . Even if I could advance greatly in martial arts, what would be the point then?”
A sarcastic expression appeared on Yan Wushi’s face . He asked, “What is ‘true self’? People are inherently evil . Are  you saying that following one’s desire is not being true to oneself? Just think about that Chen Gong . You’ve done him a good deal of favors . You two traveled together and shared weal and woe . But when a crisis came, despite having a hundred ways to get out, he could only think of leading the disaster to you and dragging you down with him . With his background, no one taught him how to read and write or the proper ways to conduct himself . Don’t tell me that all of his actions didn’t come from his ‘true self’?”
Shen Qiao wanted to turn away his head, but Yan Wushi grabbed his chin and pulled him back, not allowing him to run from it, “The reason why you’re able to persist in carefully following your Daoist Heart and refuse to give up your so-called principles is because you still haven’t experienced a situation in your life where you are so desperate that you find it absolutely
 intolerable, am I right?”

The pair of dull, empty eyes slowly blinked, and the long eyelashes trembled slightly . After a long time, Shen Qiao finally uttered a word
.

“Yes . ”

Yan Wushi’s voice was brimming with with malice, “No matter how powerful The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang is, it cannot create things out of nothing . With your current situation of a damaged foundation, in addition to your coughing blood and passing out from time to time, there’s no way for you to restore your martial arts in a few years . What’s more, you may end up half-dead like this for the rest of your life . Now everyone saw you show up at the Residence of Su with my invitation . The relationship between us will soon spread to the entire pugilistic world . My enemies are all over the world . They can’t do a thing to me, but they will find no difficulty in taking it out on you . What do you think will happen if they catch you? Will they torture you to make you write The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang? Or will they rape you first and kill you, then rape and whip your corpse to vent their anger?
“When that happens, will you think a situation like that is still tolerable?”
Shen Qiao finally lost control of himself, “We can talk about that when it actually happens, but Sect Master Yan should not be troubling yourself with it before it does!”
Surprisingly, Yan Wushi, whose hand was brushed to the side, was not enraged by it . Instead, he even snorted a laugh as the clouds on his face suddenly cleared up, “Come on . I was just trying to scare you, and you got mad?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
 People all said that a woman’s heart was like the needle in the bottom of the sea . But Shen Qiao felt that Yan Wushi’s heart was even harder to grasp than a needle in a bottomless abyss .
At this moment, someone knocked on the door . Yan Wushi said, “Come in . ”
The servant girl Ruru walked in while holding a bowl of medicine in her hand . “Master, this is the second bowl of medicine decocted for Mister Shen today . ”
Yan Wushi commanded, “Put it here . ”

Ruru put down the bowl as she was told, then reminded Shen Qiao, “Mister Shen should drink it when it’s hot . The effect will be better . ”
Shen Qiao thanked her, took the bowl, and finished it in one gulp .

He always had a small problem . He liked the sweet but not the bitter . When he was still a child on Mount Xuandu, he would hide himself when he was sick to avoid drinking medicine . After he heard that practicing inner arts could make a person unaffected by cold and heat, he trained harder than all the other fellow disciples . People just thought he was just extra hardworking, but little did they know that he was in fact trying to avoid bitter medicine . But staying at Yan Wushi’s place, no matter how many bowls of bitter medicine were brought to him, he would drink them all without a word .
However, little habits betrayed him . He would frown every time before he picked up the bowl, and after he put it down, the corners of his mouth would twitch unconsciously .
Yan Wushi saw it . After Shen Qiao finished, he picked up a candied fruit from the side and stuffed it into Shen Qiao’s mouth with a sweet voice, “Ah-Qiao, if you don’t like bitter medicine, I’ll let them put some barley sugar in it next time . Come on, give me a
 smile . Don’t always frown . ”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Sect Leader Shen felt utterly exhausted, both mind and body .

Chapter 36

Seeing that Yan Wushi was treating Shen Qiao so intimately, Ruru couldn’t help but give a knowing smile . She had been taking care of Shen Qiao for many days and she admired him greatly for his behavior and morals . She hoped her master would treat Shen Qiao well . However, she had no idea how difficult it was for Shen Qiao to swallow that piece of candied fruit . It rolled and churned inside his stomach . He wished he could vomit it out and give it back to Yan Wushi, but that would not be in line with who Shen Qiao was . Therefore, he had to swallow it in the end, only to find that today’s medicine tasted more bitter than ever . Even the candied fruit didn’t help .
Yan Wushi looked at him with a smile, his chin resting in his hands
. Seeing that the other person was on the verge of turning against him, he finally said slowly, “I went to the palace today to meet the Emperor of Zhou . He asked me to tell you that he wanted to see you . ”
Shen Qiao was slightly taken aback . Yan Wushi had indeed succeeded in diverting his attention . “To see me?”
Yan Wushi said, “I’ll take you with me to the palace tomorrow morning . He will meet you around 8 am after the court meeting . ”
“I’m just a countryside commoner right now . Does Sect Master Yan know why the Emperor wants to see me?”
“You can take a guess . ” “…”
 Shen Qiao knew that the other person had a wicked character and would not answer easily . So he really began to ponder on it .
“I attended the birthday party at the Residence of Su just today . There was no way that the Emperor could have known about the fight between me and Duan Wenyang so soon, so it’s not about that . Is it because of Mount Xuandu then? Because Yu Ai received the invitation to preach in Eastern Tujue? Even though the Northern Zhou and the Tujue are allied and also connected by marriage, they’re still secretly guarding against each other . They’ve never trusted each other either . Is there something that the Emperor wants me to do?”
“You’re so smart!” Yan Wushi clapped his hands . “See? Even if I don’t tell you, you can still guess most of it yourself . ”
Shen Qiao frowned . “What exactly does he want me to do?” “You’ll know when you get there tomorrow . But there’s
another thing I need you to do . ”

Shen Qiao shook his head . “I can’t help if it’s anything immoral . ”
“What’re you thinking?” Yan Wushi chuckled . His fingers brushed past the side of Shen Qiao’s face and landed directly on his lips in the end .
Shen Qiao didn’t pull himself back in time . His lips were rubbed a bit and were tinged with a thin layer of redness .
Only then did Yan Wushi finally continue, “Mount Xuandu flourished during the Qin-Han period . I heard that the first leader of Mount Xuandu was a wandering Daoist who was especially skilled at telling people’s fortune  through  the sound of their voices . Even Xu Fu was once a disciple of his .
 ”

Shen Qiao laughed, “People love to tell and exaggerate fake
stories . I don’t know if the founder of Mount Xuandu was related to the Marquis of Mingci, but physiognomy and fortune-telling are indeed essential skills for the Daoist sects
. The so called voice-based fortune-telling sounds like an advanced skill, but it’s nothing special if you know about it . Voices are affected by people’s bodies, so you can tell a person’s state of health based on their voice . For example, if a person’s lung is full of heat, then their voice will be deep and husky like that of a hand bellow . It’s not hard to identify these things as long as one has some medical knowledge and knows about martial arts . ”
As soon as he said it, Yan Wushi knew that Shen Qiao must have studied it before . “I want you to go and listen to Yuwen Yong’s voice . ”
Shen Qiao frowned: “There should be many master physicians in the inner imperial palace . The most fundamental medical principle is the need to look, listen, question, and feel the pulse before diagnosing . If the Emperor of Zhou is really sick, is it possible that none of those doctors have found out about it? I’m sorry, but my skill is probably not good enough to offer much help . ”

Yan Wushi explained, “In his early years, Yuwen Yong saw Yuwen Yu being poisoned to death by an imperial physician that Yuwen Hu had bribed . From then on, he has been against seeing a doctor . He wouldn’t easily call in the imperial physicians even when he’s sick . However, he has been managing the country and the government day after night for many years, and some diseases have already rooted in him since a long time ago . I’m afraid that his body is already damaged . I have some judgement in mind, but I still
 want you to have a listen . ”

Shen Qiao thought about it and replied with a light nod, “Alright then . ”
A smile crept across Yan Wushi’s face: “My Ah-qiao is the best!”

Shen Qiao showed no expression .

Yan Wushi said, “I have a gift for you . ”
With a clap of his hand, someone came in from outside: “Master, is there anything you would like?”

Yan Wushi ordered, “Bring me that sword case that I keep in the study . ”
The servant girl nodded . Soon, she returned with the sword case and offered it to him with both hands .
Yan Wushi took it over and ran his hand through it a few times .
Then he smiled and placed the sword case into Shen Qiao’s arms .
Shen Qiao was a little confused at first . He groped it to open the lock on the sword box . When his fingers touched the sword in it, his heart skipped a beat with delight: “The Grieving Celestial Sword?”

“Do you like it?” Yan Wushi asked, smiling happily .

“I’m really grateful that Sect Master Yan has taken good care of it . ” After Shen Qiao fell off the cliff and woke up, the Grieving Celestial Sword was no longer with him . He asked Yu Shengyan about it then, but the other person’s reply was very vague so he never asked again . After all, the sword was not necessarily in Yan Wushi’s hands . He could have lost it when he fell . Even if Yan Wushi did have it, Shen Qiao would be too ashamed to use it with his
 strength at that time .

But how could he not be happy about having it back? His master gave the sword to him when he was seven and it had never left him, not even a moment, ever since . Wherever he was, the sword would be there too . It was so much more than sword to Shen Qiao . Holding the Grieving Celestial Sword in his hands, he felt it back and forth with his palm . His joy was so obvious that even his face seemed to be layered with a mild radiance as if he was a figure carved from white jade .
Everyone liked beautiful people, and Yan Wushi was no exception . Even though he had no particularly tender feelings toward the fair, it didn’t prevent him from enjoying the sight of one . He started teasing the person immediately .
“Make that smile again . ”
Shen Qiao: “…”
The smile vanished from Shen Qiao’s face, and he even pursed his lips . Seeing this, Yan Wushi had no choice but to stop regretfully, “Ah-Qiao, who are you showing this long face to? I’ve returned the sword to you intact . How are  you  going  to thank me for it?”
The smile vanished from Shen Qiao’s face, and he even pursed his lips . Seeing this, Yan Wushi had no choice but to stop regretfully, “Ah-Qiao, who are you showing this long face to? I’ve returned the sword to you intact . How are  you  going  to thank me for it?”
Shen Qiao had also learned to be sly by now, “I thought that Sect Master Yan returned the sword to me because I agreed to go with you to meet the Emperor in the palace . ”
Yan Wushi laughed and said indulgently, “Alright, whatever you
 say . ”

Shen Qiao did not respond to his momentary crazy behavior . He suddenly said, “My root meridians are already damaged . Just like you said, even with the help of the remaining scripts of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, it’s going to be extremely difficult to restore them to their previous level . However, I have no intention to destroy my Daoist foundation and go down the Demonic path . If you want to raise me to be your opponent, I’m afraid that you may not see the result in another eight or ten years . If Sect Master Yan permits, I would like to leave the Country of Zhou after my meeting with the Emperor . ”
Yan Wushi did not take him seriously: “After you leave the Country of Zhou, where else can you go? Without my protection, if a group of people come and fight you in turns, you will only be placing yourself at the mercy of others in your current condition . ”

Shen Qiao said, “There are countless ways to practice Daoism, but ultimately, there are only two, and that is to withdraw oneself from worldly affairs or to experience and live amongst them . As I’ve decided to find my “Way” inside the mortal world, I’ll have to experience all the trials and torments rooted in the various desires of people in order to achieve that . Although I’m not particularly capable right now, I can still think of something to protect myself . If I rely on Sect Master Yan for shelter all the time, then how is it any different from staying on Mount Xuandu?”
It was just this kind of expression . He had already sunken to the depths of a slough of mud, covered in grime . Anyone could step on him, but still he thrashed and fought to get on his feet and began climbing upwards step by step . The betrayal by his family and friends, his kindness that was repaid by enmity — he did not seem to
 weigh any of it in his heart .
It truly……made people itch to step on him once more to see just how much he could endure before falling to pieces .

Wouldn’t this face, when covered in tears and pleading piteously, look even more beautiful?
Yan Wushi laughed, “I will not stop you if you want to leave, but I suggest you postpone it for a little . During this period of time, Zhou and Chen have agreed to form an alliance . The Linchuan Institute was in charge of escorting Chen’s envoy here . Now the Emperor of Zhou is also going  to  send  an envoy to Chen with the written reply to Chen’s request for an alliance . He’s afraid that the Country of Qi will intervene, so he has asked the Cleansing Moon Sect to escort the messenger . I was going to hand the job to Bian Yanmei, but then I decided to go myself since I wanted to meet Ruyan Kehui . ”
“The leader of all Confucian sects, one of the Top Three experts in the world, is going to fight a duel with me . Don’t you want to see it with your own eyes?”
However detached Shen Qiao was, he could not resist a temptation like this . He did appear slightly moved by the suggestion: “Have you already sent the challenge letter to Master-in-Charge Ruyan?”

