Yuwen Song didn’t know that when he woke, there’d be an extra person in the room, he thought he hadn’t woken up properly, so blinked his eyes several times, couldn’t resist rubbing them, then unsure asked: “Yan-zongzhu?”
Along this journey, he had always shown poise beyond his years, rarely letting slip this kind of childish gesture, Shen Qiao smiled inside, said gently: “You may recognize him, indeed this is Huanyue Sect’s Yan-zongzhu, why don’t you greet him?”
Yuwen Song folded his hands in greeting: “Wanbei Yuwen Song, has seen Yan-zongzhu.”
Yan Wushi made a noise of acknowledgment, was giving him face: “No need for formalities, last time I saw you was two years ago, this passing interval, you’ve grown a lot.”
Yuwen Song: “Thank you Yan-zongzhu.”
Yan Wushi: “Then do you want this venerable one as your shifu?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yuwen Song was struck dumb: “Ah?”
A twinge of colour appeared on Shen Qiao’s face: “Yan-zongzhu is not being very kind, when have you resorted to stealing other people’s disciples?”
Yan Wushi smiled languidly: “But see his reaction, he didn’t refuse right away, so after hearing this suggestion, must have wavered in his heart, compared to you, he must be more willing to be my disciple!”
Yuwen Song hurried to make amends: “I must thank Yan-zongzhu, but this wanbei has already promised Shen-daozhang to enter the Daoist sect, since I have given my word, there is certainly no reason to retract them, so I beg for Yan-zongzhu’s understanding!”
Yan Wushi raised an eyebrow: “What’s good about being his disciple? Can’t do this, have to respect that, but if you came with me, your two shixiong would have more than twenty years on you, in the future I’ll pass the zongzhu seat onto you, Huanyue Sect is very wealthy, in no circumstances would we need you to wear one set of Daoist robes all year, looking at things on the whole, lots of good things to be gained?”
Shen Qiao, annoyed: “Did you come back with me just to steal a disciple?”
Yan Wushi: “If no one asks after him, then it would suggest his potential isn’t that great after all, if I’m fighting with you, then that means your judgment is good, you should thank this venerable one instead.”
Shen Qiao finally understood, if Yan Wushi wanted to, he could gather all of the reason in the world for himself.
Yuwen Song put a hand on his forehead, not wanting to see Shen Qiao rendered speechless, immediately jumped to his future shizun’s aide, trying to divert Yan Wushi’s attention back to him: “Me and Shen-daozhang are headed to Bixia Sect, what are Yan-zongzhu’s plans?”
Yan Wushi: “Yes.”
Yuwen Song: “Ah?”
Yan Wushi, equanimously: “Didn’t you invite this venerable one to Bixia Sect as a guest? I accepted.”
Yuwen Song was dumbstruck.
Wait wait, that wasn’t my intention at all! He sighed internally, looked to Shen Qiao to save him.
Shen Qiao started to say: “Yan-zongzhu, Bixia Sect is in decline, today it is not of high standing, I’m afraid it won’t meet your standards.”
Yan Wushi: “Oh, not to worry, this venerable one won’t make a fuss.”
Shen Qiao forced a smile: “But I am not a disciple of Bixia Sect, on other people’s grounds, I can’t decide their affairs for them.”
Yan Wushi: “Not a problem, when they see this venerable one, they would not refuse.”
Shen Qiao, speechless again, couldn’t help adding: “I don’t understand, there is no connection between Huanyue Sect and Bixia Sect, their sect is weak, probably won’t be able to give anything of value to Huanyue Sect, so why is Yan-zongzhu so set on going?”
Yan Wushi: “Naturally, it’s to give you face, why else would I grant my presence to such a small sect, when they see me, they should trip over their feet in welcome, how would they dare refuse?”
This conversation had no way of continuing!
Shen Qiao almost spat blood, feeling that the other clearly understood but was feigning confusion, moreover couldn’t understand in this brief period they were apart, Yan Wushi’s attitude had shifted remarkably.
If he were to ask further, it would probably be something even scarier.
He thought in silence for a long while, only came up with this one sentence: “What if I don’t want Yan-zongzhu to come along?”
Yan Wushi, astonished: “You just said you can’t decide their affairs for them, so why would your willingness matter, Shen-daozhang, how can you be so unreasonable?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yuwen Song looked at his future shizun in sympathy.
Yan Wushi turned to him suddenly: “You really don’t want to be this venerable one’s disciple?”
Yuwen Song, caught off guard, shook his head like a toy drum.
Yan Wushi didn’t say anything more, just smiled, gentle as water.
But this smile made Yuwen Song shiver.
So like this, what was previously two people on the trip became three.
Facing someone who doesn’t understand refusal, who couldn’t be insulted away, who probably would beat you in a fight, Shen Qiao could only choose to not see him.
But Yan Wushi’s existence by itself was very hard to ignore, the three of them walking together, his handsome-approaching-devilish appearance, often attracted the glances of strangers, like when they had stopped to eat a meal at an inn, almost all of the staff thought they were travelling together, and that Yan Wushi was the one responsible for the bill, will seek him out first on this matter, Shen Qiao tried to remedy this on several occasions to no avail, his efforts exhausted.
Like at this moment.
The three of them had already reached the foot of Taishan, the light of the day had faded, so they decided to stay at the base of the mountain for a night before going up.
It was peak hiking season for the sightseeing, the inns at the mountain base were often full, the owner not expecting travellers so late, hastily came out to greet them, and let the staff bring out a hot meal, filling the table with dishes, smiled apologetically: “So sorry, these days there are so many people hiking up to see the scenery, there’s only one room left, would it be ok?”
Yan Wushi glanced at Shen Qiao, the latter had given up insisting that they were in fact not travelling together, and didn’t say anything despite having the opportunity to intercede.
In his eyes passed a glimmer of a smile, and he reasoned out: “Yes. How large is the room?”
The owner laughed: “Not large, just an inner and outer section, but it exceeds in its elegance, if you see it I guarantee you will be satisfied, all the inns within this ten-li radius, no one has better ones!”
Yan Wushi nods: “Then go bring us a set of weiqi.”
This time of year the people here to view the mountain scenery were mostly literati, wanting to appeal to their interests, the inn had prepared in advance, the owner smiled: “Yes, yes!”
He followed with praise: “Looking at the three of you I thought you were jianghu wanderers, didn’t expect you to have the hobbies of intellectuals, truly talented in both respects!”
Shen Qiao really could not think of any factor that would draw Yan Wushi to Bixia Sect, could only attribute it to another one of his passing temperaments, hadn’t expected that the other would follow through, had come all this way, from beginning to end his interest hadn’t seemed to wane, and didn’t bring up the topic of departure, now they were on the brink of entering the gate of Bixia Sect, Shen Qiao’s headache continued, he was afraid this god-level menace might stir up trouble for the other sect, tried repeatedly to part ways to no avail, rather he had been teased the duration of the journey, leaving him at his wits’ end when he heard that all the inns were full, he furrowed his brows, considered if it would be better to make an ascent the same night, Bixia Sect was mid-way up the mountain anyway, if it wasn’t for Yuwen Song, the trip could be easily done.
Yan Wushi seemed to read his thoughts: “The bed we leave for Yuwen Song, you and I can play a game of weiqi in the outer room?”
Shen Qiao forced a smile: “Yan-zongzhu, what is your real intention coming to Bixia Sect, are you still unwilling to tell me truthfully?”
Yan Wushi: “This venerable one said it was for you, but you didn’t believe it.”
Shen Qiao shook his head, of course he didn’t: “Although my wugong is recovering, perhaps eight to nine parts my previous level, but to insist that I am on par with you, that’s forcing things a bit, in a fight my chances of winning are slim, at this moment I am still not worthy to be your opponent.”
Yan Wushi raised an eyebrow: “Shen-daozhang, I thought Daoist practices were about calmness and serenity with the natural world, and here you are talking about fighting and killing all the time, how violent, if you continue like this what year what month will you reach the next stage of your practice?”
His gaze swept over Shen Qiao and Yuwen Song’s expressionless faces, added mindlessly: “I heard that Bixia Sect has a renowned beauty by the name of Yue Kunchi.”
Shen Qiao, having suffered no small a shock: “That’s the zongzhu’s shixiong, and it’s a man, you are… ?!”
Yan Wushi: “Then the zongzhu must be a woman?”
Shen Qiao: “Correct…”
Yan Wushi: “Then let’s do this again, I heard that Bixia Sect has a renowned beauty, who compared to Yuan Xiuxiu doesn’t lack only exceeds, this venerable one has admired her for a long time, and would desire a meeting.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Saying it like this doesn’t sound like you’ve admired her for a long time at all.
Regardless, Yan Wushi wanted to follow along, Shen Qiao had no counterstrategy, and before figuring out his real intention, could hardly bar him outside, making an enemy out of Bixia Sect.
After their meal, the staff took them to their room.
The room was really as the owner proclaimed, quite elegant in its furnishings and set-up, never mind Shen Qiao who was quite at home anywhere, even Yuwen Song had a happy expression, so looking out for his future disciple, Shen Qiao agreed that spending the night here would be fine.
Yuwen Song was rushed to bed to rest, while Yan Wushi held Shen Qiao back: “Let’s play a round.”
Shen Qiao declined politely: “This poor one’s weiqi skill is unrefined.”
Yan Wushi said without emotion: “That time your eyesight was bad, you could still play a blind round with yourself.”
Shen Qiao didn’t think he’d remember so clearly, felt awkward about refusing further, and so sat down.
The first round, Shen Qiao won by a sliver.
He said to Shen Qiao: “Our skill levels are similar, this time was but an error, you need to give this venerable one a chance to win, only then would it be fair.”
Shen Qiao was going to go sit and meditate, hearing this couldn’t help acquiescing: “Fine, let’s have one more round.”
The second round, Shen Qiao lost to Yan Wushi, this time the board was even more precarious than the last, as if just one move behind.
Yan Wushi generously said: “It was only because I had the first move, this time you can start.”
Shen Qiao creased his brows looking at the board, felt that something was not quite right, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
He had no innate competitive desire to win, and so replied: “No more, win or lose is a common enough thing, one win and one loss, just even.”
Yan Wushi: “This board is like sword style, did you learn something from the game?”
Shen Qiao hesitated, examined the board for a moment, shook his head: “Forgive my slowness, I don’t see it.”
Yan Wushi: “Another round, you can look closely, advance and retreat, exactly like wielding a sword against enemies, once you see it it’ll become clear.”
Shen Qiao has always respected Yan Wushi’s wugong insights, and so hearing this agreed to another round, really focusing this time.
Yan Wushi inwardly said so easy to trick, random words and he will still believe them.
The third round, the two of them finally reached a draw.
In this moment, that piece of dark sky from the sunrise had acquired a faint gold rim.
Shen Qiao examined the board again, finally realizing something, “The board is like a battlefield, can read people’s hearts and military strategy, but I have not seen anything related to sword style practice, did you purposefully dupe me?”
Yan Wushi with a straight face: “Of course not, you’re mistaken.”
He of course would not admit that the other’s appearance when concentrating was just extremely amusing.
Shen Qiao: “Then would Yan-zongzhu please explain your observations, so that this poor one may also understand?”
Yan Wushi getting to his feet: “It’s morning, this venerable one will go wake Yuwen Song, jade unworked does not become an instrument, he should practice his sword.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Shen Qiao brought Yuwen Song with him up the mountain, Yan Wushi as always trailed behind not close not far, looking around left and right, a leisurely posture.
After Bixia Sect suffered the calamity, there were few left in the sect, posted to lookout around the property, there were no extra hands that could be delegated to the base of the mountain, Shen Qiao had a straight route directly to just before the sect gates, before a figure carrying a sword walked towards them.
“Who is the esteemed guest visiting Bixia Sect?” After speaking they saw that it was Shen Qiao, their guarded expression at once turned into joy, even their tone changed: “It’s you, Shen-daozhang!”
Shen Qiao smiled: “Yuanbai, your wugong has improved again, that’s worthy of congratulations!”
Fan Yuanbai was Yue Kunchi’s disciple, naturally would be considered Shen Qiao’s wanbei, directly using his name was not disrespectful. Shen Qiao on the day of his fight with Kunye, everyone in Bixia Sect saw with their own eyes, they had no qualms about his ability, so when he heard Shen Qiao say this, Fan Yuanbai was instead very happy: “Many thanks Shen-daozhang for your praise, please come in, shizun and sect leader were still thinking about you, seeing that you were gone so long without any contact, we even looked for news of you, heard that in Chang’an you fought two Hehuan Sect elders, they died beneath your sword, everyone in Bixia Sect was very happy, you are really strong!”
With outsiders he usually didn’t say much, after becoming familiar he would talk ceaselessly, Shen Qiao smiled as he listened, and didn’t interrupt, let him speak until he was content.
Among Bixia Sect’s disciples, although their numbers were fewer, they were more united, after so much loss, after grief, there were instead smiles on peoples’ faces, their interactions friendlier, along their route the disciples they encountered were just two or three small cats, but Shen Qiao had done Bixia Sect a huge favour, anyone seeing Shen Qiao had a similar reaction to Fan Yuanbai, so by the grace of Shen Qiao’s presence, Yan Wushi and Yuwen Song followed him into the sect without being subject to further questioning.
Only Yan Wushi’s appearance stood out too much, drew plenty of curious stares, compared to Yuwen Song who didn’t attract too much attention.
Zhao Chiying was in the middle of discussing matters with Yue Kunchi, hearing of Shen Qiao’s return, hurried out to welcome them.
After many days apart, Zhao Chiying’s charisma was the same, her features would not be considered extraordinary, but she was accomplished and beautiful, being sect leader also lent her an air of generosity and tolerance that was quite uncommon, this sense of presence, even on Hehuan Sect zongzhu Yuan Xiuxiu, Shen Qiao had not seen before.
Zhao Chiying folded her hands together and smiled: “Shen-daozhang has finally returned, Taishan is close to the east sea, more than one thousand li away from Chang’an, news is slow to travel, the event outside Chang’an where you were up against three, we’ve just heard about not too long ago, we’re even more bowled over by Shen-daozhang’s charisma, and now here you are!”
Shen Qiao returned the greeting: “I was gone for a long while, leaving Shiwu here, causing trouble for Zhao-zongzhu and everyone here!”
Zhao Chiying: “Shen-daozhang speaks too politely, Shiwu is a good kid, he has a lot of self-discipline for someone so young, without anyone prompting before sunrise he will join the other Bixia Sect disciples in their morning training, diligently without fail, everyday.
Shen Qiao hearing this was reassured, shared a few more words with Yue Kunchi.
Zhao Chiying had long seen the two people standing behind him, one big one small, and so smiled: “And the two of you are?”
Shen Qiao coughed: “One is Huanyue Sect’s Yan-zongzhu, the youth is called Yuwen Song, I brought this child back from Chang’an.”
From Chang’an, with the surname Yuwen, one only need to have heard the tale of Shen Qiao’s battle with Hehuan Sect, against an army of one thousand brought out Yuwen family’s remaining orphan, and it would not be hard to guess Yuwen Song’s identity.
However, everyone’s attention was caught by the first part of his sentence.
A person’s name, a tree’s shadow, once Huanyue Sect zongzhu’s identity was revealed, everyone’s reaction was a moment’s shock, the curious gazes on Yan Wushi turned complicated, there was awe, fear, surprise, there were some who couldn’t believe it, no one was unaffected.
Most of Bixia Sect’s disciples had never seen Yan Wushi in person, but that hadn’t stopped them from hearing the legends about Yan Wushi, to them, Qi Fengge and Cui Youwang were close to legendary figures, and someone who could challenge those two in a fight and be evenly matched, that Yan Wushi, was also pretty much the stuff of legends.
Under these various gazes, Yan Wushi stood with his hands clasped behind his back in a relaxed stance, not uneasy in the least, evidently used to this by now.
Shen Qiao descended the mountain to save someone, in between so many ups and downs, Zhao Chiying had heard the rumours, but still the distance was far, and she didn’t know exactly what happened, she didn’t expect that when Shen Qiao went to rescue a person, he would bring this person back with him, and so was momentarily shocked, returning to her senses, folded her hands in greeting: “Yan-zongzhu’s name precedes him, I am Bixia Sect’s Zhao Chiying, I welcome Yan-zongzhu’s gracious visit, only our sect is diminished, if there’s any inadequacies in our hospitality, please forgive us!”
As the zongzhu of Bixia Sect, Zhao Chiying’s attitude could be considered extremely courteous.
Given the rumours about Yan Wushi’s temperamental moods, Zhao Chiying didn’t want to insult the other over a minor detail.
Yan Wushi: “Zhao-zongzhu runs things fairly, the sect’s is well-disciplined, I have long heard of its reputation, along our journey A-Qiao also praised Zhao-zongzhu often, today in-person, I find of-course all this is true, I hope my abrupt visit will not complicate things for Zhao-zongzhu.”
