Chapter 3: Gentle and amenable, beautiful and kind
“Your name is Shen Qiao, originally a disciple of our Cleansing Moon Sect. Somehow, you were injured severely, but luckily I found you while passing by so I was able to bring you back in time. The enemies who hurt you are from Harmony Sect. Since I was no match for them either, I had to bring you to safety first. You can take revenge on them after you recover and gain your martial skills back.”
Yu Shengyan was talking gibberish solemnly, but Shen Qiao listened to him in true earnestness as well.
In the end, he asked, “Then…how should I address you?”
“My family name is Yu. Yu Shengyan. I’m your senior martial brother.”
This sentence was truly said without conscience. Yu Shengyan was just over twenty this year. Even though Shen Qiao’s appearance did not give away his age, since he was the disciple of Qi Fengge and had been the head of Mount Xuandu for five years, it was impossible that he would be younger than Yu Shengyan.
It was obvious that Yu Shengyan was intentionally exploiting his blindness for an advantage in the form of address.
But Shen Qiao really greeted him tamely: “Senior martial brother.”
“…” Looking at his innocent face, Yu Shengyan somehow felt a bit guilty.
He cringed with a laugh: “Be good. Since you can’t get up yet, you should stay in bed and rest. After you are fully recovered, I will bring you to pay respects to Master.”
Shen Qiao responded, “Alright.”
He closed his eyes but re-opened them soon after. Due to the lack of focus, his eyes appeared a little slack and the usual brightness within them had vanished as well. “Senior martial brother…?”
“Is there anything else?” Yu Shengyan believed himself to be someone with a tender heart for fair beauties. Seeing Shen Qiao, he said “pity” to himself once again and thought: ‘It is indeed a pity that the once glorious leader of all Daoist sects would end up like this. If it was back then when he was in charge of the sect with his martial powers in full bloom, what kind of bearing and demeanor would he have?’
“I want to drink some water…”
“Don’t drink water for now. Your medicine will be ready soon. Right now, you need to consider medicine as your water.”
Right after he finished, a servant girl came over with a decoction in her hands. Perhaps it was his faking of Shen Qiao’s history just now that had evoked a rare sense of guilt deep inside him; Yu Shengyan took the soup bowl, asked the girl to elevate Shen Qiao’s head with a pillow behind his neck, then fed the decoction to him spoon by spoon.
Not all of Shen Qiao’s bones were broken, but it was not far from it. On top of the injured meridians, his chances of survival were close to none. The good foundation of his health was the sole reason that he could wake up within only one month. Now, without at least three more months in bed, he should not expect to be able to move around.
Even though Yu Shengyan suffered a hard time during practice ever since he became a disciple of Yan Wushi, since the lifestyle of the demonic sect had always been extravagant, his everyday food and clothing was by no means lower in standard than that of the young masters of noble families. For someone like him to feed decoctions to others with his own hands, no matter how careful he was, there were still occasional spills onto Shen Qiao’s robe. But Shen Qiao drank every spoonful he was fed without any signs of discontent. After he finished drinking, Shen Qiao even flashed Yu Shengyan a faint smile and gratefully said, “Thank you, senior martial brother.”
Gentle and amenable, beautiful and kind.
Even though it was merely a slight smile, it was enough to bring out a warm color onto his pale face. The servant girl on the side blushed quietly and immediately averted her eyes.
He did not ask about anything, which actually made Yu Shengyan wonder. If he were to wake up with no memories in his head, blind and seriously injured to the point that he could not even get out of bed, even if he were to not break down mentally, it would still be impossible for him to stay calm the way Shen Qiao was.
“Why don’t you ask me when you will fully recover?”
“Master and senior martial brother must have been running about, exhausted both physically and mentally, because of me.” Shen Qiao coughed a few times, pulling the muscles around his wounds, causing his eyebrows to furrow. “If I am to ask, won’t it add even more grief to you and Master?”
As though he had never seen someone so attentive and considerate of others, or maybe it was because Shen Qiao’s face could easily evoke one’s guilt, Yu Shengyan was speechless for a moment, unsure what to say. After a while, he finally said, “Then you should have a good rest. I’ll leave for today, but I’ll come again tomorrow to help you with the treatment.”
“Thank you, senior martial brother. Please deliver my greetings to Master on my behalf.”
“I will.” Suddenly, Yu Shengyan had a feeling that if he was going to stay any longer, it would only increase the awkwardness. Touching his nose a few times, he threw out the sentence and left.
At first he was a little suspicious whether Shen Qiao’s amnesia was merely an act of playing dumb. But since that day, he would visit Shen Qiao almost daily, and just like the way he was the first time he woke up, he remained gentle, optimistic, and extremely grateful towards Yu Shengyan.
