Chapter 37: You can’t tell anyone else!
Yan Wushi pondered in silence.
Shen Qiao said, “I have no expertise in physiognomy, nor am I a physician, so I probably didn’t hear it that clearly. It would be more appropriate if you persuade His Majesty to call in the imperial physicians to have a look.”
In fact, Yuwen Yong might not have any serious diseases. But ever since he seized the throne from his cousin Yuwen Hu, he had been working strenuously and meticulously from the early mornings to the late nights. There was not a day where he wasn’t slaving away at managing the state affairs. To win over Tujue, he even gave away the Empress position, and he had to treat her with tenderness and consideration to show Tujue his sincerity. This was undoubtedly humiliating for an emperor, especially a powerful emperor like him. He had a good health foundation, so there weren’t any signs in the first few years. But as time passed, even a body made of iron would not be able to stand such a life. When his Immunity, Qi, Nutrition, and Blood  all fell apart, his body would definitely collapse.
Yet there might not have been any definite symptoms before that actually happened. Even if he called in the imperial physicians, they would probably just say that he had Qi deficiency due to anxiety and concerns, and that he should rest and take care of his body. The emperor was certainly not going to listen to them.
Yan Wushi made no comment. Instead, he asked Shen Qiao, “Why didn’t you agree to Yuwen Yong’s proposal? With your current situation, it can only be advantageous to you.”
Shen Qiao asked back, “I’m also curious about it. If I agreed, the new Daoist sect would have gained the full support of the imperial court, and it would inescapably affect the Cleansing Moon Sect’s influence in Zhou. Why does Sect Master Yan remain unmoved by it?”
Yan Wushi replied, “Because no matter how many more new sects Zhou creates, they would not change the Cleansing Moon Sect’s status. We can help Yuwen Yong accomplish certain things that the other sects cannot. And even if they could, they wouldn’t deign to do it. He is only thirty-two this year, not long after his age of independence . If he lives for ten more years, I will be able to finish what I want.”
Shen Qiao tilted his head and looked at him somewhat inquiringly, “You want to unify the three Demonic sects?”
Yan Wushi asked, “Do you know how large the Han Empire’s territory was?”
Shen Qiao replied, “If I remember correctly, at the peak of its power and prosperity, it embraced Wiman Korea in the east and included northern Vietnam in the west. To the northwest, it surpassed the Pamir Plateau, while it reached the Yin mountains in the north.”
Yan Wushi asked another question, “How large was the territory when Sima Zhao established Jin?”
Shen Qiao frowned, “At the time when the three Kingdoms were unified under Jin, some territories were already alienated due to the prior chaotic period. Places like Koguryo, Baekje, and Silla were no longer part of the Central Plains since the Jin Dynasty, and nations like Xianbei and Qiang gradually rose in the River West. Even though Jin had unified the Central Plains, the country was not as rich and powerful as it had been before. Not to mention that there was also the War of the Eight Princes not long after…”
Yan Wushi continued, “Henceforth, the Central Plains completely fell apart. First, there was the Uprising of the Five Barbarians, then the alternation of the Sixteen Kingdoms as they continued to replace one another. The world remained in turmoil for two hundred and fifty-nine years till now…”
Shen Qiao sighed, “Within the two hundred and fifty-nine years, the foreign nations have repeatedly invaded us. Anyone, as long as they possess some degree of military power, can’t wait to establish their own country and claim rulership, while most of them aren’t even capable of defending what they create. As a result, wars break out on a frequent basis and chaos appears everywhere, making the thousand-mile expanse of land a place of wailing and despair filled with the corpses of refugees!”
Yan Wushi replied with a smile, “That’s right. During the period of these two hundred or so years, no one has been able to bring the world to unity. The Linchuan Institute claims themselves to be the Confucian orthodoxy, but they strictly follow a Sinocentric principle, believing that only the Chen Dynasty is the divine manifestation. Since Buddhism and Daoism were banned and have been driven out of the country, they also harbor grudges against Yuwen Yong and think that a dictator like him cannot possibly complete the great undertaking of the grand unity.”