Yi, what a normal response!
Not only was Zhao Chiying caught by surprise, but Shen Qiao was too.
At this moment, Yan Wushi was smiling, warm and courteous, his whole body emanating a “easy-going” vibe, no where was there a hint of the arrogance characteristic of the demonic sects.
Only this “A-Qiao” seemed a bit overly familiar, Shen Qiao having heard it so many times was long numb to it, the bystanders felt it was a bit strange, but couldn’t really say why, could only attribute it to the fact that Shen Qiao and Huanyue Sect’s Yan-zongzhu had an unusual relationship.
After this good start, everything followed smoothly, they each paid their respects, sat down, Shiwu after hearing the news ran over, their reunion was a moving scene, Shiwu looked up to Shen Qiao with childhood admiration, directly ran to give Shen Qiao a hug while everyone was watching, Shen Qiao saw that he had grown taller, and was reassured.
Yuwen Song to the side was judging this future shixiong, was curious, but a bit disappointed.
Clearly the other was older than him, how come their mannerisms and speech were weaker than him, so reliant on shizun, when would he be able to stand on his own?
He seemed to have forgotten, in those few days right after departing Chang’an his unsettled heart, every night it was him that needed to see Shen Qiao’s figure before he could fall asleep.
Putting aside these childish ruminations for the moment, Zhao Chiying said to Shen Qiao: “Shen-daozhang came back at the right time, Bixia Sect today has precious few people, we need to bring on new disciples quickly, me and shixiong were just worried about this, would Shen-daozhang be willing to help discuss this?”
Yue Kunchi tactfully said: “Zongzhu, Shen-daozhang has just arrived after his journey, he’s probably exhausted, shouldn’t they rest a bit before continuing our conversation?”
With his reminder, Zhao Chiying was slightly embarrassed: “Shixiong is right, it is me who’s too rushed, let Yuanbai bring you to your quarters to rest, Shen-daozhang would it be ok if you stayed in the same house you were in last time?”
Shen Qiao nodded: “Yes, I thank Zhao-zongzhu for her care, Qi-lang can stay next door to Shiwu, that way it’s easier for them to connect.”
Zhao Chiying: “Great, to the east side of our sect there is a bamboo dwelling, reserved for the use of esteemed guests, if Yan-zongzhu doesn’t mind, he can stay there.”
The house Shen Qiao stayed at last time was one used by the sect elders, the intention was that Bixia Sect didn’t see him as an outsider, but if Yan Wushi were to stay there, it would look like a slight.
However Yan Wushi said: “No need to trouble you, I’ll stay where A-Qiao is staying.”
Zhao Chiying’s face was still: “Ah? Is that not very convenient?”
Yan Wushi raised an eyebrow: “Nothing inconvenient, on our journey, we would often arrange things this way, this venerable one doesn’t even remember how many times we’ve shared lodgings.”
Although this wasn’t false, somehow when it came out of his mouth it seemed to take on a different flavour, Shen Qiao couldn’t help but interject: “That was when we were travelling and had to make do, and compromised, today Yan-zongzhu can stay more comfortably, if you refuse, it would go against Zhao-zongzhu’s good intentions.”
Yan Wushi: “It’s no problem. Me and A-Qiao’s relationship isn’t a common one, he looks at Bixia Sect very favourably, so you don’t have to consider this venerable one an outsider either, as you will, there can’t be not a single vacant house next door to his?”
Although he was smiling when he said this, Zhao Chiying clearly felt a domineering pressure, under this type of gaze, her scalp stiffened involuntarily, without thinking on it further the words had left her mouth: “There is…”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Then that works.”
This time his smile, was different from the last, Zhao Chiying felt the pressure on her body lifting.
She secretly breathed a sigh of relief, hurried to call Fan Yuanbai to take them to their quarters to rest.
After Shen Qiao and the others left, inside the meeting pavilion there remained just the the two of them, Yue Kunchi revealed a heavy expression: “Whoever Yan-zongzhu wants to stay next door to, it’s not like there’s no space, let him be, I saw that Shen-daozhang didn’t outright refuse, clearly permission given, back there I wanted to advise you not to go against Yan-zongzhu’s wishes, who knew I almost couldn’t get out a single word.”
He didn’t know that the reason Shen Qiao didn’t outright refuse, was because he knew it was futile to refuse.
Zhao Chiying, with a grimace: “At risk of being laughed at, I’ll tell you I was not much better than you. Bixia Sect and Huanyue Sect have never had relations, a small temple can’t house a large god, we don’t know what his intentions are coming here, would it bring Bixia Sect misfortune?”
Yue Kunchi was less worried: “We have Shen-daozhang here, I don’t think he will do anything, knowing Yan Wushi’s tumultuous character, we should just be careful, and let all the disciples be a bit more tactful in their speech, in case we insult him.”
Zhao Chiying nods: “This is true.”
Fan Yuanbai had brought them to the houses they were to be staying at, these houses were cleaned regularly, neat and tidy, inside were placed some plants and grasses, exceedingly stylish.
“If Yan-zongzhu or Shen-daozhang need anything just send word, we’re here for you anytime.” Fan Yuanbai wanted to talk to Shen Qiao a bit more, seeing Yan Wushi was still standing beside him, didn’t manage to say an extra single word, could only honestly finish what he was saying, hurriedly close the conversation, flee in defeat.
Shiwu was still young, didn’t have a huge sense of things, he had been waiting so long for Shen Qiao and Zhao Chiying and them to finish speaking, for a chance to catch-up more privately, although Yan Wushi and Yuwen Song remained alongside, it was no obstacle to his desire in pulling aside Shen Qiao to say: “Shizun, you were gone for so long, this disciple missed you a lot.”
Shen Qiao patted his head: “While this teacher was gone, I also missed you, I heard you were doing well in Bixia Sect, and you even grew a little taller?”
Shiwu nodded shyly: “Bixia Sect’s shixiongs treated me very well, after shizun left, I practiced the sword everyday, I didn’t want to let you down, now I already can wield the whole set of Canglang Sword Style!”
These words carried with them an air of playfulness and praise-seeking, Yuwen Song couldn’t help frowning to himself, intoned he’s older than me by several years, do I really have to call him shixiong in the future?
Shen Qiao smiled: “Really? Then why don’t you wield it now for us?”
Shiwu hesitated: “Will it interfere with shizun’s rest?”
Shen Qiao: “We rested last night at the base of the mountain, now it’s not yet past noon, it’s still early, this teacher is not tired.”
Hearing this, Shiwu happily went to go get his sword.
He had only been studying the sword for less than a year, in the way of the sword he was only a beginner, so the sword he carried was wooden, and not a real one.
Under the gaze of three, he stood in position and greeted them, twirled his wrist, made the starting stance, hand raised sword fall, each motion each form was performed methodically, quite regular, not badly done, but not outstanding, compared to Yuwen Song’s natural calibre, was still slightly lacking, but Shiwu knew his base was average, so put in extra effort, this set of sword style was by now very familiar to him.
“Please advise me, shizun.” Shiwu pulled back his sword and stood still, said this earnestly.
Shen Qiao didn’t want to hurt him, so started with the positive: “Your movements are well-practiced, I can see your efforts, in this time you definitely haven’t slacked off.”
Then he added: “But in this sword style there were some forms that were used incorrectly, in the future it will affect their power, this teacher has only demonstrated it to you once, it would be difficult to remember every detail, today I’ll demonstrate it to you again from beginning to end, you should watch carefully, and compare it to your own.”
Shiwu said seriously: “Yes.”
Shen Qiao did not use shanhetongbei sword, but took from his hand the wooden sword, smiled gently: “Canglang Sword Style, as the name describes, the sea has no edge, the waves surge forth, the rocks repeatedly swallowed by the sea, and repeatedly breaking its surface, the day brilliant, every wave powerful, this is that kind of grand landscape, one who practices this sword style, must contain the sea that receives a hundred rivers, that equanimity, only then can you perform its essence. Ascend Taishan, see the sea, you should look far into the distance, the days are long, you will realize in time.”
Saying this, without waiting for a response from Shiwu, he raised his sword!
The same wooden sword, in the hands of two different people, showed a completely different kind of power, if Shiwu could be described as merely a first-look in the doorway, the set of sword style wielded evenly, making Yuwen Song bored out of his mind, then when Shen Qiao moved his sword, he had to open his eyes wide, as if he could not believe the two were wielding the same sword style.
The wind swung clear, sword shadow fell everywhere, even though he hadn’t used his zhengqi, that wooden sword seemed to glow in its own light, following Shen Qiao’s form and movement, Yuwen Song could almost see the surging sea, flying rain melting cloud, reflection in the water, standing in the mountainous waves, was a lone person.
Before their eyes there remained a person, between the sky and earth there remained only this person.
After completing this set, Shen Qiao stood still, Yuwen Song still saw the scene from before, it didn’t fade for a long time.
Yan Wushi held a smile: “A-Qiao in the way of the sword is exceptional, has entered the realm of the grandmasters.”
Shen Qiao: “I thank Yan-zongzhu for his favour.”
He wielded the sword style not for Yan Wushi to admire, but for Shiwu and Yuwen Song: “Did you gain something from that?”
Shiwu mumbled: “Forgive this disciple’s bad way with words, I just feel overwhelmed, like something is about to burst from my chest, but if asked to describe it, I wouldn’t be able to.”
Shen Qiao gave a gentle reply: “No matter, no one can look once and reach divinity, you can think on it slowly, if there’s something you don’t understand just come ask.”
Shiwu voiced his agreement.
Shen Qiao turned to Yuwen Song: “You haven’t formally entered training, these last few days we’ve only done some meditative practice, if you don’t have anything to add it’s fine.”
Yuwen Song: “I have a thousand words, but it can be covered by a few.”
His manner of speaking was always like someone much older, Shen Qiao found it funny: “Which words?”
Yuwen Song: “Like the cloud and the hidden moon, drifting like the wind and returning snow. Looking into the far distance, bright like the sun rising in the mist; once observed, burning like a lotus above water.”
This was the part in <Luo Shen Fu> singing about Luo Shen’s beauty.
Shen Qiao: “…”
He didn’t know how to react, but it had to be said, Yuwen Song had captured one element of Canglang Sword Style, and that was “I carry ten thousand permutations, under the sword lighthearted and drifting.”
On this point, Yuwen Song compared to Shiwu was more naturally inclined.
Yan Wushi said coldly: “He has no knowledge base in the martial arts, reciting <Luo Shen Fu> only to flirt, this kind of calibre is wasted on words alone, allow this venerable one to work on him!”
Saying this not waiting for others’ response, he pressed a palm onto Yuwen Song’s shoulder, the latter yelped, body sinking involuntarily, then the meridians on his upper body were sealed!
“Yan-zongzhu?” Yuwen Song gaped, maintaining a forced squat, he couldn’t move, the tragic part was he didn’t know where he went wrong.
Yan Wushi saw Shen Qiao opening his mouth to speak, smiling-not-smiling said: “To speak frivously towards shifu, even in Huanyue Sect which is known by all to be a demonic sect, will result in discipline, A-Qiao, you’re so kind teaching your disciples, I should help you get your disciples in line.”
Shen Qiao face unreadable: “Yan-zongzhu has finally stopped trying to steal my disciple?”
Yan Wushi drawled: “For the sake of his life, I won’t fight over him anymore, otherwise the first day I accept this disciple I will have killed him.”
On that first day, with the exception of Shen Qiao and Shiwu, no one saw how Yan Wushi treated Yuwen Song, and so all of Bixia Sect’s disiciples thought he was someone easy to get along with, different from the rumours.
On the second day, they found they were mistaken.
All the disciples were out for morning training, in the square they practiced with each other, Yan Wushi stood to the side with his hands behind him, even if it was Yue Kunchi or Zhao Chiying personally demonstrating, he would have found inadequacies, the condescending tone was complimentary.
Bixia Sect’s disciples were not happy, stepped forward to challenge him, unsurprisingly they were all beaten to the ground, in the end Yue Kunchi and Zhao Chiying also lost against him, past noon by the time Shen Qiao emerged from seclusion, heard the disturbance and rushed over, Yan Wushi had already toyed with Bixia Sect from top to bottom.
Of course, given Yan Wushi’s ability, if he wanted to massacre the entire sect it would not have been a hard thing, but you a grandmaster, instead of finding an opponent on your level, chose to bully this small sect, what the hell was that? It really couldn’t be to find some sense of accomplishment, to find yourself some joy?
If Shen Qiao wasn’t here, Bixia Sect would have thought this person was here maliciously.
Shen Qiao facing a chorus of groans and moans from people lying on the ground, could only force a smile and apologize to Zhao Chiying.
Zhao Chiying was generous, gestured with her hands: “Yan-zongzhu just saw that our wugong was lacking, offered us some tips on how to improve, to have this kind of opportunity, Bixia Sect is only too happy to accept.”
After she had spoken this way, everyone felt that it was indeed true.
Most of them, in their entire lifetimes would not be able to come close to the skill level of a sect leader, never mind catch a glimpse of Yan Wushi’s shadow, people admire the strong, to have crossed paths with Yan Wushi, never mind if beaten badly, even if severely injured, it would have been worth it, to have not wasted this soujourn on the road of martial arts.
Once this thought occured, the gaze in which they looked upon Yan Wushi, went from the fear-dissatisfaction of before, to respect and admiration.
Yue Kunchi was holding his arm exclaiming that shimei definitely had the air of a sect leader, when he heard someone beside him say casually: “Pining by yourself for some ten twenty years, but still haven’t confessed, what does it feel like, this venerable one has never experienced it, please advise.”
This sentence was like an arrow to his heart, succeeded in hitting the innermost workings of his heart, hearing it made Yue Kunchi’s hair stand on end, a big turn in his expression.
The way he looked at Yan Wushi was like he was looking at a ghost.
Before Yue Kunchi could reply, Shen Qiao had pulled Yan Wushi away.
Yan Wushi didn’t resist, letting Shen Qiao pull him to the side, still smiling amicably.
Shen Qiao held his forehead: “Yan-zongzhu, do you have a lot of free time?”
Yan Wushi, surprised: “Why would I? Everyday I have to play with you, and I have to advise this bundle of scrapwood, I’m very busy.”
Shen Qiao grimaced, speechless, finally found his voice again: “You should be in Chang’an assisting the new emperor, yet a thousand li later you came with me to Bixia Sect, probably not just to tour the scenery, or to tease others this kind of aimless thing, all things considered, Yan-zongzhu is still unwilling to tell me your purpose?”
Yan Wushi: “If you call me by a different name, this venerable one will consider telling you, how about it?”
Shen Qiao, baffled: “What name?”
Yan Wushi: “How about Yan-lang?”
“…”Shen Qiao muttered to himself of course he’s just toying with me, gave no reply, turned and walked away.
“Jianghu’s configuration will transform again, if you want to go to Xuandushan, better later than now.”
Yan Wushi’s one sentence successfully halted Shen Qiao’s steps.
The latter froze, and then asked: “How do you know I want to go to Xuandushan?”
Yan Wushi chuckled: “A-Qiao, your heart is written all over your face, the one who knows you is me, how can I not see it?”
Shen Qiao didn’t realize Yan Wushi was teasing him again, actually thought that the other was very perceptive, could in one glance see through his processes, with this one skill, although his words and actions were harsh, it was still worth learning from other’s strengths to mitigate his own, so earnestly asked for his advice: “I honestly can’t call you by that name, even if I were to manage it, you’d get a moment’s glee, how would that help? When it comes to appraising worldly affairs or people, I am far behind, so I implore Yan-zongzhu to tell me truthfully, I am willing to offer something else in exchange.”
Yan Wushi, delighted: “Fine then, just remember, you owe me one thing.”
Shen Qiao considered this, nodded: “You cannot ask me to do something that defies the logic of the heavens, or causes harm.”
Yan Wushi: “Murder to me is like removing a disaster that’s wasting life potential, surely it cannot be counted as defying the logic of the heavens, why aren’t you willing to do it?”
Shen Qiao furrowed his brow: “If you’re going to be this stubborn and unreasonable, then just pretend I didn’t ask.”
He said this and made to leave again, but was held back by Yan Wushi, the latter smiled: “Ok, ok, I was just joking, what you consider against heaven’s will, this venerable one will not make you do anything like that, this way you won’t object?”
The relationship between the two of them was quite remarkable, if you were to say enemies, this wouldn’t be right, but if you were to say friends, it also wasn’t how friends typically treated each other, at the very least Shen Qiao’s other acquaintances like Zhao Chiying and Yue Kunchi wouldn’t speak to him that way.
Shen Qiao wouldn’t be able to think of flirt, intimate, these kinds of suggestive words, he just felt that Yan Wushi has always been like this: temperamental, does what he wants; he was used to it by now, and so said: “Then Yan-zongzhu, please advise.”
