In Li Qingyu's body, Xuandu Mountain, losing his lotus, He Siyong, and losing to Yu Yu by half a stroke, Chunyang's momentum has loomed above Xuandu Mountain, let alone Guanzhuyi. Pichen is also among the top ten in the world, so what Li Qingyu said was very important.
However, Duan Wenxun's face remained unchanged, and he still laughed: "I have traveled all over the world rationally, and I ca n’t do anything reasonably. I heard that the Central Plains reasoned, so I came to discuss justice. Is it true that today we can't distinguish ourselves by invincibility? Mrs. Qin Yaguo denied Then you listened to her. Why didn't you listen to me? Mrs. Qin has a single name and double words, isn't it? "
The Solvay brothers heard a murmur, their hearts were horrified, and their boudoir name was gone. The mother's name had never been known, let alone Queen Asna. Where did this inexplicable Turkic know? ?
Duan Wenyi said: "More than thirty years ago, Qin Shuanghan walked away from Turks, worshipped my teacher, and relied on my teacher's love and trust. He stole my teacher's tokens and returned to Central Plains one night. Now my teacher has orders to order me. I found this person and wanted to reply to the letter. After I entered the Central Plains, I searched hard. I didn't expect to see Mrs. Qin by chance in Chang'an. Only then did I know that Qin Shuanghan, the mother of the son of Meiyang County, was Qin. Old lady! "
He smiled again: "Mrs. Qin has been hiding too deeply these years. Who would have thought that Mrs. Qin, who is not in the door at present, is actually Ayes Sawulie who was famous outside the old days. Here it is! "
Su Shi: "Nonsense! My mother has never been to a Turkic cork. If you want to find a relative, you can find it yourself. Don't pour dirty water at our Su family at random. When my Su family is so bullying!"
Duan Wenyi raised his eyebrows and said, "Mrs. Qin, what you have done, you still have to deny it? If I remember correctly, the ring you wore on your right hand was the holy thing of my family on that day, and it also represented It ’s also a coincidence that the token of my master ’s identity, the totem on the ring, is the golden lotus unique to my family. ”
This came out suddenly, and everyone was embarrassed. They could not help but look to Mrs. Qin's hand.
The latter does wear a ring on his hand, inlaid with crystals, and if there is a golden pattern underneath, it is very beautiful.
Seeing that today's change is difficult, Su Wei secretly regrets that he failed to stop Duan Wenyu when he first entered.
Princess Qingdu Shen said: "No matter what you want, today is Mrs. Qin's birthday. Everyone happily sits here to wish her a birthday, but you just come in to make trouble, and say that it is the order of the queen. Just enter the palace with me and confront me before the queen. I'd like to see why the queen asked you to destroy someone's birthday party! "
Duan Wenyi was not panic: "The queen sent me over to give gifts, I sent them, and the queen's mission has been completed. Now, this matter is related to my Master. His Majesty is savvy. Even if his old man knows the ins and outs, he must not Will stop me from asking Mrs. Qin what should belong to us! "
He proudly said: "What's more, in the name of my teacher, why not make a special trip with Mrs. Qin!"
Li Qingyu: "Who do you learn from?"
Duan Wenji smiled slightly: "It is estimated that the Turk Hulu is also!"
As soon as this word came out, everyone was even more shocked.
The Fox Deer estimates that He Xuren also played against Qifengge, the first person in the world 20 years ago. This battle is well known in the world, and is still talked about by people today. The Fox Deer is defeated and forced to stand for 20 years. He did not enter the Central Plains vow, but he kept his promise. He had never set foot in the Central Plains in the past 20 years.
Wu Gong arrived at the Qi Fengge Hulu estimate, even if he loses, it is unlikely that he will lose his life. Although Qifengge was the first in the world, the Hulu estimate is certainly not far away. Qi Fengge cannot kill him at all, but only forces him. vow.
According to Yan Wushi's style of behavior, if he had the opportunity to swear by the other party, maybe he would ask Fox Deer to commit suicide directly, cut off the roots and avoid the worry, but Qi Fengge is obviously not this style of behavior. He sees Turk's ambitions for the Central Plains. He respects Fox Deer and estimates that it is also a generation of masters. He does not want to humiliate his opponents, so he only made a twenty-year covenant.
Twenty years later, Qi Fengge was no longer alive, and Hulu was not re-entered into the Central Plains. Two of his apprentices, one Kun Xie, defeated Shen Ying on Banbufeng, and one suddenly visited Sufu, saying that Suwei Su Shi's mother is a disciple of Fox Deer.
The previous thing is not new news anymore. After Shen Jing fell, Xuandu Mountain also changed the Lord. Gradually, no one paid attention to the whereabouts of the former teacher, but when someone mentioned that battle, it was inevitable Booing, I felt that Qi Fengge had no one to follow.
The latter event was being staged in front of everyone, and it was truly amazing.
Regardless of whether this is true or false, Mrs. Qin's reputation will certainly be damaged, Su Shi is furious, and there is not much nonsense. Lifting the sword wants to make Duan Wenyi shut up.
At this moment, Mrs. Qin, who was guarded by the two brothers of the Su family, began to ask, "Fox deer wants tokens, why not take them by yourself, but send you?"
Listening to these words, I actually acknowledged the authenticity of those words before Duan Wenji.
Su Shi stayed, turned her back, and couldn't believe it: "Anyang, you ..."
Mrs. Qin glanced at him, and said lightly, "What are you doing, what do you think of this token? The golden lotus is a symbol of Turkic religion, and is also a holy fetish. With this ring in hand, the deer can order Persia, Tuguhun, Yu Yan, Dangxiang and other masters gathered in Turkic to help Turkic Khan invade the Central Plains. At that time, the Northern Zhou Dynasty had not yet established a country. The war between East and West was endless, and each other was greatly injured. For tokens, the Fox Deer is unable to admire the authenticity of the religion of fire, and has commanded a group of heroes outside the Turks. Is there anything wrong with Turks? "
The two brothers Solvay Susu didn't know that his mother had such a past, and they could bother.
Mrs. Qin said, and said to Duan Wen: "This ring is indeed the old thing of the deer, and it was indeed brought to me by the Central Plains. But after so many years, the deer did not send someone to take it. More than ten years, but sent you here? "
Duan Wenhuan was not flustered: "This is the last death of my teacher. As a disciple, he should do it for him."
Mrs. Qin was a little shocked, but it seemed no surprise. She was silent for a long time, saying only four words: "Sure enough! Sure enough!"
Duan Wenxuan: "Since the old lady acknowledged that everything is easy to say, I also ask you to hand over the ring so that all of our teachers' wishes will be left."
After all, he seemed to think of something, looked around, and finally set his sight on Shen Ye, as if he had just discovered the other side: "It happened to be so that Shen Zhangjiao was here. Can I bother you to give a testimony? "
Su Shi was furious: "You specifically chose to come home to show off your strength on the day of my mother's birthday. First of all, I asked for a ring, and we gave it to you, but you still have to go a long way? Did you think that my Su family was afraid of you, and said that people are not here? It's not here, get off! "
Duan Wenji also did not smile, he narrowed his eyes and stared at Su Shi, slowly saying: "I heard that Su Erlang is teaching from the pure Yang concept. He must be very skillful. Today happens to be his meeting and he is about to ask for advice!"
Su Shi sneered: "Wow, the fox's tail finally came out. It was clear that he was smashing the field, but he had to pretend to be good. Today you delivered it to yourself. If you are dead, don't cry and run to your Turk Khan. Sue! "
After the words fell off, he rushed towards Duan Wenyu.
This flutter is not without rules and regulations, but with the swordsmanship, the body moves freely, the chic and beautiful, some people yell right now.
In the face of Su Shi's brilliant sword-like swordsmanship, Duan Wenxun was not panic, nor did he step back, and waited until the other side of the sword light swiveled in front of him, and then directly into the sword light empty handed.
Instead of emptying his hand into the white blade, his hand was not smashed by Jian Guang, but Jian Guang was kept under control.
Everyone looked intently, only to see Duan Wenji's right hand holding the sword body firmly, gently rotating the wrist, but also saw how hard, the sword body was buzzing.
Su Shi's sword almost couldn't hold it and came out.
There was an unbelievable look on his face.
His martial arts is not as good as his younger brother Li Qingyu, but he can also rank among the popular ranks in rivers and lakes. He has never encountered such a situation that he almost fell into the army when he started.
Is it because the other person is a disciple of Fox Deer that he is superior?
Su Shi was dissatisfied with his heart, his hands changed quickly, and his body didn't stop. He pulled back a few steps and turned sharply with the power of a cylinder. Jian Guang took the qi and passed it to Duan Wenyi's noodle door. The other one The hand is full of strength and slaps at the other side.
"The room is too small to fight well!" Duan Wenji didn't insist on it, Lang laughed, and turned and hurled outward.
Su Shi chased after each other. The two hit the house from the inside to the outside. In time, the sword was radiant, and the surroundings were cleared away. The guests naturally followed.
One person was so fierce that the river was torrential and rushing across the river, and the other was unarmed and walked in the light of the sword, as if he was in danger at all times, in danger, and seemed to repeatedly retrieve a life from the edge of the danger. Others were thrilled. For example, Princess Qingdu and others did not perform martial arts and were unwilling to witness the blood everywhere. They stayed in the house with Mrs. Qin and did not follow up.
The layman looks lively, the layman looks at the doorway, and when martial arts reaches a certain level, he can find that although Duan Wenyi seems to be scared, he actually has the advantage.
Pu Liuru gave a stern sound, and whispered to Shen Yan: "I looked like Su Erlang was being played."
Shen Min nodded: "I feel the same way."
After listening to him say this, Pu Liuru could not help wondering: "Brother Shen can see?"
Shen Yan smiled: "Although I can't see, I can listen."
Pu Liurujian: "How to listen?"
Shen Yun: "Swords out, infuriating, walking, and even breathing, all sound, the blindness of the blind will be more acute, Duan Wenyi deliberately tries to test the martial arts of pure yang concept, so he is not in a hurry to give up, unfortunately Cha, but he got in. "
What can be seen at the scene is not only Shen Ye and Pu Liurujian, but this one has not yet distinguished themselves. Others rushed in to interfere with fairness and disgrace. On the other hand, they looked down on Su. Alas, so even his younger brother, Li Qingyu, had to wait and see what happened, and wait until they had a result.
After hearing this, Pu Liurujian asked casually: "All disciples who are evaluated by Hulu, how does Kun Xie compare to Duan Wenyi?"
I found out that there was something wrong with the words, and I apologized quickly: "I didn't mean to evoke the sadness of Brother Shen!"
Shen Yun laughed: "Anyway, although Kun Xie is strong, his martial arts path is more aggressive and arrogant. It is not as free as Duan Wenzheng. In my opinion, I am afraid that Duan Wenzheng has the essence of martial arts and is slightly better than Kun Xie. a bit."
Pu Liuru firmly heard the words: "So, this person came to Su today, not only to ask for a token or Su Langjun's cousin, but also to make a name for himself."
Shen Min nodded: "I think so too."
Today's birthday banquet, due to Su Shi, more than half of the guests involved in the rivers and lakes came, many of them are masters of the younger generation, such as Li Qingyu, just for the top ten in the world is not bad, If Duan Wenmao can defeat them, it means that his martial arts is stronger than these people, and this effect is no less than that of Kun Xie and Shen Mao that day.
The Turkic people stepped into a battalion, allied with Beizhou, and were ambiguous with Beiqi. While assisting Beiqi to fight Beiqi, and also hosted the noble officials who fled to the past, it was the first rat at both ends. It is worth mentioning, but dare not offend it too much, and its wolf ambition has never been concealed.
Now a new generation of Turkic masters have come to the Central Plains again. It seems that they want to complete the heroic hegemony that the Fox Deer estimated that they could not complete. First, Kun Xie promised Shen Shen, stepped Xuandu Mountain under his feet, and became famous in the first battle. Go to Su House and challenge the heroes. If Kun Xie had suffered a loss at Yan Wushi, I am afraid that the Turks ’arrogance will become even more arrogant.
When they talked, they could only hear Duan Wenhao laughing, and the dazzling Jianguang stopped for a while. Su Shi's groan came immediately, and many people didn't even see how Duan Wenyu shot. Su I just fell off the roof.
"Erlang!" Solvay stepped forward to help him up, "You're fine!"
Su Shi shook his head, but his face was painful but he couldn't stop talking.
Duan Wenxuan also jumped off the roof and was very casual. The people present did not have a good opinion of him, but he had to admit his strength.
Solvay angered: "Duan Wenxun, you bullied me so much that I really ca n’t do anything for my Su family?"
Duan Wenxuan said: "The county official said this was bad. The younger brother shot first. Why is he blame me now? If you would surrender Yuanxiong's family, I would leave immediately and never disturb."
"You are aggressive, we retreat back and forth, but you think of us as soft persimmons. In that case, let me see how much Hulu has estimated to pass on to you!" Mrs. Qin came out from inside, although it was already five Xun, but perhaps because of practicing internal skills, she was not old-fashioned, but showed a mature charm, like a middle-aged beautiful woman.
Duan Wenji regretted: "In theory, I should also call the old lady a sister, but unfortunately, after you escaped from Turk with the ring of the first teacher, the first teacher has expelled you from the door. I have heard that Master respected you You pay attention to it, and even intentionally pass on the mantle to you, but the old lady tempted the first teacher with beauty and then stole away. Now, in retrospect, don't you feel guilty? "
"Stop!" The Su brothers were naturally furious as he insulted his mother.
Mrs. Qin sneered: "When the grudge between me and Hulu estimates, it's your turn to be a junior like you! It's hard to be a Turk without anyone. Hulu estimates can only take your light and talk about it. People as disciples? "
She said to Solvay, "Dalang, bring Erlang's sword!"
Without waiting for Solvay to move, someone said, "Why the old lady should give up her status and compare with the Turkic barbarians. You don't need to take any shots from you. If this person fights with the disciples of Chunyangguan, they should end up with the people of Chunyangguan . "
The person who spoke was Li Qingyu. He was pale and expressionless, his tone was flat, and his murderous tone was not at all.
However, it was this tone that made Duan Wenzhen look right. He carefully looked at Li Qingyu: "This man must be one of Qingcheng's double princes. I think that my brother can't even compare you with a finger You are called Qingcheng Shuanglu and you are wronged! "
Li Qingyu didn't pay attention to his provocation, but just pulled out his sword with the sword pointing down, his wrists seemingly dangled and raised slightly, and his whole body was lazy and casual. It didn't look as serious as he was.
Duan Wenxun's expression gradually became serious. He didn't know when to add a horsewhip in his hands. He was dark and slender. He didn't know what to use to make it.
Pu Liurujian couldn't see any doorway, and couldn't help but whisper Shen Shen: "Brother Shen, can you see anything strange about this whip?"
Shen Yan shook his head: "I don't see much, what kind of whip is it?"
Pu Liurujian described it.
Shen Yan said: "If I didn't guess wrong, the whip should be soaked in the water of the Miao Jiangbi Pharmaceutical with the skin of the South China Sea crocodile. It is full of toughness, it is a strong weapon, and it may not be cut off."
Pu Liurujian said, "It really has a long history. It seems that Li Gongzi is an opponent of chess this time!"
It wasn't just him, everyone else was looking forward to it. Seeing a wonderful confrontation was about to take place, his heart was inevitably excited.
As soon as Pu Liuru Jian had finished saying this, Li Qingyu moved.
Li Qingyu's shot was very different from Su Shi.
Su Shi moves very fast, fast and stern, and wins fast. The sword light and sword energy cover the enemy like a sloppy net, making the other party nowhere to run, and even affecting the enemy's emotions. This style is very effective for those who are less capable than him. But for a master such as Duan Wenzhang, his deep internal skills are like a copper wall and an iron wall, enough to ignore Su Shi's sword qi and directly beat Huanglong.
In contrast, Li Qingyu's movements are much slower, a little unhurried posture. In the eyes of others, he handed out the sword flat, pulled a sword flower, the sword tip did not even point at Duan Wenji, and He just pointed at the ground obliquely, stretching almost lazily, like a bud blooming slowly in the sun.
However, in Duan Wenyi's eyes, along with that sword flower, Zhen Qi rushed from the opponent ’s body to the sword tip, and then from the sword tip to the ground. Wherever Zhen Qi went, the blue bricks lifted, cracks suddenly appeared, and the bricks Fragments wrapped around the air and blasted at him!
At the same time, without waiting for Duan Wenzhang to make the next move, Li Qingyu has risen to his feet, the sword and man are united into a white line, depending on the other person ’s body as if there is nothing, flint and lightning, purple and green, dry thunder Surge, break straight into!
From slow to fast, from slow to urgent, these changes only occur in a moment, and those who are slightly distracted may not have time to understand.
Duan Wenzhen pumped a whipping, and even people with a sword pumped straight!
The two energies collided together, as if the two kings met, the wind and clouds surged, and the river emptied the sea. The consequence was either Li Wenyu's whip smashing Li Qingyu's sword, or Li Qingyu's sword qi destroying Duan Wenyu's whip.
However, to everyone's surprise, Duan Wenyi's whip was completely missed. Someone watched that Li Qingyu was clearly in the whip shadow, but was not covered by the whip shadow, but turned into nothingness, and then suddenly appeared behind Duan Wenyi In three places, "Li Qingyu" in each place repeated the same action-handed out the sword tip.
At this moment, Shen Yan heard someone whispering, "Sword intention! Li Qingyu actually became sword intention!"
Shen Qiao held his forehead, feeling almost speechless. “I don’t think this is what you can describe as a ‘coincidence’ anymore.”
Yan Wushi slowly picked up the cup which was placed upside down on the table and poured himself half a cup of water. But he didn’t drink it. He just set it there. “It’s such a small world. People can bid farewell in the morning and meet again at night. I would say we’re pretty destined.”
Shen Qiao asked, “What brought Sect Master Yan here?”
Yan Wushi asked back, “What brought you here?”
Shen Qiao said, “I’m going to Ye City, the capital of Qi.” “I see. What a coincidence. I’m going to Ye City too.”
Divided between tears and smiles, Shen Qiao asked, “I’m going there to look for a certain someone. It can’t be that you’re also looking for someone there, can it?”
“That’s a funny statement you just made. Why can’t I be looking for someone there?”
Shen Qiao stopped paying attention to him and ﬁnished his tea and desserts in silence. After paying the bill, he went back on the road with his bamboo stick.
Yan Wushi stood up too. With his hands clasped behind him, he
followed behind Shen Qiao at an unhurried pace.
They remained around seven or eight steps apart, not any closer, nor any further.
Despite all of this, Shen Qiao kept his own pace. After entering the City of Liang Prefecture, he ﬁrst booked a hotel to put down his close- to-no-weight travelling bag, then ordered some food and enjoyed it slowly on the second ﬂoor.
It was a little past noon. Most guests had already ﬁnished their lunch and left. The second ﬂoor was already empty, but the ﬁrst ﬂoor was still quite lively. The noon market had just opened. Many people were carrying goods over their shoulders as they rushed towards the market.
Shen Qiao ordered a pot of plum juice. He had only taken half a gulp when Yan Wushi showed up at the corner and slowly walked up the stairs.
He smiled at Shen Qiao and said, “I don’t see the happiness and surprise you’d usually ﬁnd on people’s faces when they run into an old friend in a distant land.”
Shen Qiao replied helplessly, “I’d be happier if Sect Master Yan didn’t come just for me.”
“I didn’t come for you.”
He sat down next to him while Shen Qiao called over the waiter and asked him to bring up another pot of plum juice and a new set of tableware.
Yan Wushi laughed, “Ah-qiao can’t wait to draw a line with me!”
Shen Qiao didn’t take it seriously, “I remember that you always cared a lot about things being clean and don’t like to share a
pot with others.”
Yan Wushi didn’t say anything.
Shen Qiao asked, “If Sect Master Yan didn’t come for me, then why are you here?”
Yan Wushi said, “Yuwen Yong has made the ﬁnal plan on the war against Qi. The news made the Qi people so extremely worried that there was even discord within the Harmony Sect.”
He didn’t use the new pot that the waiter just brought. Instead, he picked up the one Shen Qiao was using and poured some into his bowl, then took a sip from it.
“Yuan Xiuxiu wanted to cooperate with the Cleaning Moon Sect, but Sang Jingxing was against it. They ended up with a fallout. Yuan Xiuxiu sent me a message saying Sang Jingxing was in Ye City right now. She wants me to assist her in killing him.
Back then when the Sun Moon Sect disintegrated, Sang Jingxing, as the only disciple of the last sect leader Cui Youwang, actually developed a rather intimate relationship with Yuan Xiuxiu and became the superior Chief Elder in the Harmony Sect instead of seeking a reuniﬁcation of the Demonic Sect. However, if anyone were to look down on him because of it and thought he wasn’t capable enough, then they couldn’t possibly be more wrong.
Even though he was a murderous lunatic with a special interest in beauty and countless enemies, his skill in martial arts was top-notch. Among the Top Ten, his ranking was particularly hard to locate. Some said he could be ranked as one of the Top Three while others disagreed.
It was said that he was able to absorb all of Cui Youwang’s martial power before the latter died. Some extreme versions even claimed
that Sang Jingxing was so disgraceful that he killed his own master for martial power. Even though no one saw it with their own eyes, because of the horrible reputation he had, most people didn’t mind adding one more line to his list of crimes.
Shen Qiao heaved a heavy sigh, “Sang Jingxing must have put in a lot of eﬀort for Yuan Xiuxiu to establish the Harmony Sect. Even if they see each other as enemies now, there’s no need to kill each other!”
Yan Wushi sneered, “Even Mount Xuandu has cases where martial brothers tried to plot against each other, let alone a place like the Demonic Sects, where the law of the jungle is even more cruel and blunt. Nowadays, Sang Jingxing has his owner power sector inside the Harmony Sect, and his disciples pay only lip service to Yuan Xiuxiu. This has virtually undermined Yuan Xiuxiu’s power. She might not say anything in public, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t hate him on the inside. Otherwise, why hasn’t she avenged you for killing Sang Jingxing’s disciple, Huo Xijing, right in front of her face?”
Shen Qiao said, “There’s a great possibility that Yuan Xiuxiu wants to use your hand to eliminate Sang Jingxing.”
“Even if that’s the case, won’t Sang Jingxing’s death beneﬁt me as well? The Harmony Sect can’t compete against the Cleaning Moon Sect without Sang Jingxing. After the Zhou succeed in annexing the Northern Qi, these people won’t even have the power to stir up trouble anymore.”
Shen Qiao shook his head, then raised his bowl, “Then I can only wish you success in what you pursue.”
Their soup bowls clinked, producing a crisp, pleasant echo. Shen
Qiao remembered when they ﬁrst met each other. He never thought that one day, he and Yan Wushi could chat face-to-face peacefully like this. He couldn’t help but raise a smile.
Yan Wushi saw the smile on Shen Qiao’s face. He averted his eyes and picked up a piece of asparagus with his chopsticks. “Weren’t you looking for someone? How did it go? Did you ﬁnd them?
“Not yet. I heard they went all the way north.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch up with them.” “You’re looking for Yu Ai and his group, aren’t you?”
Shen Qiao wasn’t going to hide it from him, “Yes. Now that I’ve recovered some of my martial arts, I can defend myself again and am not afraid of what Yu Ai might be scheming. Even if we can’t come to an agreement, I can at least leave with no problems. I heard that he brought two Elders as well as Martial Sister Gu with him on his way to Eastern Tujue. I want to ﬁnd an opportunity to talk to Sister Gu ﬁrst.”
Yan Wushi said, “Since Yu Ai has already left Mount Xuandu, the sect is now in a headless state. Why don’t you ﬁrst go back to Mount Xuandu and take back the sect leader position? This way, he won’t be able to do anything even after he gets back.”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “Yu Ai is very careful in what he does. Even for the previous poisoning, he didn’t reveal anything about it. Now that he dared leave Mount Xuandu for Eastern Tujue just like this, I can only assume that he must have everything planned out so that he is not worried about me coming back. He couldn’t have done all of these things himself. From the very beginning, apart from those who were kept completely in the dark from the truth, there must be other people on Mount Xuandu who support him. If I return to Mount Xuandu right now, it would be no diﬀerent than
walking right into his trap. On the contrary, the people that he decided to bring with him on the trip might actually be the ones he had the hardest time controlling. I witnessed Martial Sister Gu grow up since she was still a child, and I still have some conﬁdence in her.”
Yan Wushi listened to him carefully and then nodded with a smile,
“Then I’ll wish you the best as well.”
Normally, even if he were to talk softly, there would still be some mockery in his tone. It was very rare for him to speak so normally and calmly this time. Shen Qiao responded with a smile, “Thanks.”
It was still a good amount of distance from Liang Prefecture to Ye City. The two of them stayed one more day in the City of Liang Prefecture and then set off for the north. After they left the city, the closer they were to Ye City, the more refugees they saw. Shen Qiao had been to Ye City before, but the scene appeared to be even more depressing than last time. He couldn’t help but stop and look ahead. In the far distance, refugees were heading towards the capital direction as they walked slowly along the dried-up river bed, all of them looking extremely low-spirited and lifeless.
In his memory, he had encountered such scenes countless times. It was a world almost completely separated from the world of the pugilists.
In fact, most people who were able to make a name for themselves in the pugilistic world had a few extra coins in their pockets. While some of them were big landlords themselves, some came from families that ran large businesses. For example, the Six Harmonies Association conducted trades both by water and by land, and their businesses extended to almost the entire world. It was a true giant of its sort. As for the Cleansing Moon Sect, there was even less to be worried about. Due to its close relationship with the imperial court of Northern Zhou, it had many businesses and estates not only in the capital, but also many other cities in Zhou.
Even the Purple Mansion of Mount Xuandu who had insisted on staying away from the secular world for the last couple generations had in fact, as early as the time of their founding father, bought out all of Mount Xuandu. Even the farmland at the foot of the mountain cultivated by the people living in Xuandu Town were rented from Mount Xuandu. The generations of Mount Xuandu’s sect leaders were all kind-hearted people that they would only ask for fair rental fees, but even in that case, the money they collected, together with the products produced on Mount Xuandu, were already enough to for its disciples to live a stable life.
Only by having a prosperous and carefree life could a person concentrate on studying martial arts and probing further down the path. If they couldn’t even feed themselves, not knowing when their next meal was going to be, how could they possibly be in the mood to practice their skills?
Looking at these refugees in front of him, their children faced natural calamities as well as man-made disasters since their births and were unable to ﬁll their stomachs. More cruelly, some of these children might even become their parents’ “reserved rations”. Even if there existed one or two geniuses among them with outstanding aptitude in martial arts, they could very likely lose their lives even before their talents were discovered.
“Ah-qiao’s being soft-hearted again!” Surprisingly, Yan Wushi didn’t ridicule him this time. Instead, he sighed in a half-smiling, half- emotional tone.
Shen Qiao shook his head. “Actually, I was an orphan, too. I don’t know who my parents are. They left me in a desolate and uninhabited land. From what I heard, my health was really bad and I almost died when I was still in my swaddling clothes. Maybe this was why my parents abandoned me, or maybe they were just too poor to raise me. Fortunately, I met my master and my life was saved. Therefore, every time I see
these people, I always feel sorry for how little I have done for them. If I realized this earlier when I was still in Mount Xuandu and reopened the sect to the secular world, I might’ve been able to take in more children from poor families as disciples and thus save a few more lives.”
Yan Wushi said, “Life is never fair. Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths and never have to worry about money, but some have to struggle against poverty, not even having any relatives to rely on. There are few people like you who can put themselves into other people’s shoes. Most people resemble Chen Gong. They are ﬁlled with insatiable desires, not knowing what they are capable of, and they never stop wanting more. Even if Mount Xuandu takes in more disciples, it just means that it might get a few more thankless wretches like Yu Ai.”