“Why would I need a letter?” Yan Wushi sneered, “Ah-qiao, you’re not a confrontational person, but do you really think that other people will be the same as you? If Ruyan Kehui knows that I will be south of the Yangtze River, how could he not try to meet me? If he defeats me, it would raise his reputation by no small amount . If I lose to him, the reputation of Cleansing Moon Sect will be damaged, and our influence in the Northern Zhou will be affected as well .
 Without the Cleansing Moon Sect, whether  it’s  those  who want to seize glory and wealth or those who want to destroy Yuwen Yong’s trust in me, they will all have a good opportunity to take advantage of . And who knows how many people would like to take part in such a lucrative business!”
Shen Qiao thought about it and agreed . Even though he didn’t approve of Yan Wushi’s style in handling things, he did admire his accomplishments in martial arts very much . Slightly fascinated, he replied at once, “The two greatest masters in the world crossing swords is an event that anyone would look forward to seeing . If the news is released beforehand, even if the location is set inside the most unfathomable forest or on the most remote mountain, the place would still be packed with those falling over each other in their haste to witness the duel . ”
But Yan Wushi just had to shoot back at him, “Oh, you mean just like the time when you lost to Kunye on Half-Step Peak . You lose your face, and the whole world gets to know it immediately after . ”
This man was seriously too acrimonious . Shen Qiao immediately shut his mouth and spoke no more .
Yan Wushi burst out laughing . “But this idea isn’t bad at all . Confucian scholars enjoy lecturing people with endless and lofty speeches . I’ve always disliked how mouthy Ruyan Kehui is . If I can defeat him and then force him to swear in front of everyone to never speak again, he’d probably prefer I kill him instead!”
Early the next morning, Shen Qiao followed Yan Wushi into the palace .
 Early the next morning, Shen Qiao followed Yan Wushi into the palace .
The Emperor of Zhou even took Shen Qiao’s eyes into consideration . He sent a carriage for them, allowing them to head directly to Qian’an Hall without any interruptions . As such, they could avoid the journey from the palace entrance to the main hall .
In fact, the Central Plains had been under war for hundreds of years ever since the end of the Han Empire . First, there was the chaos of the Three Kingdoms period, and not long after the Jin Dynasty unified the land, a battle broke out again, forcing Jin to move its capital southeast . After that was another hundred years of chaos between the Sixteen Kingdoms . Without a grand unification, the rulers simply had no manpower or financial resources to build large palaces, as nobody knew when their country would be attacked . Those kings who had some degree of accomplishment would often choose to put their resources into war in order to seize more land and wealth, just like what the previous emperors of the Northern Zhou did . As a result, the Northern Zhou’s palace was not very big, unlike that of the Weiyang Palace or Changle Palace during the Han Dynasty .
The present Emperor of Zhou, or Yuwen Yong’s reputation, was somewhat polarized . He lived a simple lifestyle and cared for the people, but at the same time, he was also mistrustful and harsh on his officials . After he came to power, he banned both Buddhism and Daoism . Later, he even distanced himself from Confucianism and became an advocate of the Legalist School which had been gradually declining ever since the demise of the Emperor Wu of Han . At the same time, he also relied on the Cleansing Moon Sect to secure his power, and was therefore criticized by many people . After Shen Qiao left Mount Xuandu, he had heard both praises and criticisms regarding Yuwen Yong along the way, and it seemed like there was a large amount of criticism directed at him, surpassing even the praises for him .
 Therefore, Shen Qiao hesitated for a moment when Yuwen Yong politely summoned him into the hall and asked, “I heard that Mister suffered a lot during this period of time as you wandered amongst the common folk . I’m sure you must have witnessed a lot of hardships among them . Now I wonder, how I am viewed in the eyes of the people?” However, he still decided to tell the truth, “There are praises, but there is criticism as well . ”
Yuwen Yong laughed out loud, “What are they praising me for?
And what are they criticizing me for?”

Shen Qiao answered, “They praise Your Majesty for advocating simplicity instead of luxury, and for cleaning up political corruption . Meanwhile, others criticize Your Majesty for exterminating Buddhism and Daoism, and for treating people with harshness and promoting military affairs . ”
Yuwen Yong asked, “Mister, you were the sect leader of Mount Xuandu . Since I banned both Buddhism and Daoism, I was your enemy too . Do you not hate me for it?”
His questions came one after another in a pressing and aggressive manner, as Yan Wushi only coldly watched without any intention to help Shen Qiao .
Shen Qiao asked, “May I venture to ask Your Majesty why you banned Buddhism and Daoism?”
Yuwen Yong explained, “People who blindly believe in Buddhism and Daoism would donate all of their savings to the temples and just idle away, hoping for a windfall in their next life . Buddhist and Daoist institutions have collected massive amounts of donations and farmlands . They take farmers under their names to avoid paying taxes and levy grains produced by the fields as their own . If this goes on, the court will not be able to collect any grains in the long
 run, while Buddhism and Daoism will continue to grow more powerful with no fear of the law and eventually become the sources of turmoil . It will be like what happened sixty years ago, when Faqing claimed himself to be the new Buddha and led a group of people to rebellion . ”
Since ancient times, royalty had greater power over religions . Whenever a religion became large enough to threaten the Emperor’s rule, it was the time for the current ruler to start destroying and prohibiting the practices . However, the Daoist sects had been caught in the crossfire this time . For the sake of preventing future problems, Yuwen Yong simply just banned both Buddhism and Daoism altogether .
As for Confucianism, Yuwen Yong originally decreed that Confucianism would be ranked first among the Three Schools . However, when he personally wrote a letter inviting Ruyan Kehui over to give a lecture in Chang’an, the other person politely turned him down . The act greatly enraged Yuwen Yong, and he directly banned Confucianism together with the other two, successfully offending all Three Schools .
After he finished, Yuwen Yong stared at Shen Qiao, asking, “Mister comes from a Daoist Sect . You must also feel that what I did was wrong?”
Shen Qiao said, “Dao is like water, benefiting all living things while keeping none for itself . The law of Dao is to be what it is . People who follow the law of Dao should soften their own glare and unify themselves with the ordinary . Only those who comply to the natural order of things and sense the common feelings shared among people can achieve the real Dao . ”
In other words, those Daoists who benefited themselves through harming others were at most the scums amongst the Daoist sects . They could not be the representatives of Daoism .
 Yuwen Yong’s harsh look relaxed as he saw that Shen Qiao was different from those Daoists he had met previously . They had tried every possible way to speak on behalf of the banned Daoism, while Shen Qiao didn’t hesitate at all before answering, and his stance was clear and firm . Yuwen Yong said joyously, “I’ve heard the name of Mount Xuandu for a long time, but only till today did I finally have the fortune to meet Mister . As expected, you live up to your reputation . Every passing day I only hear those people speaking on behalf of Buddhism and Daoism, but  I  should really let them listen to what you just said! The thing that I’m destroying is not true Daoism, but those who swagger and swindle in the name of the immortals . Those people don’t benefit the country or its people . It’s better to wipe them out early than late!”
His words were extremely murderous-sounding .

It was not easy for Shen Qiao to reply to him . Although he was not that kind of thieving Daoist, he was still a believer in Daoism, and so he could not show obvious support for Yuwen Yong’s savage words .
Yuwen Hu wasn’t expecting to hear any flattering words from him in the first place . He looked at Shen Qiao who was sitting at his lower left, and his voice softened, “The moment I saw Mister, I felt like we were old friends . Mister’s bearings are highly admirable . I want to help Mister re-establish the foundation of Daoism and rebuild the Daoist sect, and I would like to seek Mister’s opinion on that . ”
It was not easy for Shen Qiao to reply to him . Although he was not that kind of thieving Daoist, he was still a believer in Daoism, and so he could not show obvious support for Yuwen Yong’s savage words .
Yuwen Hu wasn’t expecting to hear any flattering words from him in the first place . He looked at Shen Qiao who was sitting at his lower left, and his voice softened, “The moment I saw Mister, I felt like we were old friends . Mister’s bearings are highly admirable .
 I want to help Mister re-establish the foundation of Daoism and rebuild the Daoist sect, and I would like to seek Mister’s opinion on that . ”
Shen Qiao said, “This poor Daoist doesn’t really understand what Your Majesty is referring to . May Your Majesty please explain it in more detail?”
Yuwen Yong had always been a decisive and straightforward person . He didn’t like to talk in roundabout ways either, “Junior Preceptor Yan has already told me that you would not have been defeated on Half-Step Peak that day if you hadn’t fallen as a victim to their treachery beforehand . If that’s the case, then the Purple Mansion of Mount Xuandu has no right to depose you from the sect leader position . Even if there’s no room for you over there, there will always be other places for you . Since Mister couldn’t stay on Mount Xuandu, why not re-establish the Daoist orthodoxy of Mount Xuandu over here in Chang’an? I’m sure that with Mister’s superior talent, you will shine no matter where you are . ”
Shen Qiao finally exposed his astonishment .

Yuwen Hu was very direct about it . He wanted Shen Qiao to start a sect in Chang’an and set up another Purple Mansion of Mount Xuandu
. He was originally the justified sect leader appointed by Qi Fengge . It was official, and no one would be able to say that he was a fake .
However, there would then be two Purple Mansions of Mount Xuandu, and the new sect established by Shen Qiao and the other Mount Xuandu would be standing in opposition against each other far across the land .
What Yuwen Yong implied was to support Shen Qiao with the power of the imperial court . However, this help would not come for free . Shen Qiao’s new sect was bound to be weak in its founding stages, and because of that, he would have to rely on the support
 from the court . Therefore, Yuwen Yong would actually be using Shen Qiao to plant his own voice and influence among the Daoist sects .
Of course, Shen Qiao would benefit from it too . If he agreed, he would immediately be on equal footing with the other sects . Yan Wushi could no longer treat him like a plaything at his hand .
He again looked at Yan Wushi, that lazy and casual way of sitting could only belong to the leader of the Cleansing Moon Sect . His expression was just like his posture, loose and relaxed, a faint smile hanging off his lips, as though Yuwen Yong’s words posed no threat to him . Instead, he seemed to show more interest in Shen Qiao’s reply .
Shen Qiao did not contemplate for too long and he spoke directly to Yuwen Yong, “I thank Your Majesty for your suggestions, but my moral conduct is not adequate enough to accept this offer
. I’m afraid I cannot live up to your high expectations . ”

Yuwen Yong was both a little startled and unhappy . In his opinion, even though his desire for consolidating his rule could be inferred from his suggestion, for Shen Qiao, it could only be advantageous for him .
Meanwhile Yan Wushi snorted: “I’ve long told Your Majesty that Ah-qiao was a gentleman who would rather break than bend . He would never accept Your Majesty’s suggestion . Your Majesty did not believe me and still wanted to bet on this . Now that Your Majesty has lost, has Your Majesty decided on what to do about it?”

With his interruption, Yuwen Yong resigned, “I don’t understand
. Mister has fallen so far — don’t you want to pull yourself together? Are you willing to give up Mount Xuandu, allow everyone to misunderstand you, and think that you’re useless?”
 Shen Qiao only replied with a smile .

No matter how unhappy Yuwen Yong was, he could not arrest someone just because they didn’t accept his suggestion, and so he could only give up, “Never mind . Mister can take your time and mull over it . If you ever regret it, you can come tell me any time . ”
Then he smiled at Yan Wushi, “To the Junior Preceptor, there are no treasures that are unattainable . The only thing in this palace that can be considered precious is that volume of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang . You’ve already read it before, so how could the rest be worth anything to you? Why don’t you give me a way out and let me take care of today’s lunch for the both of you?”
With his aggressive personality, it was rare for him to be able to talk casually with others . The only reason he could treat Yan Wushi like this was because Yan Wushi was also a powerful man just like him . Yuwen Yong recognized it and admired him for it, and so he was even more respectful towards Yan Wushi than he was to his court councilors .
Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao had their lunch inside the palace before they left . As soon as they exited the main entrance and got into the carriage sent from the Residence of the Junior Preceptor, Yan Wushi asked, “How was it?”
Shen Qiao frowned . “Judging by his voice, I’m afraid that there has been heat in his liver for a long time . A long period of dryness is destructive . He might not be able to live for long . ”

Chapter 37

Yan Wushi pondered in silence .

Shen Qiao said, “I have no expertise in physiognomy, nor am I a physician, so I probably didn’t hear it that clearly . It would be more appropriate if you persuade His Majesty to call in the imperial physicians to have a look . ”
In fact, Yuwen Yong might not have any serious diseases . But ever since he seized the throne from his cousin Yuwen Hu, he had been working strenuously and meticulously from the early mornings to the late nights . There was not a day where he wasn’t slaving away at managing the state affairs . To win over Tujue, he even gave away the Empress position, and he had to treat her with tenderness and consideration to show Tujue his sincerity . This was undoubtedly humiliating for an emperor, especially a powerful emperor like him . He had a good health foundation, so there weren’t any signs in the first few years . But as time passed, even a body made of iron would not be able to stand such a life . When his Immunity, Qi, Nutrition, and Blood [1] all fell apart, his body would definitely collapse .
Yet there might not have been any definite symptoms before that actually happened . Even if he called in the imperial physicians, they would probably just say that he had Qi deficiency due to anxiety and concerns, and that he should rest and take care of his body . The emperor was certainly not going to listen to them .
Yan Wushi made no comment . Instead, he asked Shen Qiao, “Why didn’t you agree to Yuwen Yong’s proposal? With your current situation, it can only be advantageous to you . ”
Shen Qiao asked back, “I’m also curious about it . If I agreed,
 the new Daoist sect would have gained the full support of the imperial court, and it would inescapably affect the Cleansing Moon Sect’s influence in Zhou . Why does Sect Master Yan remain unmoved by it?”
Yan Wushi replied, “Because no matter how many more new sects Zhou creates, they would not change the Cleansing Moon Sect’s status . We can help Yuwen Yong accomplish certain things that the other sects cannot . And even if they could, they wouldn’t deign to do it . He is only thirty-two this year, not long after his age of independence [2] . If he lives for ten more years, I will be able to finish what I want . ”
Shen Qiao tilted his head and looked at him somewhat inquiringly,
“You want to unify the three Demonic sects?”

Yan Wushi asked, “Do you know how large the Han Empire’s territory was?”
Shen Qiao replied, “If I remember correctly, at the peak of its power and prosperity, it embraced Wiman Korea in the east and included northern Vietnam in the west . To the northwest, it surpassed the Pamir Plateau, while it reached the Yin mountains in the north . ”
Yan Wushi asked another question, “How large was the territory when Sima Zhao established Jin?”
Shen Qiao frowned, “At the time when the three Kingdoms were unified under Jin, some territories were already alienated due to the prior chaotic period . Places like Koguryo, Baekje, and Silla were no longer part of the Central Plains since the Jin Dynasty, and nations like Xianbei and Qiang gradually rose in the River West . Even though Jin had unified the Central Plains, the country was not as rich and powerful as it had been before . Not to mention that there was also the War of the Eight Princes not long after…”
 Yan Wushi continued, “Henceforth, the Central Plains completely fell apart . First, there was the Uprising of the Five Barbarians, then the alternation of the Sixteen Kingdoms as they continued to replace one another  .  The world remained in turmoil for two hundred  and  fifty-nine years till now…”
Shen Qiao sighed, “Within the two hundred and fifty-nine years, the foreign nations have repeatedly invaded us . Anyone, as long as they possess some degree of military power, can’t wait to establish their own country and claim rulership, while most of them aren’t even capable of defending what they create . As a result, wars break out on a frequent basis and chaos appears everywhere, making the thousand-mile expanse of land a place of wailing and despair filled with the corpses of refugees!”
Yan Wushi replied with a smile, “That’s right . During the period of these two hundred or so years, no one has been able to bring the world to unity . The  Linchuan  Institute claims themselves to be the Confucian orthodoxy, but they strictly follow a Sinocentric principle, believing that only the Chen Dynasty is the divine manifestation  .  Since  Buddhism and Daoism were banned and have been driven out of the country, they also harbor grudges against Yuwen Yong and think that a dictator like him cannot possibly complete the great undertaking of the grand unity . ”
“You have no idea how many people in this world are trying to trip him up, openly and secretly behind his back . They are all waiting to see him fall on hard times . If Yuwen Yong falls, the situation of Northern Zhou will become unfortunate as well . However, I want to do the exact opposite . I’m going to help such an unpopular emperor unify the land . Wouldn’t it be an interesting thing if the Demonic Sect achieves something that even those who flaunt themselves as the
 orthodoxy of the Three Schools can’t?”

