Chapter 1: This story tells us to take a walk, and you’ll find a surprise
Half-Step Peak, as its name suggested, had only a few square inches of space for one to stand such that just half a step forward would bring you to the edge of a cliff thousands of meters high. On top of it, queer rocks towered aloft and odd trees grew wildly, while below it fogs and mists billowed boundlessly. The image of a screaming god or a standing ghost would not be bizarre compared to this jagged and perilous scenery; even the sky and earth seemed unable to touch each other here.
Across from this was another peak called Regret Peak, which was no less cloud-piercing and precipitous than Half-Step Peak. Its ridge rose hundreds of meters high vertically as if it had been sliced with a knife and left seemingly no space for one to set their feet on. Although there was still some greenery, all was rooted shallowly on the stones without any dirt to cover their roots, making anyone who dared take a glance tremble and regret climbing to the top of the peak. This was exactly where the “regret” in its name came from.
Between the two peaks was a natural barrier. Looking down from the top of it, the sea of clouds seemed stagnant, making it impossible to tell the depths of the crevice. Vaguely, one could hear the sound of water from a river flowing endlessly in a powerful momentum like that of a thirsty tiger or a running lion. Even ordinary woodsmen and hunters dared not climb it. If a Xiantian expert was ever to stand there, he too would be moved by the insignificance of men’s will compared with that of the Heavens.
Yet, down below the clouds and haze, at the bottom of the cliff and between the river and the mountainsides, lay a narrow and rugged stone path paved with strange-shaped rocks. At that moment, two people were walking on it, one following the other.
The turbulent river surged onwards, with its waves occasionally curling up and smashing themselves onto the wet and slippery rocks. It was easy for the ones who walked along the path to become soaked, if not by falling into the river then from the forcefully splashing waves of it at least. But if one tried to lean into the cliff, they would end up hitting the sharp, jagged rocks on the surface of the tilting, steep stone walls. In such a difficult situation, anyone would be stuck like a drowned mouse. It was utterly impossible to remain carefree and graceful while strolling leisurely as though one was pacing in a courtyard — like the two people right here.
“It was said that twenty years ago, the Daoist Master Qi of Mount Xuandu defeated Hulugu, the number one expert inTujue, right here on top of Half-Step Peak, and forced him to swear not to enter the Central Plains again for the next twenty years. It was a pity that I was too young to witness the fight back then, though I imagine its brilliance must have been unequaled.”
The young man who had spoken was the one followed behind. Their pace was moderate, yet they remained three steps apart from each other.
The man in front took small steps, appearing to be at such ease that it truly seemed as though he was walking on flat ground. The young man behind had slightly larger steps; though he was also as graceful as an immortal when seen alone, it was not difficult to distinguish the minute difference if one was to compare them together.
Yan Wushi sneered, “Considering all that was under the Heavens, Qi Fengge in those years truly deserved to be called ‘number one’. Hulugu, who was just an uncivilized barbarian, had only himself to blame as it was his overconfidence that brought shame onto himself. It was just that Qi Fengge held on too tightly to the aloofness of the Daoist sects and refused to deliver killing blows to him, insisting on making some twenty-year covenant instead. Besides planting the seed of future troubles for Mount Xuandu, in what way was it helpful?”
Yu Shengyan asked curiously, “Master, are Hulugu’s martial skills really that good?”
“If I were to fight him right now, there would still be no certainty of my victory.”
“Is he really that strong?!” Yu Shengyan’s expression turned fearful. He knew exactly how strong and unfathomable his master’s martial skills were. Since Hulugu received a comment like this from Yan Wushi, his level must have been just as dreadful. Perhaps he could even make into the top three under the Heavens.
Yan Wushi’s voice sounded indifferent: “Otherwise why would I say that Qi Fengge had left his generations of disciples endless troubles? It was true that twenty years ago, Hulugu was slightly inferior compared to Qi Fengge, but this gap was not something impossible to make up within two decades. Now that Qi Fengge is dead, Mount Xuandu can never find a second Qi Fengge.”
Yu Shengyan let out a soft sigh: “That’s right, Daoist Master Qi ascended to the Heavens five years ago.”
“Who’s the sect leader of Mount Xuandu now?”
“It’s a disciple of Qi Fengge named Shen Qiao.”
Yan Wushi barely showed any reaction to the name. He had met Qi Fengge only once, and that was twenty-five years ago. At that time, Shen Qiao had just been accepted by Qi Fengge as his personal disciple.
Even though Mount Xuandu was called “the number one Daoist sect under the Heavens,” in the eyes of Yan Wushi, who had just come out from a ten-year Closed Door Meditation, besides Qi Fengge, there was no one in Mount Xuandu that was worthy enough to be his match.
But Qi Fengge was already dead.