Shen Qiao smiled helplessly, “But it’s also possible that we might get a few more talented people who can help those in distress and save the morals of the time!”
Yan Wushi didn’t think so, “Whatever you want, you have to ﬁght for it yourself. You can’t just hope that someone else is going to help you. No matter whether they live or die, it’s their own choice and it has nothing to do with others.”
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything else.
Not far from here, a couple were walking towards them, quarreling as they went while dragging a little boy that was nothing but a bag of bones. Both Shen Qiao and Yan Wu-shi had sharp ears, so they were able to hear part of the argument.
In fact, they had exchanged their own child with other people for this little boy, and were on their way to ﬁnd an empty place so they could prepare him for the pot. The original intention was to prevent other people from seeing and snatching the boy, but they ended up
ﬁghting each other over the distribution. The husband thought the legs and the back of this boy were his only meaty parts so he wanted to keep them to himself. Meanwhile, the wife insisted that she should have the right to pick the “food” ﬁrst since the child they used for the exchange was the one she delivered herself after ten months of suffering. The two of them seemed too weak to walk already, yet suddenly, they managed to start a ﬁght.
The little boy that they exchanged back just stared at them blankly on the side, letting them ﬁght over the right to eat him ﬁrst. His face was expressionless, as if his consciousness had already left him long ago.
Shen Qiao had reached the end of his forbearance. He stepped forward and seized the boy. Seeing their “food” was taken, the couple stopped ﬁghting and pounced on him immediately.
They had not eaten for days. Even a strong woman could take them down single-handedly, let alone someone like Shen Qiao. However, after the little boy was brought back by Shen Qiao, there was not even a tiny change in the boy’s expression. Not to mention gratitude, there was no trace of even the slightest amount of relief after one’s survival.
“What’s your name? Do you want to eat something ﬁrst?”
Shen Qiao asked, reaching an arm out to him.
Before his hand had touched him, the little boy fell straight toward him, then became silently still.
Shen Qiao was shocked. He hurried over to check on him only to ﬁnd out that the boy had been seriously ill since a long time ago. He was already at death’s door. While the couple were dragging him, he was already experiencing his terminal lucidity —— even gods would have no means to save him, and his heart had already failed by now. He could hold on no more.
Whether Shen Qiao chose to save him or not made no difference to him at all.
His eyes were not completely closed, as if he still kept the last bit of longing and accusation for this world.
Judging by the scars on his body and the ribs poking out under his skin, this little boy probably never lived even one good day in his life. Perhaps he never even understood why he had to be born and endure these miseries.
Shen Qiao did not move for a long time, staring unblinkingly at him. Suddenly, he reached out and passed his hand across the boy’s face, tenderly closing his eyelids.
Yet, another hand came and covered Shen Qiao’s eyes, then gently wiped off the wet traces of tears at the corners.
“You didn’t cry even when Yu Ai betrayed you, but now you are crying over someone you don’t even know?”
“Everything I experienced, whether they were setbacks or predicaments, were things I could endure. But this little boy… He probably has never hurt anyone. The reason Heaven let him be born into this world should not be for him to suﬀer. Everyone has the right to live. No matter how hard life is, there should at least be hope for him to see a way out.”
If someone else had said these words, Yan Wushi would deﬁnitely mark them as hypocritical. Even now, he could never and would never do the things that Shen Qiao had done. However, from the disdain in the beginning to now seeing Shen Qiao doing things like this, he didn’t even feel strange or surprised. Something had changed in an unconscious and natural way.
“You are too naive. Who is responsible for giving him hope? Other people need to live too. They too need to plan for
themselves. Why do they need to treat him nicely?”
Shen Qiao stood up and said, “I’m willing to treat him nicely, but it’s too late.”
Yan Wushi said apathetically, “You can save at most one or two people by yourself. There are many people in this world in a similar state as him, yet you are blind to them. Isn’t this hypocrisy?”
Shen Qiao said, “If this chaos can come to an end one day and the world is under one person’s rule again, then even if such things will not disappear completely, at least there will be a lot less of them. By that time, not only one or two people will be saved, but hundreds of thousands of people, isn’t that right?”
Yan Wushi didn’t care to respond. He walked straight to the side and, using his palm as blade, created a deep pit under the tree with his inner qi. The pit was rectangular and leveled at the bottom.
Shen Qiao immediately knew what he meant after seeing his movement. He smiled and said, “Thanks.”
He carried the little boy’s remains and kept him ﬂat while placing his body into the pit. Then he swept the dirt around the pit to ﬂatten it out.
In such a turbulent era, it was good enough for not leaving one’s bones on the moor. If a gravestone was placed, people might think there were funeral objects underneath. It would then attract thieves and robbers instead.
After everything was settled, Shen Qiao and Yan Wushi entered the city.
The inside and outside of the city were as different as two worlds.
It was said that after Gao Wei, the Emperor of Qi, heard about the years of famine and the countless refugees out there, not only did he not ask the oﬃcials to provide disaster relief, but he even built a Poor’s Village inside the Hualin Garden in the capital. Dressed up as a beggar himself, he asked the eunuchs and servant girls in the palace to pretend to be travelling businessmen and passers-by so that he could experience the fun of begging himself. Therefore, when people in Ye City talked about the Hualin Garden, their faces were not ﬁlled with admiration for the royal garden, but with a vague, tacit ridicule.
However, even in the face of the danger of the Northern Zhou’s army pressing in on the border, the city appeared to be just as peaceful, happy and prosperous, not much different from what Shen Qiao had seen during his previous visit.
The roads were ﬁlled with precious horses and magniﬁcent carriages; buildings were painted with gold and silver powders ; luxurious brocade dresses ﬂuttered in the wind; hair was decorated with jade hairpins; and the air was suffused with subtle fragrances
—— All of these together formed the dazzling array of prosperity in
people’s eyes. This was the visage of Ye City, the capital city of Qi, a world of glory and wealth.
At ﬁrst glance, those travelers who had just arrived wouldn’t be able to ﬁnd any poor people in this city. They might even feel ashamed for their own unseemliness, questioning whether they were themselves too poor and pedantic. However, if one were to take a look at the hidden alleys on the side, they could occasionally spot a few ordinary citizens wrapped in simple clothes who appeared to be quite ill-ﬁtted with the strikingly ﬂourishing sight around them.
Finding a few people in such a big city was not something one could easily accomplish in a day or two. Yu Ai and his group might have lodged at some Daoist monasteries, or they might have changed into normal clothes to hide their identities. If it was the second case, looking for them would be as diﬃcult as searching for a
needle in a haystack.
The two of them parted right after they entered the city. Yan Wushi didn’t say where he was going, neither did Shen Qiao ask about it. He only said, “Take care of yourself, Sect Master Yan. I wish you the best.”
Yan Wushi asked, “Are you going to look for an inn to stay?”
Shen Qiao thought for a moment, “I’ll try to look them in the surrounding Daoist monasteries ﬁrst. If I can’t ﬁnd them, then I’ll stay in the monastery.”
Yan Wushi nodded, “I still have some business to deal with.”
He turned around and left without saying what business he had. In just the blink of an eye, he had already disappeared from Shen Qiao’s line of sight.
For a moment, Shen Qiao stood where he was and watched as the latter disappeared into the sea of people. He couldn’t help but pull a smile and started to leave as well.
He hadn’t walked far before a large troop approached from the other end of the street. The soldiers leading the way were driving pedestrians away as the latter rushed to the sides in a ﬂuster in order to avoid offending the noble and getting themselves in trouble.
Shen Qiao yielded to the side together with the rest of the crowd. The next second, he heard someone asking from behind, “Which prince or princess is it this time?”
Another person laughed as he replied, “You’re wrong. Judging by the honour guards, it should be the Commandery Prince of Chengyang!”
As if he was suddenly enlightened, the ﬁrst person let out a sound of surprise, “Ah! Is he that Commandery Prince of Chengyang
whom the Emperor deeply favors?”
The other person said in a meaningfully tone, “That’s right. It’s him.”
The Commandery Prince of Chengyang, Mutipo, was so famous that his name was known to almost everyone. However, his fame did not come from his ability or political achievements, but from the Emperor.
There was also a very unpleasant history between Shen Qiao and this Commadery Prince. Because of him, Mu Tipo could never be a man again. He probably hated Shen Qiao to the bone. Shen Qiao was not afraid of him, but since he was looking for Yu Ai, there was no need to cause more trouble. As soon as he heard the conversation, he retreated even further to the back of the crowd and planned to take shelter in a nearby shop.
Right then, he heard someone commenting puzzledly, “That’s not the Commandery Prince of Chengyang.”
Shen Qiao turned back. Unfortunately, the person who was riding high up on the horse was also looking in his direction.
Their eyes met. Shen Qiao calmly looked away as if nothing happened, but the other person was slightly shocked.
“Oh! That’s indeed not the Commandery Prince of Chengyang. He’s the new favorite of His Majesty. People say that he was recommended to His Majesty by the commandery prince. Nowadays, His Majesty likes him even more than Concubine Feng!”
“Concubine Feng? Is that the one who… is she?”
“Haha. That’s right. She’s that concubine who was stripped of her clothes by the Emperor. His Majesty sold her body to the oﬃcials. They could see her naked for a thousand pieces
The comment was immediately followed by dubious laughter from the surrounding crowd.
What could one make of the country when its emperor and oﬃcials were all like this?
Thinking about the Yuwen Yong he had met, Shen Qiao shook his head and disappeared back into the crowd.
The Northern Qi was a supporter of Buddhism. Therefore, as a Buddhist capital, Ye City had nearly no Daoist monasteries. Shen Qiao asked a few passers-by, but most of them didn’t know if one existed in the city. In the end, an old man ﬁnally told him, “There’s a White Dragon Monastery in the west side of the city. It’s a pretty lonely place. Only two young Daoist priests and an old abbot live in it. Not many people go there.”
Shen Qiao thanked the old man for his help and quickly found the White Dragon Monastery. It was simple and crude indeed. Looking from outside, except for the three characters written on the wooden plaque above the main entrance which could still be considered as readable, the rest of the places were all covered with moss, the tiles weather-beaten. It must have been many years since it was last cleaned and repaired.
The old man said there were two young Daoist priests that lived here. But Shen Qiao didn’t see any of them as he walked through the half-closed gate all the way to the little court in the center. It was not until Shen Qiao raised his voice and asked for the third or fourth time that a young priest boy ﬁnally yawned his way out.
“What have you come here for, mister?”
Shen Qiao greeted him with a salute, “Young Daoist priest, may I ask if a group of people asked to stay here a couple days
ago? They should have been led by a young man who brought with him a lady and two old men, and perhaps some other disciples. The man has a red mole under his ear. They may or may not be wearing Daoist robes. ”
The little priest shook his head, “Not that I know of. Our monastery has always been pretty quiet and lonely. It’s been a long time since someone visited!”
Shen Qiao was slightly disappointed. Seeing that the sky was getting dark, he asked, “Then may I ask if there are any guest rooms available? Do you think I could stay the night?”
“We do. But it hasn’t been cleaned for quite some time.
You’d have to clean it yourself.”
“Thank you. It’s good enough to have a place to spend the night. May I ask if the abbot of the monastery is here? I should at least thank him for letting me stay in his place.”
“Nah, there’s no need. My master doesn’t see outsiders. You’re just asking for a place to stay, not to borrow money, so it doesn’t matter whether you see him or not.”
He guided Shen Qiao through the monastery’s main hall to one of the rooms in the backyard. When the door was opened, the dusty mildew smell greeted them right away. Even the young Daoist priest himself started to cough non stop as he fanned hard in front of his nose.
“Look how dirty this place is! Are you sure you are ﬁne with staying here?” He peered at Shen Qiao from the corner of his eye.
Shen Qiao brieﬂy scanned the room. The bed was dirty, but broomstick and wiping cloth were handy. There was also a well right outside. With just a bit of cleaning, the room would do just ﬁne. In
fact, when he was still the sect leader of Mount Xuandu, the place he lived in wasn’t as luxurious and comfortable as others might have imagined.
“I’m ﬁne. Thank you very much, young priest.”
Since he said yes, the little priest didn’t bother with it any further, “There’s no food past noon, so the kitchen has already closed. You’d have to cook something yourself if you want to eat. Water jugs and cups can be found in the kitchen, but we don’t have any rice or noodles. If you want to buy food, there’s some in the market just across the street. But you have to hurry up. They might close soon.”
With a reception as bad as this, it was no wonder that the monastery had close to no pilgrims despite being located in the capital city. Apart from the fact that most people in Qi were Buddhists, the host’s attitude was probably very problematic as well.
However, Shen Qiao didn’t say anything. He just agreed to everything with a smile. Right after the little priest left, he immediately started sweeping the ﬂoor and cleaning the bed.
Not long after, the little priest returned, his face covered in excitement. “Mister! Hurry up and take a look outside! There are several carriages parked out there loaded with things. The people said those were for you!”
Shen Qiao asked, “Did they say their name?”
The little priest said, “Not yet. Hurry up and go take a look!”
Growing up in the monastery, the boy had never seen such a big occasion. Even before Shen Qiao could reply, he was already shouting his way out to notify the abbot.
Shen Qiao walked up to the entrance. Just like the boy said, there were some carriages parked outside, and a group of people were unloading chests off them.
The crew was led by a man dressed like a servant. But, he was not an ordinary servant. Judging by his appearance and his clothes, he was at least a personal attendant who directly served a master.
Seeing that Shen Qiao had walked out, the man took a step forward. However, he didn’t come close. “May I ask if you are Shen Qiao?”
“I am,” Shen Qiao said.
The other person said, “I am here to deliver these gifts at the order of the Duke of Pengcheng District.”
Even though Shen Qiao already knew the answer in his heart, he still asked, “Who is this Duke of Pengcheng District? I’m afraid I don’t know him.”
The other person seemed rather displeased. Instead of answering
Shen Qiao’s question, he simply replied, “The Duke of Pengcheng District said you had done him a favor in the past. ‘A drop of water given in need shall be returned with a burst of spring.’ Therefore, he asked us to deliver these gifts. We hope you would kindly accept this small gratitude from us.”
Without waiting for Shen Qiao to reply, he commanded the coachman and the rest of the servants with a clap of his hands, “Open the chests.”
Right at that time, the abbot of the White Dragon Monastery rushed out after the two little priests to greet his guests. However, before he even had time to say hi to Shen Qiao, he was already attracted by those chests being opened.
And they immediately let out a gasp!
It wasn’t because they were surprised. Rather, the voices were ﬁlled with disbelief.
It was because the chests were not ﬁlled with money or treasures or brocades. They were ﬁlled with nothing but donkey meat burgers!
As soon as the chests were opened, the steaming, mouth-watering aroma of donkey meat greeted them right in the face. The abbot and the two little Daoist priests couldn’t help gulp hard.
With a disdainful look on his face, the servant sneered, “The Duke of Pengcheng District asked me to pass a few words for him. By the grace of you, he was able to eat a few of your burgers, and now he would like to pay you back tenfold. We don’t know if these are enough. If not, we’ll send over a few more boxes!”
Shen Qiao showed no anger or fear. It was quite the contrary —— he even replied with a smile, “That’s enough. I was just concerned about where to get my dinner since the kitchen
was already closed. I have to thank your master very much for his timely help. At least I don’t have to worry about my meals for the next couple of days.”
The servant probably didn’t expect that Shen Qiao would react this way. After a moment of shock, the disdain on his face grew even stronger. He obviously thought that Shen Qiao had given in too easily. In his mind, this person must have offended his master in the past, hence the latter decided to pay him back by using such a method.
With these thoughts in mind, he didn’t take Shen Qiao seriously and only nodded, “Then I’ll return to report to my master.”
He made a gesture, and the servants on either side immediately dumped the donkey meat burgers out of the chests.
The abbot and two little priests cried in great ﬂurry, “What are you doing?! The burgers are now dirty!”
The servant laughed aloud. “Master asked me to give you these burgers, but he never said that boxes were included!”
The donkey meat burgers fell all over the ﬂoor. The juice inside them ﬂew out, and the aroma quickly attracted many insects. They buzzed around the burgers. Even if the abbot and the little priests wanted to pick the burgers up, brush off the dust, and then eat them, they dared not do so now. They could only choke with silent fury as they stared at the burgers with regret written all over their faces.
The smile ﬁnally disappeared from Shen Qiao’s face. His countenance slightly darkened.
When Chen Gong was still living in that broken temple, he didn’t even have the money to buy burgers. A hot meal was all it took to ﬁll him with joy. But now, he could even do something like this just to vent his own anger. One couldn’t help but wonder whether it was
because that power and wealth really could becloud a person’s heart, or whether it was the environment that was capable of changing a person’s mind and nature so easily.
The servant slowly stopped and looked back, “What else do you need, mister?”
Shen Qiao said, “Finish these burgers before you leave.”
The servant couldn’t help laughing, “Mister, you must be kidding. They are gifts for you from my master. How can we eat them? Take your time and enjoy!”
He turned around. However, he wasn’t able to walk far before his triumphant smile turned into horror.
He felt pain in his wrist, a pain so sharp that he could barely stand.
And before he knew it, Shen Qiao who was originally more than ten steps away from him was already standing in front of his eyes.
Face distorted by pain, he groaned, “Let..go… Let me go!”
Shen Qiao’s voice dropped, “Heaven bestowed grains upon us, and we shall treasure them with the utmost respect. There are many who are still starving outside the city. Therefore, please ﬁnish these burgers before you go.”
Startled, horriﬁed, and ﬂamed with anger, the servant shouted, “Who do you think you are?! Do you even know who we are?! The Duke of Pengcheng District is the Emperor’s favorite…”
Shen Qiao’s face looked cold and indifferent, “I don’t know a Duke of Pengcheng District. If you don’t want to eat these, none of you shall leave today.”
It seemed that some of them simply refused to take in his words. Right after Shen Qiao ﬁnished, a coachman turned around and broke into a run immediately. However, before he was three steps out, his body suddenly fell forward and he was unable to move anymore.
Shen Qiao asked, “Will you eat it?”
The servant shouted, “Shen Qiao! If you dare humiliate me, my master will deﬁnitely get revenge against you a hundred fold! Don’t you ever regret it later!”
“Will you eat it?”
“I dare you… AHH!!!!”
He screamed in anguish. The ﬁerce appearance on his face instantly turned into one of extreme pain, for Shen Qiao had grabbed him by the wrist. No one could tell what Shen Qiao did exactly. There wasn’t any fracture or injury on the other person’s wrist, but the servant appeared to be in so much pain that he could barely stand it. It gave everyone else a chill by looking at him.
“Will you eat it?”
His tone was just as calm and gentle, but his eyes slowly turned from the servant to the rest of the crowd.
Those whom he glanced over all bowed their heads and dared not look directly at him.
At this point, the attendant did not dare to act arrogantly anymore. The tone of his voice changed drastically as he trembled, “Just to let mister know, our master only asked us to send over these burgers. He didn’t tell us to dump the burgers out. It was me, it was all my idea. Please forgive me, mister. You are the bigger person. I’m sure your mind is too broad to haggle over these kinds of things with us!”
Shen Qiao said, “If you really want me to let it go, then you should ﬁnish these burgers. Otherwise, if I am to ask your master about it, your master will inevitably take his anger out on you. You need to think carefully about it.”
The waiter wanted to cry, but no tears came out. So he had no choice but to get on the ground, pick up the burgers, and start eating.
Those burgers on the ground were already cold. The servant could even taste the sand and stones mixed within as he ate them. Ever since started serving Chen Gong, he had been eating even better than the general well-off families. When did he ever have to eat food like this that even the dogs in the mansion would not eat? He almost cried when he bit down. But since Shen Qiao was still watching him from the side, he had no choice but to swallow each mouthful with the expression as if he was eating shit.
Seeing that the other people who came together with him were all staring at him, he couldn’t help but roar, “What are you waiting for?! Come and help me eat these!”
Despite the fact that they were reluctant in every possible way, because that servant was very much favored by their master, they had to follow after him and crouch down to eat the burgers.
The Duke of Pengcheng District had always been the center of conversation ever since the day he became the Emperor’s new favorite —— even the abbot of this monastery had heard about him. Seeing how Shen Qiao showed no trace of politeness towards these people, he was so astonished that he even forgot to close his mouth.
The young priest pulled the abbot by the corner of his robe a few times and whispered, “Master, if that Duke of something District comes back for revenge, will we be inﬂicted?”
The abbot turned to him and groaned in a low voice, “Shut up!
Do you not see how skilled he is in martial arts?!”
Shen Qiao heard him, but he pretended he did not. Those people, after eating a dozen or so burgers each, all stated with mournful faces that they really couldn’t eat anymore. They pleaded with Shen Qiao to let them go.
However, there were still at least a few dozens of burgers on the ground. Shen Qiao shook his head, “Even if I let you take the burgers back, there’s no doubt that you’ll just throw them out on the way. Don’t even think about leaving today before ﬁnishing them.”
The servant trembled with fear, “But mister, my master is still waiting for me to report to him!”
Shen Qiao said, “I’m sure he’ll send more people over if he doesn’t see you. Won’t you have more people helping you with the burgers by then?”
The servant dared not speak anymore and focused back on eating.
From evening all the way till nightfall, more than a dozen or so people gobbled up and wolfed the food. It was not until their bellies were round and their faces ashen did Shen Qiao ﬁnally make them stop.
It was almost like a great amnesty to them. At this point, they could hardly keep their backs straight, so they had to help support each other as they respectfully came to Shen Qiao to apologize.
Shen Qiao said, “Go back and tell your master that I’m only stopping by this place temporarily. In fact, I’m leaving tomorrow, so there’s no need to even think about harassing the abbot because of me.”
The servant forced out a smile, “Mister Shen must be joking.
How could we dare!”
Despite what he said, he was actually planning on doing so if Shen Qiao hadn’t pointed it out.
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything else and let them leave.
After making sure that those devils had left, the abbot ﬁnally came up and sighed, “Mister, you have caused great trouble to our monastery. We’ve always been secluded and withdrawn, and we have never stirred up disturbances. Today, trouble has fallen to us from the sky, but just what have we done to deserve this?”
Shen Qiao said apologetically, “There’s no need to worry. This shouldn’t have had anything to do with you in the ﬁrst place. I’ll visit that person myself and clear things up with him tomorrow. They won’t come to you anymore.”
The abbot was still a little unhappy, “It better be like that!”
Shen Qiao took out a few copper coins from his sleeve and handed it to him, “I’ve inconvenienced you. I don’t have much on me, but please accept my token of goodwill and let me know if this is enough.”
Only then did the abbot’s face clear up a little. He looked at the two disciples who were staring at him, then coughed lightly, gathering up his sleeves. Once the copper coins were enclosed in his hand, he said, “This is enough, though barely. It’s late, and the wind is quite harsh. Come back in and rest.”
Shen Qiao smiled and went in together with them.
The two small priests originally thought that there’d be donkey meat burgers to eat. However, after all the misfortune happened out of the blue, instead of burgers, they got only a show to watch. While the abbot fretted over the possibility of offending someone, the small priests on the other hand were extremely excited, especially the
young priest who had previously lazily received Shen Qiao. His attitude had also changed drastically, and his gaze now practically radiated light.
“Mister Shen, do you know who those guys represent? They’re under the Duke of Pengcheng District, the new favorite minister of the Emperor! I heard that for him, the Emperor was even willing to be the…”
The unﬁnished words vanished under the pain of being hit in the back of the head by the abbot.
“That’s not something children your age should say!” the abbot scolded.
The little priest cradled the back of his head, feeling wronged,
“But you were the one who told us!”
The abbot rolled his eyes at him, “Shouldn’t you go cook already? Your master is about to starve!”
The little priest said, “Didn’t you say one shouldn’t eat after noon?”
The abbot said, “If we live a peaceful and secluded life as usual, then of course two meals a day is enough. But today, after being pulled into such a mess for no reason, the anger I experienced was so great that it even made me hungry. Even if you don’t eat, shouldn’t you at least consider your master?!”
The little priest muttered to himself, “I’ve only ever heard of anger making one full, not making one hungry.”
The abbot made a gesture of hitting him, and the little priest quickly dodged his way out as soon as he saw it. “I’ll go cook!”
“What an ungrateful disciple!” Clearly in a bad mood, the
abbot said as he rubbed the other little priest’s head, “Chuyi does nothing but fool around all day. If he could only be as well- behaved as you, Shiwu.”
Shiwu smiled shyly and lifted his head to ask Shen Qiao, “Mister Shen, our monastery has few ingredients, so I can only cook something simple. Please bear with us. Would you like to eat noodles or rice?”
The abbot paled in fright, “You wretched child! I just praised you and you’re already causing mischief! That ﬂour was supposed to be saved for New Years!”
Right after he ﬁnished speaking, the abbot immediately realized he had said too much. He hastily turned his head to glance at Shen Qiao, and then shamefully closed his mouth.
Shiwu laughed, “Mister Shen is our guest. Master always teaches us that we must know our manners. I’ll go help senior brother!”
Before the abbot could reply, he too had run off.
“Wretched kid!” The abbot was unable to stop himself from muttering, thinking how unfortunate he was today. Not only was he not able to have any donkey meat burgers, but they were even going to rob him of the little amount of ﬂour he had saved.
As if he could read the other person’s mind, Shen Qiao took out a few more coins from his sleeve and handed them to the abbot with a smile, “I’m so sorry for letting you spend so much on me!”
“No no, that’s not what I meant!” The abbot wasn’t thick- skinned enough to take the money after all, so he pushed it back, which brought him closer to Shen Qiao. Only then did he realize that there was something strange with Shen Qiao’s eyes, “So your eyes…?”
“It’s from an old illness. They work a little better during the day, but I can’t see very well at night.”
“I see. What a pity!”
He didn’t probe further on the subject, “By the way, how did mister oﬀend the Duke of Pengcheng District?”
Shen Qiao brieﬂy explained how he and Chen Gong had met each other in the rock bottom of their life and decided to travel together. When the abbot heard that Chen Gong brought Mu Tipo back and recommended Shen Qiao to him in order to free himself, he couldn’t hold himself any longer and cursed out, “Biting the hand that fed him! What a shameless bastard!”
He thought about the scene he had witnessed just now and sighed, “Mister Shen, you should make sure you’re well-prepared yourself if you’re going to look for someone. You can totally tell that servant is a vile character. I wouldn’t be surprised if he exaggerates everything in front of Chen Gong and makes Chen Gong resent you even more.”
Shen Qiao said, “Thank you very much for the warning, abbot. There is something I’d like to ask you about. Have you seen a group of people traveling by recently? Within the group are two seniors, and the rest of the people are either young men or women, all very attractive. They may or may not have been wearing Daoist robes, but they should be carrying swords.”
Although he had already offhandedly asked the little priest earlier, he still remained unconvinced and wanted to conﬁrm it again.
The abbot thought for a moment, then shook his head, “Not that I remember. There are quite a number of Buddhist temples and monks in Ye City, but Daoism isn’t popular here. As for Daoist priests, well, there aren’t many other monasteries
besides the White Dragon Monastery. If they wanted to seek shelter at a monastery, they’d probably come to this one. If they didn’t come here, then they deﬁnitely wouldn’t have gone to the other monasteries either; they would’ve probably changed into ordinary clothes and stayed at a hotel instead. Anyway, Mister Shen, if you want to look for someone, this is not the right way to do it. If the other person intends to hide from you, it’s very easy for you to miss them. Besides, are you certain that they are indeed traveling north around this time?”
Shen Qiao replied with a bitter smile, “You’re right. I’m just giving it a try.”