Seeing the flames were close, Yan Wushi knew it was time to stop: “Do you know Han Feng?”
Shen Qiao: “Previously known as one of the three lords along with Mutipo, northern Qi’s official Han Feng? I remember his daughter is one of Bixia Sect’s outer disciples, we met that one time in Ye City, but back then my eyesight was bad, so I don’t know what she looks like.”
Yan Wushi laughed: “Yes, I almost forgot that incident, our A-Qiao is pretty, no surprise you won her over easily, and she used the chance to flirt with you?”
Shen Qiao didn’t understand: “Why are you bringing her up suddenly, merely because of her relation to Bixia Sect? Is this why you came to Bixia Sect?”
Yan Wushi: “Yes, and no. I came to Bixia Sect for three reasons, she’s only one of them, and the least important one. Han Feng with Gao Wei are friendly with Zhou, she’s more loyal than her father, recognizes Gao Shaoyi as emperor, wants to help restore the country, because of this relation to BIxia Sect, she very likely may come seeking assistance from her sect, persuading the sect to join their faction.”
Shen Qiao: “Bixia Sect after that calamity, their strength was greatly reduced, no power to intention, and Zhao-zongzhu wholeheartedly wants the sect to distance themselves from politics and struggle, even if Han E-ying came herself, she probably would decline this kind of proposal.”
Yan Wushi disagreed: “You understand, but some people are muddled when they’re in the middle of things, may not be able to see things clearly, this matter you should find a chance to clarify with Zhao Chiying, if Qi wants to restore their country, they will have to side with Tujue, Bixia Sect is small, if they’re not self-aware and side with Tujue, in the end things will not end well.”
Shen Qiao observed: “Zhao-zongzhu doesn’t seem like that kind of person, Yan-zongzhu seems quite prejudiced against her, did she wrong you previously?”
Yan Wushi did not follow this train of thought, abruptly changed the subject: “Yuwen Yun relies on Xueting that old bald donkey, and the wholly unrelated Hehuan Sect, surely to equilibrate who holds power in court, he feels only this way can he control things, but no one is a fool, how can they not see through his intentions, whether Xueting or Hehuan Sect, they’ll seize this opportunity to broaden and expand their interests.”
Shen Qiao turned this over in his head: “Is this why you said earlier that jianghu’s configuration will transform? Huanyue Sect has become less visible in their operations, a good idea to wait things out, but if Hehuan Sect rushes to expand, you will surely run into conflict with them, are you not afraid that Huanyue Sect will suffer some losses?”
Yan Wushi smiled carelessly: “Silly A-Qiao, they have Yuwen Yun’s support now, and are like the sun in the sky, isn’t it better for them to gnaw and rip into each other, why would I jump out and give them a reason to stand together? In their expansion, they will not overlook Xuandushan this piece of fatty meat, and your Yu-shidi is very proud, won’t be able to stand the transgression, then there will be conflict, that’s why I’m saying, you don’t need to rush back to Xuandushan right now.”
He paused: “Duan Wenyang recruited all these powers to kill me, and acting in parallel, got the father-son pair to maim each other, do you know the reason behind all this?”
Shen Qiao nodded: “The people from Tujue don’t want to see a united north, so Yuwen Yong must die, and the you that supports Yuwen Yong must also die.”
Yan Wushi smiled: “The time you’ve spent out in the world, looks like it wasn’t a waste, but you were cuter when you first woke up and couldn’t remember anything, transparent as glass and ice, you believed everything that was said.”
Shen Qiao’s face darkened: “Because I was easy to trick, Yan-zongzhu must have liked that?”
Yan Wushi, satisfied: “A-Qiao knows me well!”
This person truly didn’t save any face, Shen Qiao wanted to turn around and leave, but in the end couldn’t do it, Yan Wushi had said a lot just now, some things he could see clearly but hearing the other’s words was like collecting the scattered weiqi pieces from the floor, move cloud see moon, water fall rocks emerge.
“You mean, the enemy to worry about, is not Xueting nor Hehuan Sect, but Tujue?”
Yan Wushi: “Duan Wenyang’s plot began the moment he entered the capital to see Empress Ashina-shi, or even earlier, and the jinglian flower ring he sought out at Su Manor from Su Wei’s mother is not a simple ring.”
Shen Qiao: “Right, that time Qin-laofuren and Duan Wenyang both said that it is a heirloom.”
Yan Wushi: “I’ve had some people investigating, and only found out recently the answer, that ring is a heirloom, and not an ordinary heirloom, but evidence that Hulugu defeated all of Tujue’s masters back in the day, it’s also a symbol of position, it can summon the masters from twenty-some Tujue divisions east and west, Tujue’s borders are vast, these people are usually scattered across its territory, even Taspar Qaghan himself might not be able to mobilize them, but with this heirloom, everything can be accomplished effortlessly.”
Shen Qiao: “From what I know, Duan Wenyang’s wugong is top-notch, but I heard he is of mixed-blood, so doesn’t hold a high position in Tujue, with only this heirloom, I doubt he would be able to gain their allegiance…”
At this point, he paused: “What if, Hulugu was still alive?”
If he were still alive, it could only be him that could righteously use the heirloom to summon Tujue’s twenty-some masters.
If things were really like this, then everything will become more complicated and merciless.
More than twenty years ago, Qi Fengge and Hulugu crossed paths, he won by a small margin, and forced the other to make a vow to not enter the central plains for twenty years, now the time period has passed, Shen Qiao’s shizun was dead, if Hulugu was still alive, his wugong would only exceed his previous level, with all these movements on the part of Tujue, if he wanted to enter the central plains again, the purpose wouldn’t simply be to reminisce, when the time comes who would be able to stop him?
Yan Wushi: “This is a possibility, but right now there’s no evidence, for now we’ll ignore him.”
Shen Qiao returned from his ruminations: “Before you said there were three reasons you were staying at Bixia Sect, we’ve only talked about the first, what are the other two?”
Yan Wushi smiled: “The second, is for you.”
Shen Qiao: “…and the third?”
Yan Wushi: “Also for you.”
Shen Qiao grimaced: “This poor one with what virtue what ability, is not worthy of Yan-zongzhu’s attention.”
Yan Wushi: “You do have virtue and ability, why aren’t you worthy of my attention? Aside from virtue and ability, don’t you also have a beautiful face, there’s nothing more I could ask for.”
At this moment, Fan Yuanbai walked over, came up and greeted them: “Yan-zongzhu, Shen-daozhang, our sect leader has sent word, these days we hadn’t expected your arrival, so didn’t have time to prepare, today we’ve prepared a banquet, and hope that you will attend.”
Without waiting for Shen Qiao to speak, Yan Wushi had taken his hand: “Zhao-zongzhu is too kind, we will humbly accept.”
Shen Qiao couldn’t pull back his hand: “…It’s not like I’m not going, Yan-zongzhu what are you doing?”
Yan Wushi: “A-Qiao, haven’t you heard of the saying arms together walk together?”
Shen Qiao: “That’s only for close friends!”
Yan Wushi, astonished: “Are we not close friends?”
Shen Qiao: “…This poor one has not had that kind of revelation.”
Yan Wushi: “This venerable one under Banbu Peak saved your life, this is a huge favour right?”
Shen Qiao: “…Yes.”
Yan Wushi: “Outside Weizhou City, I left you to draw out Sang Jingxing, were you not moved in the least?”
Shen Qiao: “…I was, but don’t forget, I’ve also saved you many times.”
Yan Wushi: “Isn’t that the case, in this world how many people can have such life-and-death exchanges like you and I, to have such a stylish, charming person like myself as your friend, don’t you feel blessed?”
Shen Qiao: “Can I say no?”
Yan Wushi: “No.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Fan Yuanbai beside them watched and gaped, thought wow Shen-daozhang and Yan-zongzhu are very close, no wonder he would bring Yan-zongzhu with him to be a guest here, it looks like when Yan-zongzhu was critiquing our wugong, it was probably for Shen-daozhang, the disciples really misunderstood that he was looking for conflict, it shouldn’t be this way, I’ll go back and explain.
Fan Yuanbai thought Shen Qiao was a good person, so Yan-Wushi must also harbour good intentions, this was a completely beautiful misunderstanding, if Shen Qiao could hear his thoughts, would have told him in no uncertain terms that Yan Wushi had definitely been looking for conflict.
The three of them had arrived in the flower pavilion, the banquet had already been set up, Zhao Chiying had hired the cooks from the inns at the base of the mountain to prepare their meal from fresh ingredients, the taste would naturally be better than what was usually prepared by the disciples.
The number of Bixia Sect disciples were few, they all fit seated around a large table, Zhao Chiying stood first to raise her cup of wine, expressed her welcome to Yan Wushi’s visit, hoped that he would not mind the austerity here.
Yan Wushi was actually very respectful, raised his cup in return: “No need for formalities Zhao-zongzhu, A-Qiao’s character is gentle and kind, the things he cares about, I don’t mind worrying about them on his behalf.”
Shen Qiao thought: you were the one who followed me, what does this have to do with me?
Zhao Chiying thought: why do these words sound a bit strange?
She didn’t think on it much further, smiled and put down her cup: “Although this banquet was specially prepared by cooks invited up the mountain, the taste might be different from Chang’an, I don’t know if it is to Yan-zongzhu’s preferences, I hope you don’t mind and are at ease.”
After the opening, everyone in no particular order raised their chopsticks to eat, Shen Qiao remembered the reminder Yan Wushi had made about Han E-ying, and while he was seated next to Zhao Chiying, took the opportunity to inquire.
Zhao Chiying, a face of surprise: “Han E-ying was accepted by Yue-shixiong when he was out touring, could be counted as a outer disciple, I’ve never met her, never mind other relations to Bixia Sect, thank you Shen-daoxiong for informing me, I’ll also ask Yue-shixiong, will keep an eye out on this matter, but Bixia Sect is greatly diminished, even if she were to look for supports, we would probably not be up to her standards.”
Saying those last words, she sounded a bit sad.
Shen Qiao helped her think of a strategy: “What if you were to go to the base of the mountain and accept some disciples of good calibre?”
Zhao Chiying:”Daoxiong, you previously were the head of Xuandushan, forgive this question, can I ask how Xuandushan recruited new disciples?’
Shen Qiao: “At the base of Xuandushan is Xuandu Town, the small town is prosperous, every year Xuandushan will send someone to recruit disciples, they’ll set up in town, if there’s anyone willing to enter the sect, they can come give their name, and then we will arrange things based on their calibre and personality.”
Zhao Chiying sighed: “Of course, it was me who overstepped, Xuandushan is the number one Daoist sect in the world, they wouldn’t need to worry about new recruits! To be frank, with the state of Bixia Sect, daoxiong you understand, the ones who come up the mountain looking for a master, these kids often don’t have any calibre, their bodies are also past the ideal time to start martial training, those that have calibre won’t venture a thousand li to come to Bixia Sect, they would rather go to another sect, things as they are, the situation can only get worse.”
As the head of her sect, it was natural for her to think about its development in the long run, to uphold a sect, required human talent, if there was no new talent, the desolation of the sect was inevitable.
The biggest problem for Bixia Sect was the lack of talent, under Zhao Chiying and Yue Kunchi, like Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue these disciples’ calibre were nothing extraordinary, truthfully, in the future at their peak would only be second or third rank, it would be difficult for them to enter the realm of the first rank masters, if things were to continue this way, Bixia Sect may end with Fan Yuanbai’s generation.
Shen Qiao sympathized with her turmoil: “As I see it, Zhao-zongzhu is still young, no need to worry so far ahead, perhaps in a couple of years you’ll recruit a good disciple!”
Zhao Chiying forced a smile: “I can only hope!”
Shen Qiao was going to say something else, but from his other side a spoon was held up to him, followed by an affectionate: “Open up.”
Seeing Shen Qiao glare at him, Yan Wushi smiled, unruffled: “Did you forget you owe me one thing, does eating this spoonful defy the logic of the heavens, or does it cause some kind of harm?”
Eating this spoonful was obviously not against the heavens nor causing harm, but he would under the watch of many pairs of eyes fall into this predicament, any normal person would not choose to open their mouth.
Shen Qiao had sensed that since meeting Yan Wushi at Huang manor again his attitude towards him had undergone a remarkable shift, if you were to say the other previously harboured the cruelest intention, ushering him towards death, then now the other was more happy to see him humiliated, caught in awkward situations.
But why this shift in attitude, Shen Qiao had no answer, could only say that Yan Wushi had found another interest.
“A-Qiao, I remember you like to eat fish, this fish is fresh and tender, it probably suits your palate.”
As if to confirm Shen Qiao’s hypothesis, Yan Wushi’s face really carried an amused smile, cruel however you looked at it.
The two of them glared at each other for a moment, even the others beside them could sense a hint of something unusual.
Shen Qiao slowly said: “Thank you Yan-zongzhu for your kindness, but this poor one has hands and feet, so will not waste the hard-earned promise that Yan-zongzhu received.”
Yan Wushi raised his brow: “A-Qiao, you are someone who always keeps your word, surely you won’t break a promise over such a small request?”
Shen Qiao had an idea: “Well that’s because Yan-zongzhu was first to break his word.”
Yan Wushi: “When have I not spoken truthfully?”
Shen Qiao: “Yan-zongzhu your memory is truly terrible, you previously said, you only require opponents and not friends, how come after this short while, this poor one has become your close friend?”
Yan Wushi hid a smile: “That’s not called breaking my word, but time and situations change, at that moment I really felt this way, but the way a person thinks will change, otherwise A-Qiao when you were three and wouldn’t walk when you saw tangren, today if you saw tangren would you still be unable to walk?”
Shen Qiao huffed: “I just know that there are some people who really cannot walk when they see tangren!”
He was talking about ‘Xieling’.
Yan Wushi, face showing shock, purposefully misintrepreted this: “Really, there’s a person that’s so enduring in their devotions? Isn’t that perfect for a close friendship?”
How could this person be so shameless, backwards forwards horizontal or vertical he’ll have a reason!
Shen Qiao knew he couldn’t win with words, seeing how the others were all looking at the two of them, started to flush, felt how childish it all was, lowered his voice and said: “We’re in public, Yan-zongzhu please respect yourself, if you want to argue then we can talk about it when we return!”
Yan Wushi smiled: “I’m just offering you a spoonful of fish, how am I not respecting myself?”
Saying this he continued to push the spoon towards Shen Qiao, Shen Qiao retreated to avoid him, raised his hand to object, Yan Wushi didn’t appear to move but a flip of the wrist and the spoon appeared in his other hand, continued towards Shen Qiao, things appeared inevitable.
The two of them had not moved, their sleeves turned, in a moment they had passed several moves, everyone else watched with their mouths open.
Many of them still didn’t understand what was happening, Zhao Chiying was contemplating whether to intervene, several Bixia Sect disciples thought this was a rare opportunity to learn, and were looking closely at their movements, afraid to miss anything.
Shiwu, when things got physical, made to get up, but was held back by Yuwen Song.
“Shixiong should look closely, shizun and Yan-zongzhu are just having an exchange, and not really fighting, otherwise by now the place would be demolished, how could they still be seated steadily?” Yuwen Song said.
Shiwu was still worried: “They were fine just now, why did things get physical?”
Yuwen Song looked at their movements, unconcerned, said: “Maybe it’s because Yan-zongzhu was displeased with shizun, and purposefully looked for trouble?”
Shiwu had a scare: “Why is Yan-zongzhu displeased with shizun?”
Yuwen Song was mature for his age, but some things he only knew in part, so couldn’t say for sure, hearing the question just shook his head: “I think he felt ignored by shizun just now, so was unhappy.”
Shiwu seemed to realize something, carefully considered this, but felt something about it was still not quite right.
Those two fighting, the back and forth was quite spectacular, people were afraid to blink, had pretty much forgotten the origin of the fight, Yan Wushi still held the spoon in one hand, only using his wrist and arm in the exchange, with his other hand he picked up a peanut from the tabletop and flung it at Shiwu.
Shen Qiao seeing this made to block the attack, his sleeves wide, a clap a sweep, the action graceful, carrying with it the leisurely ease characteristic of the Daoist sects, everyone couldn’t help sigh at the sight, never mind the Bixia Sect disciples, even Zhao Chiying and Yue Kunchi had admiration written on their faces.
But in this instant, Yan Wushi had already wound his hand up to the other’s waist, and pressed the spoon to the other’s lips, the hand at his waist made to seal his meridians, Shen Qiao arched his body to avoid it, on the other end his defences slipped, that spoonful of fish had entered his mouth.
The whole exchange happened in a breath, not waiting for Shen Qiao’s response, Yan Wushi retreated entirely, said: “Shen-daozhang really doesn’t say what he means, if you want to eat it why make an ordeal, making me put so much effort in, you should’ve opened your mouth earlier.”
This was totally…!