“You have no idea how many people in this world are trying to trip him up, openly and secretly behind his back. They are all waiting to see him fall on hard times. If Yuwen Yong falls, the situation of Northern Zhou will become unfortunate as well. However, I want to do the exact opposite. I’m going to help such an unpopular emperor unify the land. Wouldn’t it be an interesting thing if the Demonic Sect achieves something that even those who flaunt themselves as the orthodoxy of the Three Schools can’t?”
The more people warning him not to do it, the more he wanted to try. Since everyone said that Yuwen Yong’s ruthlessness disqualified him from being a wise ruler, there was all the more reason for Yan Wushi to help him ascend the throne and become the grand ruler of the world. That way, those who were pessimistic about it, against it, or even tried their utmost to stop it would have to slap themselves in the face. Such a volatile and capricious character made many people gnash their teeth in hatred, but at the same time, they could do nothing about him. If other people wanted to lay their hands on Yuwen Yong, they’d have to get past Yan Wushi first. However, like an unsurpassable mountain, this person was so strong that it simply made them feel discouraged.
Shen Qiao asked, “From what I hear, the crown prince is still young. Why doesn’t Sect Master Yan try to educate and assist the crown prince at the same time just in case? Otherwise, if the Emperor of Zhou’s day comes soon, won’t your meticulous efforts be wasted?”
Yan Wushi was fiddling with the fringe hanging next to the door. He asked, “What if the crown prince is an unteachable fool? Should I just grit my teeth and suck it up, help a muddle-headed idiot ascend the throne and then submit myself to serve him?”
The message his words implied was indeed quite astonishing. Even Shen Qiao could not help but be taken aback for a second. “You’re going to usurp the throne?”
Yan Wushi burst out laughing, “What’re you thinking? I have no interest in becoming an emperor. Do you really think that Yuwen Yong has a happy life? Every single day, he has to meet with people he dislikes and he has to make a bunch of red tape speeches. Even the wife he took in is not that different from a decoration that he has no affection towards. He spends day and night reading through the officials’ memorials, waking up earlier than a rooster and sleeping later than the dogs. He can only satisfy himself with the illusory glory of owning a boundless territory. Don’t you find him pitiful? Even if I became the emperor, I would probably squander the country’s wealth in less than three years. And if that’s the case, am I not more unrestrained and relaxed right now?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “This confuses me all the more.”
Yan Wushi said, “With your intelligence, I’m sure you can guess it. Why don’t you give it a go? I’ll give you a reward if you get it right~!”
He even dragged out a long note at the end of the sentence. It reminded Shen Qiao of Bai Rong’s affected coquettish tone. His mouth twitched uncontrollably as he suspected whether this was some special queer habit of the people from the Demonic Sects.
This person was absolutely unprincipled, his words and actions incomprehensible to others most of the time. In fact, one could easily fall for his tricks if they weren’t careful enough. However, Shen Qiao had to admit that Yan Wushi had an unusually keen and insightful view of the general trend of the world, something one couldn’t find in ordinary martial artists. To discuss these things with him benefited Shen Qiao a lot as well.
Yuwen Yong relied heavily on the Cleansing Moon Sect, but there was no guarantee that his successor would continue to do so. Because of the Yuwen Hu incident, the Buddhist sects were still shunned to this day, and they definitely wouldn’t pass up a chance to curry favor with the new emperor. As Yan Wushi had no desire for the throne and had no respect for the current crown prince, the Buddhist sect naturally would seize the opportunity and snuggle up to the crown prince.
Shen Qiao hesitantly asked, “Sect Master Yan wants to…support a wiser lord?”
Smiling, Yan Wushi said, “My Ah-qiao is so smart!”
Shen Qiao’s face darkened. Who’s ‘your’ Ah-qiao?
As if he didn’t see the change in Shen Qiao’s expression, Yan Wushi even pinched him on the cheek. “That’s right. The Imperial Prince Qi, Yuwen Xian, is not only against religions. He is also brave and skillful in warfare, which has won him immense support from the army. He will surely be able to carry on Yuwen Yong’s ambition.”
He leaned over and whispered to Shen Qiao’s ear, “You’re the only person I’ve ever told this secret to, so you can’t tell anyone else!”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Could he pretend that he’d never heard it?
It was March 4th, a bright and sunny day.
