Chapter 35: Sect Leader Shen felt utterly exhausted, both mind and body.
It really wasn’t Bai Rong’s fault for being over-alarmed. The fear that the disciples of the Demonic Sects had toward Yan Wushi was simply too great.
Back then, before he entered Closed Door Meditation, Yan Wushi had fought all three Demonic Sects by himself and was close to unifying them. He wiped out more than half of the elite disciples in the Mirror of Arts Sect, and the Harmony Sect also suffered great losses. If he hadn’t lost to Cui Youwang and needed to heal his wound by entering Closed Door Meditation because of that, it would be hard to say what the situation of the three sects would be like today.
Despite all that, the fear toward the name Yan Wushi was already carved into their bones.
Bai Rong was still young. She didn’t have the chance to fight against Yan Wushi during that time. Not long ago, she was ordered by her master to sneakily attack Yan Wushi’s eldest disciple, Bian Yanmei, but she accidentally bumped into Yan Wushi on the way. She barely managed to escape with all her strength, and ever since then, she developed a deeper understanding of the name, “demonic sovereign”.
If Shen Qiao wasn’t alone today, she would never risk coming up to him.
Now, as she saw Shen Qiao using the “Spring Water Fingering”, the dreaded narrow escape she made a few days ago emerged again from the bottom of her heart.
The finger came at her, but Bai Rong was too scared to take it directly. She slid to the side and retreated. However, unwilling to let go of the prey at hand, she pasted herself tightly onto the side of the carriage and slipped the long way around it in an attempt to bring Shen Qiao under control from behind.
Who knew that Shen Qiao would have eyes on his back as well. His pointing finger turned midway into a palm, softly drifting with almost no force. But the unceasing and profound strength contained within it was something that Bai Rong didn’t dare to take lightly.
As it was now, how could she not realize that she had failed miserably from underestimating the other? Seeing Shen Qiao spitting blood earlier in the carriage, she had assumed that he had exhausted all his strength, but he unexpectedly still had so much left!
Bai Rong’s palms were soft and tender. The pair of pretty and delicate hands was enough to invoke the tenderness in any man’s heart to make them reluctant to attack. However, Shen Qiao was an exception. Since he couldn’t see, any Enchantment Art based on appearance had no effect on him.
Their palms closed in on each other’s quietly without a sniff of powder. It looked more like a girl clinging to her loved one instead of a fight.
Bai Rong felt as if her chest was hit by a hard blow. Her eyes widened in disbelief. She clenched her teeth and struck her other hand out at the carriage. The carriage burst apart in an instant, sending the frightened horse galloping forward. Shen Qiao leaped up and landed on the horse’s back. Reining the horse as hard as he could, he finally forced the maddened horse to slow down with a neigh.
A soft sigh came from behind, “Mister Shen is so sentimental and soft-hearted that you won’t even harm a horse. I’m actually a little jealous of Sect Master Yan now!”
Seeing that Shen Qiao was distracted by the horse, Bai Rong refused to give up and caught up with him from behind. Her words sounded affectionate, but they did not stop her from attacking ruthlessly. She lunged straight at Shen Qiao’s back and didn’t care at all if Shen Qiao ended up disabled. He could still recite the Book of Free Will as long as he was alive and able to talk!
Shen Qiao heaved a sigh as well. Instead of turning back, he lowered himself and slipped to the side of the horse. Grabbing the reins in one hand, he pressed the horse onto the ground with the other to make sure it wouldn’t be harmed because of him. As soon as the horse was down, he immediately tapped on the ground with his feet and went straight toward Bai Rong.
Bai Rong had already suffered a loss and dared not to fight him face to face again. She immediately withdrew her palm and vanished into the woods, leaving only a series of laughs: “Mister Shen is willing to save even a horse, yet you’re so heartless to me! I guess I’ll just come play with you some other day!”
After making sure that the other person had finally left, Shen Qiao didn’t even have the strength left to stand. He tried to bend down while holding the horse’s back, but his legs suddenly failed him and he knelt right on the ground.
The horse knelt on the ground and finally calmed down. It neighed a few times and tilted its head and stared at Shen Qiao, its watery eyes filled with puzzlement.