The more people warning him not to do it, the more he wanted to try . Since everyone said that Yuwen Yong’s ruthlessness disqualified him from being a wise ruler, there was all the more reason for Yan Wushi to help him ascend the throne and become the grand ruler of the world . That way, those who were pessimistic about it, against it, or even tried their utmost to stop it would have to slap themselves in the face . Such a volatile and capricious character made many people gnash their teeth in hatred, but at the same time, they could do nothing about him . If other people wanted to lay their hands on Yuwen Yong, they’d have to get past Yan Wushi first . However, like an unsurpassable mountain, this person was so strong that it simply made them feel discouraged .
Shen Qiao asked, “From what I hear, the crown prince is still young . Why doesn’t Sect Master Yan try to  educate  and assist the crown prince at the same time just in case? Otherwise, if the Emperor of Zhou’s day comes soon, won’t your meticulous efforts be wasted?”
Yan Wushi was fiddling with the fringe hanging next to the door . He asked, “What if the crown prince is an unteachable fool? Should I just grit my teeth and suck it up, help a muddle- headed idiot ascend the throne and then submit myself to serve him?”
The message his words implied was indeed quite astonishing . Even Shen Qiao could not help but be taken aback for a second . “You’re going to usurp the throne?”
Yan Wushi burst out laughing, “What’re you thinking? I  have no interest in becoming an emperor . Do you really think that Yuwen Yong has a happy life? Every single day, he has to meet with people he dislikes and he has to make a bunch of red tape speeches . Even the wife he took in is not that different from a decoration that he has no affection towards .
 He spends day and night reading through the officials’ memorials, waking up earlier than a rooster and sleeping later than the dogs . He can only satisfy himself with the illusory glory of owning a boundless territory . Don’t you find him pitiful? Even if I became the emperor, I would probably squander the country’s wealth in less than three years . And if that’s the case, am I not more unrestrained and relaxed right now?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “This confuses me all the more . ”

Yan Wushi said, “With your intelligence, I’m sure you can guess it . Why don’t you give it a go? I’ll give you a reward if you get it right~!”
He even dragged out a long note at the end of the sentence . It reminded Shen Qiao of Bai Rong’s affected coquettish tone . His mouth twitched uncontrollably as he suspected whether this was some special queer habit of the people from the Demonic Sects .
This person was absolutely unprincipled, his words and actions incomprehensible to others most of the time . In fact, one could easily fall for his tricks if they weren’t careful enough . However, Shen Qiao had to admit that Yan Wushi had an unusually keen and insightful view of the general trend of the world, something one couldn’t find in ordinary martial artists . To discuss these things with him benefited Shen Qiao a lot as well .
Yuwen Yong relied heavily on the Cleansing Moon Sect, but there was no guarantee that his successor would continue to do so . Because of the Yuwen Hu incident, the Buddhist sects were still shunned to this day, and they definitely wouldn’t pass up a chance to curry favor with the new emperor . As Yan Wushi had no desire for the throne and had no respect for the current crown prince, the Buddhist sect naturally would seize the opportunity and snuggle up to the crown prince .
 Shen Qiao hesitantly asked, “Sect Master Yan wants to…support a wiser lord?”
Smiling, Yan Wushi said, “My Ah-qiao is so smart!”

Shen Qiao’s face darkened . Who’s ‘your’ Ah-qiao?

As if he didn’t see the change in Shen Qiao’s expression, Yan Wushi even pinched him on the cheek . “That’s right . The Imperial Prince Qi, Yuwen Xian, is not only against religions . He is also brave and skillful in warfare, which has won him immense support from the army . He will surely be able to carry on Yuwen Yong’s ambition . ”
He leaned over and whispered to Shen Qiao’s ear, “You’re the only person I’ve ever told this secret to, so you can’t tell anyone else!”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Could he pretend that he’d never heard it?
It was March 4th, a bright and sunny day .

The wheels had been rumbling forward continuously outside the carriage, but due to the quality shock absorption, it didn’t bump as much inside . The curtain was lifted, and a warm scent came out from within . From the particular sweetness of the smell, it didn’t take long to guess that it was the womenfolk of a family that were riding on this carriage .
She had been on the road for nearly half a month . However, after they entered Chen territory, Yu Zi didn’t feel any of the tiredness that came with the long and arduous journey, and her spirit was getting better and better each day . It was all because she was born in Jiangnan [3] and grew up in Jiankang when she was a child . Now
 that she had returned to her hometown, she could not help but feel a tremor of delight as she kept peeking outside, her bright and watery eyes staring unblinkingly at the surrounding sceneries . It was not until her servant girl who was riding with her inside the carriage called her a few times that she finally turned her head .
“Madam, your soul must have flown away  together  with your eyes!” The servant girl teased her .
“It has been ten years since I last left Jiangnan . ” Yu Zi couldn’t stop herself from glancing back again . “I was still young at that time and didn’t think there was anything particularly pretty about the place . It’s now when I see it again that I finally realize that I have been constantly thinking about it in the back of my mind . Although the North is good, it’s not my hometown after all!”
The servant said, “This time, His Majesty has ordered Master to visit the Chen Dynasty and present the Zhou’s credentials to their rulers . He has been  assigned  such  an  important task, yet he still remembers to bring Madam with him . It clearly shows how much he loves you, a blessing that other people won’t be able to have even if they ask so!”
Yu Zi’s cheeks blushed, and she was too shy to say another word . She was the concubine of the Ordinary Grand Master, Yuwen Qing .
She had been with him for three years . Since Yuwen Qing was
deeply fond of her, everyone in the mansion treated her as if she was his legal wife . This time, Yuwen Qing was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Chen Dynasty, and he brought her along with him, which showed how much he favored her .
It was a time of turmoil, and robbers were roaming all over the place . When traveling merchants set out on the road, they often needed to rely on the government for protection or hire a large number of bodyguards . This time, as they saw the envoy of Zhou
 going down to the South, they all came up to him in hopes of paying some money in order to travel together with the fleet . Many of them were big merchants who had close ties with the nobles in Northern Zhou . Yuwen Qing couldn’t really push them off, so he took all of them with him . As a result, there were now even more people in the fleet . But it also came with a benefit . Since it was such a large crowd marching forward majestically under the protection of expert martial artists, no one dared to assault them recklessly .
They had just left the Yuan Prefecture, and it was still a long way to the capital city of the next . There weren’t many relay stations on the way, so when they finally encountered one, Yuwen Qing ordered the fleet to stop there for an hour to rest and reorganize . The fleet slowly stopped . Some of the people went into the station asking for hot water, while others only had some rations and took a rest on the spot .
The servant girl was still young and loved to hang out with others . It was inappropriate for Yu Zi to randomly get off at her will, but the servant girl had no such worries . After hopping her way around the place, she returned and said to Yu Zi, “Madam, there’s a strange carriage in our fleet . It’s right behind Master’s carriage . There are definitely people inside it, but no one has ever come down from it throughout the trip . How strange!”
Yu Zi didn’t seem to be concerned, “Maybe they came down already, but you just didn’t see . ”
The servant girl shook her head from side to side, “No way . The others were also curious when they told me about  it  .  It seems like no one has ever seen the people in that carriage getting off . I wonder what kind of people they are . Do they just eat, drink, and even excrete in there? How dirty is that!”
Yu Zi chided, “Nonsense!”

Yu Zi chided, “Nonsense!”
 The servant girl stuck her tongue out mischievously and suggested, “Master must know who they are . Madam, why don’t you ask Master about it?”
Yu Zi replied, “You can ask him yourself if you want to know .
There’s no way I’m going!”

The servant girl continued, “I just heard those merchants making a bet on it . They said that since the carriage is so big and gorgeous, the person inside it probably is…”
Yu Zi asked, “Probably is what?”

The servant answered, “Probably is…is Master’s beloved one .

Yu Zi’s expression slightly changed .

The servant hurriedly explained, “Those people outside are just
talking rubbish . I also think that it’s nothing but nonsense . It’s just that I can’t really scold them for it . Who doesn’t know that Master’s real true love is you!”
For someone like Yu Zi, even though she had all the favors and luxuries right now, she knew very well that everything she had depended on Yuwen Qing’s affection for her . Once this affection started to wear thin as her beauty withered, she might end up even worse than this servant girl .
Therefore, she was extremely mindful of Yuwen Qing’s fondness of her and became immediately flustered at the news that Yuwen Qing might have a new favorite . If what the servant girl said was true, and there really was a beauty hidden inside that carriage whom she hadn’t even heard about, then it was not hard to imagine how much Yuwen Qing must treasure her, and it was very likely that she was going to replace Yu Zi soon .
Having stayed at Yuwen Qing’s side for a long time, Yu Zi knew her
 place very well . She never asked about things she should not be asking about or anything Yuwen Qing didn’t want her to know . This was one of the reasons why she was his favorite . Today, however, she had a hard time holding it back, and for an entire afternoon, she had been feeling ill at ease . When Yuwen Qing came over to her carriage that night, Yu Zi attended him gently and carefully for a while before she made her attempt, “Master, I wonder which sister is sitting in that carriage behind yours . It must be so suffocating to stay inside a carriage the whole time . Why not let me invite her over? She could talk with me, and that ought to divert her from boredom at least!”
Yuwen Qing was surprised for a moment, but he soon understood and laughed, “Well . If it’s something you shouldn’t be asking about, then don’t . It’s not going to do you any good . You don’t need to worry about this . All you have to do is stay quietly inside your carriage . ”
There was only a carriage plank separating them from the bustling crowd outside . No matter how desperately Yuwen Qing wished for a more intimate advance, he couldn’t just do it here . Therefore, he could only relieve his desire by rubbing his hand all over Yu Zi before reluctantly returning to his own carriage .
After Yuwen Qing left, the young servant popped her head in and smiled, “Is Madam relieved now?”
Yu Zi’s face flushed . She shot the girl a glare .

The young servant asked, “I’m sure that Master must have comforted Madam already . Who is the beauty in that carriage?”
Yu Zi shook her head . “He didn’t say, but I don’t think it’s a beauty . If Master really has a new lover, why does he need to hide it from me? It’s not like I’m the hostess or anything . ”
 In the end, there was a hint of jealousy in her voice that she didn’t even realize herself .
The servant said, “But I saw a servant girl coming out of it!”

Yu Zi was shocked, “What?”

The servant thought she didn’t believe it and went on to explain, “It’s true . Just outside a moment ago, a servant girl came down with a water sack, probably to get water . She’s so pretty . All the merchants traveling together with us had their eyes fixed unblinkingly on her!”
Baffling and anxious, Yu Zi asked, “Is there really a woman in there?”
The servant suggested, “Why don’t you grant me something tomorrow, Madam? I can use it as an excuse to strike up a conversation and see what’s going on . ”
Yu Zi was uncertain about it, “I don’t think it’s a good idea .
Master will not be happy if he finds out . ”

“I’ll do it secretly so Master won’t know about it . Madam, you have to at least know the other person’s identity so you can think of a way to deal with her . Otherwise, you might not even know who your enemy is by the time she seizes Master’s favor from you!”
“I’ll do it secretly so Master won’t know about it . Madam, you have to at least know the other person’s identity so you can think of a way to deal with her . Otherwise, you might not even know who your enemy is by the time she seizes Master’s favor from you!”
Yu Zi hesitated for a moment, then she took a jade hairpin out of her hair and handed it to the servant, “Be careful . Don’t let Master see you . Just forget about it if you can’t find a chance
 . ”

“You may rest assured, Madam!”

What they had been discussing was a common topic in the inner residence . Later that night, Yuwen Qing didn’t come over . Yu Zi and her servant girl rested inside the same carriage like usual . Although they couldn’t find an inn to stay at along the road, with the martial experts from Zhou’s Imperial Palace protecting them, Yu Zi was very relieved . Besides having to stay inside a suffocating carriage, there was really nothing to complain about .
About midnight, Yu Zi suddenly felt a slight chill on her face . She opened her eyes in a daze, but before she could realize what was happening, someone had already covered her mouth .
At the same time, she heard a light laugh next to her ear, “You’re pretty keen . You’re lucky that I’m in a good mood tonight, so I won’t kill anyone . A man like him would even save a horse . If he knew that I killed you, it would  surely deepen his disgust towards me . ”
That was the last sentence Yu Zi heard that night, because she was knocked unconscious immediately afterwards .
The young servant even tucked her inside the blanket before getting up and hopping off the carriage . Carrying her dress in her hand, she ran towards Yuwen Qing’s carriage, looking all flustered .
The guards stopped her outside the carriage, so she could only call with a low voice, “Master! Master!”
Yuwen Qing probably hadn’t slept yet . After a while, the carriage curtain was lifted, and a face full of impatience appeared . “What happened?!”
The young servant looked at the experts guarding the carriage . Somewhat embarrassed, she whispered, “It’s almost Madam’s
 day of the month, and she has a hard time sleeping well at night . She just had a nightmare and is now crying over there
. Would Master please go take a look at her?”

There was a beauty accompanying him on the trip, but he had to sleep alone with only his blanket to hug . The feeling became all the harder to endure . Yuwen Qing could feel his heart warming up as he heard the girl’s words . “I’ll go check . ”
Seeing that the guards sent by Yuwen Yong were about to come after him, he immediately gave a light cough, “I’ll just go take a look at my concubine’s carriage . There’s no need to come together with me . ”
These experts all had sharp eyes and ears . If he wanted to do something in the carriage, they didn’t even need to prick their ears to easily hear everything . It would definitely be an awkward thing for the person being eavesdropped .
The guards were not so happy about it . After all, they weren’t the type of bodyguards for Yuwen Qing to bark orders at . Even though they held the title of Imperial martial artists, they actually belonged to the Cleansing Moon Sect . Apart from Yan Wushi and Yuwen Yong, no one else could order them around . They normally followed the emperor around, and it was already an act of condescension for them to escort an envoy this time . They also had their pride, so they stopped at his words . After they saw that Yuwen Qing got in one of the carriages in the back which was only a few steps away from them, they didn’t take it seriously .
Yuwen Qing followed the young servant onto the carriage . As soon as the door was closed, he sensed something weird, “Yu Zi? Why didn’t you light a lamp?”
By the time he thought about turning back, it was already too late . A chilling sensation quietly crept onto his back . It was a jade
 hairpin held by a slim, fair hand . But the speed was simply too fast . He didn’t have time to even blink when half an inch of the sharp end of that hairpin had already pierced through his clothes and sunk into his flesh!
Yuwen Qing’s mouth dropped open, and there was a frightening expression on his face . At this moment, how could he not know that he had been lead into a trap? He could only blame his own stupidity that he even told those experts accompanying him not to come . Even though they were only a few steps away from him, it was already enough for the other person to pierce the hairpin all the way through his heart .
He could almost see hell waving at him .