Shen Qiao swallowed the fish with some difficulty, between quitting the banquet in rage and directly beating up the other he was undecided.
The former made a gesture of apology towards their host, the latter appeared to be minimizing his antics.
But this was totally…shameless, could not be endured!
Do I have a face that asks to be bullied, being toyed with like some trinket in the palm of your hand?
Shen Qiao’s face darkened, this time he was truly angry.
But he didn’t erupt at the scene, because in that case will cause trouble for Zhao Chiying, instead he nodded slowly: “Yan-zongzhu’s technique is better, I cannot compare, thanks for the lesson.”
Then raised his cup to Zhao Chiying: “Thank you Zhao-zongzhu for taking care of Shiwu while I was out, I don’t drink wine, so will substitute with tea to pay my respects to Zhao-zongzhu.”
Zhao Chiying stole a glace at Yan Wushi, the latter was still smiling, joy or anger was not apparent, it was hard to tell.
She said candidly: “Shen-daoxiong no need to be formal, you’ve done Bixia Sect a huge favour, our friendship is close, this small thing you don’t need to mention it, never mind one Shiwu, even if there were ten of him, Bixia Sect can still afford to feed them, if we’re talking about appetites, Shiwu eats less than Yexue!”
Shiwu, embarrassed: “How can you compare this, Zhou-jiejie is older!”
Everyone seeing him like this burst into laughter, the brief interlude from before was promptly forgotten.
After the banquet ended, Shen Qiao bade his farewell to Zhao Chiying and the rest, and brought Shiwu and Yuwen Song back to their houses to rest.
After settling them, Shen Qiao returned to his own house, and saw that someone was standing at his door.
The moon was bright, under the eaves was a lamp, illuminating the other’s features clearly.
Shen Qiao was still angry, didn’t want to speak even a half-sentence, thought if I can’t deal with you I can certainly hide from you, so without speaking, turned and walked away.
But someone was faster than him, Shen Qiao had only taken one step, before his arm was held.
Shen Qiao pulled his hand back, expressionless: “Yan-zongzhu, please respect yourself.”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Still mad?”
Shen Qiao had no words.
Yan Wushi: “I was just teasing you, without any ill will, if you’re upset, I’ll make it up to you.”
Shen Qiao said quietly: “Yan-zongzhu’s offer to make reparations, I honestly cannot undertake, first you said you didn’t need friends, then you said this poor one was not qualified to be your friend, I accepted this, later when I went to save you, it was for the sake of your connection to Yuwen Yong, only if Zhou is peaceful, can the entire north have peace, I had no ulterior motive, and never wanted your thanks or for you to return the favour, now that you have recovered, all the more reason for the bridge to remain a bridge, the street to remain a street, Yan-zongzhu has his sunny streets, this poor one has his plank bridge, I have but two sleeves in the wind, no possessions, I don’t know what has attracted Yan-zongzhu’s attention, why time and again you make things difficult? Please tell me directly, this poor one will change!”
He was greatly influenced by Qi Fengge, combined with his propensity towards kindness, generosity, never holding back on treating others well, even the deepest injury, like how much Yu Ai harmed him, after Shen Qiao’s sadness and anger had passed, he wouldn’t spend his days and nights grinding his teeth, plotting the other’s demise.
Yan Wushi was the exception, after falling off the cliff their lives were enmeshed, give and take, who owed who it was not so easily said, but bitten by a snake one day, terrified of rope for ten years, Shen Qiao just wanted to avoid him, better not to see him at all, alas things did not go as planned, he still couldn’t understand, in the world, people better and more beautiful than Shen Qiao number in the thousands, people more downtrodden more tragic also in the thousands, why won’t Yan Wushi let him be.
All of these longstanding discontents multiplied, from his heart emerged a feeling akin to the inexpressibility of self-pity, without knowing where to begin.
Shen Qiao felt exhausted.
This expression of self-pity and gloom appeared very cute to Yan Wushi, even the current bored angle of his mouth, without him being aware of it, reflected the moon’s tenderness.
Except this tenderness was barely-there, and Shen Qiao didn’t see it.
“How has this venerable one made things difficult for you, if I really wanted to do that, I have many crueler and harsher methods, why would I pull this kind of harmless joke?”
Shen Qiao, furious: “How can this be called harmless, in public, you, you actually…”
Anger simmering in his chest, he momentarily was at a loss for words.
Yan Wushi snorted: “Come on, let me make it up to you, don’t be mad anymore, what about if this venerable one personally went to the kitchen and made you a bowl of soup for forgiveness?”
Shen Qiao twisted his head: “No need!”
Yan Wushi pulled him along: “The words I said before, even if they hurt you there’s no way around it, words that have been spoken are like water out of a basin, they can never be taken back, this venerable one can’t take on the childish stance of it’s-too-late-to-regret, you’re a great person, will you really be like the commoners, never forgetting the events that have already passed by, continuing to carry it with you? Everyone says Shen-daozhang is generous, doesn’t count past grievances, how come you treat this venerable one differently, unless this is the fate they speak of in legends?”
Shen Qiao rage-laughed: “Fated for disaster!”
Yan Wushi didn’t seem to mind: “Disaster fate or lifetime fate, left or right it’s still fate, in the Daoist sects they teach fate, how come when it comes to yourself, you don’t know how to go along with it.”
Shen Qiao: “As I see it, you shouldn’t be called Yan Wushi.”
Yan Wushi: “Then what should I be called?”
Shen Qiao with a cold laugh: “You should be called always-has-a-reason, horizontal or vertical there’s reason for everything!”
Yan Wushi laughed.
Shen Qiao was pulled into the kitchen, in the afternoon the cooks had just used the space, there were still ingredients left, and they were fresh.
Yan Wushi: “Give me fifteen minutes.”
Shen Qiao knitted his brows: “I’m not hungry.”
Yan Wushi didn’t even turn his head: “I know, you were so angry you ate it for supper.”
Shen Qiao choked.
Yan Wushi moved fast: using his inner qi to speed up the cooking fire, the water boiled quickly, the fish, starch, egg was mixed evenly, molded into balls, boiled, sprinkled with scallions, salt, thus two bowls of fish ball soup were completed.
Martial masters also have to eat and sleep, even if Yan Wushi had a high-ranking position, when he travelled he couldn’t always bring along a slew of servants, there will be times he has to cook for himself, when the two of them were on the road fleeing, Shen Qiao already saw his culinary skills, so at this moment wasn’t too surprised.
Shen Qiao scooped a spoonful into his mouth, found it tasted pretty good, although his anger hadn’t dissipated, but couldn’t say it tasted bad out of spite, and so started to eat without making a sound.
Then, the other offered him his spoon.
Shen Qiao: “What’s this for?”
Yan Wushi: “I thought I was making amends?”
Shen Qiao, confused: “Then why are you giving me your spoon?”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Before I fed you, you weren’t happy, now you can feed me, we each get a turn, and then we’ll be even.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Right now he really wanted to upturn his bowl of fish ball soup onto the other’s head.
Life at Bixia Sect was even-keeled but flew by quickly.
With Zhao Chiying as witness, Shen Qiao let Yuwen Song formally perform the rites to become his disciple, while he was teaching his disciples, he didn’t let his own wugong training fall to the wayside, day after day, his inner qi gradually crept towards his previous level, even had the semblance of surpassing it.
Although Zhao Chiying was worried about the continuation of Bixia Sect, she also recognized that the most important task before her was teaching the disciples well, in case not only do they not find a piece of jade but also lay waste to the existing tree shoots.
With Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao these two top-tier masters present, her expectations towards her disciples were higher, her standards were more strict, everyone complained to no avail, could only appeal to Yue Kunchi, good-person Yue Kunchi was caught between his shimei and the disciples, appeared more troubled everyday, mired in chaos.
Yan Wushi appeared to put down roots in Bixia Sect, didn’t make any mention of leaving, Bixia Sect couldn’t shoo him away, moreover from time to time Yan Wushi could advise them on their wugong, although this advice was accompanied by ridicule sharper than knives, everyone in Bixia Sect could only accept this pain and joy.
Within the mountain no day no night, but outside lots of things were happening.
After Yuwen Yun took power, he recommended Xueting-chanshi as guoshi, poured his support into Buddhism, and in his mother’s name, built Buddhist temples broadly, the influence of the Buddhist sects that under Yuwen Yong’s rule had been greatly suppressed, was emerging out of the shadows.
On the other hand, Yuwen Yun greatly used Hehuan Sect, mimicking the previous emperor’s relationship to Huanyue Sect, allowed their influence to enter court, surveillancing the court officials, and let Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects each rein in their footholds in jianghu, but everything at his disposal.
Under these circumstances, the Buddhist sects and Hehuan Sect used the opportunity to expand, from Chang’an spreading to the north, many small-medium sects under their coercion and force, either aligned with the Buddhist sects, or merged into Hehuan Sect.
Lingyin Temple, Duyuanzhai, etc., originally big names among the Buddhist sects in jianghu, soundlessly were taken over by court, to be governed exclusively by the guoshi.
In the case of Taohuawu, Pingshantang these small sects, collapsed on account of the deaths of their leaders, in the end were forced into Hehuan Sect.
Almost in one night, the Buddhist sects and Hehuan Sect, like crushing dry weeds, quickly expanded their influence, and became colossal beasts.
Yan Wushi’s previous predictions, after half a year, came true.
In the early dawn at the foot of Taishan appeared an uninvited visitor.
He held his sword during his ascent, his footsteps light, as if on flat ground, it didn’t take him long to reach the gates of Bixia Sect mid-way up the mountain.
Zhao Chiying was guiding her disciples in sword practice, heard Fan Yuanbai’s report that someone was here from Qingchengshan’s Chunyang Sect, and was waiting outside.
Bixia Sect and Chunyang Sect’s relations were good, lots of back and forth, but with Bixia’s Sect’s diminishment and Chunyang Sect’s growing strength, the bonds formed in the previous generations had thinned considerably, although Chunyang Sect had not minded Bixia Sect’s smaller doors, but the two sects were geographically far apart, in the case of Bixia Sect’s last calamity, far waters could not quench immediate fire, if not for Shen Qiao’s descent from the heavens, and they had to wait until after Chunyang Sect received their message and then for them to get here, even the huanghuacai would be cold.
The news from the outside world arrived intermittently, Zhao Chiying did not know as much as Yan Wushi, but she was aware of Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects’ push for power, Bixia Sect, the mountain tall, the emperor far, for now they could preserve themselves, but for Chunyang Sect to send someone this way at this time, it must be something important.
Thinking about this, the visitor had been brought forward by Fan Yuanbai.
His face was cold, dignified in appearance, his steps were steady, and as he walked, the hand that held his sword was also very steady, not a hint of a tremor.
Looks like Chunyang Sect will have a fine successor. Zhao Chiying thought to herself, was a little envious.
“Chunyang Sect disciple Li Qingyu greets Zhao-zongzhu.”
Zhao Chiying: “You must be Yi-guanzhu’s most accomplished disciple? The name Twin Jades of Qingcheng is well-suited, Yi-guanzhu is very fortunate!”
Li Qingyu: “Zhao-zongzu is too kind.”
Zhao Chiying: “I was in seclusion for a long time, I haven’t seen Yi-guanzhu since coming out of seclusion, I bet his wugong realm is more advanced than before.”
Li Qingyu was evidently not adept at small talk, he said: “In truth, I came here on this occasion, to pass on a message from Liuligong, for the matter of the shijiandahui.”
Zhao Chiying and Yue Kunchi looked at each other.
“If I remember correctly, shijiandahui happens once every ten years, and counting this year, should only be the ninth?”
Li Qingyu: “This is true, but not too long ago Liuligong sent people to Chunyangguan, saying they want to borrow the grounds at Chunyangguan to hold the conference earlier, shizun agreed, so sent me to pass along this message, and invite Zhao-zongzhu to attend.”
Around Fangzhangzhou and the outer islands, commoners look but cannot reach it, there is an island with a sect, and that was Liuligong, they were self-sustaining, are rarely delved into the power struggles of the central plains, but they really enjoyed recording the history and names of the martial arts masters of the central plains, like the “World’s Top Ten Masters” rank-list that everyone liked to talk about, was made by Liuligong, the once-every-ten-years shijiandahui were also hosted by them.
Liuligong’s disciples were not known for their wugong skill, and didn’t have a reputation for much, but because of this tradition, if someone from the jianghu encountered them, tended to be respectful, after all they didn’t have any stakes in the martial world of the central plains, there was no need for a life-or-death fight, if anyone was unsatisfied with the ranking, they can personally go find the one ranked above them, no need to make trouble for Liuligong.
If wugong can be improved in ten years, the rank-list ten years later will naturally change, in the arts there is no first place, in martial arts there is no second place, when it comes to wugong, it’s not like something you can muddle through, who was first in the world, who’s wugong is better, it becomes clear at a glance, even if it were close, they would only need a match to know win-lose, high-low.
Shijiandahui was the derivative of the martial masters rank-list, once every ten years, the invitations sent out broadly, anyone could attend, have a martial arts exchange. Liuligong’s location was far, they would borrow the grounds of a sect in the central plains, the sect that was chosen had a chance to grow their reputation, and was usually too happy to do so.
The one responsible for the ranking, their wugong didn’t have to be good, but their judgment had to be sharp, the reason that the rank-list from Liuligong was recognized by all was because the previous iterations had very few errors, like Qi Fengge, ten years ago he was still alive, although he didn’t attend shijiandahui, he was still ranked first, in clear conscience, no one disagreed.
In these years as Liuligong became more widely known, there were of course other masters that appeared on the scene, after the deaths of Qi Fengge and Cui Youwang, there had not yet been a reiteration of shijiandahui, as everyone couldn’t wait for Liuligong’s rank-list, they came up with their own “World’s Top Ten”, Shen Qiao, a person who had never appeared in the jianghu but had the mantle of Xuandushan zhangjiao was also included in the list, though after the fight between him and Kunye, defeated and fallen, busybodies added Kunye and Yu Ai’s name to the list.
But these were not rankings made by Liuligong, when news of an early shijiandahui was released, it stoked many people’s ambitions, jumping at the opportunity, because apart from “World’s Top Ten” this kind of rank-list, Liuligong also will make rankings such as “Sword List” “Knife List”, the sword being the most popular weapon, its practitioners were plenty, so the rank-list for sword-users, became an area of attention for many.
True grandmasters, in the realm of Qi Fengge, Yi Bichen, Xueting-chanshi, hardly needed to use the Liuligong rank-list to boost their reputation. Even if their names were not on the list, it wouldn’t affect their reputation, Liuligong’s rank-list was like adding flowers to a beautiful brocade.
For Shen Qiao, he couldn’t care less about this kind of thing, if he were still head of Xuandushan, if Yu Ai’s backstabbing hadn’t happened, if he received news of shijiandahui, he probably wouldn’t even send any delegates.
Apart from this, lots of people needed Liuligong to garner acclaim, Liuligong also needed this method, to prove themselves to the world, both sides benefitted.
Zhao Chiying didn’t crave reputation, but for the future development of her sect, Bixia Sect really needed to recruit new disciples, if herself or Yue Kunchi did well at shijiandahui, certainly there would be many who would then seek them out based on their reputation.
“I thank Yi-guanzhu for sending you with this message, Bixia Sect is geographically isolated, if we were to wait for news to reach us, we probably would have missed it.”
Li Qingyu: “If Zhao-zongzhu is prepared, I can accompany you on the journey, help each other along the way.”
Zhao Chiying: “Li-daoyou doesn’t have other sects to attend to with the message?”
Li Qingyu: “On this matter it is Liuligong’s responsibility to notify the sects, only because Chunyang Sect and Bixia Sect have always been on good terms, did shizun send me. We heard Bixia Sect recently underwent a calamity, our sect was too far away, couldn’t send our support in time, we hope Zhao-zongzhu doesn’t blame us.”
He was Yi Bichen’s designated disciple, his position was not an ordinary one, rumours were that he would inherit Yi Bichen’s mantle, and become the future guanzhu of Chunyangguan, when it came to wugong, Zhao Chiying’s was likely slightly lesser. To have him personally deliver the message, in reality was giving Bixia Sect plenty of face, Zhao Chiying couldn’t not recognize this, so was very respectful towards Li Qingyu, didn’t hold her position as sect leader above him.
Zhao Chiying: “I also know far waters cannot quench an immediate fire, would not dare to call upon Yi-guanzhu, to receive your regards on this ordeal, I am already grateful, after I explain things to the disciples, tomorrow we may depart, if Li-daoyou doesn’t mind, he can rest here for the night.”
Li Qingyu nodded: “As Zhao-zongzhu wills.”
Suddenly he seemed to remember something: “Can I ask Zhao-zongzhu, if Shen Qiao Shen-daoxiong, is also here at Bixia Sect?”
