Chapter 41: Did you really start to grow feelings for the Demonic Sovereign?
Bai Rong, noticing that Shen Qiao hadn’t said anything, couldn’t help but turn to look at him, “Shen-lang, you can’t tell either?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, not answering her question.
After another minute, Ruyan Kehui’s voice came from a distance. It rang for several miles, shaking the entire valley along with everyone’s eardrums.
“It’s been a long time since I fought someone to my heart’s content. The meeting with Sect Master Yan today was fun and satisfactory. I really appreciated you enlightening me with your advice.”
“After living in a nook for so many years, you are no more than a frog at the bottom of a well — able to see only the little patch of sky above you. Master-in-Charge Ruyan is used to dominating the Southern State. I can very much understand that it must be shocking for you to suddenly run into a matched rival. Well, come to me for advice a few more times and you’ll get used to it.”
The instant Yan Wushi opened his mouth, that satirical tone that made people gnash their teeth came out once again. However, as he stood on the cliff with his hands clasped behind him and his robes fluttering in the wind, it also made people want to behold him, for many of them understood that they probably could not reach his level of strength and martial arts in their lifetime. It was human nature to admire the powerful ones, therefore, it would be a lie to say that these people didn’t have any admiration for this arrogant sect master of the Cleansing Moon Sect, who was powerful enough to support such arrogance.
On the other hand, Ruyan Kehui was able to remain in a generous mood, keeping his good manners and only laughed, “Sure. If there’s a chance in the future, I’ll definitely visit you in person to ask for more advice!”
Ruyan Kehui’s voice was normal as usual, and so was Yan Wushi’s. The observers could not hear any sign of injuries from their voices, which made them unable to help but wonder internally: These two spent most of their energy and fought for such a long time, yet not only was no one injured, but neither of them won?
Was this crossing of swords between two experts of a lifetime going to end with a draw?
Some of the them were also present at Half-step Peak to witness Shen Qiao falling off the cliff under Kunye’s attack. Even though the Xiongnu’s victory had caused many to mourn for the defeat of their kind, inevitably making them somewhat unpleasant, an intense battle like that deserved such an intense result. Today, Ruyan Kehui and Yan Wushi’s state of martial arts seemed to be on an even higher level. For their duel to end in such a way, people sure felt unsatisfied.
However, be it Yan Wushi or Ruyan Kehui, neither of them needed to explain to others the reasons behind their actions. After exchanging a few more words, they swiftly floated down from the cliff, one of them landing next to the creek, while the other by the stony beach not far from Shen Qiao.
Ruyan Kehui cupped his hands at Yan Wushi and said, “Since Sect Master Yan came such a long way, I should serve as a host. If Sect Master Yan could tell me how long you’ll stay in Jiankang, I will send you an invitation in the name of the Linchuan Institute to have you stay there as a guest.”
Yan Wushi replied coldly, “There’s no need. I can’t tolerate the water at Linchuan Institute. I’m afraid that if I go, I’ll return with a stomach full of your preachings on virtue and morality. You may as well save them to fool those idiots out there!”
Ruyan Kehui smiled, and did not push the matter any further. “Then I will take my leave first!”
Flinging his sleeves, he turned to leave. His steps looked ordinary, however, in the blink of an eye he was already many meters away. This was truly a peerless martial arts that struck people with awe and made them realize that they were far inferior.
“Long did I sigh and wipe away my tears,
To see my people bowed by griefs and fears.
Though I my gifts enhanced and curbed my pride,
At morn they’d mock me, would at eve deride;
First cursed that I angelica should wear,
Then cursed me for my melilotus fair.
But since my heart did love such purity,
I’d not regret a thousand deaths to die…”
(–translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang)
A song came from afar. It was Ruyan Kehui singing the verses from “The Lament.” Flavored by his southern accent, it reverberated through the valley. Even the sorrowfulness that the poem originally embraced had turned into a sense of heroic spirit, making everyone who heard it feel refreshed and uplifted.
It seemed like Ruyan Kehui wasn’t at all affected by the battle with Yan Wushi, many thought.
Just moments ago, Dou Yanshan actively claimed in front of everyone in the city that he’d also like a duel with Yan Wushi. After he had witnessed their fight, however, he simply turned around and left without a word.
Some trouble-lovers who frowned on how Six Harmonies Association dominated the trade couldn’t help but shout out, “Didn’t Chairman Dou want to challenge Yan Wushi? Why are you leaving so quickly?”
Dou Yanshan stopped in his tracks and threw that person a glance, causing the man to tremble internally.
“Li Yue, the River Dragon, I may not be Sect Master Yan’s match, but would you believe I’m more than enough to handle someone like you?” Dou Yanshan asked with a faint smile.
Li Yue hadn’t thought that he could even call out his name. He didn’t dare to say anything more and quickly slipped away with his tail tucked between his legs.