But the hairpin didn’t advance in the next moment . In fact, it even retreated and pulled out of his body . Yuwen Qing fell right on top of Yu Zi who was still unconscious .
There was a beauty in his arms, but he was not in the mood for it at all . He hurriedly looked back while shouting for help .
The servant girl who sneak attacked him retreated rather quickly . In a fleeting instant, she had already drifted several meters away . However, someone was even faster than her . A blue-robed figure soon caught up with her . They seemed to have exchanged a move, and the servant girl groaned in pain as her whole body flew out .
“Preceptor! Junior Preceptor, save me!” Overjoyed by the person’s arrival, Yuwen Qing even had the impulse to cling tightly onto Yan Wushi’s thigh .
Right at that moment, swishing sounds broke through the air in all directions . Countless phantoms suddenly appeared from the darkness and pounced at him .
Yuwen Qing’s great joy turned into great fright . When his guards
 started fighting with those men, he rolled and crawled back into the carriage, not even caring that his back was still bleeding .
Right at that moment, swishing sounds broke through the air in all directions . Countless phantoms suddenly appeared from the darkness and pounced at him .
Yuwen Qing’s great joy turned into great fright . When his guards started fighting with those men, he rolled and crawled back into the carriage, not even caring that his back was still bleeding .
Yuwen Yong had warned him before he left that the Northern Qi would try every possible method to prevent Zhou from forming an alliance with Chen . Yan Wushi would personally accompany him on his trip to the South, protecting him along the way . At that time, Yuwen Qing still thought that the emperor was making a big fuss over it . However, since not everyone in this world had the honor to be protected by the Demonic Sovereign himself, it greatly satisfied Yuwen Qing’s vanity . He also followed their orders and concealed Yan Wushi’s identity, so everyone thought the person inside the carriage was just another beauty like Yu Zi . Who would have thought that he would almost be killed on the spot?!
If he hadn’t concealed Yan Wushi’s presence in the beginning, the other party would not have exposed themselves so quickly . In that case, they might’ve used more deceptive methods that were even harder to guard against . Yuwen Qing understood very well that if he could take the opportunity and take down most of the other party tonight, his journey would undoubtedly be a lot safer all the way to Chen .
Listening to the swords clashing outside together with the smell of blood that seemed to hover around his nose, Yuwen Qing felt himself on the verge of suffocating . Even Yan Wushi’s presence could not fully put his mind to rest .
As if he suddenly thought of something, he almost jumped up and
 hurriedly put his finger under Yu Zi’s nose . After a while, he slowly exhaled a breath of relief as his entire body slumped to the floor inside the carriage .
The fight continued outside .
Yuwen Qing wasn’t the only one who was scared . Those merchants traveling with them were all hiding inside their carriages in fear . A few of them who thought themselves to be skilled in martial arts wanted to come up to help, but they were all killed right on the spot, unable to take even a single blow . The attackers were vicious and merciless; they didn’t even bother to hide their faces . As for some of the people who didn’t escape in time, their souls were immediately claimed by the blades .

Yan Wushi was besieged by four elders of the Harmony Sect . The numbers weren’t in his favor, yet it was the other four people that seemed to be in dire straits . Only a moment later, their formation was already a hideous mess, almost like a defeated army in disarray
. Despite being surrounded by four people, Yan Wushi had something showy and unbridled within him, handling the situation with such prowess that his dictatorial manner alone was enough to suppress the four .
Xiao Se sent another person flying with his palm, but he didn’t want to come close to Yan Wushi . Instead, he tried to sneak towards the carriage where Yuwen Qing was hiding, not forgetting to taunt Bai Rong as he moved, “Junior Sister, you sure ruin more things than you can accomplish . It was such a small errand and yet you somehow still managed to blow it . How will Master dare to assign you any more tasks in the future?”
Bai Rong was sitting on a tree next to him . Arms crossed, she laughed, “But Senior Brother Xiao didn’t tell me that Sect Master Yan would be with them too? If you’re so capable, why don’t you go confront Sect Master Yan face to face?”
 Xiao Se sneered and did not reply . He stroked a palm at the carriage, and the latter immediately split into pieces, revealing Yuwen Qing’s astonished face .
“Master asked us to kill him, not to throw our weight about and pick fights . Hurry up and help me while the elders are holding Yan Wushi in place!” Xiao Se snapped at Bai Rong, but he was soon caught into another fight .
Even though these imperial martial artists were no match for Xiao Se, since they outnumbered him, they could still keep him from minding other tasks . While the gap between the two parties’ strengths was not insurmountable, such a difference in martial arts was not usually expressed through the power of their inner qi or the exquisiteness of their movements; it instead relied mostly on their practical experience and techniques . As soon as Xiao Se beat one, another would pop up . It annoyed Xiao Se so much that he couldn’t help but give way to impatience .

However, Bai Rong remained unmoved, “We already talked about it before we left! Sect Master only asked me to find a chance to secretly kill Yuwen Qing . I just used all my might to escape from Sect Master Yan’s hand, and my chest is still hurting even now . How can I still have the strength to help you fight?”
Xiao Se clenched his teeth in rage as he kindly ‘greeted’ all of Bai Rong’s ancestors and relatives in his head, including her master, Sang Jingxing . But he was temporarily caught by a few people and could not find a chance to kill Yuwen Qing .
Seeing that Yuwen Qing was running toward another carriage while dragging a beauty behind him, Xiao Se could feel the anger flare up inside him . He couldn’t help but use all of his martial power to quickly take down a few enemies before chasing after Yuwen Qing .
At this time, Yuwen Qing had already gone inside the carriage .
 Xiao Se gave a cold laugh, thinking how stupid this person must be . Was this carriage made of refined iron? Even running into the forest would be a better choice than staying here . He made up his mind in a flash, deciding to strike another palm at the carriage like what he had done just now .
This time, however, his movement was blocked .

Or more precisely speaking, a stream of inner qi surged violently at his face, leaving him with no choice but to retreat!
Along with the gush of inner qi, the doors of the carriage flung open and revealed the pale and beautiful face inside .
Translator’s Note:
[1] Ying(Nutrition), Wei(Defense/Immunity), Qi, Xue(Blood) [营卫气血]: Chinese medical terms, the four stages of illness .
[2] Age of independence [而立之年]: 30 years old .
[3] Jiangnan [江南]: Referring to region to the south of the Yangtze River .

Chapter 38

In the past, Xiao Se definitely would not have let such a beauty off without playing with them for awhile, or having a taste of the person at least . This time, however, he didn’t even have the time to take a good look at the person’s face .
Killing Yuwen Qing was a must tonight, and Bai Rong had abandoned that already . Failure was no longer an option for him . Even though he knew how slim his chances were in the presence of Yan Wushi, he had no choice but to make an attempt .
Xiao Se drew out the hand fan he kept in his belt . With a shake of his wrist, a number of sharp blades appeared at the ends of its leaves
. He threw it out and the fan swept across the air toward the other person . Meanwhile, he tapped on the ground and sprung toward Shen Qiao as well . Amidst the wind created by his palm, he made his comeback .
Shen Qiao wasn’t planning to join the fight at first . His body now required a longer recovery period after each fight, and it might even cause irreversible damage to his foundation . Also, there was no need for him to fight since Yan Wushi was here . But, at this very moment with Yuwen Qing dragging Yu Zi to his carriage looking for shelter, and with a dangerous enemy closing in step by step, Shen Qiao had no choice but to take on the fight himself .
Xiao Se thought that with Yan Wushi’s ways of doing things, he would never bring any other helpers . Only heaven knew that the carriage hid such a person who could not be underestimated! He remembered the recent rumor in the pugilistic world, and, comparing it to the characteristics of the person in front of him, he immediately figured out the identity of the person, “Sect Leader Shen, as a
 grandmaster of the Daoist sects, don’t you feel ashamed to be ordered around by someone like Yan Wushi?”
He let out a malicious sneer, but his hands moved faster and faster
. The waves of the wind brought up by his palms surged like the tide, crushing forward one after another, allowing his enemy no time to breathe . The fan seemed to have its own consciousness . It worked alongside Xiao Se’s inner qi, filling whatever gaps were left by his attacks, aiming only at the enemy’s weak points . As if being attacked from both ends, anyone fighting with Xiao Se had an additional layer of threats to deal with .
Shen Qiao did not wish to make the fight any longer than it needed to be . He didn’t use the bamboo stick, but he immediately drew out the Celestial Grief Sword .
The sword lights overlapped on top of each other, weaving into a curtain that could almost cover the sky . Not only did they cut through the fierce winds created by the other person’s palms, but the lights also fended off the blades of his fan . Xiao Se tried to break through the ‘sword curtain’, but he ended up discovering that, like a flawless barrier, it left him with no loopholes to seize .
What was more was that Shen Qiao was doing unto Xiao Se what Xiao Se had done to him . The winds wrapping Xiao Se’s palms bounced off the ‘sword curtain’ back to himself and almost suffocated him . His defense faltered for a second, and with a hard blow to his chest, Xiao Se immediately vomited a mouthful of blood .
Didn’t they say that Shen Qiao was seriously injured to the point where he had even suffered a great loss in his martial arts?!
Xiao Se was both shocked and enraged . He realized that he could not gain any advantage even if he continued . There was no way that the four elders could hold Yan Wushi back any longer, and once Yan Wushi was able to free himself, he would be the one in trouble .
 He couldn’t keep himself from glancing up the tree – Bai Rong, who had been sitting over there, was already nowhere to be found . Xiao Se clenched his teeth and said, “Sect Leader Shen indeed has a well-deserved reputation . Xiao will come back and ask for your advice some other time then!”

As soon as he finished, he spotted an opening and struck a palm toward it . While Shen Qiao was raising his sword, Xiao Se retrieved the fan blades and disappeared in a fleeting instant, not even leaving a word to those four elders .
This moment was a vivid and thorough depiction of how selfish and cold-hearted the people from the Demonic Sects were .
Yuwen Qing crawled out from behind Shen Qiao, still trembling with fear, and asked, “Many thanks to this young mister for saving us! May I have your name, please?”
Shen Qiao slid his sword back into the sheath . “Shen Qiao . ”

Seeing his lifeless eyes, Yuwen Qing suddenly realized, “So you’re that, uh, that Mister Shen!”
During this period of time, the battle in the Residence of Su spread Shen Qiao’s name around like wildfire . Whenever his name was brought up, people could not avoid talking about Yan Wushi, and the conversation would always end with an ambiguous smile from everyone . Yuwen Qing did not belong to the pugilistic world . He had only heard some rumors about it . After seeing the person in real life, he couldn’t help but exclaim to himself what a beauty Shen Qiao was
. Despite his slight sickly look, there was a distinct lingering charm to him .
Especially when the beauty drew out his sword and fought the other person a moment ago, he had changed all of a sudden from his vulnerable, delicate appearance . Heavy and steady while embodying a grand presence, his sword arts were such a feast to one’s eyes that
 people would find it difficult to look away . However, Yuwen Qing could feel nothing but deep pity that someone else had already picked up such a beauty .
Shen Qiao didn’t know what Yuwen Qing was thinking about, so he was still able to maintain his usual gentle and placid expression as he smiled and nodded at Yuwen Qing, “Senior Official Yuwen, would you like to check on the madam behind you first?”
Yuwen Qing said, “She seems to have passed out . ” “Let me see . ”
Yuwen Qing put Yu Zi’s hand into Shen Qiao’s .

Shen Qiao took her pulse and said, “She’s fine . Someone hit her sleeping acupoint . That’s all . ”
He unblocked Yu Zi’s acupoint, and the latter slowly woke up . The sight of Yuwen Qing and Shen Qiao right in front of her gave Yu Zi a good scare, and her heart was clearly still palpitating with fear .
Yuwen Qing pressed her down at once . “Everything’s fine now .
Junior Preceptor Yan and Mister Shen saved us!”

Yu Zi asked, “Xiao-lin, she…she…”

Yuwen Qing said, “Someone from the Harmony Sect disguised themselves as Xiao-lin in order to approach you . They wanted to assassinate me through you . The chance of Xiao-lin still being alive by now is probably very slim . ”
Shen Qiao suddenly said, “That’s not necessarily true . Since Madam is fine, your servant may not be in danger . Senior Official Yuwen, could you please send your men to conduct a search? They might be able to find something . ”
Yu Zi pulled Yuwen Qing’s sleeves, her eyes brimming with tears,
 “Xiao-lin has been with me for many years . She has always been very loyal to me . Master, please send someone to look for her!”
Yuwen Qing’s heart softened at once, “Sure, sure! I’ll go tell them to search for her right now!”
On the other side, the four elders of the Harmony Sect lost to Yan Wushi at last . One of them was killed right then and there, another gravely injured, while the other two were more or less wounded as well, barely clutching onto their lives to escape . Before the gravely injured one was able to slip away, Yan Wushi dealt yet another blow to him . The remainder of his days would most likely be brief unless he encountered something miraculous .
As Yuwen Qing turned his head, he saw Shen Qiao sitting there and cradling his sword with blank eyes . An unbidden feeling of pity welled up within him, and he completely forgot the fierce display of martial arts the other had demonstrated earlier .
As Yuwen Qing turned his head, he saw Shen Qiao sitting there and cradling his sword with blank eyes . An unbidden feeling of pity welled up within him, and he completely forgot the fierce display of martial arts the other had demonstrated earlier .
“Mister Shen, are you tired? Would you like to rest in my carriage? There’s still some food in it . ”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “Senior Official Yuwen doesn’t need to trouble yourself for me . ”
Yuwen Qing laughed, “No, no! It’s not troublesome at all! I still have to thank you for saving my life just now . You look pale, mister . I’m sure it must be due to Qi and blood deficiency . I still have some cakes made with donkey-hide gelatin . I’ll tell them to send it to your carriage later . Just eat one slice every day . It helps with blood regeneration .
 Oh, and that thing is sweet . It’s very toothsome…”

Shen Qiao held his forehead in silence .