Shen Qiao at dawn was going to teach his disciples the sword, but was instead requested by Yan Wushi to the mountaintop for practice, Yan Wushi remarked that it had been a long time since he practiced the sword, wanted Shen Qiao to parry with him. He even borrowed a sword from Yue Kunchi, who knew it would remind Shen Qiao of past events, and asked of him “where is the taihua sword you got in exchange that day from Sang Jingxing?”
That year Yan Wushi had fought Cui Youwang and lost, even taihua sword was lost to the other, later passed into his disciple Sang Jingxing’s hands. But Yan Wushi was very conceited, thought no matter how great the sword it remains external to the body, if taken by an opponent, one gives them leverage against you, two adds humiliation to injury, so decided to leave the sword behind, and created his own spring water finger technique, walked into the world alone.
So that time he exchanged Shen Qiao for taihua sword, he really didn’t care about the sword, just wanted to humiliate Shen Qiao, to make him understand he wasn’t even worth a sword, thus falling into total despair.
As for taihua sword after he got it back from Sang Jingxing, he turned around and tossed it to Yu Shengyan, didn’t even look at it.
But no matter how arrogant Yan Wushi was, he knew these thoughts were not suited for saying out loud, otherwise the equanimity that Shen Qiao had towards him would end up completely obliterated and expended.
Maybe the Yan Wushi from back then would never have predicted, there would be a day, he would step into a hole dug by himself.
Luckily Shen Qiao did not pursue the matter further, with this small question moved past it.
The two of them fighting on the mountaintop, after some hundred exchanges, the sun had taken its shape, bathing everything in a gold light, brilliant in all directions, Shen Qiao lost by a margin, not because his sword moves were not skilled, but because his inner qi had not recovered to what it was at his peak, and Yan Wushi had the help of the scroll fragment, in the short span of three months had remedied the flaw in his demonic core, and advanced another level, one could see his natural potential, marvel at the talent.
People who are born talented, were often very proud, and found it hard to accept the presence of someone who was even more talented. Shen Qiao did not have this problem. His personality was kind, towards others and things he had a tolerant heart, when things went wrong he examined himself first before blaming others, he put away his sword and stood still, folded his hands in respect: “While my master was still alive, he had said that in a few years, Yan-zongzhu and him be evenly matched, today it would appear to be the case, thank you for the lesson, this poor one gained more.”
His praise was not flattery, but an earnest acknowledgement that the other was stronger than him, his thanks were given genuinely, did not on account of the loss default into jealousy or rage, a win was a win, a loss was a loss, did not need to be affected by feeling or history, Shen Qiao saw it quite simply.
Yan Wushi felt that he wouldn’t mind looking at his determined appearance a hundred times over, before however much he wanted to see person totally fall into darkness and oblivion, transformed into hate and rage at the world, was now how much he liked this warm, soft-heartedness.
He replayed the other’s countenance in his mind, smiled and said: “A-Qiao, our relationship as it stands today, what you said was too formal.”
Our what relationship today? Shen Qiao grimaced, forced himself to tolerate the other’s frequently irrelevant speech, if he tried to protest, naturally a thousand replies and reversed reasoning awaited him.
He repeated to himself several times “always-has-a-reason”: “It’s getting late, I should go advise Shiwu and Qi-lang’s sword practice.”
Descending from the mountaintop, two people one in front the other following, the one in front was a little rushed, the latter followed not too close not too slowly, and always stayed within 5 steps, resembling the current state of things between them.
Between innocence and ambiguity, lotus root cut strings still tethered, something wanting but not wanting to be said aloud.
Shen Qiao returned to Bixia Sect’s back gardens, saw someone standing at his door, the other saw Shen Qiao walking closer from a distance, his youthful but cold expression revealed a smile that hadn’t even been shown to Zhao Chiying.
“Shen-daoxiong, long time no see.”
Shen Qiao paused, recognizing the other, also smiled: “Li-gongzi, long time no see, how have you been?”
“I’m very well.” Li Qingyu was not a very expressive person, that smile just now was quite rare, his smile quickly vanished, returning to this usual calm, unruffled appearance, but one could tell that he was in a cheerful mood.
Shen Qiao’s impression of Li Qingyu was good, that day although the other started off by underestimating him, later did lend him his sword, which assisted him in his victory against Duan Wenyang, he was a straightforward person, but wasn’t good with words, had a bit of a solemn appearance, but in truth was an outside-cold-inside-warm kind of person.
“While I was in Chang’an, I received a lot of help from Su Qiao’s family, and was able to bring Qi-lang out of the ambush, how is your shidi’s family doing now?”
Li Qingyu nodded: “He’s very well, after Zhongnan Sect was forced to join Hehuan Sect, the Su family and some other disciples came to to Qingchengshan, now they are safe and well.”
Shen Qiao sighed in relief: “That’s good to hear, it looks the situation in Chang’an is not ideal, they probably will not be able to return for some time?”
Li Qingyu voiced his agreement: “Dao-xiong how is your wugong recovering, if you have time, will you parry with me?”
He was a fool when it came to the way of the sword, seeing Shen Qiao was like seeing a sheathed, mysterious, sharp, treasure sword, not wanting to relinquish it, desiring to examine every inch of the other person, though not in intent of a filthy origin.
Seeing the other’s bright eyes, Shen Qiao couldn’t laugh or cry: “I…”
He had only said one word before Yan Wushi continued the conversation: “A-Qiao is going to advise his disciples now, I’m afraid he has no spare time to waste on you, if you want to parry, why not let this venerable one advise you.”
Li Qingyu looked at him: “Who are you?”
Yan Wushi’s lips curled: “If you can defeat this venerable one, this venerable one will naturally tell you.”
Li Qingyu’s gaze drifted downwards, paused on the wooden sword he held in his hand, suddenly shook his head: “You don’t use the sword often, your knowledge base broad, in the way of the sword, you’re not as good as Shen Qiao, and as of now my inner qi cannot compare to yours, no need to have a fight.”
Yan Wushi smiled amiably: “This venerable one has never seen someone who knows themselves so well, you can be the first.”
Li Qingyu’s gaze abruptly sharpened, the two looked at each other, he nodded: “Oh this is Huanyue Sect’s Yan-zongzhu.”
Yan Wushi raised an eyebrow: “Looks like you recognize this venerable one?”
Li Qingyu made a noise in the affirmative: “I heard Yan-zongzhu wildly proclaimed himself number one in the world, seeing you today, this was not in falsehood.”
Seeing these two prepare sword and notch crossbow upon meeting, was completely out of Shen Qiao’s expectations, he said: “Yan-zongzhu, Li-gongzi is an esteemed guest of Bixia Sect…”
His sentence was left unfinished, as Yan Wushi laughed: “Then let this venerable one see this esteemed guest’s abilities!”
He stretched out an index finger, fast as lightning, but also graceful and precise, it was indeed the famous spring water finger technique!
Shen Qiao had an impulse to stop him but it was too late.
Over there a big noise, Li Qingyu had only pulled out half his sword qiushui, that half of sword edge was blocked by Yan Wushi’s index finger, after the brief contact, Li Qingyu took three steps back, sword forced back into its sheath.
Yan Wushi then pulled his hand back and stood still, not moving.
The difference was clear.
But this was expected, although Li Qingyu was one of the top martial artists of the younger generation, could still not yet hold a conversation with Yan Wushi, as he said himself his inner qi could not compare to Yan Wushi, it would appear Yan Wushi forced his hand, and was guilty of bullying this wanbei.
Li Qingyu held his sword and folded his hands in respect, pushing down his rage, slowly said: “Yan-zongzhu’s inner qi is domineering, I cannot of course compare.”
With emphasis on the words inner qi, it meant that he considered the only reason Yan Wushi could win, was not due to his technique or skill, but qi level alone.
Prepare sword notch crossbow, on the verge of eruption.
Yan Wushi laughed coldly.
Blocking his next impulse, Shen Qiao had stepped forward saying: “Li-gongzi, the situation with the death of the head of Zhongnan Sect, and being forced to join Hehuan Sect, surely has repercussions in the jianghu, I want to know what happened, I don’t know if Li-gongzi has time to tell it to me in detail?”
Li Qingyu glanced at Yan Wushi, then nodded: “Of course I can.”
Shen Qiao extended his hand to invite him inside: “After you.”
Then said to Yan Wushi: “I don’t know if Yan-zongzhu would like to join us, or has other matters to attend to?”
As Shen Qiao saw it, Li Qingyu was here as a guest, and was provoked by Yan Wushi for no reason, required an apology, if the two really had a fight, no matter who was injured, it would make things difficult for Bixia Sect.
Yan Wushi suddenly smiled, ice melting into spring wind: “You guys chat, I’m a bit hungry, I’ll go down to the kitchens to see what they have to eat.”
Odd. Shen Qiao thought, he couldn’t see through Yan Wushi’s cloudy with a chance of thunder temperament, seeing the other turn and leave, shook his head, returned inside to sit and talk with Li Qingyu.
Zhongnan Sect as a result of this recent calamity collapsed, for a son of a illustrious household like Zhangsun Sheng it was a small matter, with no sect, he could at least return home, but the other disciples that had made the sect their home were quite pitiful, they were forced to make a stand, or acquiesce to Hehuan Sect, becoming Hehuan Sect’s outer disciples, they could also choose to oppose them, flee to other sects, like Qingchengshan’s Chunyang Sect, and with the chance at shijiandahui to stir the undercurrents.
In truth Chunyang Sect had gradually become a third force that could stand against Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects, in the north, those unwilling to give in to Hehuan Sect or the Buddhist sects, had come one after the other to seek assistance from Chunyang Sect, and to the south, with the changjiang as a natural barrier, and as Linchuan Sect’s stronghold, Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects for the moment had not shown any signs of moving south.
Unintentionally planting willow, willow grows into shade, Yi Bichen at the beginning didn’t necessarily predict this, but Chunyang Sect had been wanting to enter the world, he naturally didn’t have a reason to refuse, hosting shijiandahui at Chunyang Sect, also demonstrated where people’s intentions strayed.
In only half a year, the world’s configuration had drastically transformed, making people sigh and lament.
Li Qingyu: “Shijiandahui will gather many strong martial artists, it’ll be a good opportunity to practice, shizun hopes daoxiong will also attend, reconnect on part of our common daoist sect origins.”
Shen Qiao said: “Including Qi-lang, I have accepted two disciples, they’ve only formally entered training, it’s the time for establishing a strong foundation, if I’m not by their side, I’m afraid they’ll have no one to advise them, and easily go down the wrong path.”
Li Qingyu seemed unconcerned: “When I was small and training, shizun would only teach things once, and let us figure out the rest ourselves, martial training cannot be separate from natural ability, if they don’t even have a smidge of calibre, they might as well spend their lives fishing and farming, it’s a better way to pass the years.”
Although the words were harsh, they were not unreasonable, but with Shen Qiao’s character, certainly wouldn’t be able to say such a thing, he smiled: “Let me think things over, I’ll discuss it with them, and then decide.”
Li Qingyu nodded.
Shen Qiao thought of something: “Has Li-gongzi heard any news from Xuandushan?”
Li Qingyu: “I have not.”
The last Shen Qiao heard of Yu Ai, was his participation in the ambush against Yan Wushi, after that he had not seen the other.
Yu Ai singlemindedly pursued Xuandushan’s return to the top of the daoist sects, but this plan seemed doomed from the start, first with Chunyang Sect taking the winning advantage, then working closely with Tujue, looking to borrow Tujue’s power, but the calculations have yet to pan out, and in the end may just be a bamboo basket retrieving water coming up empty.
After the initial pain of the betrayal, all thoughts related to Xuandushan, Shen Qiao felt it as if in a rain-fog dreamscape, beautiful but not real.
Li Qingyu said: “If you want to return to Xuandushan, I can go ask for shizun’s help.”
Shen Qiao shook his head and laughed: “Thank you, but if I’m not relying on my own ability to get something, in the end it won’t last long.”
Li Qingyu saw that he had his own plan, so nodded, and didn’t add anything further.
The two of them conversed a while, it was approaching noon, the one who came knocking was Bixia Sect’s Zhou Yexue.
“Li-shixiong, zongzhu and my shifu are discussing matters, are not able to host you in-person, so specially sent me to invite Li-shixiong and Shen-daozhang to move to the flower hall for their meal.”
To go or not to go to shijiandahui, was a big deal for all of Bixia Sect, Zhao Chiying must discuss things with Yue Kunchi, to not be able to come herself at this time was only natural.
Zhou Yexue was twenty eight years old, an age where her beauty shone like a flower, she and Li Qingyu’s age were similar, and both practiced the sword, could be considered very suited for each other, if anything could start between them, it would be a beautiful story.
Yi Bichen himself did not marry, but didn’t force his disciples in this matter, Chunyang Sect did not have many women disciples, if in the future Li Qingyu also did not marry and focused solely on the way of the sword it would be no matter, if he wanted to marry and have kids, Bixia Sect’s women disciples were head above the rest in terms of appearance, and was a very reasonable choice, Zhao Chiying let Zhou Yexue come specifically, must have had a thought in a similar vein.
However Li Qingyu did not seem to recognize half a sentiment along these lines, he said: “Thank you for coming, since Zhao-zongzhu is busy, then I don’t need to go, can you prepare two sets of meals for me and Shen-daoxiong, I want to seek advice from him about the way of the sword, I can stay here and eat while we chat.”
Zhou Yexue had never met someone so clueless, glared at the other for a while, eventually said fine, didn’t turn around before stalking away.
After a while, the person who came to deliver their meals was not her but Fan Yuanbai.
Shen Qiao as a bystander saw it all clearly, saw how the young girl was maybe interested in Li Qingyu, but Li Qingyu demonstrated no such intention, he could’t interfere, so pretended not to know.
Today’s cook was not from the base of the mountain, three dishes one soup, the taste very average.
Shen Qiao drinking his half-bowl of soup, mid-way through realized he was drinking fish soup.
And it appeared to be fish head soup….
Looking again at Li Qingyu, Li fish…head, was at the moment with his head bent drinking soup.
Not realizing what was what, Shen Qiao suddenly felt it was very funny, he wanted to laugh, but thought that might be unkind, so suppressed it.
Li Qingyu: “This soup is not bad.”
Shen Qiao gave a dry smile, didn’t know how to respond, could only say: “These vegetables are also fresh.”
Saying this, in his mind suddenly appeared the image of Yan Wushi’s face, but he couldn’t be the culprit.
All things considered, surely the impressive Huanyue Sect zongzhu could not do such a childish thing?
Zhao Chiying quickly made up her mind, she would bring Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue along to Chunyang Sect to attend shijiandahui, Yue Kunchi would stay behind and look after things, Shen Qiao also wanted to stay, but Zhao Chiying also expressed her hope that Shen Qiao could go with them, towards this friend who she had suffered through hardship together, she regarded highly, this time Bixia Sect didn’t have much strength to show, with Zhao Chiying alone it would be hard to make a statement, definitely needed Shen Qiao’s assistance.
Shen Qiao agreed, left Shiwu and Yuwen Song with homework, asked them to train well with Yue Kunchi, Yuwen Song since a young age grew up in an illustrious, grand household, towards Taishan was filled with wonder and boundless curiosity, was quite content, Shiwu was the shixiong, but his personality was gentle, often would go along with Yuwen Song, only for important matters would he insist, the two of them got along well, letting them interact alone, Shen Qiao wasn’t worried.
A group of people packed and prepared, set out on their journey.
The author wants to say:
Shen Qiao: Yan-zongzhu, is the fish head soup your doing?
Lao Yan: A-Qiao, how could this venerable one do such a tactless thing?
Shen Qiao: … (I don’t believe you)
The journey from Taishan to Qingchengshan was far, traversing a large part of Zhou, if they wanted to arrive within half a month, their pace could definitely not be slow, luckily everyone in the group including Zhou Yexue the young girl, was used to travelling by night, rushing, finally after ten days they passed Chang’an, arrived in Hanzhong, they still had five days left, and could now slow down, move at a more leisurely pace.
The entire way on horseback, even the horses were at their breaking point from their burden, finally a pause to breathe, everyone was happy, especially the two youth Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue, they were in high spirits, Li Qingyu wasn’t much older than them, but was much more solemn, his face cold and stern, since their departure to now it was the same.
News of shijiandahui had spread, along their journey they saw countless jianghu people carrying their weapons, after entering Hanzhong, there were even more of them, of all different builds, different weapons.
Where there were more jianghu people, there were bound to be more jianghu happenings. Xia used their martial prowess to resolve disputes, there were many with wugong, and could look down on commoners, from there developed a sense of pride, feeling that they were superior to others, their manners were very obtrusive, so far along their journey Shen Qiao and them had encountered a dispute at least three times.
This time they were early, entering the city at just past dawn, the inn was newly emptied, the main hall of the building was sparsely occupied.
Zhao Chiying and the rest of the group first ordered rooms, and then each sat down.