As they were talking, they heard the little priest calling from the kitchen, “Master! Mister Shen! Dinner is ready!”
The abbot subconsciously walked a little faster. Suddenly, he remembered that Shen Qiao was still next to him, so he quickly came to a halt and smiled awkwardly, “Come. Let’s go eat!”
The dinner couldn’t have been simpler —— noodles freshly made from ﬂour and water, both were readily available. Not even a drop of oil could be found, not to mention meat slices. Plain noodles sprinkled with chopped vegetables, with some self-made pickled radish on the side —— a meal enough to make the abbot’s the two little priests’ eyes twinkle.
The abbot swallowed hard and said to his young disciple, “Serve our guest ﬁrst.”
“Yes, master.” The young disciple was too honest that he simply piled Shen Qiao’s bowl with noodles and vegetables and radish to the point that it couldn’t hold anymore. The mere sight of this pained the abbot so much that he couldn’t help but repeat, “That’s enough! That’s enough! The guest won’t be able to ﬁnish it if you keep on piling more!”
Shen Qiao smiled in agreement, “He’s right. Just a little for me is enough. Don’t give me too much!”
While they were still trying to be polite to each other, they once more heard someone knocking on the gate of the monastery outside. On a quiet night like this, the sound appeared to be extremely clear and loud, making one’s heart ﬂutter.
The two little priests looked at each other in blank dismay, “It’s late already. Why is there still a guest?”
“Don’t tell me that those guys earlier have returned to cause us more trouble!”
“Master, should we pretend that we didn’t hear it?”
The abbot also felt a bit nervous, “How about we wait for a second? He might just stop after a while.”
His older disciple asked doubtfully, “That can’t be. If they’ve come back for revenge, even if they haven’t burst the door open already, they would have knocked it down at least. How can they keep knocking like this? It can’t be-it can’t be a ghost, right?”
The abbot scolded, “Stop saying nonsense! I’ve told you not to listen to those people under the bridge telling absurd ghost stories. I’ll go take a look and see who is disturbing people from their peaceful night!”
Shen Qiao said, “Let me go. You three can eat ﬁrst. There’s no need to worry.”
The abbot got up immediately after him, “But your eyes…”
Shen Qiao pressed him back down, “It’s ﬁne. I’m used to it now, and I can tell. I just need to borrow a lantern.”
The younger disciple brought a lantern right away. The abbot took the opportunity and sat back down, thinking to himself that even the noodles were getting cold while still keeping up the superﬁcial courtesy, “Be careful. Make sure to call out to us if something’s not right!”
Shen Qiao replied, “I will. You don’t have to wait for me.”
He walked out holding the lantern in his hand. The White Dragon Monastery was quite big. One could still tell its magniﬁcent scale in the past. It was just that time had already claimed its glory, leaving it in a pile of ruins. There were only three people guarding such a large monastery. One couldn’t help but sigh as they walked between the empty buildings at night.
Shen Qiao too thought it was Chen Gong sending more people for revenge. However, after he opened the gate, he sensed neither clamour nor noise from the darkness outside. There was only one person standing there with hands clasped behind him, their ﬁgure and manner appeared to be quite familiar.
Shen Qiao didn’t even need to raise the lantern up to recognize who that person was. Surprised inside, he blurted out almost subconsciously, “Sect Master Yan?”
“Why? Are you not happy to see me?”
Under the moonlight, Shen Qiao, holding a lantern in his hand, gave a sincere and welcoming smile, “Of course I am! Hurry and come in. Have you had dinner already?”
Yan Wushi wasn’t going to answer such a boring question, but when he opened his mouth, he somehow heard himself replying, “Not yet.”
Shen Qiao smiled, “Then you’re just in time. The abbot has boiled some noodles! Please come in.”
He was able to make out most of the place during the day, but his eyes didn’t work as well at night. Even with the lantern in his hand, he still couldn’t see the road. On top of that, since he wasn’t very familiar with the paths here, when he led Yan Wushi into the monastery, he accidentally stumbled himself and nearly fell down.
If the others knew that a martial arts expert who was capable of defeating Duan Wenyang and killing Huo Xijing had tripped himself over some stone stairs, they would probably laugh their heads off.
Luckily, an arm reached out from the side and wrapped around his waist just in time to stop him.
“You seem to be in a bit of haste. That’s unusual.” Yan Wushi said.
Shen Qiao stiﬂed a laugh, and without further comment, he said, “The noodles are getting cold. Since you’ve yet to eat, let’s walk faster.”
Who would have thought that after he brought Yan Wushi back to the kitchen, the abbot had just slurped the last piece of noodle into his own mouth while rubbing his round belly. He regretfully said, “Mister Shen, you came too late. The noodles are already gone.”
Shen Qiao introduced Yan Wushi to them, “This is Mister Yan.
He’s my friend.”
The little priest got up and said, “Mister Shen, I left a bowl for you. You can share it with Mister Yan.”
“You’re too meddlesome!” The abbot scowled with a roll of his eyes.
Originally, he was about to complain that they had only saved one bowl. Why had another one come along? But after seeing Yan Wushi standing behind Shen Qiao, he unconsciously swallowed the
sentence back. He could hardly keep his dignity as the abbot in front of Yan Wushi and even started ﬁdgeting. In the end, he had no choice but to drop a “Take your time” as he hurriedly got up and left.
The young disciple brought over the bowl of noodles that Shen Qiao hadn’t had a chance to eat earlier and glanced at Yan Wushi with some embarrassment, “There’s only one bowl left.”
The noodles had already stuck together into a lump. Yan Wushi probably wouldn’t eat this kind of food even if one begged him to do so.
Yet for the people in the White Dragon Monastery, it was a precious ration that they had been saving for several months. In fact, they had even planned to save it till the New Year, but because of Shen Qiao’s arrival, it was brought out early.
Shen Qiao thanked the little priest. Then he said to Yan Wushi,
“Why don’t we share it?”
Yan Wushi replied, “No thanks.”
Shen Qiao smiled, “The noodles are a bit cold, but their pickled radish is very good. You should try some.”
Knowing that Yan Wushi always cared about things being clean, he cleaned the chopsticks ﬁrst before moving the radish and vegetables
—— those that hadn’t touched the noodles —— from his own bowl
into the one in front of Yan Wushi. He then poured some sauce over his own lump of dry noodles and started eating.
Yan Wushi stared at the half a bowl of vegetables and pickled radish in front of him and frowned. After a long time, he ﬁnally picked up his chopsticks and forced himself to take a bite.
The taste wasn’t as bad as he had imagined.
“Has Sect Master Yan ﬁnished your business?” Shen Qiao
“Not yet.” That was all Yan Wushi said. He didn’t mention whether he had met the person or not, nor why it was not ﬁnished, but Shen Qiao didn’t ask either.
Yan Wushi suddenly changed the topic, “Were you very happy when you saw that I had come?”
Slightly surprised, Shen Qiao nodded and smiled, “Yes. I thought we wouldn’t see each other for a long time after we last parted. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Isn’t this something to be happy about?”
“I heard you said that I was your friend when you introduced me to them.” Yan Wushi said as he gently rubbed the edge of the soup bowl with his ﬁnger. He seemed to be rather amused.
This type of soup bowl had very poor workmanship. Since it had been used for many years, there was a thick layer of grime accumulated on it which could no longer be washed off.
“Yes. It’s a lot easier to say you are my friend when traveling outside. This way, they won’t question it either.”
“What do you think? Deep inside, do you really see me as your friend?” Yan Wushi asked, staring straight at him.
Shen Qiao said, “Studying under the same teacher makes people companions, while sharing the same goal makes people friends. Even though we haven’t studied under the same teacher, nor do we share similar goals, since you saved my life, and we have been involved with each other and traveled together for so long, I would say we’re friends at least.”
“Are you not afraid of others saying that you have given up
on yourself and attached yourself to the Demonic Sovereign?”
Shen Qiao laughed, “As long as I know what I’m doing, that’s enough. Why should I care about what other people think? Ever since I left the mountain, I have been deeply moved by what I hear and see. They make me understand that back then when I shut myself away from the rest of the world, I was practicing nothing but small virtues. As for Sect Master Yan, you assist the Emperor of Zhou —— if he could really unite the countries one day and bring peace back to the world, then people don’t have to wander about or trade their children for food anymore; as long as they have the ability to work, they can get paid for their labor —— that’s probably the True Virtue.”
Yan Wushi sneered, “You don’t have to praise me like that. Yuwen Yong and I are just using each other to get what we want. Everything I do is because I want to do it. It’s never because I think about others.”
“Even if it is out of bad intentions, if it leads to good results, wouldn’t you say it is still achieving Virtue?”
Yan Wushi stared at him ﬁxedly for a while. After a long time, he ﬁnally said, “So, we’re friends.”
Shen Qiao nodded with a smile, “If Sect Master Yan doesn’t mind me reaching out of my league.”
A strange look ﬂashed across Yan Wushi’s face. Before Shen Qiao could take a closer look at it, Yan Wushi had once again resumed his lazy and nonchalant manner. “This monastery is way too simple and crude. Is there even a room for me to stay?”
Shen Qiao smiled, “Then I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to stay in the same room with me for now.”
In fact, unless Yan Wushi was willing to sleep in the room that the abbot had slept in or simply leave the monastery and look for somewhere else to stay, staying with Shen Qiao was his only choice.
Luckily, Shen Qiao had just cleaned the room, and the abbot’s youngest disciple had taken the bedding out for sunshine just a few days ago —— it still had that sweet, fresh smell on it.
The bed was a single-person bed, so it wasn’t surprising that it seemed a little crowded for two people. But Shen Qiao said to him, “You can have it. I’ll just take a brief nap as I meditate.”
The room was simple and crude. As moonlight slid into the room through the cracks on window paper, the night breeze snuck in together with it. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t cold anymore around this time of the year, and they were both martial arts experts, so they didn’t need to worry about catching a cold.
Shen Qiao sat cross-legged. His back was straight like a green pine or a verdant bamboo. It was early summer already, so his clothes were getting thinner. One could vaguely see the waistline underneath.
Time slowly ﬂowed by. The moon had reached the highest point in the sky, and the well rippled of its cold shine.
Yan Wushi stared at Shen Qiao’s silhouette from behind. Suddenly, he struck out a ﬁnger at lightning speed towards the center of Shen Qiao’s back!
Immersed in meditation, Shen Qiao was entering a mysterious state. However, for martial artists, unless they were in Closed Door Meditation, they would almost always detach a part of their mind aside to watch for possible danger in the surrounding environment so as to avoid being ambushed by others. Not to mention, Shen Qiao was also staying in an unfamiliar place. However, he was only guarding against enemies from the outside and never thought that Yan Wushi would plot against him.
That sense of vigilance quickly pulled him out of meditation, but the gap between their current level of martial arts was simply too big, and they were too close to each other as well, so that by the time he reacted, the other person had already locked all the key acupoints on his back, and he could no longer move.
Yan Wushi caressed his cheek. He couldn’t help but let out a soft sigh, “Ah-qiao, why do you always trust others so easily?”
Shen Qiao frowned, “I thought we were friends.”
Yan Wushi slightly smiled, “You can only blame yourself. If you hadn’t said anything about friends, I might have waited a little longer before acting on you. Why would a person such as myself need someone as desperate as you who hasn’t recovered his martial arts, been kicked out of his sect, and been ridiculed by everyone, as my friend?”
Shen Qiao stopped talking.
Yan Wushi carried him in his arms and walked out without telling anyone.
Even though he was carrying a person with him, his steps were just as light as if he had no weight. Beneath the moonlight, he slid across the fallen leaves in such grace and ease, not leaving any traces behind him, his long sleeves ﬂuttering in the wind. If anyone else was here, they would not have believed that such an immortal-looking
ﬁgure was in fact the Demonic Sovereign whose name alone frightened everyone.
“Why don’t you ask me where we are going?”
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything. People who didn’t know what happened would probably think he was mute as well.
Yan Wushi looked at him and found out that Shen Qiao had closed his eyes.
He couldn’t help but laugh, “I’m taking you to meet someone, and telling you a story on our way there.”
“Since we haven’t met the person yet, you may start with the story ﬁrst.”
“More than ten years ago, when I ﬁrst obtained The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, I didn’t think it was worth a single glance. Because at that time, I didn’t think there were any martial arts better than The Fundamentals of Phoenix and Qilin. Even though I had lost to Qi Fengge, I believed it was largely due to the person practicing it, not the martial arts itself. The ﬁrst sect master of the Sun-Moon Sect had once achieved the tenth stage, or the ﬁnal stage, of The Fundamentals of Phoenix and Qilin. No one from the Daoist sects or the Confucian sects at that time could even compete against him. It was said that he had lived for more than one hundred and twenty years, and by the end, he saw through the ultimate of the Way of martial arts. With his spirit reﬁned back into emptiness, he himself was liberated from his mortal corpse.”
“But later, I discovered that the legend was wrong. Even though that person was able to live to one hundred and twenty years old, he didn’t ascend to heaven because of his pursuit in higher level of martial arts as people said so. He
died to Qi Deviation. Because even though The Fundamentals of Phoenix and Qilin was a powerful martial art, it also had a fatal weakness. Simply speaking, you can think of a person’s body as a vessel. As the person builds up their inner qi, this vessel is constantly reshaped in order to adapt to the increase in their martial arts skills. Therefore, the stronger a person is in terms of martial arts, the stronger their meridians are.”
Shen Qiao still didn’t say anything, but the expression on his face indicated he was listening.
Yan Wushi continued, “But with The Fundamental of Phoenix- Qilin, things are the opposite. The higher a person’s level of martial arts is, the more restrictions it has on their body. When the ‘vessel’ can no longer keep up with the martial arts it holds, their body will explode and they will die.”
Shen Qiao ﬁnally opened his mouth, “The problem you just mentioned exists in all martial arts. While the pursuit of martial arts is never-ending, a person’s aptitude is limited by their physique and their ﬁnite lifespan. As long as one continues to strive for improvement, they will eventually ﬁnd themselves in a predicament some day. In fact, my master failed the Closed Door Meditation and passed away for the exact same reason.”
Although his martial arts could no longer compare to that of before, he still got the insight and there was no problem for him to discuss it.
Yan Wushi said, “That’s right. However, it wouldn’t be a threat to him if he was willing to stop. The Fundamental of Phoenix-Qilin is diﬀerent. The danger it poses to a person’s body will only become greater as time passes by, even if they stop practicing it. Therefore, I thought of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. If I can integrate martial arts from diﬀerent
schools, it may lead to some unexpected discovery.”
Shen Qiao said, “But you failed.”
Yan Wushi pulled a faint smile, “I failed. It was my eagerness to succeed that planted the hidden danger of Qi Deviation in me.”
Shen Qiao suddenly frowned, “Based on what you said, the Fundamental of Phoenix-Qilin possesses a big ﬂaw. Since almost everyone from the Cleansing Moon Sect and the other two sects practice it, won’t they all ﬁnd themselves in the same predicament?”
With a chuckle, Yan Wushi ﬁnally stopped and put Shen Qiao down. “Ah-qiao, you always surprise me. I thought you would ask me why I’m telling you all of this, but you end up caring about other people’s lives instead. You can relax. This ﬂaw only reveals itself to those who have achieved a certain stage, and if a person can reach the ninth stage like me, they have few worthy matches in this world. Even if they are aware of the martial arts’ ﬂaw, they will be too reluctant to give up.”
“My story is ﬁnished. Any thoughts on it?”
Shen Qiao shook his head.
Yan Wushi seemed to be bored by his reaction. Just as he was about to say something, they heard a laugh coming from the far distance, “Sect Master Yan looks just as elegant as ever. I really miss you a lot!”
The voice sounded both far and near. At one moment, it was coming from the horizon, yet the next second, it was as if it was next to one’s ears. The voice seemed to contain an indescribable charm, and it suddenly gave Shen Qiao a sinking feeling.
Yan Wushi said coldly, “Sang Jingxing, are you trying to shame yourself by using the Devil’s Charm on me?”
The other person replied with a laugh. As if he could teleport through space, with only a few steps, he had already walked up to them from afar.
Compared to Yan Wushi, Sang Jingxing had a much worse reputation in the pugilist world. But because he was horrifyingly strong in martial arts, no one would ever openly oppose him. They would rather swallow their anger and suffer in silence to avoid a quarrel. The best example was what happened to Ren Yin, who was also known as the Wild Blade, from Prefecture Xian. Ren Yin’s youngest daughter, a lovely girl with snowy skin, accidentally became a target of interest of Sang Jingxing, and the latter demanded to take her as his disciple. Everyone knew that disciple was just Sang Jiangxing’s excuse for his endless need for girls to use for dual cultivation. Ren Yin had always been a short-tempered man, but even he did not dare to put up a ﬁght. He instead bore the humiliation of becoming a laughing stock of the world and handed his daughter over to Sang Jingxing at last, while he himself withdrew completely from the pugilistic world together with the rest of his family. It was said that not many years after, Sang Jingxing and the other powerful members of the Harmony Sect got tired of her and gave her to his disciple Huo Xijing. The latter peeled off her face and used it for one of his puppet doll collections.
But after Yan Wushi’s reappearance in the pugilistic world, because he was much more overbearing than Sang Jingxing, people began to put most of their attention on him and had gradually forgotten how cruel and frightful Sang Jingxing was.
As a disciple of Cui Youwang, Sang Jingxing was never a person to be looked down on. His ambition was well hidden beneath his cynical and frivolous appearance. People all thought he willingly became Yuan Xiuxiu’s lover and took pleasure in managing the Harmony Sect
for her, while in fact the conﬂict and discrepancy between them had existed for quite some time. Yuan Xiuxiu couldn’t do anything to Sang Jingxing, nor could Sang Jingxing kill Yuan Xiuxiu at the moment. Their only choice was to hold their noses as they maintained the temporary facade of fraternity.
He was a tall and powerful man, but his countenance was extremely beautiful and elegant. In fact, his skin was so ﬁne and smooth that it was comparable to a woman’s, along with a pair of watery eyes. Unfortunately, the glance coming out of those eyes was rather cold and malicious, and it made people afraid to look directly into them.
With a smile on his face, he greeted Yan Wushi, “I heard that Zhou’s plan on attacking Qi worried Yuan Xiuxiu so deeply that she visited Sect Master Yan to seek your help in killing me. Is this true?”
If Yuan Xiuxiu was here, these words sure would surprise her. This was supposed to be a secret plan. No one else should know her deal with Yan Wushi, but for some reason, the news had been leaked.
Yan Wushi said, “That’s right.”
“So, the reason Sect Master Yan came today is to kill me?” “I brought a person for you.”
Sang Jingxing’s eyes fell on Shen Qiao. “Who is he? Well, at least he doesn’t look bad.”
Sang Jingxing’s eyes narrowed. The careless expression in them was immediately replaced by a sharp glare. “That Shen Qiao who killed Huo Xijing?”
Sang Jingxing suddenly burst out laughing, “I heard that Sect Master Yan and him were on some quite intimate terms. How come all of a sudden you are willing to bring him to me? I’m not a merciful or caring person, so if he’s broken by the time you want him back, it’ll be too late!”
“Since I am giving him to you, of course you can treat him however you want. I won’t ask about him again.”
Upon hearing this promise, the smile on Sang Jingxing’s face clearly widened. He usually preferred teenage girls and boys. Shen Qiao obviously didn’t fall into this category, but he was good-looking, and most importantly, he was Qi Fengge’s disciple. A rotten ship would still have three pounds of nails. Even if Shen Qiao’s status and martial arts could in no way compare to the past, his foundation was still there. From Sang Jingxing’s perspective, it wouldn’t be a bad choice to just absorb what remained of Shen Qiao’s martial power after he was done “using” him.
“So Sect Master Yan is going to give him to me just like this? There’s no other condition?”
“I demand that you return my sword.”
Sang Jingxing didn’t think he would make such a request. After a brief moment of shock, he laughed, “How unfortunate! I don’t have it with me today. I hope you wouldn’t mind me having it delivered to you some other day.”
They were talking about the Taihua Sword, the sword which Yan Wushi used before he was defeated by Cui Youwang. After he lost, the sword was also taken away by the other party. Now that Cui Youwang was dead, the sword naturally fell into the hands of his disciple, Sang Jingxing.
Sang Jingxing tried to probe further, “I thought Sect Master Yan already achieved the peak of martial arts. Having a sword or not shouldn’t make a diﬀerence to you anymore. Why do you suddenly want Taihua Sword back?”
Were it not for his restraining fear towards Yan Wushi’s martial arts, with Sang Jingxing’s personality and style, he would never talk to people with such courtesy.
Yan Wushi replied coldly, “What’s mine will always be mine regardless of time. It’s just a matter of whether I want it back or not.”
Sang Jingxing smile understandingly and said with a seemingly teasingful tone, “I heard that Sect Master Yan and Shen Qiao have been traveling together for a while like a golden couple. It surprises me how Shen Qiao is only worth a Taihua Sword to you. What a sad thing to hear!”
When they were talking, Shen Qiao’s eyes remained closed. He didn’t raise his head, nor did he open his eyes. In fact, his expression was calm as if this whole conversation was totally unrelated to him.
Yan Wushi said, “On one side, it looks like Yuan Xiuxiu is trying to work with me to kill you, while on the other side, she is also secretly keeping a relationship with the Turks. What are you going to do?”
A trace of anger ﬂashed across Sang Jingxing’s face, but he soon smiled again, “That bitch has always been a backstabbing double-crosser. It’s not the ﬁrst time I’ve encountered something like this. When and where did you agree to meet her?”
“June 6th, at three o’clock in the afternoon, we will meet at the Snowy Peony Monastery east of the city. She said you like to spend time over there.”
Sang Jingxing raised his eyebrows, “Well, I gotta say she does know my tastes.”
Snowy Peony Monastery, just by listening to its name alone one could tell it was not a serious temple, but a private property disguised as a monastery. Sang Jingxing recently was fond of a new style of play. He would have the girls’ heads shaved clean, dress them up as little nuns, and let them live in the monastery while he himself would play the role of a rapist, coming into the temple and playing with them wantonly. Such an act often lasted for more than half a day. This was supposed to be an ultimate secret, but if he knew about Yuan Xiuxiu’s movements, of course Yuan Xiuxiu would know his as well.
Sang Jingxing laughed, “Then I shall invite Sect Master Yan to come watch a play. If that bitch wants to kill me, she can’t blame me for not caring about our old love.”
Yan Wushi had no interest in the history between the two, but a powerful and uniﬁed Harmony Sect undoubtedly served him no good. Since Yuan Xiuxiu and Sang Jingxing were set on killing each other now, that was exactly what he wanted to see. He wouldn’t mind letting the ﬁre burn a little higher.
He bent over and grabbed Shen Qiao by the chin. “Do you still see me as your friend now?”
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything.
Yan Wushi suddenly laughed, “Ah-Qiao, you are way too naive. People have treated you badly in all kinds of ways. How could you forget about it so soon? I told you a long time ago that the only reason I saved you was because I wanted a rival. But you turned out to be such a disappointment. If I show you just a tiny bit of kindness, you would cling on it and not let go. Did Yu Ai and the others’ betrayal make you long for friendship and aﬀection more than ever?”
Perhaps due to the breath when he spoke, Shen Qiao’s eyelashes quivered slightly, but his face remained completely expressionless. It was hard to tell whether it was because his heart was in so much despair that nothing could grieve it further, or because he simply didn’t feel like answering Yan Wushi’s question.
Yan Wushi continued, “People who are naive like you are destined to live a short life. Without Mount Xuandu, without Qi Fengge’s halo, you are nothing, and there’s nothing you can do. You can’t recover your martial arts, nor can you answer the questions I have. If you agree to join the Cleansing Moon Sect and study the Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin, then I might still be willing to grant you a chance to live.”
Shen Qiao ﬁnally opened his eyes and said calmly, “The reason I am betrayed over and over again is not because I am too naive, but because I believe that kindness exists in this world. Without fools like me, where would Sect Master Yan ﬁnd your pleasure?”
Yan Wushi laughed heartily, “Those are some interesting words!”
He said to Shen Qiao, “I don’t need friends. Only one kind of person has the right to stand by me, and that is my rival.”
“And you have already lost your competence.”
After this sentence, Yan Wushi stood up. He threw Shen Qiao’s sword into his arms, then said gently, “Ah-Qiao, pray for yourself.”
Sang Jingxing watched them from the side with a smile, showing neither the intention to stop them nor to interrupt. It wasn’t until Yan Wushi left did he ﬁnally click his tongue and say, “How does it feel to be abandoned?”
Shen Qiao closed his eyes again and didn’t say anything.
Like a ﬁsh caught in a net, there was nothing he could do except allow himself to be trampled on. So Sang Jingxing wasn’t in a hurry to start moving in on him.
For him, catching Shen Qiao was rather a pleasant surprise. It was true that the other party was in much worse condition than before and couldn’t bring him much beneﬁts, nor was he the type Sang Jingxing liked. However, the fact that he was Qi Fengge’s disciple and the former sect leader of Mount Xuandu was already enough to excite him.
The thought of having the other person crying and begging underneath him, or humiliating him in front of all of his disciples made the smile on Sang Jingxing’s face even wider.
“This is the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword that Qi Fengge used back in those years, isn’t it? Yes, it must be. I still remember that your master once defeated me using this sword. But at that time, I was shameless enough to kneel and beg piteously in front of him, so he agreed to let me go. The deep scar he left on my back is still visible even today. Had he known that one day his disciple would fall into my hands, I wonder if he would regret not killing me back then?”
Sang Jingxing gently stroked Shen Qiao’s face, “Which hand did you use to kill Huo Xijing? There’s no need to be afraid. I won’t kill you. After I’m tired of you, I’ll chop oﬀ that hand as a memorial sacriﬁce to my poor disciple. Then just like what Gao Wei did to Concubine Feng, I’ll strip you naked and have everyone come and appreciate Mount Xuandu’s former sect leader’s shameful performance. How does that sound?”
Under the moonlight, Shen Qiao’s face seemed pale and emotionless, like a beautiful, fragile sculpture made of white jade.
But the more he was like this, the more interested in him Sang Jingxing became.
Sang Jingxing’s favorite thing in life was to destroy those that were beautiful, making them so broken and ﬁlthy that they could only struggle and eventually sink to degradation for the rest of their life.
“But Feng Xiaolian charges a thousand pieces of gold for every glance. You may not be able to match that price. Why don’t we start oﬀ with ten then? I bet there will still be many who are willing to spend money to see you in dire straits. Do you think Yan Wushi would be there too?” Sang Jingxing said slowly.
As if he ﬁnally had teased enough of his prey, he reached out to grab the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword.
Sang Jingxing wasn’t interested in the sword, because sword wasn’t his main weapon of choice. However, the sword of the previous best martial artist in the world has its own special signiﬁcance. If it was made available to the pugilistic world, it would no doubt become a legendary weapon that everyone would ﬁght for.
“If you agree to beg me and say some good words, I might be willing to treat you more gently…” Sang Jingxing said. His ﬁngers were already touching the sword hilt.
However, at that very moment, things changed!
A band of sword light suddenly exploded in front of his eyes, turning from a bright white into thousands of glitters!
However, within the extremely brilliant and iridescent sword light came forth a ﬁerce killing intent. Martial power containing powerful inner qi rushed forth like tidal waves. In only a brief instant, the whole sky was ﬁlled with gales and thunder, as snow and rain swept across the land!
Sang Jingxing was taken aback. He had no choice but to withdraw his hand and retreat as fast as possible in order to avoid this sudden attack from the other party.