Yan Wushi gazed at the sight of Ruyan Kehui floating into the distance for a moment, then directly leaped on top of the bamboo forest. Using the momentum provided by the thin branches, he once again landed on where he stood on the cliff just now and climbed up from there, his figure appearing light and swift like an eagle. In just a few breaths, he was already nowhere to be seen.
Since the main characters were gone, there were no reason for the rest to stay. The spectators left one after another, still feeling regret in their hearts. But it was hard to say which they were more reluctant about; the draw today or the uncertainty of when they could witness a fight of similar level again.
Before the battle, most people believed that no matter how strong Yan Wushi was, Ruyan Kehui should be the superior one. After all, one was just within the Top Ten ranking, while the other ranked among the three strongest martial artists under the Heaven. After today, however, no one dared to say this anymore. Yan Wushi’s reputation was destined to scale new heights, and this battle would definitely become a topic that people talked about with enthusiasm. Barring accidents, this should be the most splendid fight in the pugilistic world in recent years.
Without anyone noticing, Bai Rong who had been standing next to Shen Qiao had already disappeared.
She always came and went so mysteriously, not even leaving a word when she left.
Shen Qiao didn’t chase after her, nor did he go back the way he came from. He squinted for a moment, and then took another path in the end.
By now, the sky had already entirely darkened.
After nightfall, the wind in the mountains grew even colder. Although it was April, it couldn’t be considered summer yet, and the valley was buffeted by raging winds that whistled and shrieked as they passed through the cracks between mountains, like the cries of a ghost.
This mountain was a little similar to Half-Step Peak, the one Shen Qiao and Kunye had battled on. Although it wasn’t as high, footholds were extremely scarce. There were a few lonesome trees rustling noisily in the night wind, but forget about using them as shelter to keep warm, there was a lack of space to even lean on them.
But a little way down the other side of the cliff, there was an indent that formed a small cave, enough to hold three or four people inside. With a rock wall at the back and an outcropping over the head; it was a natural refuge from the wind.
Inside the cave, there was a silhouette sitting cross-legged.
When Li Yue walked in, the other person didn’t move at all, just as if they were dead.
“Sect Master Yan?” he ventured.
If anyone else was here, hearing this name would have scared them out of their wits.
Yan Wushi had left early just like Ruyan Kehui, why would he appear again in this mountain cave?
Li Yue repeatedly called him a few times, but there was still no movement from the other.
His confidence bolstered, step by step, he silently drew nearer. Fumbling out a torch from his chest and lighting it, he shone the light towards Yan Wushi as he scrutinized him carefully. The other person looked like a senior monk who had passed away in a seated position; as firm as a boulder, with eyelids tightly sealed, and not even the vivacity of the firelight could draw him to open his eyes.
Li Yue was internally delighted to the point where his hands began to tremble uncontrollably in agitation.
His martial arts could only be considered second-rate, but his judgement was excellent because his ancestors were a family of constables. From a young age, influenced by his father and grandfather, he developed a habit of observing even the tiniest details.
Everyone believed that Ruyan Kehui and Yan Wushi were evenly matched and felt that it was a pity the match had ended in a draw. However, he didn’t see it that way.
Even if both sides hadn’t used their full strength, in a battle that had lasted from dawn to dusk, they must have at least used eighty or ninety percent. No one could doubt that. In the place where they fought the fiercest, the rocks had been reduced to tiny, shattered pieces. Boulders half the size of a person were turned to gravel in an instant by inner qi. For a while, the rivers reversed their flow, and the trees in all directions snapped over. In the face of such an overwhelming display of grandeur, the onlookers even didn’t dare to raise their internal energy in defense. But seeing how formidably strong they were, how could the two fighting not have any injuries whatsoever?
Even if they were phenomenal experts on par with with Qi Fengge, they too had a day when they would die. As long as they were not immortals far above the common populace, it was impossible for them to not be harmed.
Ruyan Kehui and Yan Wushi both acted as if nothing were wrong, but Li Yue intuitively knew that the events had not actually been that simply concluded.
With his martial arts, he couldn’t catch up to the two. However, when the others left, he stayed back to search the surroundings, even climbing up the cliff to take a look around the top. This was because earlier, when the two were fighting, there was a moment of time when they stopped on top of the mountain peak. No one knew what happened in that moment. Li Yue searched for a long time, bored to death, without finding anything useful. He thought he must have been overthinking it, but who knew that when he was just about to leave, he would find this cave here.
And Yan Wushi inside.
This was unquestionably a huge surprise. Li Yue tried to calm himself down, but he couldn’t keep his hand from trembling slightly, causing even the torch in his hand to shiver. The fire flickered back and forth inside the cave, bringing an air of unidentifiable precarity.
He knew that Yan Wushi was wounded and had come here to recuperate, and that his wounds were not light either. Otherwise Li Yue wouldn’t be able to come so close without him noticing.
If…if he could kill Yan Wushi and display his corpse in front of the public, he would undoubtedly become known throughout the entire world in a single night.