Yan Wushi’s position was special, everyone in the group towards him was respectful and distant, Zhao Chiying towards this non-foe non-friend Huanyue Sect zongzhu had her reservations, but didn’t want to insult him, nor did she want to be too close, the Bixia Sect disciples were all terrified of him, wouldn’t dare approach him, Zhao Chiying and her two disciples, along with Li Qingyu, made four at a table, Yan Wushi was left to sit alone, no one around him, observers may have found it strange.
Shen Qiao walked over and sat down opposite him.
Yan Wushi smiled: “A-Qiao couldn’t resist seeing me all alone, so came to sit with me?”
Shen Qiao: “The customers will grow in number, when there aren’t enough seats, they’ll have to turn people away, I just don’t want to inconvenience the shop owners.”
Yan Wushi saw him speak sincerely, looked unconcerned, poured him a cup of hot wine: “The shopowners to have a customer such as yourself, certainly derived it from three lifetimes of accumulated virtue.”
Shen Qiao when he heard this, felt these words may have a deeper meaning, then again, he may have misunderstood.
Yan Wushi: “After this meal, I will have to take my leave first, won’t be able to accompany you the rest of the way.”
Shen Qiao was surprised: “I thought you came with us, for the purpose of going to Chunyang Sect to have an exchange with Yi Bichen.”
Yi Bichen’s wugong, if not considered number one in the world, then to be in the top three was no problem, Yan Wushi was always happy to fight, to not go personally and have an exchange, that would be the stranger thing.
Yan Wushi shook his head: “I can meet Yi Bichen anytime, but to be able to see other people’s misfortunes, that doesn’t happen everyday.”
His delight-in-suffering tone was too strong, so Shen Qiao immediately thought of a person: “Dou Yanshan?”
Yan Wushi: “I’ve scattered the fish lure long enough, now it’s time to close the net, this type of chaos, how can this venerable one not go personally take a look?
Shen Qiao: “You told me previously, Yun Fuyi and Dou Yanshan only got along superficially, eventually there’d be some movement, Yun Fuyi doesn’t hold enough power within Liuhebang, so she had to rely on the Huang family and the Tujue behind them to secretly plot.”
Yan Wushi: “That’s right.”
Shen Qiao: “You’re able to know right away of their movements, probably because you’re in the middle of things adding to the waves?”
Yan Wushi smiled: “Our A-Qiao is so smart, Dou Yanshan is a steady, suspicious kind of person, wouldn’t easily allow someone new close enough to hear their secrets, it is because of his caution, that Liuhebang has been able to grow steadily in these past few years, becoming the leader of the transport business along the waterways north and south, can you guess how I broke into their defences and installed my agent there?”
Shen Qiao furrowed his brows, considered this for a moment, slowly said: “I cannot guess.”
Yan Wushi smiled: “In reality it was easy, Dou Yanshan is cautious, but the people around him may not be. He has a personal assistant, that’s followed him for eight years, very shrewd and capable, but has a woman he loves, that girl’s family has no dignity, repeatedly asking her for money, the woman doesn’t want to inconvenience her sweetheart, but remains in the dilemma, at this time I let Bian Yanmei send someone to help her, and did this one thing.”
Shen Qiao: “Through her you get control of Dou Yanshan’s personal assistant?”
Yan Wushi shook his head and smiled: “A-Qiao, you’re too naive, Dou Yanshan’s personal assistant is shrewd and capable, this kind of brute method, how does it suit to be used on him? Bian Yanmei only used this incident to gain the woman’s goodwill, with a fabricated identity, pretending to be long-lost distant relative, gaining the trust of the woman’s family, taking on the appearance of that woman’s distant cousin.”
Shen Qiao: “This is too convoluted.”
Yan Wushi: “You shouldn’t underestimate this small family connection, if it’s just some unrelated stranger, why would anyone trust your good intentions, with this additional connection, is one less layer of suspicion, after some time together, the woman grew to trust her cousin, and recommended him to Dou Yanshan’s assistant.”
This type of trap-within-trap kind of manipulation, listening to it made Shen Qiao sigh.
This person considered the royal court, the jianghu, all a game, always looking over people’s heads, arrogant and self-centred, and so accumulated a forest of enemies, in the end ambushed by five martial masters, scarcely avoided death and end-of-reputation as a conclusion, but apart from this, no one could deny his wugong skill or his cunning.
Shen Qiao: “According to what you said earlier, Dou Yanshan’s assistant is shrewd and capable, how is that cousin going to gain his trust?”
Yan Wushi, an unperturbed smile: “Profit. In this world, only a shared interest can band people together, more intimate than sibling or spouse. That assistant since he started with Dou Yanshan, sees and hears broadly day in day out, must have witnessed many extravagant settings, but he remains an assistant, do you think a shrewd and capable person could bear it? Now if that woman’s cousin were to provide a way of making money, so that he could also have his own business, after some time, do you think he will consider the other as on the same side?”
Shen Qiao had a realization: “So you purposefully chose a shrewd person, because you knew he wouldn’t be content with his circumstances, as opposed to a honest person?”
Yan Wushi: “Honest people also have their own weaknesses, in this world how can there be anyone with no flaws?”
Shen Qiao nodded: “That’s right, if you hadn’t looked down on everyone and not taken anyone seriously, then later you wouldn’t have given Guang Lingsan and Dou Yanshan and the rest an opportunity.”
This sentence was clearly ridiculing him.
But he didn’t anticipate Yan Wushi’s shamelessness, the latter merely smiled: “You’re wrong, that was my weakness from before, and not my weakness now.”
Shen Qiao couldn’t resist laughing: “Your weakness now, is it that your face is thicker than the rocks on Taishan?”
His face often carried a smile, gentle and easy-going, but rarely did he laugh openly.
Although this moment it was not a big laugh, the corners of his mouth couldn’t stop drifting upward, even his eyes brightened, like jade after rainwater, lively and colourful.
“That’s a strength, not a weakness.” Yan Wushi was the type of person that did whatever came to mind, as this thought appeared, his hand had already moved to cover the back of Shen Qiao’s hand. “This venerable one’s weakness now is you!”
Shen Qiao shook his head, as if he’d heard something funny, wanted to pull his hand back, but it was tightly held by the other.
“Yan-zongzhu, some tricks, after they’re played once grow stale, why play them again and again? A person however foolish, can’t fall into the same river twice?” His words carried an inflection of what he didn’t even recognize as self-deprecation.
“Do you remember the story I told you?” Yan Wushi’s smile didn’t waver, his eyes remained on him, not willing to release his hand.
Until now, Shen Qiao had never thought about their relationship in a direction that ought not to be thought about, once bitten by a snake, ten years will fear rope, after experiencing that “making sentiment where there is none”, he had another layer of understanding towards Yan Wushi’s heartlessness, knowing this person’s stone heart, even if he appeared earnest now, it was probably wistful thinking, it would be very hard to move the other, in his own heart, Shen Qiao doesn’t trust, his memories overly cutting, to the point he doesn’t dare trust this person again, afraid to repeat the same collision course.
And yet in this moment, under the other’s burning gaze, Shen Qiao’s heart made a sound, felt like he had become the prey to some ferocious beast, unrelenting until it had gotten its conclusion.
“Sir, there’s clearly two empty spots over there, why did you say you were full!” A loud voice carried over, distracting the two of them.
Shen Qiao took the opportunity to extract his hand, looking around, the shop had in the interim filled with patrons, the only table left was where they were seated across from each other, they each had an empty spot next to them.
The custom now was not to sit casually at the same table with strangers, and usually there was no one insisting to be seated with a stranger, but some people didn’t mind, and if they had martial prowess, felt like the other couldn’t refuse them, in this way invoked a jianghu dispute.
The shopkeeper obviously did not want to see this place become the site of the next dispute, hurried to apologize and explain, said that very shortly, there will be patrons departing after finishing their meal, and there would be seats then.
The loud voice however didn’t accept this, the people in his group also didn’t look very approachable, they hadn’t just seen the empty spots next to Shen Qiao, they also saw Shen Qiao’s daoist robes, friendly, easy-to-bully appearance, and Yan Wushi wasn’t even carrying a weapon, they looked like crushable soft persimmons, if they were instead scary-looking, large muscle men seated there, they might not have dared.
“These people I’ve seen them before, they belong to Taohuawu, after Taohuawu joined Hehuan Sect, they have been strutting around, looking down on everyone, using Hehuan Sect’s name to cover up mischief, bystanders because of Hehuan Sect’s reputation, aren’t willing to offend them.”
“No wonder they’re so brazen, like a dog using its master’s influence…”
“Hush, careful that disaster doesn’t follow your mouth, their wugong is not bad, last time even Tianshanyujianzi died by that loud voice guy’s hand.”
“Heh!” Another inhaled sharply, “Tianshanyujianzi could be considered a second rank master!”
“Right? Otherwise how can they be so brazen, that one with the loud voice is the younger brother of Taohuawu Sect Leader, nickname Duanliudao…”
“Oh—I’ve heard of him, Duanliudao Erde Ming, turns out to be him!”
The conversation of the people at the next table was not loud, but could be heard by Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao.
On the other side, loud voice guy had already tossed aside the shopkeeper, walked towards them in big strides.
Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue were young and impetuous, seeing this made to get up.
Yan Wushi of course didn’t need their protection, but Shen Qiao was kind to everyone, and Bixia Sect owed him a huge favour, this half year living on Taishan, he got along well with everyone, wasn’t like Yan Wushi directing jiangshan at his whim, but answering every question that was asked, a patient attitude, when he was teaching his disciples he allowed observers like Fan Yuanbai, so everyone in Bixia Sect had gained a lot from his presence, Fan Yuanbai and the others treated him akin to teacher or brother, naturally couldn’t watch him be disrespected.
Zhao Chiying compared to them had much more experience, she didn’t move, just called out: “Sir, the lamb pot I ordered for table #6, how come it still hasn’t arrived, Huanyue Sect Yan-zongzhu and Shen Qiao Shen-daozhang have been waiting!”
These two names, especially the first one when spoken out loud, instantly swept through the main hall like a piercing chill, everyone’s movements had halted.
That loud voice guy had one foot frozen in the air, and couldn’t finish that step.
The author would like to say:
a a a before I was going to go to the main plot, but because Lao Yan started romancing his girl again so I had to pause here!
Lao Yan, give us an answer, when will you make your move!
Lao Yan (slowly, with every reason): Well this, will depend on when our A-Qiao will lower his guard, and welcome my embrace.
Everyone in the crowd (in unison sing): Today ~~~ your tears ~~~ are all because of ~~~yesterday ~~~what you did ~~~
‘Yan Wushi’ these three words had what kind of power, look at the reactions of the people present and you’ll know.
The five masters that ambushed Yan Wushi, pull out any one of them and they could steamroller everyone present, nevermind the Yan Wushi who after being ambushed by five masters, after news of his death, reappeared in the world jumping and very much alive, by all standards he should be considered a freak in the legends.
The shopkeeper was sharp, seeing that one sentence from Zhao Chiying produced such a incredible effect, immobilizing the scene momentarily, rushed to make amends: “It is I who forgot, I’ll go tell the kitchens right now and have it sent over, just wait a little longer, a little longer!”
Yan Wushi brushed his fingers along the rim of his cup, but Shen Qiao extended his hand over his and pressed once.
The latter with one glance had seen through his intentions, and was expressing his disapproval.
Although the group had been trying to steal a seat, they hadn’t caused any real harm, if Yan Wushi acted, then the other will surely die or be injured, at that time his companions will seek revenge, they were still in a rush to be on their way, why would they seek this trouble for themselves?
Yan Wushi through Shen Qiao’s eyes saw this train of thought, he smiled lazily: “Out of respect for you, this time I’ll spare him.”
He had only said half of what he was going to say, before being abruptly interrupted by this person, when he had the cup in his hand his killing intent had emerged, but now he changed his mind, the cup at his slight touch flew out, embedded itself into the front of Erde Ming’s half-raised foot.
Erde Ming hearing the three words Yan Wushi, his face froze, didn’t move another muscle, at this moment all the blood had drained from his face.
The friend standing behind him at least had some foresight, seeing this stepped forward hands folded in respect and said: “Yan-zongzhu, my younger brother is young and naive, he unintentionally disrespected you, where he caused insult I hope you’ll forgive him.”
Yan Wushi continued sitting, not moving an inch, an air of self-assured leisure, just by his demeanour alone, no one would doubt his identity.
To imitate Huanyue Sect zongzhu would require some bravery, after all there were not many people in the world like him who could offend all the major existing sects, and still no one could do anything about it.
Anyone seeing Erde Ming’s facebeard, and hearing the words “young and naive”, would have found it hard not to laugh.
“Young and naive?” Yan Wushi meaningfully repeated the phrase, “this venerable one sees his rough-hewn appearance, is his mind lacking, does he have a brain illness?”
Pu! Someone had burst out laughing.
“You…” Erde Ming looked like he was about to explode, but his older brother sealed his meridians, held his shoulder down so he couldn’t move.
The latter gave Yan Wushi an apologetic smile: “That’s right, my younger brother’s mind is not quite right, Yan-zongzhu your esteemed person doesn’t need to dwell on his level!”
This person happened to be the Taohuawu sect leader that had joined Hehuan Sect, currently his reputation in the jianghu was at its peak, but he understood who he could approach and who he couldn’t, although Huanyue Sect appeared to have been squashed by Hehuan Sect, its influence greatly diminished among the demonic sects, but a skinny camel was larger than a horse, if they upset Yan Wushi, never mind if Hehuan Sect would stick up for them on a later date, the two of them would lose their small lives here, today.
Yan Wushi seemed to see through his thoughts, shot the other a smile, but it made the Taohuawu sect leader’s hair stand on end.
“If there is something wrong with his mind, he would do well to stay at home, coming out to cause mischief, creating problems left and right for his older brother, you must be exhausted.”
Taohuawu sect leader forced a smile, couldn’t help but continue this conversation: “Yan-zongzhu is right, when we get back I will discipline him, I’ll be make sure he reflects, and make sure he doesn’t get out easily again!”
Saying this as if fearing Yan Wushi might regret his decision, ignoring his brother who at this moment was boring a hole into him with his eyes, rushed to drag him out and leave.
This group brashly entered, and shortly thereafter ran out in fear, the contrast, made everyone present look at each other.
Shen Qiao shook his head, few people could see it, but the moment Yan Wushi’s cup flew out, a small chip had split from the cup, and hit a meridian point on Erde Ming, the position was extremely tricky, they probably would not be able to undo it themselves, probably when the time came they will have to come back and beg Yan Wushi.
“If they come back to find you, will you really undo the meridian point block, why make more matters?”
Yan Wushi laughed: “They won’t come to me, but will go to Hehuan Sect to cry and complain, doesn’t this save me the trouble of finding them myself?”
As he said this, he stood up, before anyone could react, Yan Wushi had already made his exit, everyone thought he went to pursue the group from Taohuawu, and said a small prayer for Taohuawu, insult anybody but why would you insult this god-level terror!
Although it must be said, because Erde Ming had left a brazen impression on everyone, some secretly rejoiced in their hearts.
After the meal, Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue these two young people couldn’t sit still, they informed Zhao Chiying that they were going to look around a bit, Zhou Yexue even came over to invite Li Qingyu, only to be cooly turned down by Li Qingyu, who said he wanted to meditate in his room, her pride hurt, she was still irritated when she left.
Zhao Chiying was not made aware of Yan Wushi’s plans, seeing that he had not come back, was surprised: “Where has Yan-zongzhu gone?”
Shen Qiao: “He had some other matters to attend to, will not be travelling with us any longer.”
Zhao Chiying nodded, she had other concerns on her mind, and did not ask further.
For now Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects were powerful, but there were many sects in the world, many of whom did not want to capitulate to them, Hehuan Sect had a bad reputation, and the Buddhist sects had Xueting-chanshi, and behind them the Zhou dynasty, but for the Daoist sects, in particular Chunyang Sect this renowned sect, was not willing to acquiesce, so the timing of the shijiandahui was just right, many people gathered after hearing the news, rushing forth from all directions, the young wanted to make their name, the older and more prudent of the sect leaders wanted to make an alliance with Chunyang Sect, lest they end up snuffed out like Zhongnan Sect.
After the turmoil of their calamity, Bixia Sect was greatly diminished, mostly powerless, Zhao Chiying had no ambition to stand above the other sects, but she was long encumbered by the lack of future talent in her sect, and wanted to impress during shijiandaihui, add to Bixia Sect’s reputation, resurrect the drums and flags, but how this wish would come to fruition may require a long road ahead.
Fan Yuanbai, Zhou Yexue, their wugong was average, as can be seen in comparison to Li Qingyu, although the latter was close to them in age, he had the makings of a first rank master, with time, can anticipate much, Zhao Chiying couldn’t help but envy Yi Bichen’s luck.