A person who was able to kill Huo Xijing could not have been a weakling that one could easily take advantage of. Although Sang Jingxing’s words were ﬁlled with insults, he was in fact secretly on guard throughout this time, because it was common for people in the demonic sect to backstab each other. The higher position a person held, the more hidden blades they had to deal with. If Sang Jingxing was a person full of blind conﬁdence, he would have been killed long ago.
But until this moment, he realized that he had still underestimated Shen Qiao.
He struck out a palm as he moved backward. However, the sword light was everywhere around him. Even the inner qi from his palm couldn’t ﬁnd a place to penetrate, as each one of his attacks was dissolved into nothingness.
Was this person really that Shen Qiao who had lost almost all of his martial arts?!
Surprised and bewildered, Sang Jingxing almost suspected that Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao had set up a trap together.
But he didn’t have time to take his theory any further. The sword light was already close to his face, its sounds as deafening as thunder and its light as bright as the sun. Just like how the sky, the wind, or the vast ocean and green mountains embraced every manifestation of nature, receiving one and turning it to a myriad, within the sword light were inﬁnite potential moves, each and every one of them unbroken and interlocked. They followed Sang Jingxing relentlessly like a shadow after its body, making it impossible to hide or dodge. It seemed like the only way left was death.
But Sang Jingxing was not someone easy to deal with. He sneered, and within merely a few steps, he had changed numerous positions, walking unhurriedly in between the sword light. He struck a palm directly at the light, his inner qi turning into blue air as it roared and whistled its way through with the momentum of a mountain. The light from the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword instantly dimmed a little.
Before one move was ﬁnished, the next one had already arrived. The martial arts of the Harmony Sect stemmed from the same origin as those of the Cleansing Moon Sect, but they were even more changeful and unpredictable. This set of “Dragon Imprints” was already mastered and polished by Sang Jingxing to perfection. Each turn and ﬂip was like a mark made by a dragon. After all nine palms were used, a real dragon appeared in the air. Manifested in the form of inner qi, it howled across and instantly engulfed the sword light.
All the glistering light suddenly disappeared. It was still the same forest and the same two people. Shen Qiao spat out a mouthful of blood. His body fell backward uncontrollably and hit the tree trunk. He could hardly hold his sword.
There was ﬁnally a look of surprise and anger on his expressionless face!
Just now, he had used everything he ever learned in his life to ﬁght Sang Jingxing. It was already a strenuous task since his martial power was not enough to support it. However, after he used up all of his inner qi, not only did his Dantian not generate any new supplemental inner qi, but as if a whirlpool had suddenly appeared inside him, it started greedily absorbing what was left.
Meanwhile, Shen Qiao could feel the inner qi rampaging inside him like a mad horse. It bounced tirelessly between his organs, causing his mind to become anxious restless. An abundant amount of internal heat rose and enveloped his entire body like a dark shadow, leaving no place for him to escape. He was on the verge of qi deviation.
Yan! Wu! Shi!
Yan Wushi had planted a Demonic Core in him while he was unconscious!
Perhaps it all happened while he was still unconscious after falling off Half-Step Peak, or perhaps it was one of the many times when he was asleep and all defenseless due to injuries. That strand of Demonic Qi silently snuck in and quietly docked inside his body like a seed, refusing to come out regardless of any means, making it almost impossible to detect its existence. Until now, it was fully awoken by Sang Jingxing’s demonic martial power in its full potential. The seed ﬁnally broke through the ground and grew into a towering tree.
But he had fought with Yan Wushi countless times in the past. Why did he never sense the Demonic Core’s existence?
Or could it be that Yan Wushi had been waiting for this day since long ago, so he didn’t use his full strength when ﬁghting Shen Qiao?
Shen Qiao couldn’t even ﬁnd the words to describe what he was feeling.
He felt like his body was wrapped in ﬁre. That ﬁre had turned into sharp teeth, slowly nibbling at his meridians and organs. He was in such extreme pain, but at the same time, he couldn’t feel any more clear-headed.
Shen Qiao couldn’t tell whether it was the momentary spurt before death or an illusion caused by the unbearable agony, but he could actually see with his eyes, which he felt were burning just a moment ago, Sang Jingxing attacking him with his palm.
It was so fast, but it was also so clear and visible.
It was the moment of life or death, but what Yan Wushi once said to him suddenly came to his mind.
When you are reduced to a truly desperate state, isolated and betrayed by everyone around you, will you still not harbour any grudges against others and insist on repaying people with kindness?
Shen Qiao closed his eyes. He could taste blood even in his breaths.
In the meanwhile, the scorching air brought forth by the palm was already blowing into his face.
There was a gap between their martial arts levels. Not to mention that ever since Shen Qiao found out that Yan Wushi planted a Demonic Core in him, an internal heat had been burning inside his body, and his foundation was on the verge of collapsing. The advantage he obtained by striking ﬁrst had now completely vanished. The sword light was forcibly suppressed, turning from a brilliant blaze to a dim glow, just like the spark of Shen Qiao’s own life as it ﬂickered in the wind and was about to extinguish at any minute.
Sang Jingxing was initially surprised by the fact that he had underestimated Shen Qiao, but the surprise didn’t last for long. Seeing that Shen Qiao couldn’t keep up anymore, he even laughed, “Looks like the rumors were true. You really lost most of your martial arts. Now I wonder why Yan Wushi didn’t just absorb whatever was left but instead chose to leave you to me.”
His attacks weren’t affected by him talking at all. Wherever “Dragon Imprints” went, his inner qi would form the vague shape of a dragon along its path. However, instead of assuming the usual auspicious and friendly appearance, this dragon charged at Shen Qiao with a frantic and devastating momentum as it opened its bloody mouth!
Sang Jingxing wasn’t planning on killing Shen Qiao right now, therefore he didn’t strike with full strength. He only used about eighty percent of his martial power —— even if he ended up breaking all of Shen Qiao’s meridians and limbs, the other person could still live long enough for Sang Jingxing to have his fun.
The wild dragon covered the entire sky, preventing even moonlight from coming through. In such complete darkness, one could not even see the trees around them but only hear the rustling as the leaves screamed in the grave storm!
But the roaring dragon was forced to halt in midair!
Because from within Shen Qiao suddenly came forth a powerful wave of energy so extremely brilliant and dazzling that it was like a beam of light exploding in the darkest night.
The “light” quickly expanded, becoming larger and larger. That murderous dragon which refused to retreat without its share of blood was instantly engulfed by its energy and reduced to nothingness!
Sang Jingxing didn’t even have time to express his shock. His face paled as he forcibly turned himself around in midair in preparation to retreat.
However, it was too late. Shen Qiao shot upright from the ground and, using the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword in his hand, thrust straight at him with a crushing blow!
There was no fancy technique to it, nor was it a profound move. The sword was wielded out in such a plain manner, and Shen Qiao’s body, while drifting in the wind like a piece of paper but at the same time as ﬁrm as a mountain, instantly appeared before Sang Jingxing with an almost impossible speed!
Sang Jingxing felt a chill running down his back, as if someone had poured a bucket of cold water over his heart.
However, he was not Huo Xijing, nor would Huo Xijing’s way of death reoccur on him.
He used one hand to strike out a palm towards Shen Qiao, while his other hand went after Shen Qiao’s wrist that was holding the sword.
But it was to no avail. Sang Jingxing could feel the extreme anguish coming from his hand as if it was being grounded into pieces. The inner qi protecting his body seemed to have lost all effectiveness. He could even feel the ﬂesh on his palm being cut off slice by slice!
His expression changed drastically, ﬁnally revealing a trace of fear and unbelievableness. He stared at Shen Qiao as if he was looking at a lunatic.
“You destroyed your own foundation?!”
Foundation was undoubtedly what all martial artists treasured the most.
It was accumulated little by little through years of unremitting practice ever since their childhood. It could not be faked.
Shen Qiao’s foundation was his Daoist Core. Now, by destroying his own Core, he was determined to bring down Sang Jingxing together with him.
Even though Sang Jingxing was stronger than him in terms of martial arts, if the ﬁght continued, unless Sang Jingxing was also willing to risk destroying all of his own martial arts to ﬁght Shen Qiao tooth and nail, he would not stand a chance.
Of course Sang Jingxing was not willing, so he chose to withdraw and retreat!
But even so, the inner qi bursting out of Shen Qiao’s body had already completely eroded both of Sang Jingxing’s palms, leaving him nothing but piles of horribly mangled ﬂesh and unbearable pain.
He clenched his teeth in rage but at the same time also felt
somewhat unwilling to accept his defeat. However, because of the tiny slowdown in his movement, the surging force generated by the other person’s self-explosion had already penetrated his inner qi. The sword light directly left a cut so deep on his chest that one could even see the bones through it!
“Ahhhh!” Sang Jingxing couldn’t help but scream. Without any hesitation, he turned around and ﬂed at once.
However, behind him, the ﬁerce and dazzling tangible Sword Intent was already making its descent as it shrouded the land.
“Master! Master! Just now when Ah-yu and Ah-ying were practicing the Azurewave Sword Arts, both of their postures for the last move were diﬀerent from what you taught us. Why didn’t you correct them?”
“Because ‘tip of sword pointing upward’ is just a vague description. There’s no established rule deﬁning whether one should point it up by an inch or two. Ah-qiao, rigidly adhering to the rules will only limit your own thoughts and visions, and this is true for learning martial arts as well as for conducting yourself.”
The child’s steps were a little unsteady due to being wrapped in too many layers of clothing, but he still tried hard to grab onto the robe of the lofty ﬁgure in front of him. He didn’t seem to have fully understood what was just said, but still, one could not have mistaken the admiration and attachment on his face.
The person the child was holding onto saw it and smiled, deciding he might as well bend down and pick the boy up before continuing.
“There are many people in this world —— some of them are good, and some of them are bad. But there are even more
who can’t be simply classiﬁed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They may not think in the same way you think, or walk the same path you walk. Just like the case with Yu Ai and Yuan Ying —— even the same set of sword arts looks slightly diﬀerent in diﬀerent people’s hands. Don’t deny others just because they are diﬀerent from you. Like how the ocean is capable of holding water from thousands of rivers, a person should be forgiving and tolerant to diversity, and it is the same for practicing martial arts. People who are narrow-minded can only achieve so much. Even if they do reach the summit, they cannot stay there for long.”
“What about me? Am I a good person or a bad person?” The round eyes were extremely black and clear, reﬂecting the image of the person most intimate to him.
Someone brieﬂy struck his hair. The hand was warm and dry, like sunlight shining on his body.
“My Ah-qiao is the cutest person.”
The answer made him a little shy, but he couldn’t help smiling happily because of satisfaction.
All of a sudden, however, the warmth disappeared. The surrounding scenery shattered almost instantly, together with the person holding him.
He was still on Mount Xuandu.
Back then when I ﬁrst planted that willow on the southern bank of the Han River, it used to be so green and fresh with its branches swaying in the wind. But today when I saw it again, it was all withered and cranked, making the river bank all the more somber and pitiful to look at. Even trees are like this, let alone a person.
Even scenery may change as time goes by, let alone people.
The little boy who used to chase after him insisting on Shen Qiao addressing him by ‘Senior Martial Brother’ had now grown up to be the same height as him. He stood before Shen Qiao, questioning him with grief and lament, “Senior Brother, no one is willing to be left in the cold. Mount Xuandu is already the number one Daoist sect under the heavens. We have the strength to support a wise lord and spread the Daoist sects’ inﬂuence to every corner of the world. Why should we keep ourselves in the deep mountain like those hermits? Almost everyone on Mount Xuandu is thinking the same thing, except you. You’re too naive!”
Is it true? Was he really too naive?
All he wished was to protect this piece of land left to him by his master and the previous generations of sect leaders and to keep these martial brothers and sisters safely away from the ﬁre of war and the intrigue and politics of the pugilist world.
Was he wrong?
“Yes, you’re wrong.” Someone once said to him, “You’re wrong because you don’t understand people enough. Do you think that everyone is as desireless and easily content as you are? Humans are evil by nature. No matter how deep your relationship is, if you get in their way, they will eliminate you without any hesitation. Are you still not aware of it?”
“Naive people like you are destined to live a short life. Without Mount Xuandu, without Qi Fengge’s halo, you are nothing, and there’s nothing you can do.”
“I don’t need friends. Only one kind of person has the right to stand by me, and that is my rival.”
“You destroyed your own meridians?! Are you burning your own boat?! You must be insane!!!”
All of the ﬂashbacks and voices suddenly vanished after this sentence.
Everything seemed to have returned to the beginning.
He experienced a sharp pain in all of his limbs and bones. The pain was so great that it was as if someone had been ﬁling his bones with a blunt knife or if there were thousands of ants drilling through his ﬂesh. He always thought he had a high level of endurance for pain, but at this moment, he could not help wanting to let out a long groan, a cry, or even to take a sharp sword and stick it in his own heart just so he could stop this endless suffering.
But what he thought to be screams and shrieks were just as light as mosquito buzzes in other’s ears.
“Mister Shen, are you awake?”
The voice was very soft and only faintly discernible, as if it was coming from far away.
In reality, the person was talking right next to Shen Qiao’s ear. It was just that with Shen Qiao’s current state, it was hard for him to hear clearly.
He tried his best to respond with his voice, but in the end, he was only able to move a ﬁnger.
The other person saw it and whispered to him, “Mister Shen, you can hear me, can’t you? Then let me do the talking. You can just listen. If you can hear me, please tell me by moving your ﬁnger.”
Shen Qiao quickly responded.
He recognized the other person’s voice. It was that young daoist priest from the White Dragon Monastery —— the abbot’s youngest disciple, Shiwu.
As expected, the other person said, “I’m Shiwu. I found you two days ago while I was gathering herbs on mountain. You were hiding inside a cave. Your body was so cold, and you were barely breathing. It scared me so bad. I’m not strong enough to move you by myself, so I had to go back to tell my master and ask him to carry you back.”
That’s right. Shen Qiao now remembered. At that time, he destroyed his own foundation and was going to take down Sang Jingxing together with himself. Even though he didn’t succeed, the other person was also seriously injured, which gave Shen Qiao the opportunity to escape and hide inside the White Dragon Mountains. He thought there was no way he could have lived, but it turned out Shiwu had found him.
He wanted to ask if Sang Jingxing had found his way here, or if he had implicated them. But despite some strenuous efforts, he still failed to make a sound. His eyelids were trembling rapidly, indicating how anxious he was.
Shiwu noticed it. He quickly found him a cup of water and carefully fed it to him.
The cold water ran through and moistened his throat. After quite some time, Shen Qiao ﬁnally felt a lot better. He opened his eyes and, just as he had expected, there was nothing but darkness.
He thought it was his eyes, but Shiwu said to him, “We’re in White Dragon Monastery’s basement. There’s no light —— that’s why it’s so dark.”
Shen Qiao opened his mouth, his voice was so hoarse that he almost didn’t recognize it himself, “Did…did anyone…come…?”
His body was so weak that even talking became a diﬃcult and strenuous task for him. He could only force out one word at a time.
“Yes, the Duke of Pencheng’s men came twice, probably seeking revenge for that burger thing that happened the other day. Thankfully, master saw that coming and moved us down here ahead of time. The monastery itself is very shabby and there’s not much for them to smash. They came in and looked around, but they didn’t ﬁnd anyone so they just left. They probably thought we had run away!”
By the end, he couldn’t stop himself from laughing out loud. Shen Qiao said, “I’m sorry…”
Shiwu quickly replied, “Mister Shen, please don’t say that!”
He seemed to have perceived Shen Qiao’s confusion and quickly added, “Do you remember giving pancakes to a boy outside Province Xiang City? He then kowtowed to you and said he would set up a longevity tablet for you.”
After another wave of excruciating pain slowly died down, Shen Qiao thought hard about it and vaguely recalled something similar.
Although Shiwu was a little thin, he was a fair and neat boy, and looked completely different from that emaciated and sickly child in Shen Qiao’s memory.
“Yes, that was me. Later, Dad wanted to trade me for other people’s children to eat, but Mom wouldn’t let him. She stopped him by risking her life and said he could sell her instead in order to protect me and my siblings. Dad agreed. However, just a few days after he exchanged Mom for food, both my brother and sister died from a serious illness.” Shiwu was now choking with sobs, “Dad felt I was a burden to him and wanted to eat me. Luckily, I met my master at that time. Master bought me with a bag of pancakes and took me with
him. I followed him all the way to White Dragon Monastery and settled here. My original name didn’t sound good, so Master gave me a new name, Shiwu.”
Shiwu wiped away his tears and grabbed Shen Qiao’s hand as if he was going to offer him consolation, but he didn’t dare to use too much power for fear of causing him more pain. “I’ll never forget your kindness. If it wasn’t for the piece of cake you gave me, I might not have lived long enough to meet master. Therefore, please don’t apologize to me. Even if you hadn’t saved my life before, seeing you lying there almost dying, how could I not help?”
Shen Qiao’s hands trembled slightly. Tears seemed to be glistening in his eyes. It was hard to tell whether it was because what Shiwu said or because it triggered some old memories of his.
But Shiwu thought it was caused by pain. He hurriedly aked, “Is it hurting really bad? I’ll go ask master to come over and help you apply some more medicine!”
“What medicine? I just gave him some not long ago. Do you think medicines don’t cost money?” the abbot grumbled. He walked just in time to hear him.
Despite what he said, he still walked over, picked up Shen Qiao’s hand and started taking his pulse.
“All of your meridians have been destroyed, and there’s not a single trance of inner qi left. What the hell did you do to get yourself into such a state?! You can forget about practicing martial arts in the future!” The abbot clicked his tongue.
“Master!”Shiwu shouted anxiously. He was afraid that what his master said would upset Shen Qiao too much.
The abbot rolled his eyes. “Why are you so softhearted? Even he himself hasn’t said anything, yet you’re already pointing ﬁngers at me. It’s not like I’m the one responsible for all of this!”
Sure enough, Shen Qiao said nothing for quite a while.
Shiwu said softly, “Don’t be sad, Mister Shen. My master is a very good doctor…”
“Hey! Why do you always side with outsiders instead of your own master? It’s not like you’re a daughter married into another family. When was I ever a good doctor? I only know a little bit theory, just a little bit! Do you understand?”
Shiwu grabbed onto his robe and said ﬂatteringly, “Master has a sharp tongue but a soft heart. He’s actually a very kind person! And very capable too!”
The abbot taunted, “You little bastard!”
He then turned to Shen Qiao and said, “Your injury is too serious. I’m not an expert in medical practices, and this place doesn’t have all of the medical ingredients you might need. Therefore, I can only try to do my best. As for your marital arts, there’s nothing I can do about it. Your foundation and your meridians are all destroyed. This is not something that’s humanly possible to revert…”
Shen Qiao suddenly asked, “May I ask… if… the poison… is… still… in… me…?”
The abbot was slightly baﬄed, “Poison? What poison? I didn’t ﬁnd any poison in you when I took your pulse.”
In order to double check, he once again put three ﬁngers together, pressed them onto Shen Qiao’s wrist, and examined carefully. A moment later, he withdrew his hand and said, “You’re severely
injured, but I indeed did not ﬁnd any signs indicating you were poisoned.”
Ever since Shen Qiao was poisoned with Quietus, the poison had remained inside him. Even Yan Wushi could not ﬁnd a way to remove it. It rooted and lived inside his blood and bones, fading in and out, signiﬁcantly impeding the recovery of his martial power, even halving his effort at cultivating inner qi. It also affected his eyes, as they were not fully healed even till today.
However, the abbot was now saying that there wasn’t any poison in him.
In other words, when he tried to bring down Sang Jingxing with him by destroying his own foundation, his desperate action ended up saving himself instead as it also cleared all of the remaining poison in his body.
Could this be considered as a blessing in disguise? Shen Qiao pulled a bitter smile.
The abbot brought with him a candlestick when he came in. After setting it down to the side, he saw the slight smile on Shen Qiao’s face. He couldn’t help but ask in surprise, “You’re already in such a miserable state. How are you still in the mood to laugh?”
He then turned around and asked Shiwu, “Do you think all the catastrophes happening recently have ﬁnally broken him and turned him into an idiot?”
“Master!” Shiwu was almost going to cover the other person’s mouth.
“Nevermind! I’ll say no more! The congee should be ready. I’ll go take a look. Ah, I’m so not used to not having that little bastard Chuyi at my beck and call!”
Clicking his tongue as he walked, he continued, “Huh! I went through so much trouble ﬁnding that old ginseng. It’s so precious that I didn’t even use it for myself, and now an outsider gets to have it!”
After he left, Shiwu apologized, “Please don’t take it to heart. Master is a very kind person. He’s just not good at expressing himself. His words may sound harsh, but we really owe him a lot. Without this old man’s help, I wouldn’t even know what to do!”
“I know… and I’m… I’m not crazy either… Is this basement… connected… to the outside…? I think… I see…light.”
He could only utter one word at a time, and even this was a rather overwhelming effort.
Shiwu said, “Yes. Master drilled two holes in here, so some light from the outside can pass through. Can you see now?”
“I can see…a little…but…not very…clear…”
Shiwu said, “Don’t worry. Master said this basement was very hard to ﬁnd. The Duke of Pengcheng District’s men came over twice, and both times they had to leave at last because they couldn’t ﬁnd us. Master said that after some time, they would think that we had moved to another place and would eventually stop coming.”
Shiwu laughed, “There’s no need to thank me, just relax and take a good rest. You’ll need that for a speedy recovery. I’ll go boil some water for you to drink.”
The place was dark and shielded from sunlight, but its quietness also made it the perfect place for recuperation. According to Shiwu,
the White Dragon Monastery was ﬁrst built in the ﬁnal years of Eastern Han Dynasty and had existed for more than three hundred years. Even though the building was able to survive the ﬁre of war, the conﬂagration had also taken away its popularity and liveliness, leaving nothing but a scarred and neglected monastery. When Shiwu and his master came and settled here, it was already uninhabited. The back of the basement was connected to a tunnel, probably built around the same time as the monastery itself. After being discovered by Shiwu’s master, it became an excellent shelter.
Shen Qiao slept for two more days afterwards. Sometimes he felt awake and sober, but other times his mind was just a total mess. When he woke up from his dreams at night, lying in bed all by himself, he even felt like he was still on Mount Xuandu, and that he would see his master standing out there watching the disciples practicing martial arts if he were to open the door.
But it was only a delusion. The past could not be re-lived, and those who died could never come back to life.
Those glorious and peaceful years were forever gone as if they had remained behind on Mount Xuandu.
What came after was the betrayal, setbacks, predicaments he had experienced, with different countries ﬁghting each other for fame and gain, different sects plotting against one another and stubbornly clinging to their own views. It was the common people struggling and groaning in hell with no way to escape.
All these sufferings were too startling and ghastly to look at. They made Shen Qiao empathize with them as if he had experienced it himself.
The reason you’re able to persist in carefully following your Daoist Heart and refusing to give up your so-called principles is because you still haven’t experienced in your life a situation so desperate that you ﬁnd it absolutely intolerable, am I right?
Yan Wushi once asked him this.
At this very moment, Shen Qiao once again thought of this sentence, every bit and piece of it, and all the days that they spent together.
The friendship that he once deeply believed in was so fragile in front of the other person’s ridicule and schemes that it could not withstand even a single blow.
But even if he could start all over again… Even if he starts over…
“Mister Shen, are you feeling better today? I brought you some freshly made Japonica rice congee with ginseng. Master said this would be good for your recovery… Ah! Mister Shen, why are you crying? Are you in too much pain?”
Under the dim light, a glittering drop slowly and slid down the corner of Shen Qiao’s eye and disappeared into his hair without a sound.
Shiwu quickly put down the congee and hurried over. “I’ll go get master!”
“There’s no need.” Shen Qiao struggled to reach out and grabbed his robe.
“Hey!” Shiwu shouted in surprise. There was an unaffected joy in his voice. “You can move now?! Master said all of your meridians were broken and you might not be able to fully recover for the rest of your life. It looks like he’s just trying to scare me!”
Shen Qiao replied with a smile.
When he was awake, every bone of his was screaming in pain. The
agony was so much that he wished to die here and now. But he still managed to pull through it as he recited in his head the lines from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang he had learnt, and this had led to a rather surprising result.
Back then when he was studying The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, he already had Mount Xuandu’s martial arts as his foundation, so it wasn’t hard for him to pick it up. However, no matter how much he tried, he could only progress at an unhurried pace. Qi Fengge too could not ﬁgure out the reason for it. At that time, Tao Hongjing had already passed away, therefore, having no one else to ask, he could only let Shen Qiao explore by himself as he occasionally provided assistance from the side.
But now, when all of his meridians were broken and there was no inner qi left in his body, the force of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang seemed to have taken a totally unexpected effect. The tattered Dantian was recovering little by little with an unbelievable speed, while his damaged meridians, nourished by the inner qi of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, also started rebuilding themselves.
It might not even take long before all of his injuries were healed.
The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang which had integrated the merits of all Three Schools was truly something beyond comprehension. Even though Shen Qiao only had chance to learn two out of the ﬁve books, he could already feel its immense profoundness.
The integrity and righteousness of Confucianism, the softness and profoundness of Daoism, the solemnity and limpidity of Buddhism
—— all of them gathered and turned into a stream slowly trickling
through his body.
Shen Qiao couldn’t tell if he could count this as ﬁnding a way out of desperation through desperate actions, but his body was indeed getting better and better as the days passed. The recovering speed
was so fast that it even astonished the abbot who once believed he was going to be like this for the rest of his life.
Shiwu was considerate enough to not ask why he cried, but Shen Qiao actively grabbed him and said, “Shiwu, thank you.”
Shiwu was confused and also somewhat embarrassed. “You’ve thanked me many times already!”
Shen Qiao treated people with kindness, but he never expected the others to return kindness to him with the same mindset. Because no matter if other people repaid him or not, it wouldn’t affect his actions.
He did it only because he wanted to do so. It didn’t matter whether other people understood him or not, agreed with him or not, or mocked him or not.
Looking at it from this perspective, Yan Wushi wasn’t any different from him.
But Shen Qiao was only human after all. His heart was not made of stone, nor was his mind shaped by metal. He too felt tired, downhearted, or even painful.
“This one is diﬀerent,” he said to Shiwu.
“You’re recovering so fast. Master said it’s time for you to have some meat. He bought a chicken today to make some chicken soup.”
Shen Qiao said apologetically, “You’ve spent so much on me.
I’ll go make money as soon as I recover…”
Shiwu smiled, “You don’t have to worry about this. Actually, master has quite a fortune in his secret purse. He just refuses to take it out and pretends to live a rough life…”
“Shiwu! Are you itching for some beating? How dare you badmouth your master in front of other people! How ungrateful! You ungracious bastard!” The abbot walked in just in time to hear what he said.
Shiwu stuck his tongue out, “It’s my fault. Please don’t be mad!”
The abbot said angrily, “Why did I think that you were better behaved than Chuyi?! Each of you is more unworthy than the other! Unworthy disciples!”
Shiwu listened obediently as his master lectured him. After a good amount of coaxing and bowing, he was ﬁnally able to calm down the abbot. The latter then went on complaining about his older disciple, “The north market is having a fair today. Chuyi ran out early this morning and still hasn’t come back yet. With a heart as wild as his, he can probably poke a hole in heaven if given a pair of wings!”
Shiwu said, “Maybe Senior Brother found something delicious and was going to bring some back for us.”
“Bullshit! He’s only got a few copper coins on him. It’s not even enough to buy snacks for himself!”
Suddenly, the bell in the basement rang.
It was a tiny bell, its sound faint as well. But because the abbot was standing right next to it, he could hear it immediately.
It was a simple mechanism. The bell was attached to a string whose other end was tied somewhere on the gate. If people came in from outside, the string would be pulled slightly, and the people in the basement would notice it at once.