Whatever Yu Shengyan said, he believed it all without a single doubt, as innocent and pure as a piece of white paper.
After he was able to get out of bed and move around a little, Shen Qiao even suggested a visit to “his master” Yan Wushi to thank him personally.
If Yu Shengyan did not remind him, Yan Wushi would have already forgotten the presence of Shen Qiao.
Within the ten years of his Meditation, lots of things had changed in the world. It was not something that could be summed up by others into a few sentences.
There were many sects in this world, and each of them had their own faction and political influence backing them.
The Gao family of Qi was known for their absurd and unreasonable behavior, thus every generation of its emperor tended to affiliate more with the Demonic Sect. Now it was the generation of Gao Wei, who had a very close relationship with Harmony Sect, therefore Harmony Sect’s influence in the country of Qi had risen greatly.
In the country of Zhou, when Yuwen Hu was in charge of the court before, he had respect for Buddhism, therefore Zen Master Xueting was once honored with the position of the Grand Preceptor of Zhou. However, after Yuwen Yong ascended to power, the trend changed. This new emperor believed in neither Daoism nor Buddhism. He even banned both schools throughout the country, therefore the influence of Buddhism in Zhou right now was much weaker compared to the past.
As for the Chen Dynasty in the south, it was headed by the Linchuan Institute of Confucianism. Master-in-Charge Ruyan Kehui assisted the Emperor of Chen in governing the country wholeheartedly and was greatly respected and heavily relied upon.
Before Yan Wushi entered Meditation, he had been an official in Zhou under a different identity–the assistant-in-governing for Yuwen Yong, who was the Duke of Lu at that time. Later he escaped far away after he was injured in the battle with Cui Youwang, but before he left, he ordered his eldest disciple, Bian Yanmei, to stay by Yuwen Yong’s side.
Now that he had emerged from Meditation, surely he would take a trip to the country of Zhou and pay a courtesy call to Yuwen Yong, who had already ascended the throne as the Emperor and taken back his power from the hands of Yuwen Hu.
In these years, the Northern Zhou had strengthened itself step by step, which was not something the other countries were happy to see. Moreover, even the Three schools of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism were not on intimate terms with this Emperor of Zhou, since he not only banned the latter two but also disallowed the first from setting up public teachings to gain followers.
It was exactly this kind of background that allowed the Cleansing Moon Sect to approach and support Yuwen Yong, while at the same time, Yuwen Yong also needed the Cleansing Moon Sect to maintain his rule.
After his meeting with Yunwen Yong, Yan Wushi left Northern Zhou and paid a visit to Mount Xuandu along the way, and then went to check out Kunye, the so-called number one expert of Tujue who had defeated Shen Qiao.
Fighting hand to hand with each other for one round, Kunye was defeated. The name Yan Wushi the “Demonic Sovereign” reappeared, reverberating throughout the entire marital world. Everyone was saying that in addition to Cui Youwang, the Demonic Sect would give birth to another powerful yet dreadful man.
Only this time, without Qi Fengge, there was one less person able to equal him in force.
In Yan Wushi’s opinion, Kunye’s skills were good and his talents were outstanding as well, yet he was still nowhere near the Hulugu in those years. Even when compared with the others on the current list of the top ten, he could not be considered as distinguishable. The fact that someone like him could severely injure the sect leader of Mount Xuandu was itself somewhat strange.
But this was not the key point of his concerns. What exactly was behind Shen Qiao’s injury or whether it had anything to do with Kunye–Yan Wushi had no interest to find out. The only reason that he made Kunye his first target was to spread the news of his re-emergence in the pugilistic world. Since Kunye had just defeated the sect leader of Mount Xuandu recently and became the focus of everyone, he was the optimum choice.
More importantly, the biggest gain of Yan Wushi’s journey this time was neither to make a name of himself nor to defeat Kunye, but to find out the whereabouts of one of the remaining books of The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang.
Legend has it that fifty years ago, the grandmaster of that generation, Tao Hongjing, encountered an immortal on Mount Mao and was handed-down a book named The Key to Ascend the Truth. The book consisted of a total of four parts. Tao Hongjing reorganized three of them into another book and named it The Secret Key to Ascend the Truth.
For the small part that was left out, because the content was obscure, with most of it related to cultivation between Man and the Heavens, Tao Hongjing organized it into a separate book, mixing in the essence of the learnings and understandings of his lifetime–this was the well-renowned The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang.