Seeing his master not showing much interest, Yu Shengyan continued, “I’ve heard that Hulugu’s disciple, Kunye, the Tuqi King of the Left and also the number one expert in Tujue nowadays, had challenged Shen Qiao for a duel today on the top of Half-Step Peak, claiming it as revenge for the humiliation back then. Would Master be interested in going for a look?”
Yan Wushi did not bother to reply, but instead asked, “During the ten years while I was in Meditation, was there any other major event besides Qi Fengge’s death?”
Yu Shengyan thought for a moment: “Not long after you entered Meditation, Gao Wei ascended the throne as the new Emperor of Qi. But he is a man wallowing in sensual pleasures and indulges in high living, so over the past ten years, the national power of Qi has declined drastically. There are rumors that Yuwen Yong, the Emperor of Zhou, is planning on attacking Qi. I’m afraid that the northern area will soon fall into the hands of Zhou.”
“After Qi Fengge’s death, the rankings of the top ten experts have also changed. Among them, Yi Bichen of the Chunyang Daoist Temple of Mount Qingcheng, Zen Master Xueting of Zhou, and Master-in-Charge Ruyan Kehui of the Linchuan Institute are generally acknowledged as the top three, and the three of them happens to represent the Three Schools of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.”
“But some say that SageJushe of Tuyuhun should also be one of the top three. Hulugu as well. If he has advanced further in skills over the past twenty years, then when he re-enters the Central Plains this time, it might not be impossible for him to even strive for the position of number one. ”
Seeing that his master was still moving forward without responding, Yu Shengyan further persuaded: “Master, Kunye has challenged Shen Qiao to a duel today, presumably a splendid fight hard to come by. Shen Qiao as a person lives a very secluded life. Ever since he took charge of the Purple Mansion of Xuandu, he engages even less in fights with others. Simply because of his master Qi Fengge’s illustrious reputation, he is also ranked within the top ten experts. If Master wants to take a look at the actual strength of Mount Xuandu, the fight today is definitely something we don’t want to miss. I’m afraid that at this moment, the summit of Regret Peak is already packed with experts who have come to watch it.”
“Do you think the reason that I came here today was to watch the fight?” Yan Wushi finally stopped.
Yu Shengyan was a bit nervous: “Then Master’s plan is?”
He was only seven years old when Yan Wushi took him as his disciple. Three years later, Yan Wushi was defeated in the battle against the Grand Master of the Demonic Sect, Cui Youwang, and entered Closed Door Meditation while wounded — a Meditation that had lasted ten years.
In those ten years, Yu Shengyan had continued to practice as Yan Wushi had instructed and also traveled to many places. His progress was far beyond what it had been, as he was already among the first-rate experts since long ago. However, it had been ten years since they had last seen each other, naturally, there were some gaps and unfamiliarity between them. Moreover, as the martial state of Yan Wushi became deeper and more profound, the awe in Yu Shengyan’s heart became greater as well. Even his usual casualness in front of others had turned into a sort of careful caution in front of his master.
With his hands clasped behind his back, Yan Wushi said with a plain voice, “I saw the duel between Qi Fengge and Hulugu many years ago. Both Shen Qiao and Kunye are their disciples, but still young; no matter how skillful they are, it’s impossible that their fight will surpass the spectacle of the fight between Qi and Hu. I brought you here because, with the rapid flow of water and its arduous landscape, this place connects upwards to the shadows of the heavens and downwards to the spirit of the earth–an optimum place for practicing and comprehending martial arts. When I was in Meditation, I didn’t have time to take care of you. Now that I have come out, I can no longer let you linger in your current progress without any breakthroughs. Until you can comprehend and reach the fifth stage of the Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin, you shall remain here.”
Yu Shengyan suddenly felt a bit wronged. Over the past ten years, even throughout his travels, he had never missed even one day of practice. Now he was barely twenty, yet he had already reached the fourth stage of Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin and was acknowledged among the best of the younger generation. He was quite satisfied with himself, but after his master’s words, it seemed like he had accomplished nothing of merit.
As if he was aware of Yu Shengyan’s feelings, a sarcastic smile appeared on Yan Wushi’s face as he curled up the corner of his mouth: “By the time I had reached your age, I had already attained the sixth stage. What is it that you are so proud of? Rather than competing with those little fishes and shrimps, why don’t you compete against me?”
Some grizzle was scattered among his sideburns, but that did in no way reduce his charms. In fact, the traces of that faint smile made it even harder to take one’s eyes off his handsome appearance.
The white robe rustled in the gale, but the person in it remained unshakable. Just standing there with his hands clasped behind his back, an invisible aura of deterrence formed with such arrogance as though he was looking down from the top of the world, challenging anyone who entered.
In that moment, Yu Shengyan stood across him and felt a sense of suffocation that compelled him to take a few steps backward. In profound reverence and fear, he said, “Master possesses heavenly talents, how dare I, your disciple, compete against you!”