Yuwen Qing thought he was feeling dizzy . Just as he was about to reach out and support Shen Qiao, they heard Yan Wushi’s lazy voice, “Such pain it causes me, to watch my Ah-qiao being seduced away while I struggle in a bloody battle!”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He didn’t even need to see to know that there was no ‘bloody battle’ at all, and that the other’s clothes had not even a speck of blood on them .
Yan Wushi’s words weren’t convincing at all . Yet they still made Yuwen Qing feel somewhat guilty and embarrassed, so he hurriedly retracted his hand . “Junior Preceptor must be joking . I only thought Mister Shen looked a bit tired . Tonight,  it’s  all thanks to Junior Preceptor! I can’t imagine what the situation would be like otherwise!”
From outside came the noise of chaos and confusion . It wasn’t only Yuwen Qing’s guards that were hurt, but the merchants travelling along with them had also faced misfortune . Although the opponent’s only target was Yuwen Qing, the Demonic Sects never followed any moral standards when they acted and cared merely for like or dislike . Anyone who stood in their way would not escape the fate of being slaughtered . The merchants originally thought that travelling with the government’s procession would be safer, but who knew that a catastrophe would swoop in out of nowhere? Now they could only try to soothe their fellow merchants with tearless grief, which led to even more panicked commotion .
Yuwen Qing followed Shen Qiao’s instructions and sent someone to search . As expected, they found Yu Zi’s maid by a rock next to a nearby creek . The girl had gone to urinate, walking a little farther to
 avoid being seen, but was then suddenly knocked out . After she woke up, she didn’t even know what had happened .
A place that had Yan Wushi was a place that contained formless intimidation . The entire fleet stayed awake the whole night with constant noise, but around the carriage which Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao rode on was an eerie silence . Yuwen Qing took Yu Zi with him as they left the carriage, but he then ordered others to send over a bunch of food as a show of gratitude . It was inconvenient to cook in the wild, but Yuwen Qing had brought quite a lot of stewed meat and candied fruit for the trip along with some fresh fruits . He was obviously a man who knew how to enjoy life .
Shen Qiao was not interested in the stewed meats, but he had quite a few candied fruits . His little habit of having a sweet tooth never changed no matter where he went .
Leaning against a soft cushion, Yan Wushi placed a piece of beef jerky in his mouth . The honey tea that Ruru just boiled was placed next to him, and compared to the ruckus outside, the interior seemed all the more serene .
“The assassination wasn’t successful this time,  so  there may be a second attempt . Senior Official  Yuwen  has  too many gaps around him . He may not be able to defend all of them,” Shen Qiao said .
Yan Wushi said, “It’s fine . Yuwen Qing has people at his side testing poison for him . He’s the one being stupid this time, insisting on bringing a woman with him which left a loophole for others . He’ll be more careful after this event . Besides, it doesn’t matter even if he dies . I have another copy of the credential on me . It will be the same if I let the deputy envoy present it to the Emperor of Chen . It’s just that Yuwen Qing is extremely eloquent and thus not easily replaceable, which is also the very reason that the Emperor of Zhou cares about him this much . ”
 Shen Qiao thought of the other’s earlier unceasing torrent of words and couldn’t help but purse his lips with a hint of a smile .
Yan Wushi lamented, “My Ah-qiao is truly loved by all . Yuwen Qing is a lascivious man, so that is expected, but even a devilish woman like Bai Rong also has an affection for you! If I don’t watch you closely, I’m afraid that you’ll vanish at any time!”
Yan Wushi lamented, “My Ah-qiao is truly loved by all . Yuwen Qing is a lascivious man, so that is expected, but even a devilish woman like Bai Rong also has an affection for you! If I don’t watch you closely, I’m afraid that you’ll vanish at any time!”
Shen Qiao frowned, “Please stop joking like this, Sect Master Yan . Since when does Bai Rong have anything to do with me?”
Yan Wushi said, “She went to assassinate Yuwen Qing disguising herself as that little maid . If it was in the past, neither that little maid nor Yuwen Qing’s concubine would have survived . But she unexpectedly showed mercy to them
. If it wasn’t because of you, could it possibly be because of someone like Yuwen Qing? She’s a smart girl . She probably has guessed that you would be on this trip too and therefore wants to leave a good impression, lest you be more disgusted with her . ”
He said this and then clicked his tongue . “How difficult it is for my Ah-qiao! He was born an oblivious blockhead, only thinking about morals and cultivation his entire life, and has no understanding of love . If I didn’t lay it out for him, he probably would never truly understand it!”
He was always saying ‘my Ah-qiao’ like Shen Qiao was a possession of his . Shen Qiao had protested a few times, but it was to
 no avail . So he grew numb towards it and just let Yan Wushi do whatever .
Yan Wushi said, “Unfortunately, this love of hers is foreordained to wilt before it can even sprout . It’s hard to imagine how Sang Jingxing will torment her if he finds out what she thinks . ”
Puzzled, Shen Qiao asked, “Are the disciples of the Harmony Sect not allowed to have affection for others?”
“Do you really not know? The Harmony Sect is famous for their sexual cultivation . Everyone in the sect, man or woman, practices dual cultivation . From what I see, Bai Rong is no longer a virgin . Presumably, her nephron-yin [1] has already been taken away by her master, Sang Jingxing!”
There was shock on Shen Qiao’s face . After a long time, he finally said, “But he’s her master…”
Yan Wushi said, “So what? Could it be that you think that Sang Jing, a person who has had many lovers and has consistently enjoyed stealing people’s  virginity,  would  just let someone else freely take his pretty  disciple’s  nephron- yin? I don’t know how many people Bai Rong has practiced dual cultivation with, but Sang Jing is definitely one of them . ”

Shen Qiao frowned and did not speak .

Yan Wushi laughed . “Ah-qiao’s tendency of pitying the weak is showing itself again . Sang Jingxing is out of the question, but if she really didn’t want to dual cultivate with the others in her sect, she could’ve thought of a way to back out . However, if you look at the speed at which her martial arts have grown, you’d realize that she must have supplemented it with sexual cultivation . Most likely, she did it all willingly .
 And you even start to pity her? What about this kind of woman is worth your pity? If you want to feel bad for someone, why not me?”
Shen Qiao felt a little speechless . “Are you saying that Bai Rong doesn’t deserve to be pitied, but Sect Master Yan somehow does?”
Yan Wushi said, “I fought four enemies by myself tonight . Do I not deserve to be pitied?”
He caught Shen Qiao’s hand and pressed it onto his chest, “Look, my little heart is still thumping even till now!”
Just then, they heard Yuwen Qing’s voice from the outside, “Junior Preceptor! Mister Shen! Can I come in?”
Shen Qiao tried to yank his hand away from Yan Wushi, but the other forcefully tugged him all of a sudden and Shen Qiao ended up falling towards him .
Yuwen Qing heard no sound coming from within and took it as a tacit agreement . As he pushed open the door and raised the curtain, he suddenly witnessed the scene and it completely astounded him .
Shen Qiao tried to yank his hand away from Yan Wushi, but the other forcefully tugged him all of a sudden and Shen Qiao ended up falling towards him .
Yuwen Qing heard no sound coming from within and took it as a tacit agreement . As he pushed open the door and raised the curtain, he suddenly witnessed the scene and it completely astounded him .
Because from his point of view, it didn’t seem like a trick from Yan Wushi, but more like Shen Qiao throwing himself into Yan Wushi’s arms .
Glancing at his stupefied expression, Yan Wushi slightly raised an
 eyebrow and impulsively came up with a malicious plan . He grabbed Shen Qiao’s chin and immediately pulled him into a deep kiss .
Shen Qiao froze for a second, then shoved a palm towards the other without hesitation . However, Yan Wushi had predicted this, effectively neutralizing his attack while tapping his acupoint at the same time . Just like this, taking advantage of Shen Qiao’s now powerless position, Yan Wushi gathered Shen Qiao into his arms . He lowered his head and pried open the person’s lips, forcing Shen Qiao to accept the invasion .
“Mmn…” Shen Qiao tightly knitted his brows, not because he had lost himself in it, but because he was suffering from the restraint placed on his acupoints and could not retaliate . However good- tempered he was, he was already incensed at the moment . Unfortunately, his martial arts were not as good as the person in front of him, so he could only let him have his way . He was forced to tilt his slender neck upwards while his waist was tightly clutched . Shen Qiao’s jaw was somewhat sore, lacking the strength to completely close his mouth, and as a result, a silvery thread of saliva slid from the corner of his lips . But his tormentor paid it no mind and deepened the kiss even further .
The scene was so erotic that Yuwen Qing could not move his eyes away from it . He even felt his mouth getting a little dry .
“Done looking yet?” Yan Wushi asked after he finally released the person in his arms and turned to Yuwen Qing .
“Y-yes…” he stammered . Though Yuwen Qing liked to boast of himself as a romantic man, as well as an experienced veteran with the ladies, he didn’t know if his voice came out unevenly because he had seen something he shouldn’t have, or if he was terrified by Yan Wushi’s imposing manner .
“Then why’re you still here?”
 Yuwen Qing: “…”
He turned around and frantically scrambled away, thoroughly spooked .
Yan Wushi turned back to look at Shen Qiao, momentarily speechless . It was because the aforementioned person had already fainted .
More precisely speaking, that kiss was unlikely the main cause of his fainting . It was probably due to the inability to resist in addition to temporary suffocation — in short, being enraged to the point of passing out .

Yan Wushi had never seen such a thing happen before . He couldn’t help but laugh out loud with a few clicks of the tongue to express his sympathy, “What a poor thing!”
He didn’t think he had overdone it . Instead, he felt that Qi Fengge’s disciples just didn’t know how to have fun at all .
Translator’s Note:
[1] Nephron-yin/Yuan Yin [元阴]: Chinese medicine term, or the
Primal Yin . In some wuxia or cultivation novels, it is believed that girls and boys keep some kind of primal spiritual energy in them while they’re still virgins, and it is possible for people who take away their virginity to gain this and use the energy to cultivate .

Chapter 39

It had been several hundred years since the Eastern Wu established their capital in this city . During this period of time, the Eastern Jin migrated to the South; and, using the Yangtze River as a natural barrier, they seemed to have kept off all the tumultuous wars of the North . Hence, Jiankang became the most flourishing city not only in the Central Plains, but also throughout the whole world . Merchants from all over gathered there; travelers and wanderers came and went . By day, an endless stream of extravagant carriages flowed through the streets, and come nightfall, countless lanterns formed a woven fabric illuminating the night sky till the next dawn . The brothels never rested; they awaited all throughout the nights with scented beds and silken boudoirs .
Although cities like Chang’an and Ye City were also capitals, having experienced all those years of warfare, they more or less appeared a little worn out, which only made people long even more for places like the Jiangnan area where things were relatively peaceful . They thought of it as heaven on earth, and there were even sayings like “Jiankang is the land of splendors where earthly blooms thrive . ” The Northern Zhou officials like Yuwen Qing might not express it verbally, but they all more or less yearned for Jiankang City in their hearts . As for the servants who came together with them, there was no need for them to hide their feelings — in fact, they had already revealed their admiration wholeheartedly . This seemed to greatly flatter the officials of the Southern Chen who came to receive them, for they couldn’t help but point out and introduce their visitors to the various sceneries inside the city as they proceeded .

After they entered the city, Yuwen Qing and his men rested at the guest villa provided by the Chen, and Yan Wushi was no exception . With his identity and status, along with the fact that he had saved
 Yuwen Qing’s life, the latter consciously left the main courtyard to Yan Wushi and moved into the side yard himself . However, his poor concubine, Yu Zi, was greatly frightened that night and had fallen gravely ill afterwards . She was bedridden for quite some time and just started getting better after they settled down inside the city .
The Harmony Sect made no other movement after failing that assassination attempt . At first, Yuwen Qing was still worried and scared, but he gradually relaxed as he thought of Yan Wushi’s presence . It would be considered a great humiliation to Yan Wushi as the sect master of the Cleansing Moon Sect if he let the assassins succeed . For martial artists, their pride was more important than their own lives . Thinking to this point, Yuwen Qing was completely relaxed and brought his beloved concubine with him to tour Jiankang City every day as much as they liked as he waited for the Emperor of Chen’s summon .
One day, Shen Qiao was listening to the servant girl reading a book to him when someone came to his door, saying that Yuwen Qing had come to visit him .
Shen Qiao nodded at Ruru, and the girl set down the book to open the door .
Yuwen Qing first looked around after he came in, then asked, “So, Junior Preceptor Yan is not here?”
Shen Qiao laughed, “We don’t stay in the same room . If Senior Official Yuwen needs to talk to him, then you’ve come to the wrong place . However, I heard that Sect Master Yan went out early this morning . He seems to have some business today . ”
Yuwen Qing let out a few hollow laughs, “That’s good, that’s good . It’s fine if the Junior Preceptor isn’t here . The man is fearfully strong . I’m actually more nervous while talking to him than talking to His Majesty!”
 Ruru couldn’t keep herself from giggling .

Yuwen Qing had always been forgiving towards beautiful girls .
Upon seeing this, he didn’t get mad and even smiled at Ruru .

It ended up making Ruru feel a little embarrassed .

Yuwen Qing then smiled to Shen Qiao, “The weather is very fine today . Mister Shen, would you like to go out for a stroll? Jiankang is located on the banks of the Huai River . I heard that many ferries go up and down the Huai, and there are markets near every crossing . Why not take a look and get some fresh aquatic delicacies? We can ask them to prepare a feast tonight!”
Upon finishing, he seemed to have recalled else, “You come from a Daoist origin, but there are no rules that require you to be a vegetarian, right?”
Shen Qiao said, “No, there’s not . Since my eyes are bad, however, I’ll probably be a burden to your outing . ”
Yuwen Qing laughed again . “Mister Shen has saved my life before, and I was the one burdening you at that time . Is there a need to be so polite?”
Shen Qiao did not object any further . “Then I’ll be in your care .

The villa was not far from the ferry crossings, so Yuwen Qing didn’t
get a carriage . Instead, he decided to walk with Yu Zi and everyone else . Originally, he was worried that it would be inconvenient for Shen Qiao, but although the other had to rely on the bamboo stick in his hand, his speed wasn’t any slower than the rest of the group’s, nor did he need anyone’s support . He walked abreast Yuwen Qing, just like a normal person .
Yuwen Qing discovered that Shen Qiao did not bring his sword . He
 asked, “Mister Shen, where’s your sword?”

As if he knew what Yuwen Qing was worried about, Shen Qiao replied with a smile, “Senior Official Yuwen, there’s no need to worry . If we run into any enemies, I can still keep them at bay with this stick of mine . Besides, this is Jiankang City after all . With the Linchuan Institute overseeing the place, the Harmony Sect won’t be so daring as to attack us right here . ”
Having his worries laid bare, Yuwen Qing blushed out of embarrassment . “No wonder I feel it has been much more peaceful ever since we entered the city . Even the Junior Preceptor considers it safe enough  to  go  handle  matters while leaving us by ourselves . So that’s why . ”
Shen Qiao explained, “The Chen wishes to form an alliance with the Zhou . They won’t be able to explain it to the Emperor of Zhou if they let you get attacked by an assassin within Jiankang City . Therefore, they will definitely do their best to ensure your safety . There are expert martial artists guarding the guest villa at all times . It’s just that you aren’t aware of it . ”
Yuwen Qing leaned closer to him and whi spered, “Mister Shen, I know you are not like those boy-toys out there, and I wouldn’t dare to look down on you . Since the Junior Preceptor isn’t around today, I finally have the courage to tell you the truth . Do you know what those people in Chang’an City think of you?”
Shen Qiao only replied with a smile .