Shen Qiao gave it a light pat. “Sorry, I’ve caused you trouble…”
Before he could finish, blood welled up in his throat and he was unable to keep it down. He covered his mouth subconsciously, but blood continued to seep out between his fingers.
Shen Qiao simply put his hand down to let the blood pour out. Then he wiped the stain on his lips with the sleeve.
He breathed out a sigh of relief, only to be greeted by a fit of lightheadedness. His ears were buzzing, and his head was swimming. In fact, he had a strong desire to just fall down like this, close his eyes, and not care about anything in this world.
Such a state was not uncommon to him. Ever since he was injured, his body was often like this, prone to feebleness. As his martial arts recovered, the situation didn’t get any better. For one thing, his wounded meridians were constantly stirred by his frequent involvement in battles. Because of it, they were getting damaged at a faster rate than he could repair. And for the other, he had reached a bottleneck in cultivating the inner qi of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang and hadn’t made any progress for a long time while the inner arts of Mount Xuandu alone was not sufficient enough to fully heal his damaged foundation.
However, despite being used to it, he still felt very sick and he had to lean against the horse to rest with his eyes closed. He was going to wait for the dizziness to pass before getting up. Otherwise, his current state wouldn’t even allow him to ride the horse back to the city.
Right at this time, however, he heard someone speaking from a place not far from him, “Sect Leader Shen, have you ever heard the saying, ‘The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind it’?”
The voice was neither too sharp nor too low, nor was it deliberately making a show of force. It simply asking a question very politely.
It was as if he was asking for directions rather than picking a fight.
Shen Qiao didn’t open his eyes. He only answered with a hoarse voice, “Your voice sounds a little unfamiliar. We haven’t met before.”
The person who just arrived answered courteously, “Yes, this is our first time seeing each other. I didn’t think that Bai Rong was going to be faster than me. However, it was actually to my fortune that Bai Rong was a step faster than me, otherwise I wouldn’t be the one to reap the benefits. Are you okay?”
Shen Qiao shook his head. “I can’t get up. Sorry about that.”
The other person was very considerate, “It’s no problem.”
Despite having said that, he showed no intention of coming over to help. Neither did he leave.
Shen Qiao sighed, “I still don’t know your name.”
The other person laughed, “Even though we just met, I already feel like I’ve been such old friends with Sect Leader Shen that I almost forgot to introduce myself. My family name is Guang. I’m from the west of the Yellow River, and I’m currently traveling around without a set residence.”
‘Guang’ was a rather rare name. The number of people in the pugilistic world with that family name could be counted on one hand.
Shen Qiao said, “How is Shen honorable enough to have the sect master of the Mirror of Arts Sect grace me with your presence?”
Guang Lingsan greeted, “I have long admired Sect Leader Shen’s reputation. It was a pity that we didn’t have the chance to meet until today. I was deeply regretful when I heard that Sect Leader Shen fell off the cliff. Little did I expect to be blessed to see your graceful bearing of defeating two people in a row! How lucky am I!”
Shen Qiao forced a smile, “Sect Master Guang can save all those courteous quotes. Can you please go straight to the point? Otherwise, I’m afraid I can’t hold on any longer and will pass out soon. Then I won’t be able to hear what you’re trying to say.”
Guang Lingsan didn’t need to experience it himself to know that Shen Qiao must be in great agony right now. Seeing how the other person was still able to chat and laugh, he actually felt some respect for him.
Guang Lingsan said, “Sect Master Yan took an item from the Mirror of Arts Sect and still hasn’t returned it to this day. So I have to invite Sect Leader Shen to spend some time in the Mirror of Arts Sect.”
Shen Qiao replied, “Then I’m afraid you’ve miscalculated. I probably have no other use to Sect Master Guang apart from wasting food. A pair of chopsticks that Sect Master Yan uses is probably worth much more than me.”
Even talking had now become a laborious job for him; he closed his eyes immediately after he pulled through the sentence. His eyebrows were slightly furrowed and his face extremely pale, as if he was going to breathe his last in the next second.
Guang Lingsan also feared that Shen Qiao was going to die, so he reached out with his hand wanting to feel his pulse and replenish his inner qi.