“Greet me with your most powerful moves. I want to see your progress during these years.”
Ever since his master’s Meditation, Yu Shengyan had never tested his martial skill, thus he was slightly hesitant after hearing the challenge, but at the same time itching to try. However, that hesitation vanished as soon as he saw the hint of impatience that flashed across Yan Wushi’s face.
“Then please excuse your disciple for his rudeness!” Before his voice could fade, his body had already moved in accordance with his mind, and the sleeves of his robe flew up in the air. Without much movement, he was already close enough to Yan Wushi.
Yu Shengyan raised his sleeve and attacked with his palm. In the eyes of others, his move was not in the least powerful, much like picking up a flower on a spring day or swiping away dust on a summer night. Its lightness was almost otherworldly.
Only those close to it were able to feel that as his palm was striking out, all the plants within a meter shook and the river started to backflow, its waves tempestuous and foam flying in a flow of air that surged up with a roar and rushed towards Yan Wushi!
However, this flow, with a momentum that could stop the rivers or even turn the tide of the sea, split and ran off to either side as it reached Yan Wushi, as if it were blocked by an invisible screen.
He was still standing there. His posture had not changed even a bit. As Yu Shengyan’s palm approached his eyes, he simply struck out with a finger.
One finger only, and nothing more.
This single finger literally stopped Yu Shengyan’s offensive in mid-air.
Yu Shengyan felt that the entire airstream surrounding the palm he had just thrown out was turning back towards him. The counter-charged reflux that blasted back at his face was several times more powerful than he had created just now. Astonished, he used the power of the flow to assist his feet in a hurried retreat!
This retreat carried him back more than ten steps!
Until he finally stabilized himself on one of the stones, he was still palpitating with fear. “Thanks Master for your mercy!”
There were few people in the pugilistic world that could withstand this palm strike of his. Yu Shengyan had been quite complacent with it prior to this.
But Yan Wushi, with only one finger, was able to force him to withdraw the palm in self-defense.
‘Fortunately, Master was only testing my progress and did not push the advantage with further attacks. If it had been an enemy…’
Considering this point, Yu Shengyan was covered in cold sweat as he panicked and dared not walk on air anymore.
Knowing that he had already attained his objective, Yan Wushi did not intend to say more. “Don’t waste your superb talents. In a few days, I will leave for Tujue for some time. After you reach the fifth stage here, if there is nothing else to do, you can go find your senior martial brother. Don’t spend too much time loitering outside.”
Yu Shengyan replied most respectfully, “Yes.”
Yan Wushi continued, “This place’s views are crafted by nature and is seldom visited. I wish to take a tour around, so there’s no need for you to…”
Before he finished, a rattling sound came from not far above them. They looked in the direction of the sound and saw someone, as if he had been thrown from above, breaking layers of branches and hitting the bottom of the cliff. Even Yu Shengyan could not hold back an “ouch!” after hearing the muffled thud of the landing.
Falling from such a high peak, even for a Xiantian master, would still be hard to survive.
Not to mention that this person definitely did not fall without reason: it must be because he had been severely wounded.
“Master?” He looked at Yan Wushi for instructions.
“Go take a look,” said Yan Wushi.
His Daoist robe was torn in many places, likely by branches and jags while he was falling. With the bloodstains and fresh blood crisscrossing his torn flesh, it was even harder to recognize his original appearance.
The person had already passed out and was unconscious, unable to even hold onto his sword. As he hit the ground, his sword followed after and fell not far from him.
“I’m afraid that a number of his bones were broken.” Yu Shengyan examined the fallen man for a while with his eyebrows wrinkled and expressed his sympathy with some clicks of his tongue. He took his pulse, then felt there was still a slim chance of survival.
But for a person like this one, even if his life could be saved, the result might not be much more pleasant than death to him.
Yu Shengyan was a disciple of the Demonic Sect after all. In spite of him being still young, the amount of kindness he had was quite limited. Therefore, even though he had the Great Healing Pills on him at the time, he showed no intention of using it on the person.
“Master, today is the date of the duel between Shen Qiao and Kunye. This person fell down from above, could it be…”
Yan Wushi came over. Instead of looking at the man, he picked up his sword first.
Its blade was cold like the autumn water, without the least bit of damage, and the reflection of the rivers and the mists on it made it appear as if the blade itself was rippling. Near the handle of the sword were four seal characters.
Yu Shengyan came closer for a look, then let out a shout in surprise: “Grieving Celestial Sword! This sword belongs to the sect leader of the Purple Mansion of Xuandu, so he is indeed Shen Qiao!”
Staring at Shen Qiao, who was seriously wounded to the point of dying, he felt it almost incredible: “Qi Fengge was the strongest martial artist. How come Shen Qiao, his personal disciple as well as the sect leader of Mount Xuandu, was defeated so completely?”