Shiwu said cheerfully, “It must be Senior Brother!”
Just as he was about to go out, the abbot suddenly grabbed him by the arm. “Wait! Something’s not right!”
Right after he said it, they heard Chuyi’s lively voice, “Master!
Shiwu! I’m back… Umm, who are you?”
The abbot’s face changed. This is bad!
After he was rejected and humiliated by Shen Qiao, Chen Gong sent his men over two more times. The ﬁrst time they were quite polite, claiming they would like to invite Shen Qiao over to the Duke of Pengcheng District’s mansion. When they were told that Shen Qiao was not in the monastery, they didn’t believe it. Under the abbot’s permission, they searched the entire monastery and stalked out angrily. When they came the second time, however, they weren’t so polite anymore. In fact, they came with great publicity and arrogance. Chen Gong understood Shen Qiao quite well to know that Shen Qiao didn’t like to implicate others, so he told his men to bring back the abbot and his two disciples. This way, Shen Qiao would deﬁnitely come to him when he heard what happened.
But the abbot saw it coming. He brought the two disciples with him, and the three of them took shelter in the basement. Chen Gong’s men went away empty-handed and thought they must have escaped the night before. They had no choice but to report back.
Chuyi was never as quiet a child as Shiwu. After spending only a few days in the basement, he was overcome by the desire to go out. The dim light and the stale air surely made it less comfortable a place to live than the ground above. There happened to be a gathering in the city around that time. After a long period of begging and pleading, he ﬁnally convinced the abbot to let him go to the market. The abbot even warned him not to come back too early.
However, fate had proved itself unavoidable. Even though Chuyi tried to sneak in as quietly as he could, with the level of martial arts skill of the person who came, it was impossible for Chuyi to pass by
Shen Qiao’s expression changed as soon as the person spoke.
“Little priest, do you live here?” “Who are you?” Chuyi asked.
There were two holes in the basement for people to breathe. Those who ﬁrst built it gave it a special structure so that people from within could hear the sound outside, but it was very hard for the others out there to spot the place.
‘Who is he?’ Seeing the expression on Shen Qiao’s face, the abbot asked silently.
Covering one hand over his mouth to ﬁght the desire to cough, Shen Qiao dipped a ﬁnger in water and rapidly wrote on the table: Xiao Se, a disciple of Yuan Xiuxiu of the Harmony Sect. I was injured during a ﬁght with Sang Jingxing.
It was true that Xiuxiu and Sang Jingxing were on bad terms, but since both of them were members of the Harmony Sect, it was hard for Shen Qiao to imagine that Xiao Se’s sudden arrival would be anything good.
Shiwu was still a little confused, but the abbot understood the situation. His face quickly turned into a palish green just like Shen Qiao’s.
When Shen Qiao stopped by earlier, he thought they were just three ordinary Daoist priests. It wasn’t until the abbot took his pulse did he realize that he was very likely a pugilist just like himself.
But the identity of the abbot didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was that since Xiao Se chose to come at such a time, it was surely out of bad intent. Moreover, it was almost certain that he was coming for Shen Qiao.
“My name is Xiao Se.” They heard the other person say. His voice was so soft that he sounded more like a visitor than a troublemaker. “Little priest, have you seen a person named Shen Qiao?”
“No, I ha-haven’t!”
Xiao Se laughed, “Little priest, you can’t even lie. Tell me, where is he?”
Chuyi said in a loud voice, “I don’t know. Who are you? You’d better leave now or my master will beat you to death when he comes back!”
But Xiao Se didn’t seem to be angry at all. He said gently, “If you don’t tell me, I’ll have to bring you back to Elder Sang. He’s not in a good mood nowadays. In fact, he has already killed three of his beauties. I was just worried that the old man would soon run out of people to vent his anger. You shouldn’t make poor choices just for someone like Shen Qiao!”
Inside the basement, Shen Qiao struggled to get off bed, but the abbot ﬁrmly held him in place. His strength was so great that Shen Qiao had no way to ﬁght back.
“Listen to me!” He lowered his voice and whispered in Shen Qiao’s ears, “Those from the Harmony Sect are but a bunch of heartless murderers. They won’t release Chu Yi just because you choose to come out. You’ll only get both of you in trouble. You stay here and take care of Shiwu. I’ll go!”
Shen Qiao knew what he said was true, but he could not imagine himself hiding here safely and watching others taking over his responsibility.
He shook his head. Just when he was about to tell the abbot that he would save Chuyi at all costs, the abbot had already locked his
acupoints at lightning speed. Afterwards, he quickly ﬁshed out something from his robe and placed it into Shen Qiao’s hand. “If anything happens, you can take Shiwu to the Jade Cloud Sect on Mount Tai and tell them that their unworthy disciple Zhu Lengquan took in a disciple while he was away, so Shiwu can return to his sect and acknowledge our forefathers.”
After the abbot ﬁnished, he attacked Shiwu’s acupoints, immobilizing him as well, and said to them, “I didn’t hit it hard. You two should be able to move again after about ﬁfteen minutes. Shen Qiao, I’ll leave Shiwu to you. Please remember this responsibility of yours.”
He got up and left the basement without looking back.
The basement exit led to several directions. In order to avoid going out directly and therefore exposing the entrance to the basement, the abbot purposely went out from an exit in a different room.
“It’s already late. Who’s disturbing people’s sleep?” He stretched and walked out with a sleepy face. “Who are you? Why are you holding onto my disciple?”
“Master!” Xiao Se was still clutching Chuyi’s shoulder. He almost teared up when he saw the abbot.
“Are you the abbot of this monastery?” Xiao Se asked.
“I am. Who are you?” The abbot frowned, “If my disciple has oﬀended you in any way, I apologize to you on his behalf. Please release him.”
Xiao Se didn’t let go of his hand. He glanced at the sword in the abbot’s hand and asked with a light smile, “Where is Shen Qiao?”
“Who is Shen Qiao? I’ve never heard such a name.”
Xiao Se narrowed his eyes, “We all know what’s going on.
Acting silly isn’t going to do you any good. Say, if I crush your disciple’s shoulder bone right now, will the pain make him give away the person you’re trying to protect?”
He tightened his grip. Chuyi started screaming and cursing Xiao Se’s ancestors using all kinds of dirty slang.
“Stop it!” The abbot stopped hesitating and unsheathed his sword. The blade vibrated slightly in the air as he charged straight at the other person.
Xiao Se didn’t let go of Chuyi. Even though he was carrying a person in his hand, it didn’t seem to slow him down at all. He struck out a palm, groaning, “This errand is from your master. Are you expecting me to take responsibility? If you don’t come out now, you’ll have to ﬁnd Shen Qiao’s whereabouts yourself. Anyway, this little priest is pretty good-looking. It’ll be enough to report to my master if I just bring him back.”
“Senior Brother Xiao, even though your master is the sect leader, her inﬂuence in the sect is even less than my master’s. I say, you should just join the more promising side and become my master’s disciple instead!”
Xiao Se made a muﬄed groan, but he didn’t answer. However, the abbot’s expression changed drastically.
Accompanied by laughter, two more people appeared before him.
One of them donned a white robe, her face sweet and adorable. It was the girl Bai Rong whom Shen Qiao had met quite a few times.
The other person was bald, but he wasn’t a monk. In fact, his clothes were even ﬂashier than those of the ordinary heirs from aristocratic families and looked a little misﬁtting on him.
But the abbot did not dare use his strange fashions as a reason to
look down on him, because he recognized the person.
The man was Yan Shou, another one from the Harmony Sect that was diﬃcult to deal with.
He was nicknamed the “Bloody-Handed Buddha”, because even though he had the digniﬁed appearance of a buddha, his heart was as cruel as a devil, with a pair of hands that were soaked with the blood of countless lives.
Yan Shou was not as twisted as Huo Xijing. He didn’t like peeling people’s skin, but those who died in his hands were not any less in number compared to those killed by Huo Xijing.
It was obvious that even though Sang Jingxing was seriously injured by Shen Qiao, it also led to him hating Shen Qiao to his guts. It was only natural for him to send out his disciples to search for the latter.
If it was Xiao Se alone, the abbot believed there was still a chance for him to put up a ﬁght and force the other person to retreat. Now with two more people showing up, he dared not say conﬁdently that he could handle all three by himself.
“Give Shen Qiao to us,” said Yan Shou.
No one saw how he moved, but in the blink of an eye, the boy who was still in Xiao Se’s hand a moment ago was already seized by Yan Shou. Chuyi was only a beginner in martial arts, and being slightly tortured was enough to make him break into tears and cry out, “Master, help me!” However, despite all the screaming and crying, he did not say where Shen Qiao and Shiwu were.
Torn with grief, the abbot couldn’t care less about himself being less in number and weaker in strength. He twirled his sword and thrusted forward.
But it was Bai Rong who crossed swords with him, not Yan Shou.
Gifted with an aptitude for martial arts, she was making unimaginable progress day after day. Her skill in martial arts was far greater than when Shen Qiao last saw her. “Lotus Prints” turned into thousands of blooming lotus ﬂowers falling next to the abbot. The abbot split every single one of them with his sword, but they soon re-bloomed, forming a continuous and endless cycle of life.
The abbot broke into a sweat. He could handle ﬁghting Bai Rong alone, but the presence of Yan Shou and Xiao Se on the side was a tremendous amount of pressure. He knew very well that even if he managed to defeat Bai Rong, the other two could attack at any time.
If he retreated right now, he might still be able to escape unscatched. But since Chuyi was still in their hands, it was impossible for the abbot to abandon him and run away alone.
Yan Shou saw his weak point. He increased the power of his grip and asked again, “Where’s Shen Qiao?”
Chuyi let out another howl of pain.
The abbot’s heart shook, same with his hand. Bai Rong spotted an opening in his moves and pressed her palm on the abbot’s chest. The latter spat out a mouthful of blood and took three steps backward.
“I don’t know anyone named Shen Qiao! You guys are being totally unreasonable, suddenly breaking into our monastery and starting to beat us! My disciples and I have been living peacefully in this broken monastery and we could not have made enemies with anyone!”
Xiao Se suddenly laughed, “Elder Yan, don’t you think his moves look like martial arts from the Jade Cloud Sect on Mount Tai?”
“Yes, there is some resemblance.”
“Why would a disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect hide himself
all the way here? Could it be that he was expelled from the sect?”
The abbot made up his mind and clenched his teeth with a cold grin, “That’s right. I am Zhu Lengquan, a disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect and the Martial Uncle of the current sect leader Zhao Chiying. If you all have connections with the Jade Cloud Sect, please let me and my disciples go. I’ll deﬁnitely ask the sect leader to express gratitude on our behalf!”
Xiao Se burst out laughing, “I’m sorry that we’ll probably disappoint you. We have no dealings with the Jade Cloud Sect. Besides, what happened today will make you hate us anyway. Then why not let us take it a step further to ensure that it won’t bite us in the future?”
Right after he ﬁnished the sentence, Yan Shou struck a palm at the top of Chuyi’s head.
Blood came out from Chuyi’s mouth and nose. He fell down in silence before he could even make a sound.
“Chuyi!!!” The abbot let out a heart-rending scream —— his eyes looked like they might burst out. Without a second thought, he carried the sword and threw himself at Yan Shou.
Yan Shou didn’t move, but Xiao Se did.
The fan in Xiao Se’s hand unfolded instantly. Blades popped out from the tips of its frame, ﬂashing chilling cold gleams. With a ﬂip of the wrist, the fan automatically ﬂew towards the abbot and circled around him as if it was conscious.
The abbot’s heart was so full of grief that he even ended up underperforming in sword arts. Back then when he was still in the Jade Cloud Sect, he was said to have mediocre aptitude and would idle all day long, unwilling to practice hard. Therefore, he could never
master the last few moves of the “Nineteen Sword Stances of the Eastern Mountain”. No matter what he did, he could not please the seniors.
However, if those long deceased elders of the Jade Cloud Sect could see his sword arts right now, they would be completely astounded.
How was it possible that this man only had a mediocre aptitude?
As the sword light expanded continuously, the blade itself also rippled with dazzling radiance. If Chuyi was here, he would have deﬁnitely shouted, “Master, I’ve never seen you look so mighty before!”
But Chuyi was dead.
He would never speak again, never annoy other people, and never slack off shamelessly.
The abbot’s eyes were now bloodshot. Every attack of his was ﬁlled with chilling killing intent.
But his sword light could not even break through the blades on Xiao Se’s fan before it was fended off.
A momentary lack of vigilance resulted in the fan blade leaving a long cut on his wrist. He couldn’t help but loosen his hand.
The sword fell to the ground with a clang.
As Xiao Se withdrew his fan, he shoved his elbow at the other person’s chest and, while the abbot retreated, grabbed his shoulder, dragged him forward and instantly locked the three vital acupoints on his chest. The abbot fell onto his knees and was unable to move.
“You saw it. I wasn’t joking with you. Your disciple is already dead, and I’m sure you don’t want to follow his
example, right?” Xiao Se said with a smile, “Is Shen Qiao really so charming that you are willing to risk your life to cover him like this?”
The abbot spat blood foam at him and cursed, “What Shen Qiao? Or Zhang Qiao? Or whoever it is! I said I don’t know him. Do you not understand the human language?!”
The smile on Xiao Se’s face faded. He took out a handkerchief from his sleeve and slowly wiped off the blood foam on his face. All of a sudden, he attacked, and there went off the abbot’s left ear. It was so fast that the others had no time to react.
The abbot who was muted by him could not even let out a scream. All he could do was to open his mouth wide and glare at him desperately with a pair of round eyes.
Xiao Se knelt down to bring their eyes to an equal height. “You’ve seen the Harmony Sect’s means of doing things. Is risking your life for Shen Qiao really worth it? Tell us where he is, and I’ll let you live. This will bring good to both of us.”
After quite some time, he ﬁnally unmuted the abbot.
The abbot panted hard. The wound which was once his ear was still bleeding. He appeared to be so messed up that it was too pitiful to look at him.
“I said…I don’t know Shen Qiao!”
Bai Rong suddenly smiled, “Senior Brother Xiao, why waste time on him? If he wants to hide someone, it has to be inside the monastery. Why don’t we just search around?”
She then said to Yan Shou, “There’s no need to trouble Elder Yan for something like this. Senior Brother Xiao and I will do it.”
Yan Shou neither spoke nor moved. It was a tacit approval.
Bai Rong ﬁrst entered the room which the abbot had come out from. After a brief moment, she came back out and said, “I don’t see any mechanisms inside. They can’t be hiding in there.”
Xiao Se searched several other places and didn’t ﬁnd anything either.
Despite its wretched and dilapidated state, the monastery was quite large in terms of square meters. If a person were to hide themselves in some nook, it would require some time to ﬁnd them, let alone the fact that old monasteries like this were often built with secret emergency exits.
Yan Shou was getting impatient and didn’t want to waste more time on this. “I’ll give you ﬁfteen minutes. Tell us or you will die.”
The abbot still didn’t say anything.
Fifteen minutes passed quickly. Bai Rong and Xiao Se returned one after the other, both saying that they didn’t ﬁnd anything.
Xiao Se casted a sidelong glance at Bai Rong. “Sister Bai, there were quite a few places where you were in charge of searching. I remember you have a special relationship with Shen Qiao. Could it be that you saw something, but you deliberately lied about it?”
Bai Rong wasn’t triggered by it. In fact, she even laughed out loud, “Senior Brother Xiao, that was a very strange thing to say. What kind of relationship can I have with him? If you were referring to the fact that we fought against each other before, then I’d say Brother Xiao also has a special relationship with Shen Qiao. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Yan Shou frowned, “You two, quit it!”
He turned to the abbot and asked, “Are you going to tell us or not?”
The abbot sneered coldly, “You heartless, frantic bastards! I don’t know who Shen Qiao is, but even if I do, I wouldn’t tell you either for the sake of you murdering my disciple and treating me like this! You think you can do whatever you want just because you’re skilled in martial arts… The hell it is! Kill me if you can. One day, you’ll have to pay for it…!”
Before he could ﬁnish, Yan Shou had already struck a palm on his head.
The abbot’s skull cracked. Blood ﬂowed down his head, passed the pair of eyes that continued glaring at Yan Shou, and in the end disappeared into his collar.
He died with his eyes open, evidence of his remaining grievance.
The dead bodies of the master and his disciple were only a few inches away, but they could never be any closer.
Yan Shou didn’t even look at the corpse. He turned straight to Bai Rong and asked, “Did you really not ﬁnd anything?”
His sharp, penetrating gaze didn’t seem to affect Bai Rong at all as she was still wearing that happy smile. “I really didn’t. Why don’t Elder Yan and Brother Xiao go search again if you don’t believe me? Maybe I missed something.”
Inside the basement, Shen Qiao and Shiwu’s acupoints were already unlocked. The latter was trembling all over, his face covered in tears.
Shen Qiao put his hand tightly over Shiwu’s mouth, preventing him from making any sound. Even though he had been crying himself, he
still used all of his strength to drag Shiwu with him as he backed up towards the opposite direction.
In the beginning, Shiwu struggled hard. Until the abbot was killed, he seemed to have suddenly lost the last bit of his strength and allowed himself to be dragged away by Shen Qiao without putting up any more ﬁghts.
The two of them staggered and tumbled down the dark passage. Shen Qiao hadn’t recovered from the serious injury —— his meridians weren’t even fully repaired yet. Dragging a person like Shiwu who wasn’t much lighter in weight than himself was almost like having his ﬂesh being pulled by metal chains —— Every step required a life’s worth of strenuous effort.
He didn’t know how long they walked. It might not have been long, but Shen Qiao felt like he had walked over half of his life.
His hands trembled slightly as they pushed open the stone door which had been sealed for no-one-knows how many years. He pulled Shiwu out of the tunnel, searched the grass for the hidden switch, and then closed the door from outside as the abbot told him to.
This way, even if Yan Shou and the others found out about the secret passage and tracked it all the way till the end, they wouldn’t be able to open the stone door from within.
The secret passage led to the foothill on the other side of the White Dragon Mountain. It would give them enough time to either ﬁnd a place to hide or to escape unhurriedly.
After he was done with all of these, Shen Qiao let go of Shiwu. He leaned against a rock and coughed uncontrollably. There was not even one part of his body that didn’t hurt. As if he had just gone through a series of cruel tortures, he didn’t even have the strength to stand up. Only after he spat out a few mouthfuls of blood was he ﬁnally able to breathe a little more smoothly.
He turned to Shiwu. The boy was still immersed in extreme sorrow. He curled up, holding his knees against his chest, and buried his face into them, shivering as he cried.
Shen Qiao heaved a sigh and stroked his head, “I’m sorry. Brother Zhu and Chuyi wouldn’t have died if it wasn’t for me. Let’s leave this place ﬁrst, okay? Even if it’s for their sake. When everything is safe again, you can choose to kill me or beat me. I’ll let you do whatever you want.”
Shiwu lifted his head as he cried, “Master and Chuyi can never come back to life, right?”
There were tears in Shen Qiao’s eyes, but he clenched his teeth and managed to hold them back. His heart stirred. Once again, he felt blood welling up in his throat.
“Yes, they can never come back to life, but they wish you a good life. You’re not doing them justice if you let yourself fall into those people’s hands just like that.”
Shiwu said nothing more and only shed tears in silence. After a long time, he stumbled to his feet and said, “You’re right! I need to live on. I can’t let my master worry for me… Where are we heading?”
Shen Qiao took a deep breath and said hoarsely, “To the east. To the Jade Cloud Sect. I’m taking you back to your sect and its forefathers.”
He took out from his bosom what the abbot had given him. It was a small piece of wooden plank with “Jade Cloud Sect” engraved on one side and the character “Zhu” on the other —— it was probably the abbot’s proof of identity when he was still in the Jade Cloud Sect.
Shen Qiao slowly ran his ﬁngers over the plank a couple times, then handed it to Shiwu. “This is what your master left you.
Keep it safe.”
Shiwu looked dearly at it for a while before carefully putting it in his bosom. He felt it with his hand a few times afterwards as if he was afraid that he would lose it due to momentary carelessness.
Shen Qiao grabbed his hand. The two of them waded through the weeds and continued forward.
Behind them, the tiny stone gate was completely covered by layers of dense vegetation as if it never existed.
Tears once more streamed down Shiwu’s cheeks. Shen Qiao held his hand tightly.
The Jade Cloud Sect was located on Mount Tai, while Mount Tai was located in Dongping County. In order to get to Dongping County, they could go straight through Province Ji, but Shen Qiao was afraid that people from the Harmony Sect would predict where they were going, so he brought Shiwu south to Liang Prefecture. It was a long detour, almost doubling the distance.
Shiwu became quiet and reserved. He was no longer that shy and friendly boy he once was and rarely spoke even when he met others. Shen Qiao knew what his knot was, but it wasn’t something that other people could help with. All he could do was to wait for Shiwu to get over it himself.
The abbot had kept some copper coins in the basement. It wasn’t much, but as long as they scrimped, it was enough to cover them all the way to Dongping County.
The two of them hastened on during the day and lodged in cities for the night. If they couldn’t ﬁnd a city, they would at least try to ﬁnd a lively town. Like the old saying stated, there was no better
place to hide oneself than noisy fairs. They were less likely to be found out when there were lots of people.
When they arrived at west Prefecture Yan, it was already dark, so Shen Qiao found themselves an inn to stay. He and Shiwu shared the same room. He let Shiwu have the bed, while he himself made his bed on the ﬂoor and started practicing his inner power.
After rebuilding his foundation with The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, Shen Qiao entered a brand new world that he had never known before.
The world seemed to be tiny in terms of space, but even the most extreme details were clear to one’s eyes. Only in such quietness and peace did the subtlety of the metaphysical ﬁnally manifest itself.
Inner qi ﬂowed through Shen Qiao’s damaged meridians with a slight amount of pain. However, as if it had brought with it the power of regeneration, even the various serious wounds from the past began to repair themselves.
This was the true secret and profoundness of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang.
Within the distance his inner vision could reach, the tree bathed in the glory of the morning sun while the moon gradually set behind the roof. Under their magniﬁcent glow and energy, there were plum ﬂowers blooming secretly.
Juque, Zhongting, Huagai, Xuanji —— one by one, all the damaged and clotted meridians and acupoints were cleared once again. The agony and dull pain which had been silted up in his chest were also disappearing little by little.
Shen Qiao’s eyes were tightly closed. He was totally unaware that another pair of eyes had peering at him from the side.
Wrapped inside his blanket, Shiwu, who should have fallen asleep a
long time ago, laid on bed motionlessly, pretending to be asleep. But his eyes quietly opened into slits.
When he saw Shen Qiao who had been perfectly ﬁne up to this point suddenly spit out a mouthful of blood, the look on his face changed. He laid aside all other fears, lifted the blanket, jumped off the bed and quickly ran to Shen Qiao’s side.
“How do you feel? Are you alright?”
Shen Qiao opened his eyes. He shook his head and smiled, “This is static blood. It’s better to spit it out.”
Teardrops glistened in Shiwu’s eyes. “I know you didn’t buy any medicine the whole journey just to save money. When I saved you, you were injured so badly that you were on the edge of death!”
“It was true that not buying medicine was part of the plan to save money, but right now I can slowly recover using my inner power. Medicine doesn’t make a diﬀerence anymore.”
Shen Qiao gently patted him on the head, “Really. I promised your master to take good care of you. I won’t leave you alone.”
Suddenly, Shiwu threw his arms around Shen Qiao and started wailing, “I-I didn’t mean to treat you coldly. I’m just, I’m just very sad!”
Shen Qiao’s eyes were misty. “I know.”
He patted Shiwu gently on the back. “I’m sorry.”
Shiwu shook his head, “Don’t say you are sorry. It’s not your fault.”
Shen Qiao pulled a bitter smile, “How is it not my fault? They were coming after me, but it ended up implicating all of you.”
“They’re so cruel. Even if you weren’t there, they would still kill Master as long as they thought he was hiding you. Master chose to save you just like I chose to save you. Neither of us blamed you for it, so don’t blame yourself, all right? It is the bad guys that deserve punishment, not the good ones.”
It both pained and grieved Shen Qiao to hear it. He thought to himself, ‘Brother Zhu, your spirit should be able to rest in peace knowing how sensible and thoughtful Shiwu is.’
He asked Shiwu, “Do you want to learn martial arts?”
Shiwu nodded, “I want to be good at martial arts, so I can get revenge for master and Chuyi.”
“Before we get to the Jade Cloud Sect, I will ﬁrst teach you martial arts from Mount Xuandu on our way. What do you think?”
Shiwu’s eyes shone, “Mount Xuandu! Are you talking about the Mount Xuandu that is known as the number one Daoist Sect in the world?”
Shen Qiao nodded.
“Mister Shen, are you a disciple of Mount Xuandu?”
Shen Qiao answered with a smile, “Yes. My name is Shen Qiao. I’m a disciple of Qi Fengge, the sixth sect leader of Mount Xuandu.”
“Ah! I-I think I heard the master mention your name before! You were the sect leader, weren’t you?”
Shen Qiao patted him on the head, “Yes, I was. It’s a very complicated story, so I won’t go into the details now. The reason that I came to Ye City this time was to ﬁnd the disciples of Mount Xuandu who were heading north. Who would have expected that…”
He paused for a second, “Who would have expected that I’d run into Sang Jingxing, and you’re aware of what happened afterwards.”
Shiwu felt a bit awkward, “But Master once said that the martial arts of each sect is their ultimate secret. One cannot learn it unless they join that sect. Since I promised my master that I will go to the Jade Cloud Sect…”
Shen Qiao smiled, “Let it be martial arts from Mount Xuandu or the Jade Cloud Sect, they are there for people to learn. As long as the person teaching it and the person learning it don’t hold sectarian biases themselves, they need not to be restrained by anything else. I’m only teaching you martial arts. You don’t need to acknowledge me as your master.”
He then took out the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword, which had been wrapped by layers of black strips of clothes and disguised as a bamboo stick all this time, and started unwrapping it.
“Grieﬁng…Celestial?” Shiwu curiously read out the seal characters on it.
“When the people suﬀer, the world grieves together with them. It’s because plants too have spirits, while heaven and earth are eternal.”
Shen Qiao spoke slowly. His ﬁngers ran through the sword’s sheath. Suddenly, he grabbed the hilt and quickly drew out the sword. His wrist didn’t seem to move much, but in an instant, a brilliant glow ﬁlled the space, as if every corner of the room was now
owned by the sword light and a ﬁerce killing intent. One could almost see cranes soaring to the sky and wild geese ﬂying across snowy passes.
But in an instant, the radiance disappeared again.
It was the same room and the same sword, as if the sword was never unsheathed and everything was but Shiwu’s illusion.
Shiwu stood there open-mouthed, gazing stupidly.
Shen Qiao smiled at him, “Go feel that piece of clothing.”
It was Shen Qiao’s coat. He took it off and hung it on the wooden rack because it was raining when they came.
As soon as Shiwu’s ﬁnger touched it, he couldn’t help but let out a sound of surprise.
The coat disintegrated into several pieces as it ﬂuttered to the ﬂoor.
Everything else in the room remained intact, except for the coat. Shiwu’s expression could almost be described as petriﬁed.
Shen Qiao asked, “What do you think?” “This-this is amazing…”
Shen Qiao chuckled, “I mean do you want to learn martial arts from me?”
Shiwu nodded rapidly, “Master Shen, please accept this kowtow from me!”
“The Purple Mansion of Mount Xuandu used to have quite a few sets of sword arts until the time of my master, Qi Fengge, who believed that all martial arts, no matter how much they appeared to be diﬀerent from each other, shared certain core principles. Rather than getting blinded by the dazzling collection and ending up with too much on one’s plate, he thought it would be better if people mastered only one set to perfection. Therefore, he reorganized the swords arts from all past generations and condensed them into the two sets we have now.”