Tao Hongjing delved deeply and studied the relationship between Man and the Heavens. Although a Daoist priest himself, he was a true expert in all of the Three Schools, and was also blessed with all of the learnings of the Immortal Master Danyang, Sun Youyue. Thus, as a man whose martial skills had attained the acme of perfection that even Qi Fengge would willingly acknowledge defeat against him, he was indeed the number one martial artist beyond dispute.
Since it had such an origin, The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang naturally became a treasured script that people fell over each other in their eagerness to read. It was said that if one could fully comprehend all of its five books, they would be able to see through the ultimate of martial artists since time immemorial and enter a whole new realm that even ascending to heavens  would no longer be impossible.
Unfortunately, after Tao Hongjing ascended to the land of the Immortals, the Shangqing Sect of Mount Mao suffered enormously due to its involvement in politics. With each of its disciples in their own differing standpoint, together with the civil disorder that would later seize the Liang Dynasty, the five books of The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang were scattered everywhere and were unable to be retrieved.
It was not until ten years later, when Qi Fengge admitted himself that his martial arts, besides the legacy of Mount Xuandu, also included the help from The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang, that the whereabouts of the scripts were finally discovered one after another. Rumors said that one book was the treasure of the country of Zhou, one book was owned by Tiantai Sect in Zhejiang, one book was kept in Mount Xuandu, while the locations of the other two remained a mystery over several decades and were still nowhere to be found till today.
Yan Wushi had the chance to come in contact with the one treasured in the Imperial Palace of Zhou in his early years. The substantial increase in his cultivation after the Meditation should be partially credited to that one book of The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang.
Only by experiencing it themselves, could one truly understand how ingenious The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang really was. From the one, the whole could be divined. In The Strategy of the Vermilion Yangwas embodied the fruit of painstaking efforts of Tao Hongjing’s entire lifetime. It gathered together the martial arts and meditation ways  of all Three Schools, complementing and integrating them with each other, therefore was truly comprehensive and flawless. If it was possible to read through the remaining four books, not only was claiming the sovereignty of the martial artists only a matter of time, but even penetrating the ways of heavens and reaching the state of unity between Man and the Heavens would not be impossible anymore.
The purpose of Yan Wushi’s trip this time was to sneak in Mount Xuandu, making use of the opportunity that it was in a state of turmoil without a leader, to search for the book of The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang. However, during his fight with Kunye, he happened to realize that although Kunye’s martial skills succeeded the direct lineage of the western regions, his inner arts and qi appeared there yet not there. It seemed like it was from the same origin as his, leading Yan Wushi to suspect that it was highly probable that the reason Hulugu was able to barely match Qi Fengge in power and only lost by half a move in the end was that he had gained help from The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang.
As one of the new generation experts of Tujue, given enough time, it would not be impossible for Kunye to match in strength with Hulugu. Since the combination of the meditation ways of the Western Regions and The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang had brought up one Hulugu, it could definitely bring up a second.
This aroused a great amount of interest in Yan Wushi, therefore in the following days, he followed Kunye everywhere and would challenge him to a fight whenever he felt like it. Unable to win over him yet also having no chance to escape, Kunye almost had all of his nerves frayed and decided that he might as well return to Tujue in the end.
Yan Wushi had no plans to chase him all the way to Tujue at the moment, so he leisurely returned to the spare mansion.
Right after he returned, he heard from his disciple that Shen Qiao had awoken and now was able to get out of bed and walk around.
When Shen Qiao appeared, he had a bamboo cane in his hand. Step by step, he walked slowly, but steadily.
A servant girl was supporting him while softly explaining to him the different paths inside the mansion.
“My respects to Master.” After the girl showed him the direction, Shen Qiao bowed toward where Yan Wushi was sitting.
“Sit.” Yan Wushi put down the Weiqi  piece that was in his hand. Yu Shengyan, who was sitting across him, looked so miserable that one could hardly bear the sight of his expression. But at the same time, he was so joyful as well, as if he had just been granted amnesty. Obviously, he was currently at a disadvantage in the game.
Shen Qiao sat down with the servant girl’s assistance.
After he woke up, the memories he had for most of the things appeared to be vague. He could not even remember his own name and where he had come from. As for Yan Wushi and Yu Shengyan, he had no impression of them at all.
“How do you feel?” asked Yan Wushi.
“Thanking Master for your care, I can get out of bed and walk around already. Just that my hands and legs still feel weak, and my martial arts…seems like it hasn’t recovered yet.”
Shen Qiao gave him his hand obediently. Yan Wushi’s fingers immediately pinched his ‘gate of vitality ’ point.
He inspected the pulse for a moment, and a trace of surprise appeared on his formerly inattentive face.
He glanced at Shen Qiao meaningfully, though the latter, due to his inability to see, had a vacant and innocent look.