Yu Shengyan squatted in front of Shen Qiao and his eyebrows furrowed. “Could it be that Kunye’s martial skills have reached a point where he has even surpassed his master Hulugu?”
If any other person from Mount Xuandu had fallen, Yan Wushi would take no interest or even give them another glance. But Shen Qiao, who was the sect leader after all, was indeed special.
He threw the Grieving Celestial Sword to Yu Shengyan, then stared at Shen Qiao’s unrecognizable countenance for a moment. Suddenly, a meaningful smile appeared on his face.
“Give him a Great Healing Pill to take for now.”
 Xiantian/Houtian (先天/后天): the names of two cultivation stages which appear in several novels, with the Houtian stage preceding the Xiantian stage. Houtian can mean Posterior Heaven / Post-celestial / Acquired. Xiantian can mean Anterior Heaven / Pre-celestial / Innate. Very roughly, the idea is that something “Xiantian” is primordial and thus close to the Dao, while something “Houtian” is degraded or further away from the Dao.
These two terms are derived from Daoism and Internal Alchemy. There’s a belief that people are born with a small amount of Xiantian treasures (Essence, Qi and Spirit). By practicing Daoist cultivation and internal alchemy, they can absorb and refine the Houtian Qi of the natural world to steadily increase their supply of Xiantian treasures (which grant health and longevity benefits). [Source]
 Expert: From now onwards, “expert” will often be used as an abbreviation for “expert of martial arts”.
 Central Plains (中原 zhongyuan): The area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River which formed the cradle of Chinese civilization. In was considered to be the center of the world by ancient Chinese, and in a broader context, the term also refers to Chinese civilization and China proper, regions directly governed by centralized Chinese governments and dynasties. [Source (wiki)]
 Ascended to the Heavens (登遐 dengxia): A polite term for “death”.
 Personal Disciple (入室弟子 rushi dizi): Also referred to as in-house disciple, a disciple who has a very intimate relationship with their master and is chosen to be taught by their master personally. Usually, their master passes down everything they know to their personal disciples as well.
 Closed Door Meditation (闭关 biguan): Also called Closed Door Training or Closed Door Cultivation. Training done in seclusion, usually to focus on breaking through a bottleneck, to heal injuries/wounds, or to avoid becoming distracted at a crucial moment and suffering a backlash as a result. [Source]
 The Tuqi King of the Left (左屠耆王 zuo tuqi wang / 左贤王 zuo xian wang): A high office of the Xiongnu, a title also knowns as “the left worthy/wise prince/king”, which is the expression used by Chinese analysts in reference to the Eastern Turkic Khaganate (aka Tujue here) in the 6-8th centuries, which is the historical settings this novel is in.
The Tuqi King of the Left was generally designated as the successor of the Chanyu/Khan, the leader of the confederation of the nomadic groups (Xiongnu/Tujue). Two titles were awarded with each of them a commander-in-chief who derived his power from the eastern and western territories respectively. These served as two wings alongside the leader’s main domain. The Chinese annalistic explanation was a “Worthy Prince of the Left (East)” and “Worthy Prince of the Right (West)”. This organization of the state was traditional for the Eurasian nomadic statesfrom the Khans to the Turkic Khanates. [Source (wiki)]
 Institute (学宫 xuegong): An official Confucian school founded by government. In this novel, this school also serves as an Confucian Sect.
 The Three Schools: From now onwards, it will be used as an abbreviation for “the Three Schools of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism”.
 Sage (智者 zhizhe): An honorific given to monks from the Tibetan Buddhism with high ranks.
 Tuyuhun (吐谷浑): A powerful kingdom established by Eurasian nomads related to the Xianbei in the Qilian Mountains and upper Yellow River valley.
 Purple Mansion of Xuandu (玄都紫府 Xuandu Zifu): Purple Mansion (Zifu) is often used to refer to the place/palace/state where the Immortals live. The Purple Mansion of Xuandu (Xuandu Zifu), is the place where “the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord (太上老君 Taishang Laojun)” lived, who is also known as “the Universally Honoured Virtuous One (道德至尊 Daode Zhizun)” or the Taoist Ancestor. In here, it is used as a name for the Daoist Sect on Mount Xuandu.
 Seal Character (篆体): An ancient style of writing Chinese characters that was common throughout the latter half of the 1st millennium BC, evolved originally out of the Zhou dynasty script. Later, it is widely used for and only appears in decorative engraving and seals. [Source (wiki)]
 Grieving Celestial (山河同悲 Shanhe Tongbei): Literally means “The Mountains and Rivers grieves together [with them/it]”, while “Mountains and Rivers” is a term often used to refer to “the World/the entire land/the Nature”. There are four characters in Chinese, hence the “four seal characters” in the paragraph above.