“One of them, the Azurewave Sword Arts, was composed during his trip to the East Sea. Inspired by the sunrise, the moon-set, and the clouds surging back and forth alongside the waves, he combined his personal experience with the essence of some of the former sword arts of Mount Xuandu and created the Azurewave Sword Arts. Since we happen to be passing by the Yellow River today and are experiencing a scene similar to the one at its time of creation, I’ll demonstrate this set of sword arts to you. You don’t have to memorize the moves. Just focus on understanding the feeling and the artistic concepts behind them.”
Shiwu’s chubby face looked very earnest. He cupped his hands in obeisance and replied, “Yester, Master Shen. I’ll try my best to feel it.”
With a smile, Shen Qiao drew the sword out of its sheath!
The section of river they were at had not yet recovered from the dike breach last year. The ﬂood had drowned farmland on both sides, and even till today, most of the houses remained uninhabited and everywhere one’s eyes could reach spoke of desolation. Only the billows of the Yellow River which still surged forward tirelessly remained.
Currently, Shen Qiao stood on a solitary rock jagging out of the bank. Beneath him was the never resting ﬂow of the Yellow River, howling and roaring as if it was going to devour everything in the world.
The river glistened under the sunlight, splashing and glittering. In front of nature’s magniﬁcent power, Shen Qiao’s ﬁgure appeared tiny and frail. However, the instant he unsheathed his sword, the imposing momentum which had broken out from within him was no less than that of the surging river around him. Under the reﬂection of light, Grieﬁng Celestial Sword also shone with dazzling brilliance. The sword started to move, and the Qi it created was evident everywhere, driving even the river more tempestuous; amidst all the turbulence, Shen Qiao himself looked extremely elegant and free, as if he was an Immortal Being about to depart from the mundane world.
It completely blew Shiwu’s mind.
When he was living together with the abbot, the latter also taught martial arts. But since the abbot was only a mediocre practitioner himself, it was hard for him to depict what a profound martial state was like. Shiwu once heard his master describe to them that a real martial arts expert could use his inner qi to inﬂuence the surrounding world, making every stalk of grass react to their state of mind.
Both Chuyi and Shiwu were very much fascinated by what their master said and thought to themselves, ‘I wish I could one day see such an expert myself.’
And now, the scene he dreamt of was happening right in front of his eyes.
Looking at Shen Qiao’s every move, even someone like Shiwu, who had just started on the path of martial arts and who couldn’t even be said to have had the ﬁrst glimpse of it yet, could feel the power inside them capable of hauling the world. It was a scene that his limited vocabulary could not describe, but it was also a scene he would never forget in his life.
Master, Chuyi, did you see it?
Warm tears ﬁlled Shiwu’s eyes. He had the impulse to kneel down and cry his heart out.
Apart from Shiwu who was watching from the side, Shen Qiao, who was standing at the center of the storm, also found himself sinking into an indescribable, mysterious state.
He could feel his Sword Energy and the river inﬂuencing and intertwining with each other, becoming each other’s driving force as if they were meant to be one. The Sword Intent ﬂowed through his limbs and bones, then gushed out from the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword in his hand. His heart followed his will, while the sword followed his heart. The tangible Sword Intent turned into a blinding halo, piercing right through the vapours. Wherever the Sword Intent went, the river would explode with a loud bang, its shining, iridescent splashes forming a sight that was particularly spectacular and magniﬁcent to behold.
Shen Qiao’s sword quivered. Without warning, he suddenly leaped down from the rock. Shiwu, who had been deeply enthralled by the scene, screamed as he quickly ran to the bank, but all he saw was Shen Qiao landing swiftly at the center of the turbulent river. The sword in his hand did not stop. It continued uninterruptedly, while the person holding it glided across the water with such ease and carefreeness as if he was strolling in his backyard and picking up a
ﬂower with his sword.
The Yellow River, always eager to devour everything in its way, never stopping for anyone’s sake, continued to race forwards below Shen Qiao. However, within one meter’s distance around him, the river was as gentle as the moonlight stroking the spring breeze, letting it come and go.
Heaven did not intend to create spring. It let everything be, and there was spring.
The ﬂowing water was insensate and heartless, but the sword was affectionate and sentimental.
With the affectionate sword he led the heartless water, as he stood alone against the tempest and the storm.
The Sword Light shrouded the world, gathering all of its beauty into a single spot.
After he ﬁnished, Shen Qiao leaped from the rock in the river back onto the shore. He squinted his eyes and looked back. Perhaps the poison had remained inside his body for too long; his eyes were still not very good. Even after he had rebuilt his foundation, he still could not see as clearly as before.
But it didn’t matter anymore. Because when he demonstrated the sword arts, he was using his own perception of the surrounding world and maintaining such a connection with Sword Intent. Therefore, he was able to land each step accurately in spite of his poor eyesight, which could be considered a gain out of all the misfortunes.
Shiwu on the side asked timidly, “Master Shen, is it really possible for me to reach your level one day?”
Shen Qiao gently stroked his head and smiled, “Of course it is possible. The Way is not deﬁnite, but diﬀerent for every person. As long as you study and practice diligently, success
will follow naturally.”
Shiwu couldn’t help but smile.
It was the ﬁrst time he smiled ever since they left White Dragon Monastery.
Shen Qiao lowered himself and looked Shiwu in the eye, “I know you didn’t forget your master’s death, neither did I. Let’s keep it in heart together. But if your master’s spirit is watching you from above, he must wish for you to be happy. Promise me, will you? After we cross the Yellow River, we’ll toss away all the grievous memories and move on happily.”
The mentioning of his master wetted Shiwu’s eyes once more. But he quickly nodded, “I promise you. I’ll take good care of myself and practice hard. I’ll be a good person. I won’t disappoint Master, and I won’t disappoint you.”
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything. He merely held the boy tightly in his arms for a while before letting him go. Then he grabbed his hand, and the two continued slowly along the river.
As for the Yellow River, it was still surging forward like it had always been since times immemorial.
The two of them traveled rather slowly. After spending several months on the road, they ﬁnally arrived at the foot of Mount Tai at the beginning of August.
Mount Tai had hundreds of peaks of various altitudes. The Jade Cloud Sect was not located at the highest peak where all past emperors held their Feng Shan ceremonies, but a rather little known peak at the northeast side named Zhunan.
Zhunan Peak was not particularly high in elevation, but its location
was very much blessed by nature. Strange rocks and clear streams scattered all around the peak. Due to the fact that it was dangerously steep, it had few tourists and woodcutters. After Shen Qiao and Shiwu took a brief break at the mountain foot to get ready, they began their way up.
As they got closer and closer to their destination, Shiwu’s unease grew into a sort of restlessness. While Shen Qiao was leading him up the mountain track, the boy couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Master Shen, do you know what the Jade Cloud Sect is like?”
Shen Qiao smiled, “The Jade Cloud Sect was founded in the Han Dynasty. Its current sect leader, Zhao Chiying, is one of the Top Ten martial artists in the world. Since Brother Zhu said Zhao Chiying was his martial niece, then seniority-wise, you would rank the same as Sect Leader Zhao.”
Shiwu clung tightly onto Shen Qiao’s robe, but it wasn’t because he was afraid of falling down. He had been studying martial arts and sword arts under Shen Qiao for the past few months and made great progress. In fact, he was already starting to grasp some of the essence of the ‘Rainbow Shadow’, the lightness skill of Mount Xuandu.
“Are you going to leave after you drop me oﬀ at the Jade Cloud Sect?”
“Do you not want me to leave?” Shen Qiao teased him.
Shiwu was a little embarrassed. He ﬂashed a toothless smile and didn’t say anything.
Ever since the abbot and Chuyi passed away, Shen Qiao had been taking care of him throughout the journey both as a master and as a father. Shiwu had long regarded him as his only family and had developed a lot of dependence and admiration towards him. Now, the Jade Cloud Sect was just around the corner, and his master’s will
would soon be fulﬁlled. But when he thought of the possible separation that would very likely follow after, Shiwu didn’t feel happy at all.
“Don’t worry. After we get there, I won’t leave immediately. We’ll see how it goes ﬁrst.”
What he didn’t tell Shiwu was that even though the Jade Cloud Sect was once a large sect, it had declined greatly over these years. The only reason it could regain some of its former glory was because of one of their disciples: Zhao Chiying. She was the type of martial arts genius one would expect to ﬁnd once in a blue moon. However, a sect could not thrive on a single person. No matter how powerful Zhao Chiying was, she could hardly turn a raging tide. It was said that Zhao Chiying had entered a Closed Door Meditation in recent years, and her martial brother, Yue Kunchi, was the one managing the sect affairs. There must be a reason why Zhu Lengquan left the sect —— a reason not so pleasant, but what concerned Shen Qiao the most was how they would react to Shiwu. If they didn’t like Shiwu, he would not leave the boy there to suffer.
Shiwu didn’t know that Shen Qiao had been thinking about nothing but him. Various thoughts kept the boy both anxious and frightened. On one hand, he was afraid of not being able to get along with the people in the Jade Cloud Sect, while on the other hand, he also dreaded that Shen Qiao’s departure would come too soon.
Just like that, they were soon about halfway to the top when Shen Qiao suddenly sensed something strange.
Sects that were located on mountaintops usually had disciples guarding the path. Those sects with tighter security would even put guards at the foot of the mountain, while the relatively inattentive ones would at least have someone halfway up the hill.
Right now, they were almost at the gate, yet they still hadn’t seen anyone. This was deﬁnitely unusual.
Shiwu, who also realized that something was not right, secretly let go of Shen Qiao’s robe. He didn’t want to become Shen Qiao’s burden when something happened.
“Master Shen, look!”
Shen Qiao couldn’t see clearly, but Shiwu spotted a broken sword hidden underneath the high grass along the stone path. He picked it up and handed it to Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao felt the fracture on the broken sword —— it was clearly broken by force. Since they didn’t see any dead body, it was hard to tell whether its owner had fallen off the cliff or run away.
“Be careful and stay behind me. There may be more in the front.”
Just like he expected, the further they went, the more weapons they saw. They even started to see dead bodies. They couldn’t tell whether they belonged to the disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect or not.
Suddenly, behind them came a distant but thundering voice:
“Who’re you?! Stop right there!”
Before the sentence ﬁnished, a sword was already thrusting towards Shiwu’s back!
Shen Qiao heard the voice. Without the slightest change in expression, he pulled Shiwu toward him and quickly turned around, swapping their positions almost instantly, while he himself charged forth towards the blade.
He didn’t even unsheath the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword. The wind brought up by his palm pushed the blade to the side, and, with a simple twirl of his sleeve, he had already caught the attacker’s wrist.
“Daoist Priest Shen?” The other person let out a sound of surprise.
“And you are…?” Shen Qiao squinted his eyes but could only make out a blurry face.
“I’m Fan Yuanbai, a disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect. We met once in the Residence of Su,” the other person replied.
Shen Qiao thought for a moment and vaguely recalled something like that. On the day he attended Lady Qin’s birthday banquet on Yan Wushi’s behalf, he had indeed met a disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect.
Fan Yuanbai asked, “May I ask the reason for your visit?”
There was obvious anxiety in his voice, but he was still able to stay patient and ask Shen Qiao politely. Part of it was because Fan Yuanbai was naturally good-tempered, and part of it was because Shen Qiao’s ﬁght with Duan Wenyang that day impressed many people, and he was one of them.
Shen Qiao brieﬂy explained to him Shiwu’s relationship with the Jade Cloud Sect. He even let Shiwu show the wooden plaque to him as proof.
Fan Yuanbai took over the piece of wood and studied it for a brief moment. “I have heard Grandfather Zhu’s name before, but I know very little of what happened to him. Since this is the case, why don’t you two follow me up the mountain so that we can report this to my seniors?”
Shen Qiao said, “Thank you very much, Mister Fan. By the way, we have found quite a few broken swords and dead bodies on our way here. I’m sure you must know what’s happening up there.”
Fan Yuanbai gave him a bitter smile, “What an unfortunate coincidence. I was back home visiting my family for the past half year and just came back today. As soon as I reached the
mountain foot, I realized that something was not right —— the disciples that our sect had originally assigned to guard the spot were nowhere to be seen. I was panic-stricken on my way up and happened to run into you two. I thought…”
He thought they were enemies, not friends.
Shen Qiao said, “If that’s the case, let’s not waste any more time here and hurry up to see what is happening. If everything is ﬁne, then it would at least set our minds at rest.”
Fan Yuanbai agreed repeatedly and immediately joined Shen Qiao and Shiwu as they headed towards the Jade Cloud Sect.
However, the higher they climbed, the more they found themselves on tenterhooks. Because as they went, more and more weapons and corpses appeared. At ﬁrst, Fan Yuanbai was still able to stay composed, bending over and investigating the bodies to check if anyone was still alive, but by the end, both his face and lips were pale and he could not utter a single word.
Through Fan Yuanbai’s explanation, Shen Qiao and Shiwu learned that some of the corpses —— or most of the corpses, rather —— belonged to the disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect. The others’ identity remained a mystery. However, looking at the weapons around them, they also used swords, and their swords were all engraved with two characters: “East Island”.
Shiwu asked out of curiosity, “What kind of sect is ‘East Island’?”
He thought the reason that he didn’t know was due to his inexperience and ignorance of the pugilistic world, but Fan Yuanbai only frowned and didn’t say anything either.
In the end, Shen Qiao was the one to answer, “There isn’t an
East Island Sect in the Central Plains, but there is one in Goguryeo.”
Only then did Fan Yuanbai speak up, “That’s right. They claimed to be the biggest sect in Goguryeo. I’ve also heard of them before. But Goguryeo is a foreign country and never has any business with the Jade Cloud Sect. Why would they show up here?”
The conversation didn’t slow down their speed. As the three of them got closer and closer to the mountaintop, they even started to hear the clashing of blades from the distance.
As for someone like Shen Qiao, he could even hear people’s shouting and cursing.
Fan Yuanbai sped up and hurried to the front; the sword in his hand was already unsheathed.
Shiwu, on the other hand, pulled Shen Qiao’s robe a few times and whispered, “Master Shen, you can follow me. There are a lot of dead bodies on the ground.”
A warm feeling ﬁlled Shen Qiao’s heart. He nodded, not wanting to reject the boy’s kindness, “Sure.”
Even though he was already prepared for this, what he saw still made Fan Yuanbai’s heart ache.
The former tranquil and peaceful sect had now turned into a living hell —— the number of dead bodies had reached the peak, and blood gathered into small streams, slowly ﬂowing to unknown destinations.
Those disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect whose eyes were already closed were still unrelated to Shiwu at the moment; therefore, with Shen Qiao accompanying him on the side, Shiwu could still keep his cool and composure. But Fan Yuanbai could barely hold himself
together, all because these were the martial brothers and sisters whom he had known for years and regarded as his real siblings. When he left the mountain half a year ago, some of them even teased him, asking him to bring back souvenirs, but now they all lay on the icy ground, not able to speak anymore.
Fan Yuanbai’s eyes were bloodshot. Grief and hatred gradually accumulated inside him until he saw two groups of people not far from him ﬁghting at close quarters. Holding the sword in his hand, he stepped forward without the slightest hesitation. But just as he was about to join the ﬁght, he again froze in shock.
To his surprise, they were all dressed as the disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect, and he recognized some familiar faces in each group.
“Senior Brother Li! Senior Brother Qiao! Stop! What’s going on?!”
However, no one paid attention to him. They were all deeply wallowing in the ﬁghts, single-mindedly focusing on the enemies before them. The clashing of weapons resounded continuously, and the ﬂashing light reﬂected by the metals could almost dazzle the people next to them.
Fan Yuanbai couldn’t understand what was happening. He couldn’t understand why, after he left the mountain and came back, he would witness the disciples of his own sect killing each other.
The turbulent riot in his mind left him in a momentary trance. He didn’t notice there was a sword approaching him from behind.
However, before the sneak attacker could drive the sword into Fan Yuanbai’s body, he dropped the sword with a shrill cry. Holding his wrist with the other hand, the attacker wailed and twisted about the ground in pain.
“Watch out behind you.” Fan Yuanbau heard Shen Qiao say
behind him. There was no sign of indignation or anger in his voice.
Fan Yuanbai recovered from his surprise. He expressed his gratitude towards Shen Qiao, then seized the person who attacked him. To his surprise, the person was also a disciple of his own sect.
“Xue Qi? Aren’t you a disciple under Elder Lu? Why did you ambush me?!”
The other person saw Shen Qiao who was standing behind him and was immediately frightened by the thought of how the guy had just cut the tendons on his wrist with a single attack. He couldn’t help but said timidly, “The-the real sect master is back, but your master, Elder Yue, held onto the position of the regent sect leader and refused to resign. He even ordered his disciples to ﬁght us…”
The more Fan Yuanbai listened, the more confused he became. In the end, he couldn’t help but interrupt him and chided, “Nonsense! Master’s heart and soul has always been devoted to the interests of the sect. He would never refuse to give up the position if the other person is more worthy!”
Xue Qi shouted, “I don’t know! I don’t know anything! I just followed orders. Please don’t kill me!”
Shen Qiao pressed his hand onto Fan Yuanbai’s shoulder, signaling him to calm down. “We’re still at the outer section of the sect. Let’s go to the inner court ﬁrst.”
He then asked Xue Qi, “Where’s your master?”
His voice was not loud, but Xue Qi heard him clearly. The latter shivered slightly and replied, “He’s in the inner court, ﬁghting against Elder Yue…”
Fan Yuanbai lost the patience to listen to him. With a big leap, he grabbed his sword and rushed directly to the inner court.
As he proceeded, many people came forward with weapons to stop him. Some were disciples of his own sect, some were disciples of the aforementioned East Island Sect, and some were black-clothed people with prominent noses and deep-set eyes whose identities remained unknown. After a few rounds, Fan Yuanbai started to run out of strength, and his martial moves also began to lose accuracy. He was almost hit by another person. Luckily, Shen Qiao was following behind and taking care of him.
Compared to Fan Yuanbai, Shiwu who was still a beginner seemed to be much more at ease. The sword in his hand was just an ordinary longsword he picked up on the road, but he managed to make use of all the martial arts techniques Shen Qiao had recently taught him. He wasn’t as perturbed as Fan Yuanbai was, and Shen Qiao was next to him. As his head stayed calm and clear, his hand became more and more stable. In fact, these people who came up to attack him were nothing but training opponents in his mind.
But Shiwu was only a beginner after all. In the beginning, he was still a little nervous and ﬂustered. As soon as he ﬁnally subdued an enemy with great diﬃculty, he immediately turned back just so that he could see the person behind him show an approving smile. “Master Shen, how did I do?”
Sure enough, Shen Qiao smiled, “Very good. But remember to be careful.”
Shiwu felt a soft touch on his shoulder. The slight warmth it brought greatly encouraged him.
Inside the inner court, the sword in Yue Kunchi’s hand was sent ﬂying by Ruan Hailou, while he himself was also hit by the other’s palm on the waist. He couldn’t help but stumble three steps backward, crashing into the pillar behind him.
He ignored the disciples on the side who were trying to help him, nor did he turn his eyes to Ruan Hailou. Instead, he roared at the elder of the sect, Lu Feng, “Lu Feng! How dare you collude with outsiders to assault your own sect?! You disloyal, cruel bastard! You don’t deserve to be a disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect!”
Lu Feng frowned, “Deserve or not, you have no say over it.
Let Sect Leader Zhao come out and tell us herself.”
Yue Kunchi clenched his teeth. These people clearly knew that Junior Sister Zhao was in a Closed Door Meditation and was vulnerable to even the smallest disturbance, so they purposely chose to attack at this time.
Ruan Hailou said, “When you were young, you cried a lot because of your master’s scoldings, and I was the one to run down the mountain and buy you candy every time. Your master called you stupid, and it was me who taught you those moves hand by hand. I’m sure you already forgot about all of these.”
Yue Kunchi said, “I didn’t. I will forever cherish your kindness to me! But you’re now a member of the East Island Sect and you married the princess of Goguryeo. You brought with you their disciples and slew your way up the mountain, and you even consorted with the Tujue people and the elders in the sect, scheming for the position of the sect leader —— Is this how you treat your sect?!”
Ruan Hailou sneered, “Had your master not stabbed me in the back, I wouldn’t have been condemned by everyone. I wouldn’t have been unable to return to my own sect, with no choice but to ﬂee as an outcast. Were it not for him, I wouldn’t have wandered all the way to Goguryeo! You don’t want to know how much I suﬀered since that day to ﬁnally gain the attention of the leader of East Island Sect and
eventually become his personal disciple. Twenty years have passed since then. It is a pity that your master has already passed away. Otherwise, I’d be more than happy to seek justice directly from him!”
Pu Anmi, who had been spectating on the side for a while, suddenly interrupted, “Gentleman Ruan, Gentleman Lu, I say there’s no need to explain so much to him. Zhao Chiying is in a Closed Door Meditation and cannot come out. Yue Kunchi, being in a position of great power as the regent sect leader, couldn’t be more happy about it. You are now asking him to give up such a position, so of course he wouldn’t want to. We have already killed so many anyway, we might as well slaughter to our heart’s content and replace anyone who doesn’t listen to us. As the only one left, Zhao Chiying won’t be able to cause a stir even if she comes out from the Meditation.”
Lu Feng agreed categorically, “That’s right. Senior Brother Ruan, Yue Kunchi is already at the end of his strength. He’s just buying time with all the nonsense. We should disable him ﬁrst. Hui Leshan owed you a lot in the past, and now it’s his disciple’s turn to pay you back!”
Ruan Hailou said no more. He immediately charged forward and struck a palm towards Yue Kunchi.
Completely drained of energy and having no place to retreat, Yue Kuchi could only close his eyes and wait for his death. However, Zhou Yexue, his disciple who was next to him, suddenly threw herself in front of him, hoping to block the attack for her master.
Fan Yuanbai stumbled in just in time to see this. The scene overwhelmed him with grief and terror at once, and he couldn’t stop himself from crying out, “Sister!”
He was still some distance away from the group. There was
absolutely no way he could get to her in time no matter what.
But before he knew it, a white band of Sword Light had brushed past his ear, separating Zhou Yexue from Ruan Hailou in an instant.
It went so fast that no one even realized what had happened.
Ruan Hailou’s palm was already on its way. Even though he sensed it and was alarmed almost instantly, it was still too late for him to withdraw. The Sword Light came down like a sovereign descending onto the world and ﬁrmly suppressed Ran Hailou’s attack.
He felt a sharp pain in his palm and quickly retreated. After he landed on the ground and looked down, he saw that it still left a long, deep, bloody cut on his palm.
Among those present, almost all elite disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect were either wounded or killed during the internal conﬂict, and the rest were all down-spirited. As a result, no one even realized that Shen Qiao’s swordstrike just now was a tangible Sword Intent that was almost at the level of Sword Heart. As for others like Ran Hailou, even if they could tell, they would never say it out loud to boost their enemy’s morale.
“Who are you?!” Ruan Hailou groaned while pressing ﬁrmly onto the bleeding wound on his hand.
He returned the sword to its sheath. His voice was gentle and soft, but everyone heard him.
The others didn’t give much reaction, but Pu Anmi’s face looked rather horriﬁed. “You are Shen Qiao?!”
“It seems like you recognize me, mister. May I have your name?”
Pu Anmi repeated to himself that it was impossible. After he regained control of himself, he pulled a smile. “My master is Kunye. I’m sure he’s no stranger to you, Daoist Priest Shen.”
Shen Qiao was well bred after all. He didn’t make a big reaction even when he heard the name of the person who made him fall off the cliff and severely wounded. He only nodded and said, “An old friend indeed.”
The name of his master once again ﬁlled Pu Anmi with conﬁdence. “Master has missed Daoist Priest Shen very much ever since the ﬁght on Half-Step Peak. He was worried that you would lose your life because of the fall. Luckily, Heaven has blessed you, and Daoist Priest Shen was able to escape death. Master is not far from here and is going to arrive by tomorrow. At that time, Daoist Priest Shen can get together with your old friend again!”
Hearing the battle on Half-Step Peak, most people realized who Shen Qiao was.
The way some of them were looking at Shen Qiao made Shiwu sick. He frowned and stepped forward slightly, hoping to block these glances.
Shen Qiao seemed to have sensed Shiwu’s intention. He smiled and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, his voice remained mild, “An old friend indeed, and we really should get together sometime.”
He then redirected the conversation, “I’m sure all of you didn’t come here today because of me. It’s important that we settle the real matter ﬁrst.”
Ruan Hailou said coldly, “Daoist Priest Shen, I’ve heard of your name even in Goguryeo. It is a great pleasure to ﬁnally meet you today. However, this is the Jade Cloud Sect’s
internal aﬀair. How would you explain yourself for taking a hand in something that is none of your business?”
If the person wasn’t Shen Qiao but someone else, he would have attacked them already. It was just that Shen Qiao’s preemptive strike just now had frightened everyone and deterred Ruan Hailou from making a move.
Shen Qiao sighed, “I do not intend to get involved with the internal aﬀairs of the Jade Cloud Sect. But today I am bringing a junior back to his sect and acknowledging his forefathers. I can’t just stand here and watch you slaughter the entire Jade Cloud Sect, right?”
Yue Kunchi asked, slightly confused, “Daoist Priest Shen, who is this ‘junior’ you’re talking about?”
Shen Qiao brieﬂy explained who Shiwu was. Yue Kunchi gasped and cried out involuntarily, “He’s Martial Uncle Zhu’s disciple?!”
Ruan Hailou on the side suddenly started to laugh, “Good! Very good! Today’s a good day. All our old friends are here. Zhu Lengquan didn’t come himself, but he sent his disciple. If he was still here, I would really like to ask him to do me justice and tell everyone the truth —— Whether I truly deserved to be expelled from the sect or if it was all because of Hui Leshan’s selﬁsh and unjust act!”
Yue Kunchi slowly breathed out the turbid air in his chest. “Martial Uncle Ruan, this will be the last time I refer to you as my martial uncle. Before Master passed away, he once told me about the past grudges. I could sense the great regret within his words. He too felt guilty for what happened back then, and he told me that if I were to meet you in the future, I should still treat you with respect as my martial uncle. However, all these past grudges belong to the last generation. Even if you have no feelings for these disciples
who were from the same sect as you, you should at least keep in mind the benevolence of the sect for raising you. But now, you-you even…”
Looking around at the corpses on the ground and the war-worn place, he found it diﬃcult to continue. In the end, he said with deep sorrow in his voice, “What fault do these disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect have? They never experienced or participated in that event. Why should they die in vain?! Lu Feng! You’re an elder of the sect, yet you decide to collude with outsiders…”
Lu Feng stopped him impatiently, “Enough whining! This is exactly why I hate you so much! If Zhao Chiying was willing to put in a little more eﬀort in managing the sect, then the Jade Cloud Sect won’t be in the dying state it is in right now. Those people died because they’re too incompetent! So what? If you’re smart enough, you should hand over the sect leader position now. No matter who takes over the Jade Cloud Sect, they’ll sure do a better job than you!”
Yue Kunchi asked, “What if I refuse?”
Pu Anmi laughed, “Zhou is on the verge of declaring war against Qi. Their menacing armies could show up at any moment. There’s nothing Qi can do at this point. Sect Leader Ruan and Elder Lu have already pledged their loyalty to Erfu Khan of Eastern Tujue and both were granted oﬃcial posts and titles of nobility. If Elder Yue is a smart person and can convince the entire Jade Cloud Sect to submit to us, you’re guaranteed a promising future.”