The wheels had been rumbling forward continuously outside the carriage, but due to the quality shock absorption, it didn’t bump as much inside. The curtain was lifted, and a warm scent came out from within. From the particular sweetness of the smell, it didn’t take long to guess that it was the womenfolk of a family that were riding on this carriage.
She had been on the road for nearly half a month. However, after they entered Chen territory, Yu Zi didn’t feel any of the tiredness that came with the long and arduous journey, and her spirit was getting better and better each day. It was all because she was born in Jiangnan  and grew up in Jiankang when she was a child. Now that she had returned to her hometown, she could not help but feel a tremor of delight as she kept peeking outside, her bright and watery eyes staring unblinkingly at the surrounding sceneries. It was not until her servant girl who was riding with her inside the carriage called her a few times that she finally turned her head.
“Madam, your soul must have flown away together with your eyes!” The servant girl teased her.
“It has been ten years since I last left Jiangnan.” Yu Zi couldn’t stop herself from glancing back again. “I was still young at that time and didn’t think there was anything particularly pretty about the place. It’s now when I see it again that I finally realize that I have been constantly thinking about it in the back of my mind. Although the North is good, it’s not my hometown after all!”
The servant said, “This time, His Majesty has ordered Master to visit the Chen Dynasty and present the Zhou’s credentials to their rulers. He has been assigned such an important task, yet he still remembers to bring Madam with him. It clearly shows how much he loves you, a blessing that other people won’t be able to have even if they ask so!”
Yu Zi’s cheeks blushed, and she was too shy to say another word.
She was the concubine of the Ordinary Grand Master, Yuwen Qing. She had been with him for three years. Since Yuwen Qing was deeply fond of her, everyone in the mansion treated her as if she was his legal wife. This time, Yuwen Qing was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Chen Dynasty, and he brought her along with him, which showed how much he favored her.
It was a time of turmoil, and robbers were roaming all over the place. When traveling merchants set out on the road, they often needed to rely on the government for protection or hire a large number of bodyguards. This time, as they saw the envoy of Zhou going down to the South, they all came up to him in hopes of paying some money in order to travel together with the fleet. Many of them were big merchants who had close ties with the nobles in Northern Zhou. Yuwen Qing couldn’t really push them off, so he took all of them with him. As a result, there were now even more people in the fleet. But it also came with a benefit. Since it was such a large crowd marching forward majestically under the protection of expert martial artists, no one dared to assault them recklessly.
They had just left the Yuan Prefecture, and it was still a long way to the capital city of the next. There weren’t many relay stations on the way, so when they finally encountered one, Yuwen Qing ordered the fleet to stop there for an hour to rest and reorganize. The fleet slowly stopped. Some of the people went into the station asking for hot water, while others only had some rations and took a rest on the spot.
The servant girl was still young and loved to hang out with others. It was inappropriate for Yu Zi to randomly get off at her will, but the servant girl had no such worries. After hopping her way around the place, she returned and said to Yu Zi, “Madam, there’s a strange carriage in our fleet. It’s right behind Master’s carriage. There are definitely people inside it, but no one has ever come down from it throughout the trip. How strange!”
Yu Zi didn’t seem to be concerned, “Maybe they came down already, but you just didn’t see.”
The servant girl shook her head from side to side, “No way. The others were also curious when they told me about it. It seems like no one has ever seen the people in that carriage getting off. I wonder what kind of people they are. Do they just eat, drink, and even excrete in there? How dirty is that!”
Yu Zi chided, “Nonsense!”
The servant girl stuck her tongue out mischievously and suggested, “Master must know who they are. Madam, why don’t you ask Master about it?”
Yu Zi replied, “You can ask him yourself if you want to know. There’s no way I’m going!”
The servant girl continued, “I just heard those merchants making a bet on it. They said that since the carriage is so big and gorgeous, the person inside it probably is…”
Yu Zi asked, “Probably is what?”
The servant answered, “Probably is…is Master’s beloved one.”
Yu Zi’s expression slightly changed.
The servant hurriedly explained, “Those people outside are just talking rubbish. I also think that it’s nothing but nonsense. It’s just that I can’t really scold them for it. Who doesn’t know that Master’s real true love is you!”