Yan Wushi asked, “Do you feel any discomfort?”
Shen Qiao thought for a moment: “Every night at around midnight, my body has alternating sensations between cold and hot, accompanied by a pain in my chest, sometimes to the point that I can hardly walk.”
Yu Shengyan added: “I’ve already had the doctor look at it. The doctor said that it was probably because junior martial brother has been seriously wounded that the process of recovery would take some time.”
Yan Wushi sneered faintly at the “junior martial brother” that seemed to slip out rather smoothly, then he said to Shen Qiao, “Your martial arts is not completely ruined. I sensed that there is still a faint trace of qi left inside your body that seems weak yet strong. Given enough time, it might not be impossible for your martial arts to recover. However, our Cleansing Moon Sect does not support good-for-nothings. I have an errand for your senior martial brother to run. You can go with him to assist.”
He did not ask what the errand was about. Just like how he had treated Yu Shengyan, he agreed with whatever others said. For the rest of the time he just sat there serenely, without any excessive movements.
But Yan Wushi was by no means moved by all the indignity that Shen Qiao was experiencing after his fall. The weakness that Shen Qiao revealed had only caused an even richer malice to be conceived, making him want to violate and tainted this snow white from head to toe more than ever.
“You can go back and take a rest now,” he said plainly.
Shen Qiao stood up and excused himself docilely, then slowly left with the assistance of the servant girl.
Yan Wushi retrieved his line of sight from the back of Shen Qiao, and said to Yu Shengyan, “Make a trip to Qi directly and eliminate the entire family of the Grand Master of Remonstrance  Yan Zhiwen.”
“Yes.” Yu Shengyan accepted the order without hesitation. “Has he displeased Master in any way?”
“He’s a disciple of the Harmony Sect, and also one of the eyes that Harmony Sect has planted in Qi.”
Yu Shengyan was also excited after hearing the words: “Yes! The Harmony Sect has been acting arrogant for too long, and Yuan Xiuxiu, taking the advantage of your Meditation, has caused us much trouble. If we don’t teach her a lesson, won’t our Cleansing Moon Sect seem way too useless? I’ll take off within the next couple days!”
Pausing for a moment, he held back the smile on his face and asked perplexedly, “Master wants me to bring Shen Qiao along? He has lost all of his martial arts. I’m afraid that he won’t be able to help with anything.”
With the shadow of a smile, Yan Wushi said, “Now that you have called him your ‘junior martial brother’, you should at least show him the world. It’s true that his martial arts hasn’t recovered yet, but killing one or two people should not be a difficulty for him still.”
Yu Shengyan finally understood; Master was treating Shen Qiao like a piece of white paper and wanted him dyed completely black. Even if one day Shen Qiao came around to his senses or was able to regain his memories, since there was no way to undo what had been done, by that time it would be impossible for him to return to the orthodox side even if he wanted to.
How was being like them anything bad? One would handle matters with no constraints or scruples, do whatever they pleased, and was free from all of society’s rules. Moreover, Yu Shengyan firmly believed that the nature of man was evil and that a dark side existed deep within everyone. It all came down to whether there was a chance to express it or not. All those so-called Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian sects spoke profusely of virtue and morality and how one should always embrace benevolence, when they were in fact merely covering up their own selfish desires with righteous causes. Not to mention that when it came to the competition for the throne of the world, the winner took it all. Under such circumstances, was there even a country’s ruler whose hands were not covered in blood? And who could claim being cleaner than the others?
“Yes. I’ll make sure to guide junior martial brother well.”
 Ascending to Heavens (飞升): The term directly refers to becoming an immortal here, though it is often used as a way to avoid saying someone is dead by wishing them to achieve immortality.
 Meditation Ways (心法 xinfa): Literally means the art of hearts, or ways of mental cultivation. It is the specific ways to cultivate one’s inner martial arts through meditations, such as specific paths for circulation of qi, and etc.
 Western Regions (西域 xiyu): A term used in ancient China referring to the area west of the Yumen Pass, most of Central Asia nowadays.
 Weiqi (围棋): A chess game played in ancient China, which also known by the name “go” nowadays. (Yes! It’s the game played by AlphaGo.)
 Gate of Vitality (命门 mingmen): Refers to a position on the wrist of someone’s right hand in wuxia novels, as opposed to the actual acupoint in Chinese medicine which is located on the waist. It is a critical position for martial artists since it can be used to seriously injure or even kill someone easily.
 Grand Master of Remonstrance (谏议大夫 jianyi dafu): One of the category of prestigious officials called Remonstrance Officials or Speaking Officials whose principal function was to attend and advise the emperor, and especially to remonstrate with him about what they considered improper conduct or policy. [Source]