After he ﬁnished, he turned to Shen Qiao as if something suddenly came to his mind, “I almost forgot this. Congratulations! Erfu Khan has just conferred the title ‘Immortal Sect Master of Peace of Yuyang’ upon your junior martial brother, the current sect leader of Mount Xuandu, Yu Ai. If you hadn’t lost to my master that day, you would be the one to be honored
with such a title, right?”
Shen Qiao slightly frowned, but it was obviously not because he wasn’t conferred with the honor. “So is Yu Ai coming to the Jade Cloud Sect together with Kunye this time?”
Pu Anmi laughed, “Immortal Yu isn’t coming. Only my master is. If Daoist Priest Shen is interested, you might as well wait till my master arrives. Then you can follow us to have an audience with Erfu Khan. I’m sure he’ll be very happy to see you.”
“I am now a castaway, but not so much so as to the extent of having to depend on a bandit who only knows how to rob and slaughter the innocent.”
The smile on Pu Anmi’s face disappeared instantly. “Do you know what you just said? Do you really think you can look down on others as you like just because you’ve got Yan Wushi to back you up?”
Shen Qiao quietly returned, “I never thought that way.”
Pu Anmi suddenly smiled again, “Daoist Priest Shen better know this —— Yan Wushi soon won’t be able to save even himself. Rather than depending on him, the powerful and prosperous Tujue would be a wiser option. It looks like Daoist Priest Shen has already regained most of your martial arts. If you agree to serve Erfu Khan, as someone who always has a heart for talented people, he would deﬁnitely be willing to grant you an honorable position, and you will be able to stand up against your junior brother as an equal at that time.
Isn’t that wonderful?”
“I appreciate your kindness, but please allow me to reject the oﬀer.”
Seeing how Shen Qiao could not be persuaded no matter what, Pu Anmi felt himself burning with anger. Just as he was about to say some more, Lu Feng on the other side started to lose patience and suggested: “Mister Pu, whatever grudges you have against him, can you please wait till another day? The most important thing right now is to ﬁnish oﬀ the Jade Cloud Sect so that they don’t give rise to other problems later.”
Pu Anmi nodded and turned to Ruan Hailou. “I will follow Sect Leader Ruan’s opinion on this matter. What do you say?”
Ruan Hailou was now a member of the East Island Sect. He held a relatively high position in the sect, and since he also married the princess of Goguryeo, his status became rather special. The Eastern Tujue wanted to take advantage of Zhou’s declaration of war against Qi to seize the eastern part of Qi’s territory, a plan which happened to match Goguryeo’s interests. The two countries immediately discussed the matter in secret and even agreed on how to divide the territory afterwards. All they needed right now was to wait for Zhou to launch a massive attack. As Qi busied themselves putting out the ﬁre on their western border, they could easily get their share from the east.
What happened in the Jade Cloud Sect today was but an unremarkable and unimportant part of the greater scheme. It was just that since Ruan Hailou had pledged his loyalty to Tujue as the son-in-law of the Goguryeo King, Tujue also needed to show him respect by assisting him when he set off to the Jade Cloud Sect to settle old scores.
Ruan Hailou turned to Yue Kunchi and said, “I’ll give you one last chance: surrender, and you don’t have to die.”
Clutching his chest, Yue Kunchi breathed heavily, “The Jade Cloud Sect might not be particularly famous or prosperous, but it is the fruit of many generations of our forefathers’ painstaking eﬀorts. As a disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect, I, Yue Kunchi, cannot bring shame to them. I would rather die than surrender!”
Ruan Hailou burst into laughter, “Very good! Hui Leshan was a hypocritical, deceitful, nasty little person, but he has a disciple who is a man of iron! I will grant you your wish then!”
He was still worried about Shen Qiao’s interference just now, so he glanced at the side and was about to say something. But Pu Anmi seemed to know what Ruan Hailou’s concern was. The next second, he stepped in between Shen Qiao and Yue Kunchi and said, “Let me check how much martial arts Daoist Priest Shen has recovered!”
Kunye was Hulugu’s personal disciple as well as the Left Wise King of Tujue, which made his status very honorable and well-respected. Pu Anmi was Kunye’s eldest disciple. Coming from a noble family in Tujue, he had always been an arrogant and self-important person. Even though he had witnessed the Sword Qi from Shen Qiao, he didn’t take it too seriously. After all, everyone knew that Shen Qiao had been seriously injured not long ago, and that there was no antidote to Quietus. While they were talking just now, he could see that Shen Qiao’s eyes stayed unfocused, likely due to bad vision, and he had made the judgement in his mind. Therefore, as soon as he decided to attack, he immediately made a ﬁerce, killing move, intending to gain the initiative and eliminate this unstable factor named Shen Qiao who suddenly appeared.
Pu Anmi’s weapon was a blade. His style of blade arts was extremely overbearing, like a lone wolf on a boundless prairie. When his blade ﬂashed by, the wind howled and the cranes cried, and
anyone who heard them would shudder and ﬂee instantly!
The blade thundered down with tremendous vigor like a mountain bearing down from above. Its pressure made people breathless.
The blade ﬂashed through like lightning, but by the time it hacked down, Shen Qiao was no longer at his original place. He quickly took three steps back and dodged the murderous blade.
But these three steps didn’t puff Pu Anmi up with pride, because he saw that Shen Qiao didn’t unsheathe his sword.
What did it mean?
It meant that the other person felt the situation wasn’t dangerous to the point where he needed to draw his weapon. In order words, it meant that the other person didn’t feel the need to draw his weapon just to deal with an opponent like him.
Pu Anmi’s expression changed slightly. A sense of humiliation welled up in his heart.
He felt Shen Qiao was too self-important!
You were once defeated by my master, but now you dare to belittle me?!
What right do you have to look down on me?
His ﬁrst attack missed, so he had to make another one. With a quick turn of thoughts, Pu Anmi charged forward, raising a cloud of Blade Light —— this time, it didn’t bear down abruptly like before but surged forwards like countless tides of waves. It looked like he only made one strike, when in fact there were six layers of Blade Qi, each one more powerful than the previous.
An ordinary blade master who could make four or ﬁve layers of Blade Light at his age could already be considered to have an
extraordinary aptitude, but Pu An Mi was able to create six. Therefore, it was not surprising for him to be so conﬁdent in himself.
Shen Qiao ﬁnally unsheathed his sword.
When Shen Qiao drew the Grieﬁng Celestial Sword out of its sheath, it was vibrating. No one could tell whether it was just resonating under the inﬂuence of the Blade Light, or whether the years of nourishment from Shen Qiao’s Sword Qi had given it its own spirit and it could not wait to face its enemy.
Shiwu opened his eyes wide in surprise. He realized that this was one of the moves in Azurewave Sword Arts which Shen Qiao had demonstrated to him next to the Yellow River.
It was the Mellow Breeze!
As the bright moon descended behind the pine woods, the night breeze came uninvited. A person was sitting underneath a pine tree, his back as straight as the tree. He plucked a string on the zither, and this absent-minded, innocent move suddenly brought forth a chilly, mellow breeze, gently stroking his face amidst the ﬂower rain.
It was an extremely fast move, but it had such a picturesque name. Shiwu didn’t understand the reason at ﬁrst, but when he saw Shen Qiao’s seemingly careless strike, he suddenly apprehended something.
It only took one sword strike to dispel six layers of Bade Light!
Pu Anmi almost couldn’t believe his eyes. He froze only for a brief moment, but Shen Qiao’s sword was already before his eyes, aiming right at his face.
His only option was to withdraw his attack and retreat. Shen Qiao, unlike his usual self however, pressed in step by step. The two of them, one retreating and one advancing, traversed the entire inner court in an instant! Just as Pu Anmi’s back was about to hit the wall,
he used the momentum to leap onto the beam, then, with his upper body hanging upside down from the beam, swung his blade at Shen Qiao.
On the other side, Yue Kunchi was in no way a match for Ruan Hailou. Yue Kunchi’s martial arts skill could only be considered as good among ordinary people, not to mention that Ruan Hailou was also one level higher than him seniority-wise. The only reason he was appointed to manage the affairs within the sect was because Zhao Chiying was in a Closed Door meditation and could not leave. Since he was always busy with all the sundry duties, he became more and more negligent in martial arts training and therefore naturally was not Ruan Hailou’s match. In just a twinkling of an eye, he was again seriously injured as he fell to the ground and spat out a mouthful of blood.
This time, Ruan Hailou didn’t leave him any space for manoeuver.
He raised his hand and was going to make the killing move.
Seeing that Lu Feng was holding up Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue, the only two people present who technically knew how to ﬁght, and that the rest of the disciples were but mediocrities whose martial arts skill was not even presentable, Shiwu had no choice but to brace himself to come forward and hold back Ruan Hailou for Yue Kunchi.
Ruan Hailou didn’t even care about him. He sneered and immediately pushed Shiwu aside with his sleeve.
“Ah!” Shiwu fell backwards. His sword dropped to the ground.
Shen Qiao heard the noise over there. He didn’t even have to look back to know what happened. He shook his head in his mind and sighed to himself at how a large sect like the Jade Cloud Sect had fallen to such a state. As he swept Pu Anmi’s blade attacks to the side, he turned back to help Yue Kunchi at the same time, which happened to nullify the energy from Ruan Hailou’s palm. For a moment, the situation turned into one where Shen Qiao was ﬁghting
against both Pu Anmi and Ruan Hailou by himself.
Pu Anmi sneered, “Daoist Priest Shen is an able man indeed, always wanting to handle everything by yourself!”
As soon as he realized that Shen Qiao could not be used by him, he had the intention to kill Shen Qiao. Now, with Ruan Hailou joining him, the pressure on him was immediately alleviated. He hesitated no more and turned every attack into a killing move. The eight layers of Blade Qi whose momentum could overturn a mountain and upset the sea rushed forth at the other person.
In other people’s eyes, Shen Qiao had to deal with both Pu Anmi’s almost impeccable Blade Qi and Ruan Hailou’s ﬁerce and powerful palms. Two ﬁsts were no match for four hands —— no matter how skilled he was, it was very unlikely that he could cope with the situation.
Shiwu’s heart was in his mouth. He dared not shout out for fear that it would distract Shen Qiao and affect his hearing judgment. He held his hands tightly together, totally unaware that they were already covered in sweat.
Shen Qiao made a sword strike.
This sword strike appeared to have the power to wipe out an entire army before it. Wherever the tip went, Sword Qi roared around freely and its white glow soared up, piercing right through the sky.
After one attack, he immediately retreated. His toes tapped on the ground, and he leaped up and exerted the lightness skill of Mount Xuandu, “Rainbow Shadow”, to its extreme. In a split second, he disappeared from everyone’s sight. When he showed up again, he had already landed behind Ruan Hailou. The blade in Pu Anmi’s hand fell to the ground. There was a bleeding cut across his wrist, but he didn’t even look at it. His face was full of disbelief, as if he still couldn’t accept the fact that he lost.
Ruan Hailou was in a slightly better state than him. He withdrew his attack in time and pulled himself out of the ﬁght with Shen Qiao, then went back to killing Yue Kunchi.
But Shen Qiao stopped him again. Ruan Hailou felt vexed, but he had no choice but to continue ﬁghting him. He scolded with an angry expression, “Do you even know how despicable and shameless Yue Kunchi’s master was? You can’t even tell right from wrong, and helping him is no diﬀerent from taking the side of the evildoers!”
Shen Qiao said in a deep voice, “Since I don’t know the details of your grudges with him, I should not have the right to interfere. But are you saying that those disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect whose corpses are still laying outside also deserve to pay the price for your resentment?”
Ruan Hailou said hatefully, “The entire Jade Cloud Sect owes me. I’ve endured it in silence for more than ten years. Now that Hui Leshan is dead, is there anything wrong with asking his descendants to pay for it?!”
Shen Qiao said no more.
If a person was wholeheartedly whelmed in hatred, no matter how much other people tried to comfort and talk them out of it, it would be to no avail. Not to mention, Ruan Hailou also allied himself with Tujue and killed almost all disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect. He obviously didn’t want to end it peacefully either.
Their moves became faster and faster. Even though Ruan Hailou was not very well known among the pugilistic circle in the Central Plains, he was not someone who was easy to deal with. When he was young, he was once the most talented disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect. For some reason, he later left the sect and went to Goguryeo. He then re-established himself in the East Island Sect and eventually became one of their elders. Today, he was already one of the top-
rate martial artists in the world.
As for Shen Qiao, even though he was able to rebuild his foundation, it was impossible for him to fully recover to his previous state overnight. At the moment, his martial power was about more than half of what he had in his full bloom. It was just that without the constant harassment from the poison and those old injuries, he could ﬁght with more ease and fewer concerns.
Seeing how the ﬁght between the two ﬂared like a raging ﬁre, Pu Anmi realized that Shen Qiao could not possibly attend to other things right now. A plan came to his mind. He squinted his eyes and carefully observed the ﬁght for a while. As Shen Qiao turned around to deal with Ruan Hailou’s palm, he suddenly drew out his blade and thrust it down Shen Qiao’s back!
“Daoist Priest Shen! Be careful!”
Yue Kunchi, Shiwu and some others shouted out at the same time.
They were all watching the battle attentively, so they all saw it.
Unfortunately, one of them was seriously injured, while the other’s martial arts skill wasn’t good enough. Shiwu had already got up and was running towards him, but he had just started learning martial arts not long ago. How could someone like him stop Pu Anmi from attacking? The blade was going to land on Shen Qiao’s back at any moment!
A cool breeze suddenly arrived with a faint fragrance. Shiwu blinked. Before he realized what happened, he felt he saw a blue belt ﬂoating by in front of his eyes.
Pu Anmi’s blade didn’t land on Shen Qiao but on a slim and fair hand instead. At ﬁrst glance, it looked like the other person had caught the blade bare-handedly, but in reality, there was a layer of
inner qi separating them. The blade then bounced away, and Pu Anmi was hit by a palm. His body ﬂew backwards; stone tiles cracked inch by inch underneath his feet, their fragments spattering in all directions. It didn’t stop until he reached the gate.
“Zhao Chiying?” Pu Anmi guessed the other person’s identity almost immediately.
“Yes, it’s me.” A woman donning blue answered. She quickly moved forwards, closing in on Pu Anmi with every step. Soon, she snatched the blade in Pu Anmi’s hand and locked the other person’s acupoints.
Zhao Chiying went forth and helped Yue Kunchi up, asking anxiously, “Senior Martial Brother, are you alright?”
Yue Kunchi pulled a bitter smile, “I’m ﬁne. It’s just that I am too useless and have made you waste all previous eﬀorts.”
Zhao Chiying shook her head and didn’t say anything. Seeing that Shen Qiao had already gained an upper hand against Ruan Hailou, she didn’t take a hand in their ﬁght but chose to help Fan Yuanbai defeat Lu Feng ﬁrst.
Lu Feng and Ruan Hailou had been in touch with each other privately for a long time. In fact, a major reason why Ruan Hailou’s invasion on the Jade Cloud Sect went so smoothly was because of Lu Feng’s help. He had been in the Jade Cloud Sect for many years; therefore, he naturally had a group of loyal disciples. However, after over half a day of intense ﬁghting, he too suffered a great loss. Only a few of his men remained. They were still ﬁghting with Fan Yuanbai and the others, but with the help of the East Island Sect and Pu Anmi, Lu Feng was quite certain that he could seize the sect leader’s throne today if nothing else happened.
Who would have expected that Zhao Chiying, who was originally in a Closed Door Meditation and was said to have reached a critical
moment, would suddenly appear?
Fan Yuanbai, Zhou Yixue, and the rest of the disciples were covered in wounds. They had almost used up all of their strength. The only reason they could still hold themselves together was because of pure determination. Zhao Chiying’s appearance had undoubtedly given them the utmost encouragement. Lu Feng couldn’t be angrier about it. Without thinking, he turned his sword at Zhao Chiying. Wrapped in a frightening halo and piercing Sword Qi, it charged right at Zhao Chiying’s face!
Zhao Chiying held both hands in front of her and traced out the Yin-Yang symbol with her ﬁngers. She had long, tapering ﬁngers, and it was a great pleasure to look at them as they danced in the air. But Lu Feng’s expression changed drastically. He couldn’t drive his sword any further, and, under the manipulation of Zhao Chiying’s hands, the entire sword exploded and shattered into pieces!
“Ah!” He let out a blood-curdling scream. His body involuntarily ﬂew backwards, crashing into the wall behind him, and the major acupoints all over his body were locked immediately afterwards.
On the other side, Shen Qiao also defeated Ruan Hailou. He cut the tendon on one of Ruan Hailou’s hands. The latter sat on the ground, his face ashen, with Shen Qiao’s sword next to his neck.
The result was certain.
Once Lu Feng, Ruan Hailou and Pu Anmi were defeated and under control, the rest of the enemies posed no threat. The remaining disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect, after having their mainstay, quickly stabilized the situation. All people from the East Island Sect were arrested. However, looking at the scene in front of them, with the majority of the disciples dead and blood ﬂowing through the ground, no one felt the joy of victory. There was only a deep sense of heaviness and exhaustion.
Zhao Chiying looked at Lu Feng and said, “Elder Lu, I know you used to have a good relationship with Ruan Hailou. But how could you harden your heart to such an extent as to turn your back upon the lives of our disciples, collude with outsiders and destroy the entire Jade Cloud Sect just because of that?”
Lu Feng sneered and said stubbornly, “For so many years, you’ve paid no attention to the aﬀairs in the sect, solely focusing on cultivating in a Closed Door Meditation. You’ve always been an unﬁt sect leader. What right do you have to question me?! Yue Kunchi’s skill in martial arts is rather inadequate, and his ability to manage aﬀairs is just so-so. The Jade Cloud Sect has had better days in the past, but now it has already declined to nothing but a third-rate sect. If we still don’t take drastic actions to reform it, I’m afraid that it won’t take many years for this sect to disappear completely from this world! Brother Ruan is originally a disciple of our sect, and now he is also the son-in-law of the Goguryeo King; why can’t he lead the Jade Cloud Sect to regain its glory?! You’re one who knows how to proﬁt from other people’s struggles. People have been ﬁghting here for a while, some of them even lost their lives, and you came out at the last moment to pick up the pieces. No wonder you’re the sect leader. The victor writes the tale, and the defeated becomes the villain —— I have nothing else to say!”
Zhao Chiying shook her head. She didn’t want to argue with him and only told Fan Yuanbai and the others to take him into custody ﬁrst, then she turned to Ruan Hailou, “Ruan Hailou, what you have done today is a blood debt to the Jade Cloud Sect that can only be atoned with your life. Do you have any other words to say?”
Ruan Hailou stared at Zhao Chiying, “Yue Kunchi told me that Hui Leshan said something about me to you before he died.”
“That’s right. Master told us everything before he passed away.”
Ruan Hailou asked coldly, “What did he say? I’m afraid it can’t be anything else than how greedy I was and how I let down his kindness.”
Zhao Chiying shook her head and said slowly, “Master said that out of all martial brothers, he had the closest relationship with you. At that time, there were so many young talents in the Jade Cloud Sect. Everyone thought the sect was going to thrive in all of your hands. Among all the talented disciples, you and my deceased master were the two most outstanding ones, which made Grandmaster very hesitant on who to appoint as the next sect leader.”
“The competition for sect leader was exceedingly intense. Grandmaster and some of the Elders assigned many tests, all of which, however, were solved by you two one after the other. It was said that one of the exams was to let you two make it to Chang’an from two diﬀerent starting points —— whoever reached there ﬁrst would win. At that time, every place was under the ﬂame of war, and the trip was very dangerous and diﬃcult. Master fell ill in Province Yi, and you happened to be passing through there. In order to take care of Master, your trip was delayed, and the ﬁrst person to make it to the destination was neither of you but another disciple.”
As she talked, Ruan Hailou seemed to have sunk into those old memories, “Right, he had always been a stubborn boy ever since he was a child. He never admitted defeat, and would at least take a bet no matter what. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was too sick to even get up, he would’ve never delayed his plan. I couldn’t leave him in the hotel knowing he would be all alone.”
Zhao Chiying said, “Master said he had always been a competitive person ever since he was a kid, extremely obsessed with winning and losing. It was you who always yielded to him on everything. He never had the time to thank you properly.”
Ruan Hailou laughed scornfully, “I don’t need his gratitude! He really knows how to act as a good man in front of you guys. I’m sure he must have covered up many of the things he’s done!”
Zhao Chiying, making no reaction to the indignation in his voice, continued, “The competition and trials for the sect leader positions became more and more intense. Victory became Master’s only goal —— he even ignored the past friendship between you two and used some dishonorable means…”
Yun Kunchi cried out, “Sister!”
Zhao Chiying said calmly, “This is what Master told us before he died. You also heard it. I’m only conveying what he said.”
Yue Kunchi insisted, “But…”
The dead deserved to be respected —— such a way of thinking was too deeply ingrained in his mind that he could not see himself speak ill of his diseased master no matter what.
Zhao Chiying continued, “True blue will never stain, and history will judge if one is truly innocent or guilty. Truth will not disappear over time. It is and will always be there. The mistake Master made back then indirectly led to the situation the Jade Cloud Sect is facing today. As his disciples, we ought to bear the consequences. This was also Master’s dying wish before he passed away.”
What she said completely astounded Fan Yuanbai and the others
on the side.
This secret and little-known history ﬁnally came to an end at that chaotic night. Even Zhao Chiying and Yue Kunchi were but two young disciples at that time and couldn’t get a glimpse of the stories behind it, let alone Fan Yuanbai and the others who hadn’t even joined the sect around then.
She said to Ruan Hailou, “Master once told you that he thought you were more capable than he was. You should be the one to inherit the position of the sect leader, and he would not participate in the competition anymore. You believed him. The two of you turned up completely intoxicated that night. When you woke up the next morning, you found yourself lying right next to your master’s youngest daughter. Your master believed you lost control over yourself and had sex with her when drunk, thus incompetent of holding important positions. You couldn’t explain yourself, so you asked Master to testify in your favor. However, what you didn’t expect was that Master turned around and accused you instead. Many years later, Master said on his deathbed that he purposely got you drunk that night. He also knew that your master’s daughter admired you greatly. Therefore, he plotted with her and they put up this play together to trap you. They were able to deceive everyone, even your master. However, you were a person of integrity and an unyielding spirit. Bristled with anger, you clashed with your master and left the sect in a rage…”
Ruan Hailou showed a bitter smile, “That’s right. I will never forget how the person I trusted the most in the world secretly framed me and made such nasty moves on me!”
“Because of this, the disciples started to lose faith in the sect. Not long after you left, Martial Uncle Zhu left as well. The sect, which was already in its last glow, declined even
more. Grandmaster passed the sect leader position to Master, but Master’s heart remained unsettled all these years. He told us the truth before he passed away and said to us that if you ever came back, he wanted to make sure that we told you that he owed you justice for half of your life.”
Ruan Hailou’s face turned deathly pale. There was a strange smile on his lips. “Owed me? If he really thought he owed me, why didn’t he come out himself? Why did he send you instead?!”
His expression suddenly turned ferocious. “He’s not dead, is he?! He has been hiding in the dark and watching us all this time, right? Go make him come out! Call Hui Leshan out!”
There was unnoticeable pity in Zhao Chiying’s eyes. She said, “Master lived in guilt for half his life because of this. He couldn’t get it out of his mind and ended up dying early.”
Ruan Hailou shook his head, “Impossible. How can someone as cunning as him possibly die so early?!”
Zhao Chiying heaved a sigh, “I’m afraid that even my master didn’t know that what he owed you in those years had to be repaid with the blood of most of the disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect. Every debt should be accounted separately. As for the score between us, I’ll settle it with you today.”
But Ruan Hailou seemed like he didn’t hear her, “I don’t believe he’s dead. Where is his grave?”
Yue Kunchi couldn’t stand it anymore. “After each generational sect leader passes away, their remains are cremated and the ashes are sprinkled on the various peaks of Mount Tai. Only their memorial tablets are enshrined in the House of Ancestors. Have you lived as a foreigner for too long that you’ve even forgotten about these things?”
Ruan Hailou slowly closed his eyes. After a while, tears streamed down his cheek, and he didn’t say anything after that.
Zhao Chiying said to Fan Yuanbai and the others, “Go strap up your wounds ﬁrst, then search around to see if any of our disciples are still alive. Finally, lock these people up separately, and we’ll ﬁnd another day to deal with them.”
They agreed immediately.
Pu Anmi couldn’t stop himself from saying out loud, “My master, Kunye, will soon come up to visit Sect Leader Zhao. Please release me ﬁrst. We can talk over it.”
Zhao Chiying asked curiously, “Who is Kunye?”
She had been in a Closed Door Meditation for too many years that she hadn’t even heard of the name Kunye.
“My master is the Left Wise King of Tujue and the disciple of Tujue’s Grand Master, Hulugu. He also defeated the sect leader of Mount Xuandu.” He paused for a second and casted a glance at Shen Qiao. “Oh, yes. I mean this Sect Leader Shen in front of us.”
Zhao Chiying frowned, “What is going on?”
Yue Kunchi, ﬁghting against his injuries, brieﬂy explained the whole sequence of events to Zhao Chiying. Then he added, “We have to thank this Daoist Priest Shen. If it weren’t for him, we would have lost control of the situation before you arrived.”
Zhao Chiying nodded and saluted to Shen Qiao, “Thank you very much for your help, Daoist Priest Shen. The entire Jade Cloud Sect will bear ﬁrmly in our mind the great kindness you have done us.”
“Sect Leader Zhao, that was too courteous of you.”
Zhao Chiying said, “There are too many things waiting for me to settle. If Daoist Priest Shen doesn’t have anything important right now, would you mind taking a rest in our guest room ﬁrst? Please allow me to settle the other things before hearing your advice.”
The battle had greatly undermined the strength of the Jade Cloud Sect. Not to mention ordinary disciples, even among those whose martial arts skill was slightly more presentable, Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue were the only two who survived. Even they were both injured to some degree. As for the rest, their bodies were scattered all over the ground, a scene that was simply heartbreaking to behold.
Even clearing and gathering those disciples’ corpses wasn’t an easy task.
Shen Qiao expressed his understanding of the situation, “I’ll be bothering you for a few more days. Sect Leader Zhao can deal with the important matters ﬁrst, and we can talk afterwards.”
Pu Anmi was not happy to be ignored. Just as he was about to speak up, the sheath of Zhao Chiying’s sword suddenly shot out and directly hit his acupoint, successfully shutting the other person’s mouth.
What was going to happen next was not something Shen Qiao could interfere with. He brought Shiwu to the guest room. No one was available to receive them, and they could not ask a sect leader like Zhao Chiying to perform trivial tasks for them. Luckily, a disciple was at service for the hard work; the diligent little Shiwu ran back and forth between the rooms and soon ﬁnished boiling hot water for Shen Qiao as well as getting a plate of pastries from the kitchen.
Shen Qiao, ﬁnding it both funny and slightly awkward, made Shiwu
sit down next to him and said, “I’m not hungry. You can have them all.”
But Shiwu refused to sit. “I’m not hungry either. Master Shen must be tired from ﬁghting all those people. Let me give you a shoulder massage!”
Shen Qiao stopped his hand and asked, “Shiwu, are you afraid of something?”
Shiwu froze for a moment, then mumbled, “No-not at all.”
Shen Qiao gently stroked his head. “My eyes may not be good, but my heart isn’t blind. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid that I will abandon you?”
The rims of Shiwu’s eyes immediately turned reddish. He lowered his head and didn’t say anything. After a long time, he ﬁnally said, “I shouldn’t be like this. Master wants me to come to the Jade Cloud Sect, and now I am here. I should be happy. But every time when I think about how you are going to leave soon, I can’t help but feel sad.”