As soon as he touched the other person’s wrist, Guang Lingsan suddenly moved and rapidly retreated a couple meters!
On the ground, a shallow dip appeared right where Guang Lingsan had been standing.
“They all say that the reason why Sect Master Yan brought the injured Sect Leader Shen back is because you want to humiliate him and make him your toy. But from what I’ve seen, it’s not necessarily true!” said Guang Lingsan with a smile. “It has been many years since we last met. Sect Master Yan’s demeanour is even more elegant than before!”
Yan Wushi glanced at Shen Qiao. The latter had either fallen asleep or passed out. He was already completely unconscious, his hands hanging softly next to his body and his eyes closed. There was a large stain of blood at the end of his sleeve.
Yan Wushi’s eyes shifted back to Guang Lingsan. “During the years that I was not around, the Harmony Sect suppressed the Mirror of Arts Sect so badly that you couldn’t even stay in the Central Plains anymore and had to move to Tuyuhun. Aren’t you a bit too incompetent as a sect master?”
Guang Lingsan laughed, “Of course I’m not as capable as Sect Master Yan. You even have the former sect leader of Mount Xuandu in your hands, not only to warm up your bed but also to help you cultivate. And you can use him as a tool to test your martial arts as well. That’s killing three birds with one stone indeed, and other people won’t have your luck no matter how jealous they are. I thought about borrowing him for a few days at first, but I didn’t expect that Sect Master Yan would value him so much that you would rush over without a halt.”
Dressed like a scholar, he looked gentle and refined, yet he spoke just like the typical style of the demonic sects, without any restraint.
Yan Wushi said, “I heard the Mirror of Arts Sect has been doing so well in Tuyuhun these past years that even Kualuyu Khan is acting at your beck and call. Well, farther from the Emperor, freer from the law. You must have felt like a fish in water over there.”
When he spoke, it was always in a lightly provoking manner. People with violent temper would undoubtedly be riled up. But because Yan Wushi was also exceptionally skilled in martial arts, they couldn’t fight him for it. Over time, such a tone had actually become some kind of symbolic characteristic of his.
Guang Lingsan replied with a faint smile, “We cannot compare with Sect Master Yan. The Emperor of Zhou relied heavily on you. The Northern Zhou was your Cleaning Moon Sect’s territory; The Harmony Sect monopolizes the trust of the Emperor of Qi; The Southern Chen has the Linchuan Institute, while the Buddhist and Daoist sects are glaring covetously on the side. Our Mirror of Arts Sect is so lonely and weak that we have no choice but to move to farther places. Well, it’s our choice either.”
Yan Wushi’s phoenix eyes slightly narrowed. “If that’s the case, why don’t you stay in Tuyuhun and continue running your sect? What’re you coming to the Country of Zhou for?”
“I came to see Sect Master Yan of course. I would like you to return the Redolent Bone to the Mirror of Arts Sect.”
Yan Wushi sneered, “Return? Is your name carved on it?”
Guang Lingsan said coldly, “It originally belonged to my deceased master. Why wouldn’t it be mine?”
Yan Wushi laughed out loud, “You didn’t dare talk to me like this just ten years ago. Did you suddenly grow countless guts in ten years?”
Although the world of martial artists only respected the strong, there was at least a layer of window paper called morals and ethics. But the disciples of the Demonic Sects really put the principle to its extreme. The powerful ones could have anything they wanted, while the ones who were weak had no one else to blame even if they were killed. Ten years ago, before Yan Wushi entered Closed Door Meditation, the other two sects dared not to even breathe loudly under the pressure of Yan Wushi. However, ten years could also make people forget many things, including fear.
Of course, Yan Wushi’s martial arts improved drastically over the ten years of Closed Door Meditation, but the others also had made their advances. Not to mention that Guang Lingsan was also one of the great experts in the Top Ten — even if there was a gap between them, it would not be an impassable chasm.
With a quiet groan, Shen Qiao struggled to open his heavy eyelids.
A blur of light came into his sight. It was no longer complete darkness, but what he could see was still very limited, not much better than an open-eyed blind. So he simply closed them again.