Yuwen Qing thought he didn’t know about it and explained in a euphemistic tone, “They all say you’re like a dragon trapped inside the shallows and have no choice but to depend on Sect Master Yan in order to save yourself, that… Ahem, that you
 even gave up your strength and integrity as a person . We’ve travelled together throughout the trip, and you even saved my life, so I’m well aware that you’re absolutely nothing like that . However, it’s just like how the saying goes, ‘Rumors are powerful enough to melt metal . ’ The mass spreading of them can obscure any truth! Stay away from Junior Preceptor Yan if you find the chance . Why let others smear  and humiliate you like that for no reason? Gosh, even I get mad when I hear those words!”
Shen Qiao knew the reason he said these words was because of what he saw that day in the carriage . The matter was too complicated to be explained in a few minutes, so he could only reply, “I really appreciate your kindness, but you’re mistaken . Sect Master Yan and I are not in that kind of a relationship . Sect Master Yan’s temperament is a little… erratic, so his actions often surprise others . ”
“I know . I know! There’s no way you’re a boy-toy that’s attached to Junior Preceptor Yan, and neither do I discriminate against homoxesuxual people . However, with your current situation, if you and Junior Preceptor Yan… umm… ahem … have mutual affections, I’m afraid that the rumors and slanders will harm you, not him!”
Shen Qiao explained helplessly, “…We don’t have mutual affections . I’m not homosexual either . ”
“I know . I know! This isn’t something to tell others about .
We can just keep it in hearts!”
Shen Qiao: “…”
He suddenly lost the will to speak . No matter what Yuwen Qing said afterwards, he just let it flow through his ears without actually listening to it .
 The ferrying crossing was simmering with the noise and people shouting, and on the ground were the displays of various kinds of goods . Quite a few people came by foot to walk and shop around like Yuwen Qing’s group, while many others came by horses or carriages
. Some were also seeing off their families or coming down the ferries
. For a moment, the place was so crowded with a throng people and an endless stream of horses and carriages that they were almost going to trample each other .
A horse behind them had either been frightened or badly handled by its owner, and it started dashing toward them, forcing everyone to scatter as they dodged it . Shen Qiao ended up being separated from the rest of the group because of that, but he wasn’t worried since Yuwen Qing had people on his side protecting him anyway . He followed the stalls along the river bank and slowly walked back to the street market . Sometimes, when he heard those peddlers shouting about things he was interested in, he would even stop and feel the goods with his hands . Although the peddlers saw he was blind, since his manner and the way he dressed didn’t look like that of a beggar, they didn’t dare to belittle him . On the contrary, they even enthusiastically marketed their goods to him .
“Mister! Please take a look at what I have! They’re all weaved by the finest bamboo strips! I’ve got baskets, stools, and everything! Here are some little toys for your children at home to play with!” Seeing that Shen Qiao had crouched down, the peddler picked up a bamboo ball and put it in Shen Qiao’s hands . “Feel it! It’s very smooth! You won’t find a thorn on it!”
“It’s smooth indeed . ” Shen Qiao smiled as he gently stroked it with his hands . “I’ll take one then . ”
Just then, he heard a child’s voice next to him, “Uncle! Uncle! My younger brother broke my little bamboo chick . Dad sent me here to buy another one!”
The peddler probably knew her parents as he replied, “Your
 brother’s being naughty again, isn’t he? But I don’t have any more bamboo chicks here . The one I gave you last time was the last one I had . Those take a long time to make . Uncle is quite busy right now . I’ll make one for you some other day!”
The little girl asked, “Then if I stay here and help so that Uncle can finish selling them earlier, can Uncle make a bamboo chick for me sooner?”
The peddler broke into laughter, “What can you help me with? You should go back home now . Your mom and dad will be worried if they don’t see you!”
“Oh…” The little girl sounded so disappointed that she was almost going to cry .
Shen Qiao suddenly asked, “Do you still have bamboo strips with you?”
The peddler was puzzled, “I do . Does Mister want to buy bamboo strips?”
“Right . May I borrow some bamboo strips to make something right here? I’ll pay  you  afterwards  according  to the set price . ”
The peddler laughed, “Mister is being too polite about it! Of course you may!”
He handed a handful of bamboo strips to Shen Qiao . “It seems like you can’t see well . Are you still able to weave things?”
Shen Qiao laughed as well, “I made some for my brothers and sisters when I was young . I still remember a little . ”
Even though he said he only remembered a little, his fingers were moving quite fast . He nimbly tied a knot on the bamboo strip, wrapped it to the back, and inserted its end into the hidden slot he
 made earlier . In just a short amount of time, a lively little chick was born!
The little girl shouted in surprise, “A chick! It’s a chick!”

Shen Qiao handed the bamboo chick to her and smiled, “I don’t know what the original one you had looked like, so I just made a random one . It might not look very pretty . ”
“It’s very pretty! Thank you, brother! You’re the best!”

The peddler commented a little sourly on the side, “I’m not that much older than this mister . You call him ‘brother’, yet you call me ‘uncle’!”
Shen Qiao gave a hearty laugh .

The little girl hopped away . Shen Qiao’s legs were getting a little numb from squatting for too long . He stood up and returned the bamboo strips to the peddler together with the money for the bamboo ball . The peddler refused to take it, but he insisted and shoved them into the peddler’s hands . “May I ask which direction I should go in order to get to the guest villa for foreign ambassadors?”
“So Mister is an ambassador that has come to the Chen on a diplomatic mission?” the peddler suddenly realized . “The villa is not very far from here . However, since the place is very crowded, and your eyes aren’t very good, you won’t be able to find it by yourself . I’ll take you there!”
Shen Qiao thanked him, then commented, “But your stall here…”
The peddler laughed, “It doesn’t matter . I carry these bamboo goods and sell them here every day . They aren’t worth much . We stall-keepers around this area all know each other . I can just ask them to look after it for me for a while .
 You’re a guest from afar . How can I let you get lost here!”

He led Shen Qiao along the river as they walked back . “The main road is very crowded and therefore it is easy to get lost . It’s a lot quicker to take this alleyway right here!”
Holding Shen Qiao’s arm as he guided him, the peddler smiled, “If Mister is planning on staying a few more  days  here,  you might as well take a few more walks inside the city . Most of the foods in the South are very delicate and prepared with great care . I’m sure you’ll fall in love with them if you just…”
There was a small swishing sound, so small that one could almost ignore it . The peddler didn’t realize it and was still talking, but Shen Qiao’s expression changed slightly . He swung his bamboo stick, making the tiny needle change its direction and plunge into the wall instead .
At the same time, the peddler’s voice came to an abrupt stop as he collapsed to the ground .
While the person was attacking Shen Qiao, they also went after the peddler at the same time . Shen Qiao didn’t have three heads or six arms . He could block the attack on his side, but he didn’t have enough time to protect the peddler as well . In the end, his help still arrived a little late .
“Which friend is it? Why do you have to hide yourself?” He crouched down to check on the peddler and was somewhat relieved that the other person had only passed out .
“Shen-lang . You can be so kind even when talking to a bamboo-goods seller . Why are you always so mean to me then~?”
A familiar, fragrant smell wafted forth along with the sweet and cute voice .
 Shen Qiao slightly frowned . “Bai Rong?”

Bai Rong was sitting on top of a wall, grinning, with her legs crossed together as she swung them back and forth . She was holding a peony in her hand, which she might have picked up from somewhere .
“It’s been such a long time~!”

Shen Qiao said, “It appears to me that we just met the night you tried to assassinate Yuwen Qing . ”
Bai Rong said, “Do you not understand what ‘One day apart seems like three years’ means? So many years have passed already!”
Let it be Yan Wushi or Bai Rong, Shen Qiao could not get used to dealing with their almost flirtatious words, so he could only remain silent .
Bai Rong’s eyes wandered around as she came up with an idea in her mind . She threw the peony in her hand towards Shen Qiao, “Here! Catch it!”
Shen Qiao caught it on reflex . He thought it was some kind of hidden weapon and was slightly shocked after finding out that it was just a flower .
Seeing the expression on his face, Bai Rong was even more overwhelmed with joy . “You thought I’d throw weapons at you! Am I such an evil person in your eyes?
Shen Qiao shook his head, “You’re not . ”

Bai Rong pressed on, “Not what?”

Shen Qiao said, “When you tried to assassinate Yuwen Qing, his concubine and her servant should not have survived .
 However, you did not kill them, which proves that you’re not a murder-addict with no moral baseline . I really ought to thank you on their behalves for having mercy on them . ”
Bai Rong blinked at him, “How do you know I was having mercy on them? I could’ve been too lazy to make unnecessary moves . ”
Shen Qiao smiled, but he did not argue with her .

“Alas, you’re so good-looking when you smile . You should smile more often . It makes me feel very happy inside that you think so fondly of me . Is it okay if I kiss you?”
Her body moved as soon as she finished .
Shen Qiao thought she was really coming over to kiss him . After taking a few steps back unconsciously, he finally realized that the other person was still sitting on top of the wall — she was totally teasing him .

Bai Rong was laughing so hard that she almost fell from the wall . “Shen-lang, how can you be so adorable? I can’t help but like you more and more!”
Shen Qiao asked, “Is there something that you’ve come to me for?”
“Am I not allowed to come to you if I don’t have anything?” Bai Rong asked back with a smile . “Alright, there’s no harm in telling you . I’ve been trailing you from afar in the hope of finding an opportunity to poison you so that I could knock you out and drag you away . Unfortunately, you’ve been very alert and I haven’t found a chance to approach you until just now . I was finally able to strike a conversation with you after so much difficulty . ”
Her words were half-true and half-false . With truth and lies mixed
 altogether, Shen Qiao didn’t know whether he should believe her or not, so he could only secretly take more precautions .
“The chick you weaved for that little girl is so pretty . Can you make one for me too?”
Shen Qiao was slightly taken aback . He shook his head, “I don’t have bamboo strips at hand . ”
He thought for a moment then offered the bamboo ball in his hand,
“You can play with this bamboo ball first . ”

Bai Rong snorted with a laugh, “Do you think I’m a child?”

Despite what she said, she quickly grabbed the bamboo ball from his hand and started tossing it up and down with her palm .
Shen Qiao asked, “Young Madam Bai, have you ever thought about leaving the Harmony Sect?”
Bai Rong was surprised, “Why do you suddenly…”

Halfway through the sentence, her face had fallen completely, though her voice was still as nonchalant as usual, “Sect Leader Shen must have caught wind of something from Sect Master Yan and thinks from the bottom of your heart that our Harmony Sect is a place so filthy and nasty that I’m unworthy to talk to you, the majestic sect leader of Mount Xuandu . Is that so?”
By the end, her voice was already steaming with murderous intent, as if she was going to kill Shen Qiao if the answer he gave was unacceptable .
Shen Qiao said, “No . ”

Bai Rong changed her face faster than flipping a page in a book . In a mere instant, she was smiling once again like a blooming flower,
 “Or do you mean the Harmony is utterly gross for practicing dual cultivation regardless of people’s social ranking and seniority, so you want to persuade me to forsake the evil and join the camp of justice?”
Frowned, Shen Qiao said, “I just feel you may not enjoy staying there either . ”
“Harmony Sect is where I grew up . Where else can I go if not there? The Cleansing Moon Sect? Or the Mirror of Arts? Do you consider homicide better than dual cultivation? The others refer to the Harmony Sect as the ‘Demonic Sect’, but is the Cleansing Moon Sect not a demonic sect too? I hope you don’t forget that Sect Master Yan has more blood on his hands than me! If you’re talking about those prestigious and upright sects who flaunt themselves  as  the  noble  and virtuous ones — skipping the fact that you aren’t even a sect leader anymore — even if you were still in charge of Mount Xuandu, would you offer to take me in? Even if you agree to do so, will the other people on Mount Xuandu  agree  with you?”
Her series of questions left Shen Qiao slightly baffled . After a while, he let out a sigh, “Yes, you’re right . It was inappropriate for me to say those words . ”
He didn’t think much when he asked that question . He just felt that Bai Rong was different from someone like Huo Xijing . It was a pity for her to stay in the Harmony Sect .
Bai Rong’s voice sounded especially sweet, “I knew Shen-lang must think I was having a hard time living in the Harmony Sect . Ever since I saw you save even a horse, I realized you were a gentle and kind-hearted person . There aren’t many good people like you nowadays! I’ll  carefully  cherish  your kind regards for me . I have my plans, however, so you don’t need to trouble yourself with worrying about me!”
 “I’m going to tell you one more secret . ” She suddenly jumped down from the wall and flew towards Shen Qiao, trying to pull his sleeve . Even though the latter quickly avoided her, it did not seem to make her unhappy . Instead, her face was laced with a sense of slyness . “If you continue to stay with Yan Wushi, nothing good will come since disaster will strike soon . You should hurry and stay away from him if you don’t want to be implicated…”
Before she could finish, Bai Rong’s face changed again, but it was not because of Shen Qiao . She stared straight ahead into the distance . Suddenly, she perked up, “I just remembered that I’ve still got important things to do . Shen-lang, there’s no need to see me off~!” Probably utilizing her lightness skill to its full extent, she disappeared without a trace immediately afterwards .
At first, Shen Qiao thought it was Yan Wushi’s arrival that had forced her to steal away, but he found out he was wrong in the next moment .
It was not Yan Wushi .

Chapter 40

Translators: MomoePom, Tin
Separated from him by an alley, the clamor on the street along with those vendors’ noisy cries for customers gradually receded like the tide, until Shen Qiao could no longer hear anything.
He did not need to open his eyes to know that he was still standing in the same spot and had not suddenly switched locations.
However, there seemed to be an invisible power around him that was continuously affecting him, urging him to make an incorrect judgement, making him think that he was already elsewhere.
It was a rather curious feeling. When a person’s inner qi reached a certain level, it could even manipulate the surrounding space and confuse their opponent’s senses, causing them to feel disordered.
The other party had obviously chosen to announce their presence in such a way to pressure Shen Qiao, but since Shen Qiao could not sense any hostility from them, he did not move.
There was also the tinkling of jade pendants, sometimes afar as if from ten miles away and other times so close as if they were merely a few steps apart. The sound was coming at him from all directions, echoing in each and every inch of space, unrelenting like a shadow tailing its projection, or gangrene attached to the bone.
The jade clacked crisply and melodiously, but even a sound so pleasant to ears would inevitably incite an unsettling feeling inside people if they listened to it for a certain period of time. Shen Qiao held onto the bamboo stick and stood utterly still with his head down and eyes closed — almost as if he had fallen asleep.
 Suddenly, he moved.