For someone like Yu Zi, even though she had all the favors and luxuries right now, she knew very well that everything she had depended on Yuwen Qing’s affection for her. Once this affection started to wear thin as her beauty withered, she might end up even worse than this servant girl.
Therefore, she was extremely mindful of Yuwen Qing’s fondness of her and became immediately flustered at the news that Yuwen Qing might have a new favorite. If what the servant girl said was true, and there really was a beauty hidden inside that carriage whom she hadn’t even heard about, then it was not hard to imagine how much Yuwen Qing must treasure her, and it was very likely that she was going to replace Yu Zi soon.
Having stayed at Yuwen Qing’s side for a long time, Yu Zi knew her place very well. She never asked about things she should not be asking about or anything Yuwen Qing didn’t want her to know. This was one of the reasons why she was his favorite. Today, however, she had a hard time holding it back, and for an entire afternoon, she had been feeling ill at ease. When Yuwen Qing came over to her carriage that night, Yu Zi attended him gently and carefully for a while before she made her attempt, “Master, I wonder which sister is sitting in that carriage behind yours. It must be so suffocating to stay inside a carriage the whole time. Why not let me invite her over? She could talk with me, and that ought to divert her from boredom at least!”
Yuwen Qing was surprised for a moment, but he soon understood and laughed, “Well. If it’s something you shouldn’t be asking about, then don’t. It’s not going to do you any good. You don’t need to worry about this. All you have to do is stay quietly inside your carriage.”
There was only a carriage plank separating them from the bustling crowd outside. No matter how desperately Yuwen Qing wished for a more intimate advance, he couldn’t just do it here. Therefore, he could only relieve his desire by rubbing his hand all over Yu Zi before reluctantly returning to his own carriage.
After Yuwen Qing left, the young servant popped her head in and smiled, “Is Madam relieved now?”
Yu Zi’s face flushed. She shot the girl a glare.
The young servant asked, “I’m sure that Master must have comforted Madam already. Who is the beauty in that carriage?”
Yu Zi shook her head. “He didn’t say, but I don’t think it’s a beauty. If Master really has a new lover, why does he need to hide it from me? It’s not like I’m the hostess or anything.”
In the end, there was a hint of jealousy in her voice that she didn’t even realize herself.
The servant said, “But I saw a servant girl coming out of it!”
Yu Zi was shocked, “What?”
The servant thought she didn’t believe it and went on to explain, “It’s true. Just outside a moment ago, a servant girl came down with a water sack, probably to get water. She’s so pretty. All the merchants traveling together with us had their eyes fixed unblinkingly on her!”
Baffling and anxious, Yu Zi asked, “Is there really a woman in there?”
The servant suggested, “Why don’t you grant me something tomorrow, Madam? I can use it as an excuse to strike up a conversation and see what’s going on.”
Yu Zi was uncertain about it, “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Master will not be happy if he finds out.”
“I’ll do it secretly so Master won’t know about it. Madam, you have to at least know the other person’s identity so you can think of a way to deal with her. Otherwise, you might not even know who your enemy is by the time she seizes Master’s favor from you!”
Yu Zi hesitated for a moment, then she took a jade hairpin out of her hair and handed it to the servant, “Be careful. Don’t let Master see you. Just forget about it if you can’t find a chance.”
“You may rest assured, Madam!”
What they had been discussing was a common topic in the inner residence. Later that night, Yuwen Qing didn’t come over. Yu Zi and her servant girl rested inside the same carriage like usual. Although they couldn’t find an inn to stay at along the road, with the martial experts from Zhou’s Imperial Palace protecting them, Yu Zi was very relieved. Besides having to stay inside a suffocating carriage, there was really nothing to complain about.
About midnight, Yu Zi suddenly felt a slight chill on her face. She opened her eyes in a daze, but before she could realize what was happening, someone had already covered her mouth.
At the same time, she heard a light laugh next to her ear, “You’re pretty keen. You’re lucky that I’m in a good mood tonight, so I won’t kill anyone. A man like him would even save a horse. If he knew that I killed you, it would surely deepen his disgust towards me.”
That was the last sentence Yu Zi heard that night, because she was knocked unconscious immediately afterwards.
The young servant even tucked her inside the blanket before getting up and hopping off the carriage. Carrying her dress in her hand, she ran towards Yuwen Qing’s carriage, looking all flustered.