He heard a gentle voice next to his ear, “Mister Shen. You’re awake. The medicine is ready. It’s still hot. Let me help you with it.”
It was Ruru’s voice. Shen Qiao recognized it. She was a servant girl taking care of him during his stay in the Residence of the Junior Preceptor.
“…I’m in the Residence of the Junior Preceptor?” Shen Qiao could only recall running into Guang Lingsan and then losing consciousness afterwards.
Ruru covered her mouth as she laughed, “Of course you’re in the Residence of the Junior Preceptor. Why would Ruru be here otherwise? Master brought you back.”
She brought the medicine to Shen Qiao and helped him drink it. Then she went on to smoothen the blanket underneath him, “The doctor was here. He said that you had a deficiency in both qi and blood, so you should take more blood-enriching supplements.”
Shen Qiao nodded, asking, “Where’s Sect Master Yan?”
Ruru replied, “Master is in the study talking to the eldest young master.”
In her words, ‘eldest young master’ referred to Bian Yanmei.
There were probably soothing ingredients in the medicine he just took. Shen Qiao didn’t say much before he fell unconscious again. He slept for another few hours. By the time he woke up again, the room was already bright, showing the blurry silhouette of a man next to him.
“Sect Master Yan?” He felt his way as he sat up.
Yan Wushi put down the book, but he didn’t come over to lend him an arm. He only answered with a groan.
Shen Qiao asked, “Guang Lingsan has left already?”
“Yes. We had a fight.”
“Although his skill in martial arts is good, he should not be your match.”
That was all he said. He didn’t seem to be surprised that Yan Wushi had shown up there in time, neither did he ask about it.
Yan Wushi said, “I heard you fought with Duan Wenyang in the Residence of Su.”
“That person is surprisingly skilled in martial arts. Given enough time, he will not be any less than the Hulugu of those years.”
“How does he compare to Kunye?”
“Even better than Kunye.”
“In that case, it was a pure fluke that you won today.”
Shen Qiao didn’t claim credit for himself, “That’s right. Duan Wenyang fought with Li Qingyu first and was slightly injured, therefore giving me the advantage.”
Yan Wushi said, “I took your pulse just now. When you fell of the cliff that day, the poison of Quietus had already seeped into your bones and destroyed your foundation. At first I thought The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was able to repair your meridians, but looking at it now, having only two incomplete books produced very little effect. What is even more troublesome is that if you repeatedly fight with other people and get injured, it will only damage your ‘Daoist Heart’ even more. If this continues, by the time your Daoist Core is completely destroyed, even the immortals will not be able to save you. However powerful The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang is, it won’t be able to do things that even the immortals cannot do.”
The Daoist Heart was not a heart. Its meaning lay in the fact that it was the foundation. Shen Qiao had built his foundation since he was young through the practice of the inner art of a Daoist sect, and this foundation was his “Daoist Heart”. If a person’s Daoist Heart was destroyed, all the rest of the moves and techniques became useless since he would never reach the peak of martial arts again.
This was precisely Shen Qiao’s current state. Due to poison and injuries, his Daoist Heart was almost destroyed. Gradually restoring it with the aid of the inner qi of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang should have been the best healing method.
But the problem was that Shen Qiao only knew two volumes of it. Besides, as long as he was still in the pugilist world, there was no way he could stay uninvolved. Every time he fought, he would inevitably stir up his inner qi and bring even more damage to the Daoist Heart which hadn’t recovered yet. The process eventually became a vicious cycle in the long run. If one day the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was no longer able to repair it, that meant that his foundation had collapsed completely, making it impossible to save.
Speaking of it, Yan Wushi had also contributed to the frequent injury of Shen Qiao’s root meridians. If he hadn’t forced Shen Qiao to fight him again and again, Shen Qiao wouldn’t have so many new wounds piling on the old.
However, Sect Master Yan looked very serious at the moment, like he’d selectively forgotten his own faults.
Shen Qiao didn’t know whether he should describe him as shameless or egotistical. “Since you said it like this, I’m sure you have a solution already?”
Yan Wushi remained calm and composed. “That’s right. As long as you’re willing to discard the Daoist Heart, let me plant the Demonic Heart in you and then you can start practicing The Fundamentals of Phoenix-Qilin. Everything will be readily solved.”