Like a quick thunder leaving no time for people to cover their ears, the bamboo stick darted forward!
Following the movement of his hand, his body also flew forward like an arrow leaving the bowstring, an image completely different from his usual sickly appearance. Similar to a leopard that had spotted an opening, he lunged accurately towards his target.
The place where the bamboo stick went towards clearly was an empty space, but as the stick charged with internal qi transformed into a white arc and reached that spot, the invisible barriers surrounding the space instantly shattered to pieces. The sounds that had been cut off poured back at once.
“Where is this expert from? Why not come out so we can meet each other?” he asked.
“I have waited long at the Linchuan Institute for my honored guest. Since he did not show up, I decided to come and greet him myself. I hope you would please forgive me for my rudeness just now.” A mild and warm voice approached from afar.
The other person didn’t try to hide the sound of his footsteps. Step by step, it pounded on people’s hearts, its sound clear and resonant like that of a chime.
Shen Qiao knew it was the result of a mixture of inner qi and illusion. Like how it “blocked” outside sound just now, it could intimidate the opponent and thus grant its user an advantage.
“So it is Master-in-Charge Ruyan. I have long heard of your name. It is my pleasure to meet you today.”
As the leader of the Confucian School and also one of the Top Three martial arts experts in the world, Ruyan Kehui’s name was
 known to the whole world, but he himself had a rather simple dress code. Plain cotton clothing, cloth shoes, with his hair wrapped in a piece of cloth and a quite average countenance — he would be just as normal as any other middle-aged man if he was placed in the crowds and he wouldn’t draw any extra attention.

However, at this very moment, as he strolled over so leisurely from the other end of the alley, no one could have doubted his identity.
Because not many in the world had the same kind of bearing he had.
“Back then when the news of Immortal Qi’s ascending to Heaven came, I was in a closed door meditation myself and couldn’t send people over with a message of condolence in time. It was after I came out from the meditation that I was shocked to hear this. Sect Leader Qi has a heavenly bearing and his martial arts are unrivalled in this world. He was a figure admired by all, and it was indeed too unexpected for him to pass away so suddenly. Kehui’s heart was filled of the deepest sorrow and regret. I hope Daoist Priest Shen was not overwhelmed by the grief.”
When a person’s martial arts reached the state Ruyan Kehui was in, they would more or less appreciate and sympathize with others who were on the same level as them. Therefore, his speech just now was not so much overstated flattery. In fact, most of it was sincere.
Shen Qiao cupped his hands and made a courtesy salute as he greeted the man, “I would like to thank Master-in-Charge Ruyan’s great kindness on my master’s behalf. He once said that even though he didn’t get to live as long as a Xiantian expert could have lived, he still felt it was well worth it to die for the sake of pursuing the ultimate Way of Martial Arts. Therefore, please don’t feel sad for my master’s death, Master-in-Charge Ruyan. As my master has said, ‘Our Way is not a lonely way, for Heaven and Earth are together with
 us.’”

Ruyan Kehui sighed, “‘Our Way is not a lonely way, for Heaven and Earth are together with us.’ Good! Immortal Qi really isn’t an ordinary person to be able to say things like this!”
Afterwards, he fixed his eyes back on Shen Qiao. “People in the tea hut were boiling water when I left; the tea must be ready by now. Would you be interested in a tour of the Linchuan Institute?”
Shen Qiao replied, “Having lived in the North for too long, I’m afraid I can’t get used to the southern tea.”
Not many in this world were worthy enough to receive Ruyan Kehui’s personal invitation. Yet, just like that, he politely rejected what would have been deemed by others as a tremendous honor.
Ruyan Kehui gave a smile and did not seem the least bit offended, “The southern tea has its own exquisiteness. It’s tolerant and all-embracing. Only then can it take in all the rivers and streams and eventually turn into a boundless ocean.”
Shen Qiao smiled back, “But I fear for the reckoning that comes after the dinner. By that time, it would be hard not to accept your requests since I’ve already had your tea, and the trip will be ruined instead by a dilemma like that.”
“The northern state sure occupies a vast amount of land, but the southern state is not any less rich in resources. After you’ve tasted the tea from the Linchuan Institute, maybe you won’t want to leave even without my urging you to stay?”
If that’s the case, did the Linchuan Institute drug all of the previous visitors, thus making them not want to leave? Shen Qiao couldn’t stop himself from laughing out loud at the thought of this.
 Ruyan Kehui asked curiously, “What is Daoist Priest Shen laughing about? Do you find my words laughable?”
Shen Qiao waved his hand in denial, “Sorry, that was inappropriate of me. It has nothing to do with you, Master-in- Charge, please forgive me for it.”
If Yan Wushi was here, he would definitely use those words to taunt the other person, but that obviously was not something Shen Qiao would do.
Before today, Ruyan Kehui had never expected Shen Qiao to be so stubborn. Because no matter whether it was due to the concern about his own future or for some other reason, a former sect leader who was no longer in the position usually would not have a close relationship with those from the demonic sects. The word on the street was that Yan Wushi had saved Shen Qiao’s life and had used this favor as an excuse to keep Shen Qiao around him, while Shen Qiao also depended on Yan Wushi to defend him. Ruyan Kehui did not believe in these rumors at first, but Shen Qiao’s reactions forced him to start thinking otherwise.
He said, “I had the honour of meeting Immortal Qi before he passed away. We talked for only a few days, yet we felt like old friends. I once asked your master if he would like to join me and support a wise ruler together to return peace and prosperity to everyone living in this world. Even though your master was reluctant to involve Mount Xuandu with secular affairs, he too approved of the principle of orthodoxy, and that was what caused him to make that twenty-year covenant with Hulugu. Priest Shen is no longer  the  sect  leader  of Mount Xuandu, but you’re still Immortal Qi’s disciple. Are you really going to abandon your master’s principle and position just like that?”
Shen Qiao replied, “I’m afraid that Master-in-Charge Ruyan is wrong on that. My relationship with Sect Master Yan is not
 like what other people think, but even with that aside, the Country of Zhou which the Cleansing Moon Sect assists is becoming more and more prosperous with each passing day. Are you saying Yuwen Hong cannot rule the Central Plains and unify the world just because he is of the Xianbei race? What my  master  opposes is collaborating with other nations at the cost of the Central Plains residents’ interests. If a foreign nation comes to our land and learns the Han culture, if they can treat all people, both the Hans and the foreigners, equally, why can’t they be a good ruler?”
Ruyan Kehui shook his head. His voice now sounded more grave, “Foreign barbarians are forever barbarians, and this fact cannot be changed by their entering and settling  in  the Central Plains. Just take a look at the Country of Qi. Their royal family, the Gaos, aren’t even descendants of foreigners. The entire family has been foreignized only because they’ve been accustomed to foreign culture for too long. There’s not even a bit of Han etiquette left! The Emperor of Qi is so fatuous that he allows those women and little minds to mess with the laws and discipline of the imperial court. The Gao’s reign is probably at its end. As for the Country of Zhou, it came to power with Tujue’s help. Later, they enhanced the relationship further through marriage and tried every possible way to fawn over it. As for Tujue’s harm to the Central Plains, Priest Shen, I’m sure you understand it very well.”
After all, Ruyan Kehui believed the Emperor of Chen to be a wise ruler capable of unifying the country in the future. Therefore, he wanted to persuade Shen Qiao to leave the wrong path and join him on the moral side. Strictly speaking, since Shen Qiao was no longer a sect leader and his martial arts much worse than before as well, his status did not match Ruyan Kehui’s anymore. It was not worth it for Ruyan Kehui to come all the way in person, but he still came. Considering Ruyan Kehui’s position and status, this was a very
 sincere action indeed.

If this had happened a few months ago when Shen Qiao had just entered the world and had little understanding of the overall state of affairs, such a speech might’ve moved him. However, he had developed his own views by now. After listening to it, he only shook his head and didn’t really elaborate any further, “I’m not representing any sect at this moment. I’m just a  person drifting alone in this world, trying to stay alive in a time of chaos. Be it the Linchuan Institute or the Chen Dynasty, pledging my allegiance is of little significance to  both  of them. Therefore, even if the reason that Master-in-Charge Ruyan has decided to persuade me in person is because of my master, I still can’t thank you enough for it. It’s just that I can only appreciate your great kindness in my heart.”
Ruyan Kehui let out a light sigh, “I sensed some disturbance in the flow of your voice. Presumably, you’ve got  internal injuries that have not recovered completely for a while. If you’re willing to come to the Linchuan Institute to recuperate, I can invite the best imperial physician in the Chen Imperial Palace, and we together will try our best to help you treat your wounds!”
Shen Qiao once heard from Yan Wushi that the current Empress of Chen, Liu Jingyan, was Ruyan Kehui’s junior martial sister from the same sect. Therefore, Ruyan Kehui had a very close relationship with the Chen imperial household. Now it seemed like what he said was true; otherwise, ordinary people would not be able to make such casual promises on the behalf of the imperial physicians.

However, Shen Qiao was still slightly moved by the fact that Ruyan Kehui would say something like this, “Many thanks to you, Master-in-Charge Ruyan. A person shouldn’t receive a reward that they do not deserve. Since I have neither the virtue nor capability to receive such an offer, I’m afraid I dare not
 accept.”

To be honest, Ruyan Kehui really did not expect his visit today to end in vain. Because whether it be emotion or logic, he just could not see any reason as to why Shen Qiao would reject him.
He suddenly thought of that rather absurd rumor about Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao, but he soon felt that it was indeed absurd to the point of being ludicrous. It was simply impossible.
“Don’t mind it. The Linchuan Institute never forces people to do what they don’t want to.” Ruyan Kehui showed a faint trace of regret.
Shen Qiao looked rather apologetic, “I’m sorry that my stubbornness has made you come all the way over here for nothing.”
Ruyan Kehui smiled, “The guest villa is not far from here, but finding it will be difficult for those who aren’t familiar with the area. The peddler next to you was knocked out with a drug. Do you need me to take his place and walk you there?”
“How bored must have you been, Master-in-Charge Ruyan, that you decided to come all the way here to persuade Ah- Qiao to join your side instead of chatting about the old times with your junior martial sister who’s now the empress in the royal palace! Unfortunately, I’m afraid you’ll be greatly disappointed, for Ah-Qiao is determined to follow me around!”
These words were obviously not from Shen Qiao.

A person appeared from the corner at the end of the alley and walked toward them step by step.
Unlike the jade-like sounds which Ruyan Kehui had intentionally made a moment ago, Yan Wushi walked with complete quietness. His
 robes and sleeves fluttered behind him, but he looked so graceful and confident as if no one in the world was able to make him stop or was worth a second of his attention.
It was a silent arrogance.

Ruyan Kehui’s expression did not change. In fact, he even showed a hint of a smile, “I think we haven’t seen each other since Sect Master Yan’s Closed Door Meditation. Now, I see that Sect Master Yan’s martial power has indeed progressed by a lot by what I can only assume as rapid speed.”
Yan Wushi stopped a step away from Shen Qiao. He didn’t advance any further but instead slightly squinted at Ruyan Kehui for a moment. “Meanwhile, you’ve been marching in the same spot and have made no progression from where  you  were  ten years ago.”
They stared at each other. Neither of them spoke after that sentence.
If people who didn’t know what was going on saw this scene, they would probably think the two people had that kind of ambiguous relationship.
Yan Wushi’s clothes were fluttering although there was no wind, while not a single corner of Ruyan Kehui’s clothing wavered.
Shen Qiao suddenly said, “If you two are going to fight, I’ll ask you to choose a different location. There’s still a person who doesn’t know any martial arts here, and we’d better not hurt him because of it.”
As soon as he finished, Ruyan Kehui moved!

However, he was not moving towards Yan Wushi’s direction, but rather towards the outskirts of the city, leaving behind a sentence from the distance, “There’s open space outside the city!”
 He had applied inner qi to the sentence. Ruyan Kehui’s martial power was not to be doubted, and the sentence spread through half of Jiankang in almost no time, astonishing everyone who heard it.
Yan Wushi coldly snorted, and without any noticeable movement, was already many meters away.
At the same time, countless silhouettes tailed after them.

Those were the martial artists rushing over to watch the fight after hearing their words.
This battle was bound to create a stir in the world!
Ruyan Kehui’s call didn’t just alarm one or two people. Anyone inside Jiankang who heard him speak was roused and people rushed over one after another. Even if they didn’t know who Ruyan Kehui’s opponent was, they knew that someone who received a duel request from Ruyan Kehui in person wouldn’t be a nobody.
It would be an incredibly rare opportunity if they could spectate such an exquisite confrontation, and no one wanted to miss it.
However, following them to the fighting location wasn’t easy. As soon as Ruyan Kehui said those words, he and Yan Wushi, one after the other, headed far beyond the city. Their forms were light and graceful, appearing as blurry afterimages in the blink of an eye, then vanishing without a trace in another. Many who were slightly lacking in lightness skills could only gape helplessly in the direction the two had left in and stomp their feet or wring their hands in frustration.
But there were still more than a few who could match their speed, like the chairman of the Six Harmonies Association, Dou Yanshan. He had also heard it and invited himself in. Right now, he could even call out to Yan Wushi while following after them, “Sect Master Yan! Do you still remember the good deal of trouble you caused
 our Six Harmonies Association that night at the Beyond Cloud Monastery? Dou Yanshan here would like to try pitching my skills against yours as well!”
Not many people in this world were worth Yan Wushi’s attention, and Dou Yanshan definitely wasn’t one of them.
Therefore, after Dou Yanshan’s words, people immediately heard Yan Wushi sneer, “I don’t fight nobodies.”
He also used inner qi while speaking, so the sentence traveled very far. Not only did Dou Yanshan hear it while chasing after him, but even Shen Qiao who hadn’t moved from his original place heard it, let alone all the others.
Many people were laughing secretly inside. And the mean ones laughed out loud at once. Dou Yanshan’s face darkened.
Not many people had seen Dou Yan fight before. He was the chairman of the biggest pugilistic association after all. Considering his position and the power he had, the association would seem a little too pitiful if he had to personally handle everything. Nonetheless, his level of martial arts was at least first-rank, if not one of the Top Ten.
Despite all of these, however, he was still not worthy enough to be noticed by Yan Wushi.
One could see how arrogant and self-conceited this man was.