As a sect with some history, Bixia Sect was not lacking in highly-skilled wugong, but someone who could realize this highly-skilled wugong on their path.
A day’s worth of scenery passed like this under Zhao Chiying’s turbulent thoughts, the next morning, after everyone had washed up and had breakfast, they made their way towards Qingchengshan.
This time the group did not stop again, in one go arrived in Qingchengshan’s Qingcheng Town.
On account of shijiandahui, the town had already filled with wulin people, Chunyangguan also had sent its people here to oversee things, seeing newcomers, asked for their sects, by way of registration, and brought them up the mountain in groups. However the numbers of people arriving exceeded their expectations, so many people were now in line waiting.
Li Qingyu brought Shen Qiao and the rest of the group to the main gate, used his sword sheath to knock on the desk of the person who was furiously writing down names.
The other raised his head, said ah, rushed to get up: “Li-shidi, you’ve returned!”
Not only him, the other Chunyangguan disciples responsible for welcoming guests all came over to greet Li Qingyu.
Li Qingyu folded his hands in greeting: “Zhao-shixiong, Cong-shixiong, is shizun on the mountain?”
Zhao-shixiong: “Yes, Linchuanxuegong and Kuaiji’s Wang family are here, sect leader is personally hosting them.”
Li Qingyu nodded, didn’t say anything, brought the others towards the main gates.
Zhao-shixiong called after him: “Li-shidi, who are these people with you? Please tell me their sects, so I may write them down, it’s my responsibility, please pardon me shidi.”
Li Qingyu was very accomplished in the wugong path, could be considered a leader among the younger generation of Chunyangguan, even his two shixiong had to treat him with respect.
Although his wugong was accomplished, he was sometimes lacking in interpersonal skills.
Li Qingyu frowned: “These are guests shizun told be to bring.”
The meaning being, you don’t need to know more.
Shen Qiao saw that he was going to upset someone, and so volunteered: “This is Bixia Sect Zhao-zongzhu, behind her are her disciples, this poor one is Shen Qiao, a wanderer.”
Hearing Bixia Sect, Zhao-shixiong didn’t have much of a reaction, hearing Shen Qiao, his face changed, asked: “Can I ask if it is Xuandushan’s Shen-daozhang?”
Shen Qiao nodded: “Yes.”
Zhao-shixiong’s face glowed, immediately folded his hands in greeting: “It turns out to be Shen-daozhang, I meant no disrespect, Shen-daozhang and the rest of your group please come in, I’ll send someone right away to notify shizun!”
Li Qingyu: “Zhao-shixiong, I can bring Shen-daozhang and the group up the mountain.”
Zhao-shixiong smiled: “Li-shidi you might not be aware, shizun instructed us beforehand, when we see Shen-daozhang and Zhao-zongzhu, to go notify him at once, so that he himself may come greet them, you can take them along the main path, see the scenery along the way, I’ll send someone along the backpaths to report.”
Although he said “Shen-daozhang and Zhao-zongzhu”, everyone could see all of his formalities were directed towards Shen Qiao, Zhao Chiying had an open attitude, and was not upset by this small thing.
Hearing that it was shifu’s instructions, Li Qingyu didn’t say anymore.
The people in line seeing him go on ahead after speaking to the Chunyangguan disciples were vexed: “We’ve waited so long, are we not worth him who has inner connections, if you don’t know the logic of who arrived first and who arrived later, why would Chunyangguan bother organizing shijiandahui?”
Zhao-shixiong: “You are mistaken, Chunyangguan is not the organizer, just that we have lent our grounds for Liuligong to organize shijiandahui, we’re just here to maintain order, since you are here at Qingchengshan, you have to respect Qingchengshan’s rules. The group you saw just now, one of them was Xuandushan Shen Qiao Shen-daozhang, the other was Bixia Sect Zhao-zongzhu, and the other was our sect’s Li Qingyu shidi, Li-shidi was following shizun’s orders, to invite these guests to our door, if you are still dissatisfied, why don’t you wait until you see my shizun in person, and tell him about it then.”
Qingchengshan Li Qingyu, this one from the younger generation already had a big name, first was his fight with Xuandushan zhangjiao Yu Ai, losing by one move, thereafter wandering the jianghu, crossing paths with Duan Wenyang this first rank master, although he didn’t win one hundred out of a hundred matches, but to be evenly matched, given his age, was already something stunning, now in the jianghu Li Qingyu’s name was so famous, compared to the world’s top ten, probably wasn’t that far off, we don’t know how many young women from established jianghu families, considered this young disciple from Chunyangguan an ideal future husband.
If mentioning Li Qingyu shocked everyone, then hearing Shen Qiao’s name they all froze, at first they didn’t believe it, then after there were others like Zhao-shixiong whose eyes glowed, naturally no one else stepped forward to dispute further.
In this half year and a bit, after he killed the Huo Xijing who liked to use people’s faces as masks, and then on Taishan with his sword made Kunye part with his life, and then receiving Yuwen Xian’s dying wish, fighting his way out of the ambush with Yuwen Song, as well killing the two Hehuan Sect elders, as rumours spread, his reputation was not that far from Li Qingyu’s, in all likelihood more well known than when he was Xuandushan zhangjiao.
Although some doubted Shen Qiao’s abilities, felt these rumours were blown out of proportion, that day when Shen Qiao fought his way out of Chang’an, or in Tuyuhun’s capital city defeating Yu Ai and the rest, there were bystanders, and many who saw it with their own eyes.
Now that Hehuan Sect’s influence had grown, many sects and wandering xia couldn’t voice their difficult circumstances, towards Shen Qiao who had demonstrated both intent and ability to stand against Hehuan Sect they had a lot of respect, unbeknownst to Shen Qiao, during this time, his name grew daily, no longer in the dust of the past. Although Liuligong’s rank-list wasn’t out yet, but jianghu rumours already spoke for Shen Qiao’s recovery and that he would definitely be within the top ten.
These transformations, Yan Wushi exchanged messages back and forth with the outside world, of course knew about them, but Shen Qiao on Taishan, solely dedicated to training and teaching his disciples, as if he were in seclusion, of course didn’t.
Li Qingyu was a bad tour guide, along the way up the mountain, seeing a scenic point, will say something to try to explain, but speaking was not his strength, the explanation bland, in a dull, straightforward style, making his listeners want to cover their ears, even seeing it with their own eyes was more interesting.
Shen Qiao and Zhao Chiying, with their manners and experience, wouldn’t reveal any of this, when they finally reached Chunyangguan, Zhou Yexue and Fan Yuanbai couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
A middle aged man wearing daoist robes stood in the daoguan’s main square in front of the incense burners, his hair was black, his hands held a fuchen, behind him was a number of disciples, this formal welcome was not a small one.
The one standing in front, was of course Chunyangguan sect leader Yi Bichen.
Shen Qiao glanced around, and recognized a familiar face standing behind Yi Bichen, Linchuanxuegong’s Zhan Ziqian.
The latter also saw Shen Qiao, folded his hands in greeting, and smiled.
Shen Qiao also nodded and smiled at him.
Li Qingyu stepped forward, bowed all the way: “Shizun, this disciple has returned.”
“No need for formalities, Mingcheng, you’ve worked hard.” Yi Bichen called him familiarly by his courtesy name, helped this beloved disciple to his feet, then walked over, towards Shen Qiao and Zhao Chiying and the rest and folded his hands in greeting: “Shen-daozhang, Zhao-zongzhu have travelled a long way, allowing my sect to be granted your glowing presence, this poor one is very fortunate, please do come in.”
For someone of Yi Bichen’s standing to personally come out to greet them, was giving them a lot of face, Zhao Chiying was initially worried about an icier reception, her own reputation was of no significance, but Bixia Sect’s reputation was important, today seeing how well Yi Bichen managed things, in contrast to Li Qingyu’s coldness, secretly praised Yi Bichen’s magnanimity.
Everyone chatted, Yi Bichen also introduced them to Zhan Ziqian.
Zhan Ziqian’s position in Linchuanxuegong was not low, but the most cherished disciple Xie Xiang did not make an appearance, Ruyan Kehui only sent Zhan Ziqian as representative, this on its own expressed their stance.
Yi Bichen brought them inside.
They saw that there were some people already seated inside.
Yi Bichen said: “This is Kuaiji Wang family’s er-gongzi and san-gongzi.”
The two young men did not rise, just generally raised their sleeves in their direction.
They had been conversing with Yi Bichen here earlier, they heard of Shen Qiao and the others’ arrival, but only Zhan Ziqian went with Yi Bichen out to greet them, the Wang family clearly did not think Bixia Sect or Shen Qiao was worth making an acquaintance of, the irreverence was on full display.
The Wang family of today was no longer the illustrious Wang family of the past, along with the changing of dynasties, the old bloodlines were also subject to time, its uncertain peaks and troughs, and the members of the Kuaiji Wang family present, were not even from the main family, but a side branch, so they had some blood relation, their ancestors were prominent in the jianghu, although they could no longer boast a 100% jianghu lineage, had their own side-business, was not involved in politics, they were still among the most recognized jianghu families.
Although this Kuaiji Wang family was an offshoot of the main family, but because of the blood relation, thought quite highly of themselves, naturally didn’t think much of Bixia Sect this small sect, they were guests, not willing to stand with Yi Bichen when he went out to conduct his greetings, Yi Bichen couldn’t force them.
After the greetings were completed and everyone sat, Yi Bichen first thanked Shen Qiao for saving the Su family back in Chang’an, then said to Zhao Chiying: “Bixia Sect experienced a calamity, this poor one has his limits, couldn’t reach you in time to help, thinking about this, I have regrets, I ask Zhao-zongzhu not to blame me.”
Zhao Chiying sighed: “Yi-guanzhu is too kind, Bixia Sect’s calamity, was all due to internal factions, we were lucky to move past the situation, but we have very few disciples left, cannot compare to previous, where I see you have many talents in your sect, a crowd of heroes, I’m very envious!”
Yi Bichen stroked his beard: “Zhao-zongzhu doesn’t need to worry, in my eyes your two disciples, if they put forth the effort in practice, in the future, will surely be very accomplished.”
Even if it was meaningless formal speech, to hear Chunyangguan sect leader praise them, Zhou Yexue and Fan Yuanbai were very moved.
Seeing this kind of useless conversation go on, the Wang family’s San-lang coughed, interrupted: “Can I ask Yi-guanzhu this iteration of shijiandahui, will there be any other sects attending?”
Yi Bichen: “There are numerous sects here for shijiandahui, is Wang San-gongzi looking for someone, or looking for a teacher?”
Wang San-gongzi laughed drily: “Guanzhu really knows how to joke, my family has countless martial knowledge scrolls and manuscripts, I can’t even get through them all, how would I have time to find a teacher? If there are other sects attending, I’ll have to trouble Yi-guanzhu to introduce us, so the two of us can make some acquaintances.”
Zhan Ziqian came from a large enough sect, unfortunately he was not considered an important figure of Linchuanxuegong, merely here as a messenger,
Bixia Sect now so diminished, would not be worth Wang gongzi’s gaze.
As for Shen Qiao, although his wugong had improved, but back then that fight at Banbu Peak, the Wang brothers were also there watching, had an strong impression of him falling off the cliff, before they had high hopes for Xuandushan zhangjiao but after these hopes were thoroughly demolished, seeing Shen Qiao here again, they had lost their past reverence and respect, felt the other was just so-so, and had no interest in becoming an acquaintance.
So everyone present, had already been excluded from the “acquaintances” the Wang brothers wanted to make.
Everyone desires fame, jianghu people were no exception, this iteration of shijiandahui, many came for Liuligong’s rank-list, others were here to make an alliance with Chunyangguan to stand against the Buddhist sects and Hehuan Sect.
Although the Wang family were from southern Chen, but they also had business operations in the north, would have been aware of Hehuan Sect’s influence. The Wang family with their high self-proclaimed standing, how would they agree to work with Hehuan Sect? So the Wang brothers were also here to see for themselves Chunyangguan’s true face, if many large sects leaned this way, that would mean Chunyangguan’s potential was large, the Wang family can consider making an alliance, if not, they might as well make an alliance with Linchuanxuegong, why would they go further and neglect what was close?
Their question, clearly disregarded everyone else present, nevermind Shen Qiao or Zhao Chiying, Fan Yuanbai and Zhou Yexue couldn’t help but reveal looks of indignation.
Yi Bichen smiled, as if he did not hear the meaning behind Wang San-lang’s words: “The guests from other sects are here too, they’ve been settled accordingly, some remain at the mountainbase, if Wang San-gongzi wants to meet them it wouldn’t be too much trouble, later have our disciples bring you, everyone’s residence has been arranged in the same area, no difference between groups.”
Wang Er-lang was somewhat disappointed, for the other to speak this way, clearly indicated there will not be any of their anticipated martial arts masters.
Wang San-lang wasn’t satisfied, asked further: “I heard that the shijiandahui ten years ago, there were crowds of martial arts masters, a gathering of talent, of the eventual top ten at least five or six had been present, how can it be that after only nine years, shijiandahui’s influence is so diminished?”
Zhou Yexue couldn’t help laughing, does this person really think martial masters were cabbage, want one and they will appear?
If they were masters, obviously would have their pride and appearances to upkeep, like Huanyue Sect zongzhu, didn’t he find this matter too trivial to make an appearance and departed mid-way, only kind people like Shen-daozhang, would sincerely provide his support, and come with them, who knew because of this some people had eyes but couldn’t recognize Taishan, their eyeballs were in their eyes but could be mistaken for fish-eyes, it was truly hilarious!
Wang San-lang saw the mockery written on her face, furrowed his brow: “This young lady is laughing, do you disagree with anything I just said?”
Zhou Yexue said blandly: “I do not dare, but I saw a monkey just now, raised in the mountains, has only seen that patch of sky right above his head, and mistook the mountain for the entire world!”
How could Wang San-lang not hear her insult his short-sightedness, laughed coldly: “You think you’re pretty clever, I hope your martial prowess matches, otherwise one of these days your words will insult someone and you’ll lose your life!”
As he said this, made a motion with his sleeves, and the tea cup that had been on the tabletop was swept up, flew towards Zhou Yexue, the cup that was filled to the brim did not spill a single drop.
Since Wang San-lang could disregard Bixia Sect, he must have some skill, just looking at this gesture alone, even Yi Bichen appeared impressed, this was more than just some skill, in the younger generation, could be considered very promising.
Zhou Yexue was shocked, the tea cup had not arrived, but she had already taken half a step back.
Zhao Chiying shook her head, was going to intervene, but was stopped by Shen Qiao’s hand.
Shen Qiao’s posture was unchanged, with his other hand he lifted his cup, drank it in one go, then threw it outwards, directly intercepting Wang San-lang’s cup!
This collision, the cups rang out, but did not shatter, the tea in the cup was moved by turbulence, but it spilled all into Shen Qiao’s cup, then the two cups rebounded along their original routes, returned to their owner’s hands.
All this happened in an instant, when Wang San-lang received his cup again, his expression was one of shock, as if he couldn’t believe what he just saw.
Shen Qiao held his returned cup, smelled it and then put it down. “It looks like Yi-guanzhu didn’t treat anyone preferentially, Wang San-gongzi’s tea is the same as ours, if so, why was Wang San-gongzi so enthusiastic, insisting that we try your tea?”
His gesture was much more sophisticated than Wang San-lang’s, it appeared casual, effortless, but the result was critical, it required the coordination of both deep inner qi and refined skill, what Wang San-gongzi did to Zhou Yexue, was like brandishing a uncouth sword in front of a high-ranked official, an overestimation of his abilities.
Realizing this, the Wang brothers could no longer be casual in their irreverence.
Wang San-lang weakly folded his hands in respect, didn’t say half a sentence, could be counted as apologizing.
Outside of these people there’s more people, outside of this sky there’s more sky, it turns out the Shen Qiao they didn’t even belonged within the world’s top ten, was still a tall mountain they could not easily pass.
Yi Bichen watched all of this, seeing the Wang family’s greatly reduced airs, didn’t say anything more, just smiled: “Today, you travelled far, you must be quite tired, why about this poor one get someone to lead you to your residences to rest?”
The Wang family expressed no disagreement, Zhan Ziqian also nodded: “Thank you for taking the trouble, Yi-guanzhu.”
After they left the main buildings, Li Qingyu said to Shen Qiao: “My residence is by the east side, the door with the placard Li written on it is mine, if Shen-daozhang has any issues, come find me.”
Shen Qiao thanked him, and walked with Zhao Chiying, following the Chunyangguan disciples who were leading the way.
Zhao Chiying purposefully fell behind a few steps, allowing Fan Yuanbai and the others walk in front, whispered beside Shen Qiao’s ear: “How come the way I see it, Yi-guanzhu had something to say, but was interrupted by the Wang brothers?”