Shen Qiao sighed, “I have to respect Sect Master Yan for the effort you’ve spent in articulating this plan and carrying it out step by step. Once I have the Demonic Heart planted in me, my temperament will inevitably become erratic, brutal, and bloodthirsty. It’s a happy thing for you, but to me, it’ll be like losing my true self. Even if I could advance greatly in martial arts, what would be the point then?”
A sarcastic expression appeared on Yan Wushi’s face. He asked, “What is ‘true self’? People are inherently evil. Are you saying that following one’s desire is not being true to oneself? Just think about that Chen Gong. You’ve done him a good deal of favors. You two traveled together and shared weal and woe. But when a crisis came, despite having a hundred ways to get out, he could only think of leading the disaster to you and dragging you down with him. With his background, no one taught him how to read and write or the proper ways to conduct himself. Don’t tell me that all of his actions didn’t come from his ‘true self’?”
Shen Qiao wanted to turn away his head, but Yan Wushi grabbed his chin and pulled him back, not allowing him to run from it, “The reason why you’re able to persist in carefully following your Daoist Heart and refuse to give up your so-called principles is because you still haven’t experienced a situation in your life where you are so desperate that you find it absolutely intolerable, am I right?”
The pair of dull, empty eyes slowly blinked, and the long eyelashes trembled slightly. After a long time, Shen Qiao finally uttered a word.
Yan Wushi’s voice was brimming with with malice, “No matter how powerful The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang is, it cannot create things out of nothing. With your current situation of a damaged foundation, in addition to your coughing blood and passing out from time to time, there’s no way for you to restore your martial arts in a few years. What’s more, you may end up half-dead like this for the rest of your life. Now everyone saw you show up at the Residence of Su with my invitation. The relationship between us will soon spread to the entire pugilistic world. My enemies are all over the world. They can’t do a thing to me, but they will find no difficulty in taking it out on you. What do you think will happen if they catch you? Will they torture you to make you write The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang? Or will they rape you first and kill you, then rape and whip your corpse to vent their anger?
“When that happens, will you think a situation like that is still tolerable?”
Shen Qiao finally lost control of himself, “We can talk about that when it actually happens, but Sect Master Yan should not be troubling yourself with it before it does!”
Surprisingly, Yan Wushi, whose hand was brushed to the side, was not enraged by it. Instead, he even snorted a laugh as the clouds on his face suddenly cleared up, “Come on. I was just trying to scare you, and you got mad?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
People all said that a woman’s heart was like the needle in the bottom of the sea. But Shen Qiao felt that Yan Wushi’s heart was even harder to grasp than a needle in a bottomless abyss.
At this moment, someone knocked on the door.
Yan Wushi said, “Come in.”
The servant girl Ruru walked in while holding a bowl of medicine in her hand. “Master, this is the second bowl of medicine decocted for Mister Shen today.”
Yan Wushi commanded, “Put it here.”
Ruru put down the bowl as she was told, then reminded Shen Qiao, “Mister Shen should drink it when it’s hot. The effect will be better.”
Shen Qiao thanked her, took the bowl, and finished it in one gulp.
He always had a small problem. He liked the sweet but not the bitter. When he was still a child on Mount Xuandu, he would hide himself when he was sick to avoid drinking medicine. After he heard that practicing inner arts could make a person unaffected by cold and heat, he trained harder than all the other fellow disciples. People just thought he was just extra hardworking, but little did they know that he was in fact trying to avoid bitter medicine. But staying at Yan Wushi’s place, no matter how many bowls of bitter medicine were brought to him, he would drink them all without a word.
However, little habits betrayed him. He would frown every time before he picked up the bowl, and after he put it down, the corners of his mouth would twitch unconsciously.
Yan Wushi saw it. After Shen Qiao finished, he picked up a candied fruit from the side and stuffed it into Shen Qiao’s mouth with a sweet voice, “Ah-Qiao, if you don’t like bitter medicine, I’ll let them put some barley sugar in it next time. Come on, give me a smile. Don’t always frown.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Sect Leader Shen felt utterly exhausted, both mind and body.