Shen Qiao smiled with a sigh, “You silly boy!”
Just before he was about to say something, they heard a faint uproar outside.
There was no time for Shen Qiao to think closely about it. He brought Shiwu with him and went out to check.
The two of them followed the source of the clamour all the way to the hill behind the sect, which wasn’t far from the rear court they resided in anyway. Right next to it was the library and House of Ancestors of the Jade Cloud Sect.
They heard Zhao Chiying shouting angrily, “Ruan Hailou! What are you doing?!!”
She was always the extremely calm type, not blinking an eye even if a mountain was to collapse in front of her. Her way of handling the affairs had left a deep impression on Shen Qiao. However, what was happening right now made her unable to stay composed anymore. Even her voice cracked.
When Shen Qiao and Shiwu arrived, they saw Ruan Hailou standing on the edge of the cliff, facing away from them. He seemed to be holding a wooden plaque in his arms.
The mountain wind was blowing heavily, making it hard for people to open their eyes. Their robes danced and rustled in the air.
Yue Kunchi’s face was turning both pale and black from rage. It looked like he was about to spit out blood at any moment. “Put down Master’s memorial tablet, you bastard!”
Ruan Hailou didn’t even look at them. He only lowered his head and spoke to the item he was holding, “Hui Leshan, you owe me half of my life, yet you died so early to get yourself out of it. You really calculated it well, didn’t you?”
“I killed countless disciples in your sect. You’re going to hate me from the bottom of your heart this time. It doesn’t matter anymore, however, since I’m going to pay you back with my life. But how are you ever going to make up for the half of my life that you owe me?!”
Suddenly, he looked up and laughed sardonically. Those laughs were ﬁlled with endless misery and gloom.
“Hui Leshan! How cruel you are! I really, really hate you!”
As soon as he ﬁnished, he jumped off the cliff!
Someone in the crowd shouted out in surprise. Everyone stared at
the scene and was completely stunned, unable to utter a word.
When Ruan Hailou opened his locked acupoints with brute force and ran towards the House of Ancestors, everyone just thought that the hatred inside him, after accumulating for over ten years, had ﬁnally reached its limit and that he was going to vent it out on the memorial tablet. They absolutely did not expect it to end like this.
Ruan Hailou’s ﬁgure had already disappeared from the cliff edge, but for a long time, the group could not recover from the shock. They didn’t know whether they should bemoan Ruan Hailou’s tragic end or gnash their teeth because they couldn’t punish him themselves. In the end, however, as they thought about those disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect and their miserable deaths, they could only let out a deep sigh.
After a good while, Yue Kunchi said hoarsely, “Junior Sister, he took Master’s memorial tablet with him. Do we need to make a new one for the House of Ancestors?”
Zhao Chiying paused for a moment, then answered, “Leave it like this for now. We can discuss it later.”
She turned around and saw Shen Qiao and Shiwu. “Daoist Priest Shen, do you have time? There’s something I would like to consult with you on.”
Shen Qiao said, “Please go ahead.”
Seeing that Shiwu was following them, Zhao Chiying showed a faint uneasiness. She couldn’t help smiling, “Shiwu, you can come too.”
Shiwu was a little embarrassed. Shy in nature, he uncontrollably hid half of his face behind Shen Qiao. But after a moment of thinking, he felt that it might be too impolite, so he quickly poked his head back out and said, “Thank you very much, Sect Leader Zhao.”
Even Yue Kunchi found the boy very cute. He yielded a snort of laughter but forgot that he still had internal injuries. After he was done laughing, he hissed through his teeth out of pain.
“I told you to rest, but since you won’t listen to me, why don’t you come with us too?” Zhao Chiying shook her head, showing obvious helplessness towards this martial brother of hers, then pointed to the front with her left hand, “Daoist Priest Shen, this way please.”
She led the three into the Hall of the Zenith Sun. This place was originally used by the sect leader of the Jade Cloud Sect to receive honored guests. As the Jade Cloud Sect slowly declined with each passing day, it had been without guests for many years. They could almost sense the smell of desolation and coldness as they walked in.
As soon as Shen Qiao and Shiwu took their seats, they saw Zhao Chiying kneeling and bowing down before Shen Qiao with a solemn expression.
“Why is Sect Leader Zhao making such a big ceremony?” Shen Qiao was very much astounded. He got up immediately to pull her up, but Zhao Chiying stopped him.
“Senior Martial Brother Yue and Yuanbai already told me. You brought Shiwu all the way from Ye City to the Jade Cloud Sect just to fulﬁll Martial Uncle Zhu’s ﬁnal wish. You are a man of your word and deserve this show of respect from me.”
Shen Qiao’s lips stretched into a miserable smile. “There was a sudden accident in the sect so I didn’t have time to explain
the details at that time. I’m afraid that Sect Leader Zhao and Elder Yue might not know about this still, but the reason for Brother Zhu’s death was all because of me.”
He then told them how he was severely wounded during the ﬁght with Sang Jingxing, how he hid himself in the mountain after a narrow escape and then was saved by Shiwu. He mentioned how the abbot and his disciples offered him shelter which ended up in this fatal disaster.
For Shiwu, when he recalled these once again, every frame became a memory of blood and tears. But Shen Qiao had taught him courage; he was no longer that child who would break into tears at every turn. At this moment, he simply clenched both ﬁsts, trying hard to suppress his grief without a word.
After Shen Qiao ﬁnished, the Hall of the Zenith Sun fell into a deadly silence. A moment later, Zhao Chiying said in a deep voice, “They are two diﬀerent things. Martial Uncle Zhu’s death was a tragedy that no one expected. You didn’t want it to happen more than anyone else. He must have walked to his death in peace out of his own will. No one could have forced him. He sought it for a good cause, and he got what he wished. How could you say it’s all your fault? The Harmony Sect clearly knew that Uncle Zhu was a member of the Jade Cloud Sect, but they still murdered him ruthlessly. They should be the ones responsible for this crime.”
The more reasonable she was, the guiltier Shen Qiao felt.
He was willing to be kind to others and didn’t care how much he gained or lost himself. But when others treated him with similar kindness and were even willing to die for him, it made him even more miserable than if they didn’t receive anything in return.
As if he had sensed what was in Shen Qiao’s mind, Shiwu suddenly grabbed his hand.
A small area of warmth covered his palm. Shen Qiao couldn’t resist grabbing Shiwu’s hand in return and wrapped that little warmth with his own.
“I appreciate Sect Leader Zhao’s kindness and consideration. But since it was caused by me, I should be the one to resolve it. It has nothing to do with the Jade Cloud Sect.”
Seeing that the man and the boy had such deep feelings for each other that they could hardly bear to be apart, an idea formed in Zhao Chiying’s mind. She asked, “In Uncle Zhu’s last wish, did he want Shiwu to come to the Jade Cloud Sect?”
“Yes. Even though Brother Zhu left the sect due to certain things and never came back, he always thought of himself as a disciple of the Jade Cloud Sect in his heart.”
Zhao Chiying took the wooden plaque Shiwu handed to her. As she gently stroked the character “Zhu” engraved on it, this calm and self-controlled woman ﬁnally showed a trace of sadness. “The Jade Cloud Sect also had members that ranked within the Top Ten in the past. Unfortunately, due to internal strife within the sect, the number of talented disciples became less and less as time went by. What happened today made the situation even worse. Yuanbai just checked, and only six of our disciples survived.”
Even if they counted Zhao Chiying and Yue Kunchi, it would only bump the number to eight. What could an eight-person sect do? It probably didn’t even need an attack from outsiders to wipe it —— if they didn’t have a slightly more outstanding disciple in the current generation, the sect would cease to exist except in name in less than ten years.
It made Yue Kunchi’s heart ache to hear this. He tried to pull in another person to make up the number, “I have another disciple
in Ye City…”
A name suddenly appeared in Shen Qiao’s mind, “Is Brother Yue talking about Han E’ying?”
“Exactly. Her father was the Palace Attendance of Qi, Han Feng. Her aptitude was not bad, but because of her special status, I didn’t formally take her as my disciple and only treated her as an outer disciple of our sect and taught her a few times. Has Daoist Priest Shen met her before?”
“We met once,” Shen Qiao answered.
The reason he could meet Han E’ying was because he was saved by Yan Wushi, and the reason he came to here today was because Yan Wushi gave him to Sang Jingxing.
There seemed to be a hidden thread connecting all the pieces together. Maybe everything, as it all came to the end, was inseparable to a particular name.
Shen Qiao suddenly remembered what Pu Anmi said that day. He said that Yan Wushi soon wouldn’t be able to save even himself, and Bai Rong had said similar things in the past.
A person as capricious and eccentric like him must have made countless enemies, but if there really was someone in this world who was capable of killing him —— Shen Qiao couldn’t think of such a name. Because even if Yan Wushi’s martial arts possessed a fatal ﬂaw, his state had already transcended that of an ordinary top-rank martial artist, which was very much evident by his ﬁght with Ruyan Kehui. If it wasn’t because of Yan Wushi’s Demonic Core becoming unstable at that time, Ruyan Kehui probably would have probably ended up in a state worse than being unable to ﬁght again for a few months.
There was no more Qi Fengge in this world, nor Cui Youwang, and
Yan Wushi had lost his rivals. In fact, even if Qi Fengge and Cui Youwang could come back to life, with Yan Wushi’s current level of martial arts, they might not be able to win against him.
But Pu Anmi clearly knew what he was saying, and Bai Rong deﬁnitely wasn’t talking nonsense either…
Shen Qiao frowned and temporarily pushed this fact to the back of his mind.
When he thought of the name Yan Wushi, he almost felt like he was still in that forest under the foot of White Dragon Mountain. That intense mental state he was in, the strong desire to destroy himself and take Sang Jingxing down with him seemed to haunt him even till today.
Break completely, then start anew — — it sounded so easy and simple, but for him, it was an arduous journey of half a lifetime, where he crossed over the abyss separating life and death and climbed back up, little by little, from the bottom of that lofty cliff like a ghost.
It was now but a light breeze, but back then, even life was more painful than death.
“Master Shen?” There came Shiwu’s slightly worried voice.
Shen Qiao smiled at him, hinting that he was ﬁne, then said to Zhao Chiying, “Shiwu has arrived at the Jade Cloud Sect safe and sound. May I ask if Sect Leader Zhao already has a plan for him? If there’s anything I can help with, please let me know.”
Zhao Chiying said, “I do have a favor to ask you. It’s about Shiwu.”
Under Shen Qiao’s puzzled gaze, she explained, “Shiwu already has a master in the Jade Cloud Sect. His master is Martial
Uncle Zhu. This will never change. The others, including me, are no longer qualiﬁed to be his master. But I know that Daoist Priest Shen must have taught him well throughout the trip. If Shiwu needs another person to guide him as he grows up and teach him both martial arts as well as how to conduct himself, then I hope that person is you, Daoist Priest Shen.”
Slightly surprised, Shen Qiao said, “But I’m afraid this is against Brother’s Zhu’s wish…”
Zhao Chiying shook her head and said with a smile, “Uncle Zhu wanted Shiwu to return to his sect because he was afraid that Shiwu would have no one to rely on in the future. Now with Daoist Priest Shen’s presence, Uncle Zhu need not to worry anymore. Even though he has left this world, the Jade Cloud Sect’s gate will always be open for Shiwu. It doesn’t prevent him from becoming another’s disciple outside the Jade Cloud Sect. I see that Shiwu is a smart and gifted child. The Jade Cloud Sect is few in number and weak in strength right now. Everything has to start all over again. As someone who doesn’t know much about teaching disciples, I’m afraid that I will waste Shiwu’s great aptitude. It would be the best choice for him to follow Daoist Priest Shen.”
She then said to Shiwu, “Shiwu, you haven’t formally acknowledged Daoist Priest Shen as your master, have you? Given the opportunity that you have us here today as witnesses, why don’t you start with oﬀering your master a cup of tea?”
Joy climbed onto Shiwu’s face. He couldn’t stop himself from looking at Shen Qiao, “Master Shen, may I?”
Shen Qiao could not bear to disappoint him, so he nodded with a smile, “You may.”
Unable to contain himself, Shiwu let out a cheer below his breath.
He knelt down before Shen Qiao at once and kowtowed three times earnestly. Then he took over the teacup Zhao Chiying passed to him, holding it high above his head with both hands, and said loudly and clearly, “By Master’s name, your disciple, Shiwu, promises to revere my master and conduct myself with ultimate sincerity. If I ever violate my pledge, I will be struck by Five Thunders; even Heaven and Earth will not allow it!”
Shen Qiao smiled, his eyes curving into a crescent moon-like shape. After Shiwu ﬁnished, he took the teacup and ﬁnished it in one gulp. Then he pulled Shiwu up and knocked the dust off his clothes.
Zhao Chiying chuckled, “Uncle Zhu really found Shiwu a good master. Daoist Priest Shen, you treat Shiwu not like your disciple but more like your own son!”
Shiwu’s face ﬂushed with undisguised joy.
After the master-disciple relationship was oﬃcially conﬁrmed, Yue Kunchi brought up the real problem, “Pu Anmi said that his master Kunye would soon visit us. He’s probably coming to support his disciple. By that time, when he sees that Ruan Hailou is dead and Pu Anmi is imprisoned by us, I’m afraid he will use it as an excuse to pick a quarrel. I heard that Daoist Priest Shen has had contact with Kunye in the past. Can you tell us what kind of person he is? Is he easy to deal with?”
Shen Qiao thought for a moment and said, “His martial arts are slightly inferior to his senior martial brother Duan Wenyang’s, his manner and vision as well, but he can still be considered as a ﬁrst-rate expert. There may be a battle.”
Yue Kunchi looked worried, “It’s ﬁne if he comes by himself. But if he has brought other Tujue experts with him… There are only a few people left in the Jade Cloud Sect. Martial Sister, you can’t defeat all those powerful enemies by yourself!”
Zhao Chiying said, “Don’t worry. The Jade Cloud Sect has nothing to lose now. We already have our back to the wall. If we don’t ﬁght them, our name will be completely expunged from the pugilist circle. Yuanbai and Yexue are both still young. Elder Brother Yue, please take them down the mountain and hide them away temporarily to recuperate. Daoist Priest Shen should take Shiwu away as well. I was in Closed Door Meditation for too long, and all the responsibilities fell onto Elder Brother. I’ve given you so much trouble. Now I will bear everything myself.”
The rim of Yue Kunchi’s eyes reddened, “What are you talking about? I’m not leaving!”
Zhao Chiying looked a bit impatient, “Your injuries aren’t minor. Even if you stay, there’s nothing you can help with, and you’ll just be adding to our burdens and even distract me. It would be better for you to go down the mountain together with Daoist Priest Shen, so as to avoid having a chatterbox like you loitering before my eyes all the time.”
Yue Kunchi laughed, “I know you don’t want to involve me in danger, and that’s why you said that. The Jade Cloud Sect’s got nothing more to lose anyway. We shall advance or retreat together. I am the one to blame for letting our main gate be breached today. I will never withdraw before the enemy arrives.”
Shen Qiao added, “Sect Leader Zhao, Shiwu and I will stay as well.”
Zhao Chiying frowned, “But you two…”
Shen Qiao said, “During my previous ﬁght with Kunye, I lost and fell oﬀ the cliﬀ. Even though there are some stories behind it not worth telling the others about, my defeat is a fact. If I have a chance to cross swords with Kunye again
today, I will do so with all my strength. Sect Leader Zhao, please leave this opportunity to me.”
“What if I refuse?”
Shen Qiao smiled, “Then I have no choice but to stay here shamelessly, waiting for Kunye to come up to the door.”
Zhao Chiying stared at him for a while, then suddenly sighed, “What virtue have I and the Jade Cloud Sect done to be able to encounter a friend like Daoist Priest Shen?”
“We haven’t known each other for long, but it feels like we’re old friends. Since Brother Zhu can give up his life for a stranger like me whom he met only once, I can also go into battle for the Jade Cloud Sect. Not to mention there is indeed a history between me and Kunye, so it isn’t all for the Jade Cloud Sect’s sake.”
Zhao Chiying had only seen Shen Qiao a few times and couldn’t be said to know him well. But because they experienced the crisis in the Jade Cloud Sect together, she had a very good impression of him. Seeing that he was willing to step forward for a sect that was totally unrelated to him, she felt extremely grateful inside. “Your kindness is too great to be thanked in words. I shall bear ﬁrmly in mind the troubles you have taken. I can’t say I will repay it hundredfold, but if Daoist Priest Shen ever needs us for anything in the future, the Jade Cloud Sect will surely do whatever it takes to help you!”
They discussed Kunye’s matter a bit more and decided on an initial plan. Shen Qiao saw Shiwu was getting sleepy. He got up, bid farewell to the others and brought Shiwu back to the guest room.
On their way back, Shiwu asked Shen Qiao, “Master, when Sect Leader Zhao said that she would bear ﬁrmly in mind the troubles you had taken, what was she referring to? I didn’t
Shen Qiao said, “The Jade Cloud Sect has been declining in recent years. Sect Leader Zhao didn’t talk about it, but she must feel very anxious inside. She knows that in the pugilistic world, only the strong govern. So, she can’t wait to raise her martial arts to perfection in order to protect the sect from the powers out there. Unfortunately, Lu Feng betrayed the sect. He brought outsiders with him and attacked the sect while she was at the critical moment of her training. Sect Leader Zhao had no choice but to forcibly come out of her meditation. Right now, even though it hasn’t shown any signs yet, she is already injured internally because of it. If she ﬁghts against Kunye, I’m afraid she cannot win. She knows that the reason I proposed to ﬁght Kunye myself is to help her, and that’s why she said she was grateful for the troubles I took.”
Shiwu let out a sound of surprise and uncontrollably became a little nervous, “What about you? Can you beat Kunye? I heard you lost to him before. Is he very strong?”
The child was so worried that he blurted it out without a second thought. If it was some other person, they would probably think twice whether such words would hurt Shen Qiao’s pride.
Shen Qiao laughed, “He’s not the strongest, but he does have his forte. Since my martial power hasn’t fully recovered yet, I have no certainty of victory.”
Shiwu asked, “What are your chances of winning?”
Shen Qiao tried to ﬂatten out Shiwu’s tightly knitted eyebrows.
But not only were Shiwu’s brows not ﬂattened, they furrowed even tighter. He was obviously scared by what Shen Qiao said.
Kunye’s martial power was slightly inferior to his martial brother Duan Wenyang, but deﬁnitely not by a lot. Even though his alliance with Yu Ai in poisoning Shen Qiao had brought dishonor to his victory, it didn’t mean his strength was weak. Had Zhao Chiying not damaged her martial power, she might be able to break even with him, but with the current state of things, it was hard to say. If Shen Qiao wasn’t here this time, perhaps the Jade Cloud Sect would really end up defending the sect to the death or evacuating in advance. But even if they could retreat in time, since the foreigners occupied Zhunan Peak, Ruan Hailou’s hatred towards Hui Leshan would surely spread to the rest of the forefathers of the Jade Cloud Sect, and its generations of heritage would be destroyed in a day.
Therefore, what Shen Qiao agreed on was not just a ﬁght or a favor, but an act which could very likely save the Jade Cloud Sect’s tottering and perishing foundation.
Shiwu suddenly threw his arms around Shen Qiao. He buried his head in the other’s bosom and murmured, “Do you have to ﬁght? Your martial arts haven’t even fully recovered yet!”
Shen Qiao hugged back and said, “Fifty-ﬁfty doesn’t mean I don’t stand a chance. If I go all-out on the ﬁght, it is still possible for me to win. I lost to Kunye that day and henceforth fell to the bottom of my life. No matter how many reasons and excuses I have, he is a hurdle in my life, a monster inside me that I must face. It is the place where I fell, so I must learn to pick myself up again from the same spot. Do you understand?”
Shiwu said nothing. He just clung to Shen Qiao. After a long time, he ﬁnally whispered, “I understand…I just don’t want anything to happen to you…”
Shen Qiao laughed, “Nothing’s going to happen to me. I am your master, how can I not live to a ripe old age? I promised that I would live on, not just for myself, but for Brother Zhu’s
sake as well. When you become an old man and your beard turns white, I will still be pulling your ear and lecturing you. Let’s see if you’ll start to ﬁnd me annoying by then!”
Shiwu couldn’t help but break into a smile.
Shen Qiao sighed. He gently stroked Shiwu’s head and said jokingly, “Other people’s disciples all try to show respect to their masters by every possible means, but when it comes to me, I have to make every attempt to please my disciple. A master like me truly has no dignity at all!”
Shiwu made no objection and only smiled. He thought in his head, ‘You are the least digniﬁed master, but you are the best master of all worlds.’
The thought of himself being Shen Qiao’s disciple was more than enough to ﬁll his heart with content.
The mountain foot was quiet and peaceful for the next two days. No outsiders came, which gave the Jade Cloud Sect a great opportunity to rest and reorganize itself. Shiwu helped Fan Yuanbai and the others prepare and bury every single disciple who was killed in the ﬁght. After the slaughter and bloody battle, only desolation and somberness remained in this once somewhat lively sect.
Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue, though they were lucky enough to survive, didn’t look very happy. They were both sad for their lost disciples and anxious about the ﬁerce battle which might come soon. Naturally, their spirits could not be high.
On the third day, the bell outside the Hall of the Zenith Sun rang, and the news soon reached every place in the Jade Cloud Sect —— it was the disciple guarding the mountain pass indicating that someone was coming up and they couldn’t stop them.
When people hurried to the main gate after receiving the news,
they saw a young man standing there with his hands clasped behind him. The two people who followed him both had prominent noses and deep-set eyes. Long hair hung over their shoulders, part of it braided and then tied with a piece of cloth at the end —— such distinct characteristics made it possible for others to tell their identities at a glance.
Zhao Chiying asked in a deep voice, “I didn’t know we had an honorable guest coming. Please accept my apology for not going out to meet you. I am Zhao Chiying, the sect leader of the Jade Cloud Sect. May I have your name?”
“I’m Kunye from Tujue, and I am here to pick up my unworthy disciple,” the other person said loftily. He looked Zhao Chiying up and down, then shook his head, “Are you Zhao Chiying, the sect leader of the Jade Cloud Sect? It is said that you are an extremely gifted person, the reviving ﬁgure of the Jade Cloud Sect. But now after meeting you in person, you are not much else.”
Fan Yuanbai and the others who were standing behind her all glowered at him after hearing it, but Zhao Chiying was shocked inside.
She suddenly remembered Shen Qiao’s comments about Kunye: he had a noble status in Tujue and was also Hulugu’s disciple, and therefore was very arrogant. However, his martial arts were truly overbearing. Even if he wasn’t one of the Top Ten already, he was not far from it. Whether he played tricks in the battle on Half-Step Peak or not, he was not someone who could be taken lightly.
For Kunye to say something like this as soon as they met, he obviously not only looked down on Zhao Chiying or simply tried to enrage her, but he also realized that she had internal injuries and was thus unable to rival him.
His eyes were indeed as sharp as Shen Qiao said before.
Zhao Chiying’s heart sank slightly, but her face didn’t show it. “So it is the Left Wise King of Tujue who has honored us with your presence. Your disciple and Ruan Hailou of the East Island Sect colluded with the traitor of our sect, Lu Feng, and slaughtered countless Jade Cloud disciples. How do you explain this?”
Kunye sneered, “Pu Anmi was invited by the elders of your sect to visit here. Who would have thought what awaited him was not food and wine but your disciples’ weapons? As his master, I don’t even know if he is still alive. How is Sect Leader Zhao going to explain this to me?”
It was pure sophistry. If Kunye hadn’t made a plan with his disciple to come and reap the beneﬁt, how would have he known that Pu Anmi was trapped here?
The people around them started showing angry faces.
After Pu Anmi was taken into custody, Zhao Chiying didn’t kill him, but she could not release him just like this either. Otherwise, if news spread out that the Jade Cloud Sect had succumbed to the Tujue people, they would not be able to have a foothold in the pugilistic world anymore. In addition, Pu Anmi still had to pay the blood debts of the countless lives of their disciples.
Zhao Chiying said coolly, “Both you and I know very well what your disciple has done. It’s useless for you to quibble here. As long as there is still one person left in the Jade Cloud Sect, we will not let you take away Pu Anmi.”
As if he had heard a hilarious joke, Kunye burst out laughing, “Zhao Chiying, I don’t think there are even ten disciples standing behind you. The Jade Cloud Sect no longer exists except in name. What gives you the conﬁdence to say something like that? If I kill you today, there will be no more Jade Cloud Sect in this world!”
“You can kill men, but you can never kill people’s will.”
How familiar the voice sounded! Kunye couldn’t help but raise his brows. He turned back and saw a person walking towards them carrying a sword in his hand.
It was a face he couldn’t have known better, one which he would not forget even in his dreams.
Because he once fought this person on top of Half-Step Peak.
That battle had struck the attention of the entire pugilistic world and made his name known to the Central Plains.
But the person before him, however, suffered a complete defeat, fell from grace and lost all of his martial arts. Even though he was lucky enough to survive, he could at best spend the rest of his life struggling to drag out his feeble existence.
“Shen. Qiao.” Kunye squeezed out the name between his teeth. The emotion in his voice was so complex that even he himself could not explain it.
“I hope you have been well since we last met, Kunye.”
Shen Qiao nodded at him just like that day on Half-Step Peak. But at that time, Shen Qiao was the grandmaster of a sect, greatly admired by everyone in the world, while Kunye had just entered the Central Plains and wasn’t known to many.
Now, time had passed and things were different. Their statuses had changed drastically since then. Kunye was no longer the Kunye from that day, and Shen Qiao no longer that sect leader of Mount Xuandu.
But how could he remain so unperturbed?
The moment they met face-to-face, Kunye had already studied
Shen Qiao’s appearance in full detail multiple times, but he could not ﬁnd the slightest trace of pain or desperation.
Shen Qiao was still Shen Qiao. There seemed to be no changes in him at all.
There were still some.
Kunye suddenly said, “Sect Leader Shen—Ah, wait! I shouldn’t refer to you as the sect leader anymore. Daoist Priest Shen, were you injured when you fell oﬀ the cliﬀ? It seems like your eyes are not too well.”
“Yes, but my eyes have nothing to do with the fall. It was caused by Quietus. As for the reason behind it, shouldn’t you know better than me?”
Kunye shook his head, “You should blame your martial brother Yu Ai. He is the one who poisoned you, not me. When I made the appointment to ﬁght with you, I sent you a written declaration openly, and we fought on the Half-Step Peak openly. Everyone saw it. I never made any sneaky moves on you!”
He looked at the sword in Shen Qiao’s hand and started laughing, “Are you waiting for me here because you can’t accept your defeat? Or are you making an eﬀort to stand up for the Jade Cloud Sect?”
Shen Qiao said, “What happened in the past can’t be undone just like the water ﬂowing by today can’t be regained. Today, I, Shen Qiao, am here asking for nothing but a ﬁght against you. Do you dare to accept my challenge?”
He slowly pulled the sword out of its sheath. The tip of the sword was pointing downwards, slightly quivering. The sunlight reﬂected by
the metal formed a series of dazzling ripples.
The mocking expression on Kunye’s face suddenly disappeared and was replaced by extreme seriousness.
He also drew out the blade he was carrying on his back. Let it be sooner or later, this battle was destined to come.
Kunye could almost sense the excitement running through his body. It was true that he defeated Shen Qiao last time, but deep inside him, Quietus was like a thorn in his heart, constantly giving him the feeling that his victory wasn’t as satisfying.
And this time, he would make Shen Qiao admit his defeat wholeheartedly!