Shen Qiao nodded: “Definitely.”
After all he had held the position of the head of a sect, Yi Bichen personally coming out to greet them, his entire demeanour, was an opening for what came next, he must have had something important to discuss.
Zhao Chiying: “As you see it, is it something to do with forming an alliance?”
Shen Qiao didn’t answer but asked: “If so, how is Zhao-zongzhu planning to reply?”
Zhao Chiying said: “Now that Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects are so powerful, if they were going to attempt like the Tujue last time to swallow Bixia Sect, in Bixia Sect’s present circumstances, we can only sit and wait for death, maybe making an alliance is an option.”
Shen Qiao: “I see that Yi-guanzhu is very ambitious, and generous in his dealings, these days the Buddhist sects have Xueting to glorify them, the Ru sects have Linchuanxuegong, only the Daoist sects are like a platter of sand, if the Daoist sects can unite under his leadership, it may not be a bad thing.”
Zhao Chiying thought about this: “In this time or urgency, Yi-guanzhu may not get his wish that easily, shijiangdahui is a major wulin event, but even Linchuanxuegong only sent one disciple, this does not bode well.”
She paused: “When it comes to wugong or personal qualities, Shen-daozhang wouldn’t necessarily lose to Yi-guanzhu, if you made such an intention known, I would wordlessly follow you along with the rest of the Bixia Sect disciples.”
Shen Qiao shook his head loosely: “I don’t even have a sect where I can stand in, if you want to join, how can I accept?”
He thought Zhao Chiying was joking, but Zhao Chiying earnestly said: “In this world how many people can be like Shen-daozhang, for a promise not hesitate to go a thousand li? Bixia Sect is not the only one who has received your kindness, among the people that have crossed paths with you, how many dare say they didn’t receive your kindness? Even Yan-zongzhu, the kind of person that doesn’t distinguish between good and evil and does whatever he wants, doesn’t he only regard you differently?”
Shen Qiao laughed bitterly: “This regard, surely it comes from a desire to trick and manipulate?”
Zhao Chiying: “I think that remains to be seen.”
As they talked, they had arrived at their residences, their houses were adjacent, it would be convenient to communicate, so they each returned to their house to wash up.
Shen Qiao had just washed his face, when he heard knocking at his door.
He thought it was Zhao Chiying with something else to say, opening the door, saw that it was Zhan Ziqian.
“Shen-daozhang, how are you?” Zhan Ziqian folded his hands in greeting.
Shen Qiao moved aside: “Zhan-langjun please come in.”
Zhan Ziqian: “Reluctantly, I am hear to say farewell, when I saw daozhang, I was very happy, wanted to have a long chat, figure out drawing technique, but I have shizun’s orders and must return at once.”
Shen Qiao was surprised: “This rushed? Shijiandahui doesn’t start until tomorrow?”
Zhan Ziqian laughed bitterly: “It’s because it starts tomorrow, so I have to head back today, tomorrow’s shijiandahui, I’m afraid will not lack a blood storm, Chunyangguan will have a hard time preserving themselves, nevermind making an alliance, we shouldn’t stand under a teetering wall, I’m not willing to see Shen-daozhang get swept up in all this, are you willing to come with me back to Linchuanxuegong, shizun will definitely welcome you.”
Shen Qiao saw that he spoke seriously, but without his head, furrowed his brows: “What is really going on?”
Although there was Zhou in the north and Chen in the south, with their own forms of governance, the jianghu was not split into north and south, as the world was not split into north and south, no natural borders.
So as Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects amassed power, not only were the sects in the north affected, but Linchuanxuegong also felt the threat looming.
Shijiandahui was an optimal time for all of the sects to communicate amongst themselves, Linchuanxuegong had intentions of forming an alliance, so sent Zhan Ziqian to probe, if Yi Bichen was willing to let v head the alliance, then everything would fall into place, if an alliance could be formed between the Ru and Daoist sects, then it would be able to keep the influence of the Hehuan and Buddhist sects in check.
But this task of Zhan Ziqian’s did not go smoothly, Yi Bichen could not and would not be forced to accept an inferior position, Zhan Ziqian was certain to return with nothing.
With no Ru sects participating, shijiandaihui also lost some of its lustre.
Shen Qiao hearing about the twist in this turn of events, shook his head: “If the intention is shared, what does it matter who is the head?”
Zhan Ziqian smiled bitterly: “Not everyone can be like Shen-daozhang without a care for their reputation, Xuandushan has acquiesced to the Tujue, Chunyangguan thinks they can lead the Daoist sects, and my sect Linchuanxuegong is the head of the Ru sects, Ru and Dao are not the same, dragon and phoenix clashing, who is willing to be the background foliage?”
Shen Qiao furrowed his brows and didn’t say anything.
As Zhan Ziqian had said, Ruyan Kehui and Yi Bichen were proper grandmasters of their generation, there was heft to the position of head of the alliance, whoever was chosen, the other would not be at ease, keeping in mind they were both heads of their respective sects, distinguished by the Ru sects and the Daoist sects, no one was willing to have their sect submit to another, the position of leadership, was not only a matter of face, but also the relational power between sects.
Shen Qiao: “Yi-guanzhu will not accept it.”
Zhan Ziqian: “You’re right, Yi-guanzhu hearing my intentions, rejected the proposed alliance, likely my shifu already predicted this outcome, and so only sent me, and not my shidi, or someone else. But Yi-guanzhu’s intent to form his own alliance against Hehuan and the Buddhist sects is hardly a secret, they will eventually find out, I’m afraid at tomorrow’s shijiandahui there will be waves on flat ground, Shen-daozhang you are a Daoist, but you do not owe Chunyangguan anything, why not come with me to Linchuanxuegong? Since we parted ways at Su manor, my shidi has nothing but the highest praise for Shen-daozhang, if he were to see you again he would be very happy.”
Shen Qiao smiled: “Thank you Zhan-xiong for the well wishes, but this poor one still must stay.”
Zhan Ziqian, surprised: “But why?”
Shen Qiao: “The Daoist sects share common interests, this disaster would not just befall Chunyangguan alone, if Chunyangguan is eaten up by Hehuan Sect, the other sects’ difficulties would not be far off. Moreover I already promised Bixia Sect, to assist them during shijiandahui.”
Zhan Ziqian, with regret: “Then there is no solution, Yi-guanzhu’s intention to form an alliance will probably fall empty.”
Shen Qiao: “Chunyangguan grows more prosperous every day, their prestige is no less than that of Xuandushan, logically there shouldn’t so few people willing to pledge their allegiance.”
Zhan Ziqian: “Even if this were the case, but people are cautious, look at the Wang brothers, Yi-guanzhu personally invited them into the main hall, probably with other intentions, but they keep saying they’re only here for shijiandahui, not mentioning the alliance, clearly they’ve seen that Chunyangguan cannot clap with only one hand, they are only willing to be bystanders, not wanting to be drawn into the fray, to truly form an alliance, how could it be easy?”
He was an easy-going person, although a disciple of a Ru sect, didn’t have an ardent stance, in his tone was even some regret about Chunyangguan’s fate, as if he anticipated the oncoming stormwinds surrounding tomorrow’s shijiandahui and its dismal conclusion, the two lamented for a while, Zhan Ziqian brought up the request of drawing him again, asked him to go to Linchuanxuegong as a guest in the future, Shen Qiao agreed.
As soon as Zhan Ziqian left, the Su brothers came to his door, to thank Shen Qiao for his help in Chang’an, although the Su family were temporarily hiding at Qingchengshan, but their base in Chang’an was not completely gone, when the time was right, they would return.
Apart from this, there were several sects who sent their namecards, requesting a meeting with Shen Qiao.
He abruptly realized, at some point, he was no longer the fallen of the jianghu, the Xuandushan zhangjiao that everyone laughed at, now when people mentioned his name, usually linked it to his fight outside Chang’an, and because of Hehuan Sect’s recent looming animosity, with Shen Qiao’s killing of the two Hehuan Sect elders, all the more reason to have it discussed enthusiastically.
This was an unexpected outcome for Shen Qiao, he couldn’t cry or laugh, he used the excuse of the late hour— and declined all of these requests, after sending Su Wei and Su Qiao off, he meditated alone in his room, patiently waiting for the next day to come.
The day was sleepily brightening, someone had delivered hot water for washing up as well as breakfast, after Shen Qiao finished, was about to depart, Zhao Chiying was knocking on the door, the two of them made their way to the main hall.
Shen Qiao: “Where are Yuanbai and the others?”
Zhao Chiying: “They’ve gone to retrieve their number cards, if it goes as expected, they’ll start in the first round.”
Shen Qiao didn’t quite understand the rules of shijiandahui, so asked about them.
Zhao Chiying said: “When we arrived yesterday, the Chunyangguan disciples wrote down names and sects, today things will be arranged by the order in which people arrived, the name list is given to Liuligong, Liuligong will also refer to each person’s wugong achievements in the jianghu, they’ll try to put people of similar standing in the same round to compete, if someone doesn’t want to compete, just tell them ahead of time and they’ll cancel your spot, replace you with someone who arrived later. Except these rules are for regular sect disciples, for people like us, we usually won’t be included in the match-ups, unless someone really wanted to step into the ring to compete.”
Shen Qiao: “Everyone’s wugong achievements in the jianghu, some people barely know this themselves, Liuligong is so secluded, how do they find out?”
Zhao Chiying smiled: “I have this question too, it’s probably along the lines of the messages and news they receive from all over to approximate someone’s position, this is also a purpose of shijiandahui, to determine thoroughly the order, it’s said that Liuligong’s people have blazing eyes, one look at someone’s movements, and they’ll know where they fall in the jianghu, anyone who’s seen them admires their work, ten years ago I did not have the luck to witness it, this time I must see it with my own eyes.”
As they chatted, they had crossed Chunyangguan’s back gardens, arriving in the main hall.
Many people had already arrived, the open space looked different from yesterday, the hall was filled with seats and floor cushions, arranged artfully, and the main hall screen doors were all open, so that no matter where you sat inside, you would have a clear view of the fight outside, without needing to suffer the sun or rain.
Seeing Zhan Ziqian leave yesterday, and the Wang brothers have zero interest in forming an alliance, Shen Qiao and Zhao Chiying assumed there wouldn’t be too many attendees, however what they saw was that the a thousand seats within the main hall had been filled to the sevens and eights, the sects present were also quite diverse: there was Feixianmen, a small sect from Qingyangshanzhuang, and Jiuhuazong, Chixiajianpai a renowned first rank sect, although Linchuanxuegong and Tiantaizong these two huge Ru and Buddhist sects were not present, but all in all the situation was not terrible.
Zhao Chiying and Shen Qiao sat down, she quietly said: “Given Li Qingyu’s calibre, he’ll probably win today, then when Yi-guanzhu brings up the alliance again, it’ll make matters easier.”
Shen Qiao nodded, thought similarly.
On the other side, Yi Bichen escorted by his disciples, arrived, greeted everyone, then spoke to the crowd: “Thank you all for finding the time to attend, shijiandahui, once every ten years, this iteration Liuligong has lent our sect’s grounds, Chunyangguan is deeply grateful, I hope that everyone uses these exchanges amicably, stopping when the point is made, and not injure goodwill!”
Yi Bichens voice was warm, pitched not high nor low, transmitted using inner qi, everyone present didn’t miss a thing, heard every word clearly.
As he said this, he retreated a half-step, introduced to everyone the woman in purple standing next to him.
“This is Liuligong’s Yuan Zixiao Yuan-niangzi.”
Many people had only heard of Liuligong, and had not met them, at this moment seeing that the famous Liuligong had only sent a woman to judge shijiandahui, after getting over their initial shock, became suspicious.
“Yi-guanzhu, not that we’re not giving you face, shijiandahui only happens once every ten years, the rank-list, everyone from the jianghu holds it in great esteem, not only is is early this time, and they also only sent a woman, they obviously don’t respect us, and they don’t respect you!”
“Yes, could it be that Liuligong is so afraid of Hehuan Sect and the Buddhist sects’ influence that they only sent a weak woman to fool us?”
“Right, what’s the meaning of this shijiandahui, might as well go home early to sleep!”
One person started, and others quickly joined in, soon there were complaints heard in all directions, Chunyangguan disciples turned their worried faces toward their shifu.
“Your name is Wei Gaofei, from Feixianmen, you’re a knife expert, Feixianmen’s set Daoxutian, you’ve practiced to perfection.” The purple-clad woman next to Yi Bichen suddenly spoke, her voice was like jade colliding, reverberating in the main hall, clear and melodious, but cold without emotion, and did not contain a trace of irritation at being just now badly treated.
“That’s right, what of it?” The first youth that had spoken up paused, and replied with a question.
Yuan Zixiao: “But your knife style has a fatal flaw, or a tripping point, no matter how you try you can’t overcome it, so you still cannot practice the knife style to its pinnacle, it’s the reason why last time you lost to Longmenpai Qi Wei.”
Wei Gaofei’s expression had changed markedly: “ You, how did you know?”
Yuan Zixiao didn’t respond, continued icily: “Daoxutian this knife style, requires speed, might, and accuracy, but your wrist is not flexible enough, you can’t keep up with its speed, no matter how much you practice knife style, you cannot make it your own.”
Wei Gaofei at this point no longer cared how she knew about his weakness, hurried to ask further: “Is there a solution?”
Yuan Zixiao: “Yes, since your physical body has its limits, not able to achieve the pinnacle that Daoxutian requires, then why continue on this path into the dark, you could switch to the other knife style from your set Xuanguang, with slow and steady as its focus, simplifying complexity, with your calibre, it shouldn’t be hard to reach a high level.”
“Simplify complexity, simplify complexity…” Wei Gaofei repeated this to himself, thoughts written on his face, his appeared unsettled, suddenly he gave a shout, towards Yuan Zixiao bowed all the way: “Thank you for the advice, I cannot express my gratitude, I will return the favour someday!”
Saying this, ignoring everyone else, he directly left the main hall, not turning even for his shixiong and shidi yelling behind him.
Seeing his reaction, the other people present knew he must have realized something from Yuan Zixiao’s words, martial artists rarely had an epiphany that enabled them to breakthrough the next wall, so no was was surprised, only jealous.
Yuan Zixiao continued to call out the flaws of the others’ wugong histories, these people were the ones that had been loudest before, now that they had been exposed one by one, their expressions changed.
The other people now realized Liuligong’s ability, were terrified that Yuan Zixiao would expose their weaknesses, that their opponents could easily see through them even before they had set foot into the fight, no one dared to make another sound.
Zhao Chiying murmured: “This woman is certainly skilled, Liuligong is as their reputation claims, I bet she also knows Bixia Sect’s wugong weaknesses.”
In her words was consternation.
Shen Qiao smiled: “Ten thousand things under the heavens, yin yang two sides, where there’s benefit must also have detriment, even the highest wugong cannot be without flaw, shen can see through them one by one, speaks to her ability, but knowing the flaw, someone may not have the chance to act on it, the higher the wugong, the smaller the flaw, so instead of spending time memorizing people’s flaws, it may be more worth developing one’s own wugong, once your stage is integrated and unimpeded, others naturally will have no entry point.”
Zhao Chiying nodded: “Spoken like a grandmaster, I cannot compare.”
Yi Bichen saw Yuan Zixiao holding her own, didn’t add anything further, seeing how people had quieted down, said: “Since no one disagrees, then let’s go by the rules!”
Following his words, Chunyangguan’s disciples struck the jade stone, its clear sound rang out, shijiandahui had started.
The first match, was between Wang San-lang and Zhou Yexue.
This pair had their prior disagreement, now meeting again, did not look at each other well, and clearly Zhou Yexue clearly could not match Wang San-lang, before their exchange, the outcome was pretty much decided.
Although Zhao Chiying was regretful, there was no other way, if Bixia Sect wanted to resurrect itself, the burden might fall to her alone, she had decided that she would have a match, but where this would happen, would depend on the opponent, if the opponent was too unskilled, even if she won, it would not garner any favour.
Zhou Yexue was a stubborn little girl, although she knew the outcome clearly, did not surrender without a fight, drew her sword against Wang San-lang, the two of them, sword glint and shadow, for the moment was quite a sight.
The square was very wide, to minimize extra effort, apart from them, two other matches were going on at the same time.
Su Qiao was among them, his opponent was Jiuhua Sect zongzhu’s chosen disciple, their ages were similar, they were both among the talents of their generation, their fight was even more dazzling than Zhou Yexue and Wang San-lang’s. everyone’s attention was drawn to them, entranced, sighed that jianghu’s later tides would wash out the earlier waves.
At this point, a Chunyangguan disciple came from the mountainbase, behind them was another person.
Shen Qiao saw that person’s figure and appearance from afar, his body made to move, although the surprise was not expected, he was deeply moved.
Zhao Chiying, sitting beside him, of course sensed his shock, and asked: “What is it?”