The guards stopped her outside the carriage, so she could only call with a low voice, “Master! Master!”
Yuwen Qing probably hadn’t slept yet. After a while, the carriage curtain was lifted, and a face full of impatience appeared. “What happened?!”
The young servant looked at the experts guarding the carriage. Somewhat embarrassed, she whispered, “It’s almost Madam’s day of the month, and she has a hard time sleeping well at night. She just had a nightmare and is now crying over there. Would Master please go take a look at her?”
There was a beauty accompanying him on the trip, but he had to sleep alone with only his blanket to hug. The feeling became all the harder to endure. Yuwen Qing could feel his heart warming up as he heard the girl’s words. “I’ll go check.”
Seeing that the guards sent by Yuwen Yong were about to come after him, he immediately gave a light cough, “I’ll just go take a look at my concubine’s carriage. There’s no need to come together with me.”
These experts all had sharp eyes and ears. If he wanted to do something in the carriage, they didn’t even need to prick their ears to easily hear everything. It would definitely be an awkward thing for the person being eavesdropped.
The guards were not so happy about it. After all, they weren’t the type of bodyguards for Yuwen Qing to bark orders at. Even though they held the title of Imperial martial artists, they actually belonged to the Cleansing Moon Sect. Apart from Yan Wushi and Yuwen Yong, no one else could order them around. They normally followed the emperor around, and it was already an act of condescension for them to escort an envoy this time. They also had their pride, so they stopped at his words. After they saw that Yuwen Qing got in one of the carriages in the back which was only a few steps away from them, they didn’t take it seriously.
Yuwen Qing followed the young servant onto the carriage. As soon as the door was closed, he sensed something weird, “Yu Zi? Why didn’t you light a lamp?”
By the time he thought about turning back, it was already too late.
A chilling sensation quietly crept onto his back. It was a jade hairpin held by a slim, fair hand. But the speed was simply too fast. He didn’t have time to even blink when half an inch of the sharp end of that hairpin had already pierced through his clothes and sunk into his flesh!
Yuwen Qing’s mouth dropped open, and there was a frightening expression on his face. At this moment, how could he not know that he had been lead into a trap? He could only blame his own stupidity that he even told those experts accompanying him not to come. Even though they were only a few steps away from him, it was already enough for the other person to pierce the hairpin all the way through his heart.
He could almost see hell waving at him.
But the hairpin didn’t advance in the next moment. In fact, it even retreated and pulled out of his body. Yuwen Qing fell right on top of Yu Zi who was still unconscious.
There was a beauty in his arms, but he was not in the mood for it at all. He hurriedly looked back while shouting for help.
The servant girl who sneak attacked him retreated rather quickly. In a fleeting instant, she had already drifted several meters away. However, someone was even faster than her. A blue-robed figure soon caught up with her. They seemed to have exchanged a move, and the servant girl groaned in pain as her whole body flew out.
“Preceptor! Junior Preceptor, save me!” Overjoyed by the person’s arrival, Yuwen Qing even had the impulse to cling tightly onto Yan Wushi’s thigh.
Right at that moment, swishing sounds broke through the air in all directions. Countless phantoms suddenly appeared from the darkness and pounced at him.
Yuwen Qing’s great joy turned into great fright. When his guards started fighting with those men, he rolled and crawled back into the carriage, not even caring that his back was still bleeding.
Yuwen Yong had warned him before he left that the Northern Qi would try every possible method to prevent Zhou from forming an alliance with Chen. Yan Wushi would personally accompany him on his trip to the South, protecting him along the way. At that time, Yuwen Qing still thought that the emperor was making a big fuss over it. However, since not everyone in this world had the honor to be protected by the Demonic Sovereign himself, it greatly satisfied Yuwen Qing’s vanity. He also followed their orders and concealed Yan Wushi’s identity, so everyone thought the person inside the carriage was just another beauty like Yu Zi. Who would have thought that he would almost be killed on the spot?!
If he hadn’t concealed Yan Wushi’s presence in the beginning, the other party would not have exposed themselves so quickly. In that case, they might’ve used more deceptive methods that were even harder to guard against. Yuwen Qing understood very well that if he could take the opportunity and take down most of the other party tonight, his journey would undoubtedly be a lot safer all the way to Chen.