But it could not be helped when he had the strength to act this way. After those words were spoken, except for Dou Yanshan, no one else seemed to find them inappropriate.
Dou Yanshan didn’t stop chasing and shouted again, “Sect Master Yan, have you ever heard the saying, ‘Pride goes
 before a fall’?”

He put no less than ninety percent of his inner qi into that sentence. Those who were close to him could almost immediately hear the sound pounding their eardrums, making them dizzy and sick.
Struck by a sense of fear, they no longer dared look down on Dou Yanshan.
Shen Qiao didn’t chase after them.

He knew that even if Yan Wushi and Ruyan Kehui differed in strength, the difference would be negligible. For experts at their level, the deciding factor for a battle was not a small amount of inner qi or a few exquisite moves. It was the ability to grasp opportunities and understanding their opponents. Sometimes, a difference of a hairbreadth could completely overturn the game.
Those two knew this as well. Therefore, even if they didn’t go all out for the fight, they would have to use at least eighty or ninety percent of their martial power. Shen Qiao’s current martial power was barely enough to catch up with them, and even if he could, he would have to waste a lot of inner qi.
Anyway, once those two started fighting, it would take a while at least. He would find the place sooner or later if he just followed the direction the other people took, so he was not in a hurry. He first helped the peddler to his feet and walked him to the street. Then he asked the other stall-keepers to look after him before he headed toward the city gate himself.
Right after he passed the gate, he heard the lovely giggles of Bai Rong, “Shen-lang, are you ever going to get to the place if you walk step by step like that?”
Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows, “Why hasn’t Young Madam Bai
 gone to watch the duel yet?”

Bai Rong chided, “Is this the first time we’ve met? You keep calling me Young Madam Bai. If you don’t want to call me Rong-niang [1], at least you can call me ‘Peony’!”
Seeing how Shen Qiao was still walking forward without paying attention to her, she stamped her feet and shouted, “Come on. Dragging it out like this! You’re not worried about making it on time, but I’m starting to feel worried on your behalf! This fight is such a rare opportunity to come by. Many people are now desperately trying to catch up to them. There won’t be any good positions left later!”
Then she reached out with her hand to grab Shen Qiao. He was about to dodge it when he suddenly heard her coquettish cry, “Aiya! I’m giving you a ride. What are you dodging for? Don’t tell me you’re afraid of me taking advantage of you!”
Shen Qiao was momentarily speechless, and Bai Rong firmly grabbed onto him during his second of inattention.
Bai Rong clutched onto one of his arms, almost effortlessly taking him along with her as she glided forward with her lightness skill. Their speed was incredibly fast, not at all slower than Dou Yanshan’s dragon-like appearance just now.
Nonetheless, having someone bring him was much more convenient than walking by himself, so Shen Qiao thanked her for it. Bai Rong, however, giggled, “Isn’t just saying ‘thanks’ too cold? If you really want to thank me, why not spend a night with me? Yan Wushi hasn’t done that with you yet, right? A virgin like you who still has Primordial Yang in your body is very good for my cultivation. Even though you’ve  lost  some  of your martial power, I’m not going to be nitpicky about it. I’ll teach you the art of dual cultivation. Maybe there’s hope for you to regain your martial powers! Then, you don’t have to
 go through all that trouble of practicing that Strategy of the Vermillion Yang anymore!”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Bai Rong was still trying to convince him, “What do you think? It’s a deal that benefits both of us! Well, I’ll get my share, but you won’t lose anything either. Shen-lang, are you really not going to give it a thought?”
Shen Qiao replied, “…Thank you for your kindness, but there’s no need.”
Bai Rong pouted her lips and did not continue.

After a while, she asked, “Who do you think will win the battle today? Who will lose?”
That was a good question.

Those who went to watch the fight were thinking the same question.
Some of the well-informed casinos in Jiankang City were probably already taking bets on it by now.
Shen Qiao seriously thought about the question and replied,
“Barring accidents, Yan Wushi will win.”

Bai Rong chuckled, “Aren’t you biased towards your lover boy! Ruyan Kehui is not like those ordinaries who fish for compliments. ly, I tried to sneak into the Linchuan Institute since I wanted to disrupt their lecture the next day in advance. However, Ruyan Kehui caught me. He himself chased after me across a distance greater than half of Jiankang City. I was seriously wounded and almost lost my life before I finally escaped. Since then, I’ve never wanted to provoke this guy anymore. Can you believe an honorable
 grandmaster such as him would haggle over such a small event with a weak woman like me?! It’s truly too petty and undignified of him!”
Shen Qiao thought to himself, “You’re certainly not a weak woman. Besides, you even went into their territory. If they just let you come and go as you wish, then there’s no need for the Linchuan Institute to have their door threshold anymore. They can just wait for people to  tramp  around every day.”
Despite carrying Shen Qiao with her, Bai Rong was moving so swiftly that there was not even a mud spot on her white socks. It didn’t seem to slow her down at all. In fact, she wasn’t even short of breath as she talked, “From what I see, with Ruyan  Kehui’s level of strength, even if Qi Fengge or Cui Youwang come back to life, he still would have a chance against them. This time, since they are fighting on the  outskirts  of  Jiankang, he’s familiar with the surrounding landscape. Your lover boy is not necessarily going to win!”
When people first misunderstood his relationship with Yan Wushi, Shen Qiao still felt the need to explain it. But he soon found out that such explanation was totally unnecessary, for people only believed in what they wanted to believe. Whether he explained it or not, they would just continue to misunderstand based on their own wishful thinking.
As for the kind like Bai Rong who was making the mistake knowingly as a form of teasing, Shen Qiao felt all the more lazy to explain. He simply took her words as wind passing by the ears.
Seeing what she said have no effects on him, Bai Rong made a coquettish humph and spoke no more.
After exiting the city, the two of them traveled for a long time until they left the plain and entered a forest. From the depth of the forest,
 they headed all the way north to a valley with a stream passing in between, which was at least fifteen kilometers away from Jiankang. Only then did the they finally see two distant figures fighting each other on a mountain cliff.
They were standing on nothing but some rocky crags off the cliff, some of which were smaller than the size of a palm. An ordinary person would be struck with fright even when they looked at it, let alone accurately landing on them during the intervals in a fight. A moment of carelessness would cause them to fall off the cliff.
However, Yan Wushi and Ruyan Kehui were no ordinary people. Not only did they show no difficulty or stagnation as they moved, but their movements were so smooth that people hardly saw them stopping on any particular stone. Their figures flew as their inner qi surged back and forth, together with the crushed stones splattering in all directions — wherever the winds created by their palms went, it seemed like clouds were coming out of their sleeves and waves were rising to the same level as their bodies, making it a truly dazzling sight to witness.

Affected by the two people’s raging inner qi, the river which was originally flowing slowly southwards suddenly rushed upwards. Yan Wushi took the opportunity and guided it, using the flow of water as a median together with the Spring Water Fingering, turning the water into thousands of sharp blades, each of which was directed straight at Ruyan Kehui.
The water splash brought up by the inner qi filled the whole sky. Among it, Ruyan Kehui’s figure appeared to be almost half-hidden. At least from where Shen Qiao and Bai Rong were, even though Bai Rong was straining her eyes to look in that direction, she could only make out a few blurry shadows and had no idea where Ruyan Kehui would appear or how he was going to counterattack.
The mountain wind was already strong, plus both of them were using the majority of their inner qi. As the two powerful steams of
 inner qi met in the valley, they intertwined with each other like an enormous vortex, causing even the river to backflow! Everyone’s robes bloated and rustled and stirred high amidst the strong airstream.
Bai Rong didn’t want to use her inner qi to block it, because that way, if her inner qi was weaker than this stream of air, she would end up hurting herself.
Therefore, she could only continue to bear the torture of all the steam and leaves blowing together at her. She turned around and saw Shen Qiao covering his face with his sleeve, keeping all the steam and dust which would otherwise hit him in the face on the other side of his sleeve.
Bai Rong wanted to make fun of him and ask how he was going to watch the battle like this, but she soon remembered that he was blind. She couldn’t help but ask curiously, “Are you listening with your ears? What can you hear?”
“I can hear the flow of their inner qi. If what I have is right, it’s about time for Master-in-Charge Ruyan to strike with his sword.”
“How do you know?”

Shen Qiao only smiled.

Almost as soon as she finished asking, Bai Rong looked up and saw Ruyan Kehui split the water trap Yan Wushi had specially built for him with his sword. Absolute power could overcome all tricks. The enormous stream which Yan Wushi had deliberately brought up with his inner qi fell straight apart under Ruyan Kehui’s sword light, crumbling and splashing in all directions like showering flowers or a heavy downpour.
Upon seeing this, Bai Rong couldn’t help but rejoice in other
 people’s misfortune while trying to take credit for herself at the same time, “Look at what a good spot I’ve chosen for us! At least we have something to cover our heads with. Those people don’t even know how to choose a place when watching a fight, and neither do they dare to protect themselves with inner qi, so they can only get splashed all over!”
The fight over there continued, one of them using a sword and the other person bare-handed. The whole place was enshrouded with sword light as if the ocean had surged up and covered the sky. However, despite being within it, Yan Wushi moved with ease. His hands didn’t display any specific skills — he only displayed four basic types of movement: grasping, pushing, pulling, and plucking. Yet he already appeared so confident; it didn’t seem like he was at a disadvantage at all.

Bai Rong slightly frowned, “What he uses doesn’t seem  like the Spring Water Fingering.”
Shen Qiao answered, “It is, just in a different form. It has only one move, but within it are myriads of changes. It has myriads of changes, but all of them follow the same principle. It’s the same with Ruyan Kehui’s sword arts. If you observe carefully, he is using the same move back and forth as well. But this one move is enough to handle all circumstances, fending off thousands of enemies while it remains firm and still.”
Bai Rong watched carefully for quite some time and realized that it was indeed the case. Her view of Shen Qiao had changed yet again.
Everyone knew of Shen Qiao’s original status, but after his one loss to Kunye, there were doubts towards his martial skill. Some constantly felt that he could not compare with Qi Fengge, but it would also be hard to say if he even ranked among the Top Ten. Although Bai Rong had suffered a defeat by his hands, she always felt that he was sickly frail and injured, that he wouldn’t be able to
 keep going for long and could collapse at any time. Upon hearing his words, she now realized that a grandmaster was ultimately still a grandmaster. His observation and judgement alone far exceeded what a normal person could muster.
“You said Yan Wushi would win, but you haven’t told me why yet~” Bai Rong approached him, her orchid-scented breath brushing his ear.
Shen Qiao moved one step to the side along the stone cliff. Bai Rong: “…”
Shen Qiao even seriously scorned, “I don’t like this. If you do it again, I’m not going to talk to you anymore.”
Bai Rong deliberately laughed, “What’s that all about? I’ve never even touched you! Are you even more delicate and precious than a virgin maiden?”
She then reached out with a hand and was about to touch Shen Qiao.
If a delicate beauty like her wanted to seduce someone, not to mention people like Yu Wenqing, even normal men who weren’t the frivolous type would all be under her spell. If they didn’t fall for her, they would at least be momentarily intoxicated by her. However, Shen Qiao had to be an exception. She never dared to test her charms on grandmasters like Yan Wushi or Ruyan Kehui, and yet Shen Qiao had turned her down so many times.
Shen Qiao blocked and pushed her hand away with his bamboo stick, his face cold like still water. He really did not speak again.
Bai Rong knew he kept his words. Feeling a little angry inside and somewhat regretful as well, she also refrained herself from talking further.
 In just a moment, Yan Wushi and Ruyan Kehui had already exchanged a thousand or so moves, but neither of them showed any signs of exhaustion. They fought from this end of the valley all the way to the opposite end. The sun was gradually moving to the west. The people who were fighting forgot about time, and the people watching them were so immersed that they also forgot themselves. Without anyone realizing, it was already past noon. The two of them had been fighting for more than four hours, yet one still couldn’t tell who was better.
Bai Rong’s martial arts were already first-rated in today’s pugilistic world, but she still benefited a lot from this battle. This was a state she had never seen before, yet today, it was like a gate opening into a slit, allowing her to catch a glimpse of the scene behind it.
It was just a narrow slit, but it was enough to shock her from within.
She finally realized where the gap between her and the grandmasters lay, and why she could not exceed that limit after all this time. While her martial arts were nothing but martial arts, Yan Wushi and Ruyan Kehui’s martial arts had already become a part of their bodies. It was in each exhale and inhale, each pull and release. When they exhaled, it was as if the whole world existed only in the small space around them, and when they inhaled, air flowed to them like rivers meeting the sea. When they pulled their hand back, they pulled in the sun and wind together with it, and when they released, the vast expanse of the mortal world stretched out right underneath their feet.
Fascinated by what she saw, Bai Rong couldn’t help but mutter,
“Can I ever reach their level before I die?”

This time, Shen Qiao actually replied to her, “Your aptitude isn’t bad.”
Bai Rong thought of her own cultivation method and somehow
 became dispirited. She laughed at herself, “Their Ways are not for me, and they deign not to practice mine.”
To which Shen Qiao replied, “The Ways are many. They differ only in the order of arrival, but not in superiority.”
Bai Rong flashed him a sweet smile, “You were so mad at me just now and said you wouldn’t talk to me anymore. But now you’re talking to me again!”
Shen Qiao said, “If you talk properly first, I’ll naturally answer properly.”
Bai Rong tucked the stray hairs behind her ears. Even a small action like this held an endless and romantic charm to it. Unfortunately, since the person next to her was half-blind, no one was there to appreciate it.
“Considering the guidance you just gave me, I’ll return the favor to you. Remember how I asked you to stay away from Yan Wushi before? Shen-lang, you’d better take my words to heart. Don’t just let it go in through one ear and out the other! Otherwise, you’ll get involved in it innocently and die an unworthy death. What a pity it would be if people like you die before you even get to know what sex is like!”
Shen Qiao frowned, “Can you elaborate?”

Bai Rong replied with a big grin, “I can’t. It’s a big risk for me to come and warn you of it. If you don’t take it into heart, then there’s nothing else I can do!”
With a surprised gasp, she asked, “The fight is over?”

While they were speaking, the two silhouettes suddenly parted and each landed on a jagged rock on the side of the cliff.
Bai Rong was a little confused, “Is it a draw?”
 If even she could not tell, it was less likely that the others present could. All the spectators suddenly began to quietly discuss the same question: Was it Ruyan Kehui that won, or was it Yan Wushi?
Or perhaps, most people were more interested in the question of whether or not Ruyan Kehui could defeat Yan Wushi.
Translator’s Notes:
[1] Niang: Like the female counterpart for lang, niang is a more intimate way to address a woman.
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