Listening to the swords clashing outside together with the smell of blood that seemed to hover around his nose, Yuwen Qing felt himself on the verge of suffocating. Even Yan Wushi’s presence could not fully put his mind to rest.
As if he suddenly thought of something, he almost jumped up and hurriedly put his finger under Yu Zi’s nose. After a while, he slowly exhaled a breath of relief as his entire body slumped to the floor inside the carriage.
The fight continued outside.
Yuwen Qing wasn’t the only one who was scared. Those merchants traveling with them were all hiding inside their carriages in fear. A few of them who thought themselves to be skilled in martial arts wanted to come up to help, but they were all killed right on the spot, unable to take even a single blow. The attackers were vicious and merciless; they didn’t even bother to hide their faces. As for some of the people who didn’t escape in time, their souls were immediately claimed by the blades.
Yan Wushi was besieged by four elders of the Harmony Sect. The numbers weren’t in his favor, yet it was the other four people that seemed to be in dire straits. Only a moment later, their formation was already a hideous mess, almost like a defeated army in disarray. Despite being surrounded by four people, Yan Wushi had something showy and unbridled within him, handling the situation with such prowess that his dictatorial manner alone was enough to suppress the four.
Xiao Se sent another person flying with his palm, but he didn’t want to come close to Yan Wushi. Instead, he tried to sneak towards the carriage where Yuwen Qing was hiding, not forgetting to taunt Bai Rong as he moved, “Junior Sister, you sure ruin more things than you can accomplish. It was such a small errand and yet you somehow still managed to blow it. How will Master dare to assign you any more tasks in the future?”
Bai Rong was sitting on a tree next to him. Arms crossed, she laughed, “But Senior Brother Xiao didn’t tell me that Sect Master Yan would be with them too? If you’re so capable, why don’t you go confront Sect Master Yan face to face?”
Xiao Se sneered and did not reply. He stroked a palm at the carriage, and the latter immediately split into pieces, revealing Yuwen Qing’s astonished face.
“Master asked us to kill him, not to throw our weight about and pick fights. Hurry up and help me while the elders are holding Yan Wushi in place!” Xiao Se snapped at Bai Rong, but he was soon caught into another fight.
Even though these imperial martial artists were no match for Xiao Se, since they outnumbered him, they could still keep him from minding other tasks. While the gap between the two parties’ strengths was not insurmountable, such a difference in martial arts was not usually expressed through the power of their inner qi or the exquisiteness of their movements; it instead relied mostly on their practical experience and techniques. As soon as Xiao Se beat one, another would pop up. It annoyed Xiao Se so much that he couldn’t help but give way to impatience.
However, Bai Rong remained unmoved, “We already talked about it before we left! Sect Master only asked me to find a chance to secretly kill Yuwen Qing. I just used all my might to escape from Sect Master Yan’s hand, and my chest is still hurting even now. How can I still have the strength to help you fight?”
Xiao Se clenched his teeth in rage as he kindly ‘greeted’ all of Bai Rong’s ancestors and relatives in his head, including her master, Sang Jingxing. But he was temporarily caught by a few people and could not find a chance to kill Yuwen Qing.
Seeing that Yuwen Qing was running toward another carriage while dragging a beauty behind him, Xiao Se could feel the anger flare up inside him. He couldn’t help but use all of his martial power to quickly take down a few enemies before chasing after Yuwen Qing.
At this time, Yuwen Qing had already gone inside the carriage. Xiao Se gave a cold laugh, thinking how stupid this person must be. Was this carriage made of refined iron? Even running into the forest would be a better choice than staying here. He made up his mind in a flash, deciding to strike another palm at the carriage like what he had done just now.
This time, however, his movement was blocked.
Or more precisely speaking, a stream of inner qi surged violently at his face, leaving him with no choice but to retreat!
Along with the gush of inner qi, the doors of the carriage flung open and revealed the pale and beautiful face inside.
 Ying(Nutrition), Wei(Defense/Immunity), Qi, Xue(Blood) [营卫气血]: Chinese medical terms, the four stages of illness.
 Age of independence [而立之年]: 30 years old.
 Jiangnan [江南]: Referring to region to the south of the Yangtze River.