By then, everyone would know that the person who killed the Demonic Sovereign was not Ruyan Kehui, the Master-in-Charge of the Linchuan Institute, but him, Li Yue, the River Dragon!
With his heart in a frenzy, he didn’t even consider the trouble that was sure to follow. For example, in the case where he truly killed Yan Wushi, how would he fend off the members of the Cleansing Moon Sect as they pursue and try to kill him? How would he make everyone believe that he, a second-rate person, managed to kill Yan Wushi, someone that even Ruyan Kehui could not?
But Li Yue didn’t think about it any more. The temptation of honor and fame flooded his mind in an instant. He couldn’t resist pulling out the sword on his waist…
The tip of the sword advanced inch by inch. The Demonic Sovereign who had been in such high and vigorous spirits during the day was now right in front of him, unconscious, at the mercy of his hands.
Even Li Yue’s face became somewhat twisted because of the excitement.
Suddenly, his expression froze.
Eyes wide open, Li Yue stared at the bamboo stick which had suddenly appeared and blocked the tip of his sword.
“Taking advantage of others’ misfortunes is not the act of an honest man. As you are now, your martial arts will not advance by even an inch in your lifetime,” Shen Qiao said calmly. “You should leave.”
Li Yue furiously retorted, “What would you know!? When I entered the world of martial arts at fifteen, I was once regarded as one with great aptitude; who would have known the growth of my martial arts would’ve come to a halt at twenty-five?!
Shen Qiao shook his head. “After killing him, will your martial arts be able to improve? This is only the envy of the weak towards the strong. Because you suddenly have the chance to control the life of a strong person, you feel an unbearable excitement. Don’t let yourself be controlled by the demons in your heart, or in the end, throughout your entire life you will never again advance along the martial path.”
Li Yue was thoroughly infuriated by him. “You blind fool, what are you meddling here for! Shen Qiao, don’t think that no one recognizes you. Who in the martial world doesn’t know that you and Yan Wushi are colluding with each other! Even Mount Xuandu chased you out of its doors. Because of you, Qi Fengge has no more face left to lose! Disciple of the world’s greatest? As if! You’re just a sweet-talking disciple who’s sold out his body in return for the Demon Sovereign’s favor! Do you get off on being a slave? Are you scared that if I kill Yan Wushi, there will be no one left to protect you? If you’re a man, straighten out your spine. Don’t think of always relying on others!”
Shen Qiao didn’t become angry because of what he said. Ever since his identity was revealed at the Su residence by Duan Wenyang, many people looked at him strangely. Though they didn’t say it out loud, it didn’t mean that they didn’t have the same thoughts as Li Yue in their hearts. Shen Qiao had heard even uglier words than this before.
But in reality, those sharp words were still only words; if you paid them no mind, others wouldn’t be able to harm you at all.
Li Yue, seeing that he did not speak, felt that his yelled insults had been effective and immediately laughed coldly. “Priest Shen, if you don’t get in the way, after killing Yan Wushi, we can split whatever goods he has on him…..”
As he spoke, his sword also swung out.
His sword flashed out at an extremely high speed, a move that Li Yue was rather proud of, its penetrating strength aiming right at Yan Wushi’s heart from the back!
The sound rang continuously. The sword didn’t stab Yan Wushi’s body, instead, it was sent flying, its tip drawing an arc in the air before it fell directly to the ground.
Li Yue felt a sharp pain in his wrist and unwittingly cried out. His reaction speed was already fast. As he saw the bamboo stick sweeping towards his waist, he shifted weight downwards to stabilize his lower body while bending his entire upper body backwards. Having escaped from the approaching attack, he quickly righted himself again as he grasped for the bamboo stick and sent a kick towards Shen Qiao’s lower body.
But his opponent’s body drifted back out of reach, then immediately appeared behind him at an unbelievable speed. Li Yue hadn’t yet been able to react before a palm struck him in the back and slammed him to the wall, knocking him out straight away.
Li Yue’s loss was not because he had underestimated Shen Qiao, because even if he hadn’t underestimated the other, the result was destined to be the same.
Shen Qiao and Duan Wenyang’s fight at Residence of Su that day was a hushed affair, and Bai Rong and Xiao Se who had already lost quite a few times at his hands weren’t in a position to go around blabbing around about their defeats. Therefore, many people’s impression had frozen at the battle on Half-Step Peak. In addition to all the rumors and hearsay later, their opinion on Shen Qiao fell drastically. The more respectful they were, the more they looked down on him now. Within the span of a single night, Shen Qiao and Yan Wushi’s names combined became synonymous with ‘stray dogs’.
Shen Qiao stopped paying attention to Li Yue and walked up to Yan Wushi. As soon as he touched him, he felt an icy coldness pierce right through the skin of his palm and into his flesh. It was almost going to invade and spread to all of his limbs and bones. Alarmed, he removed his hand immediately, but it still took quite some time before the chilly feeling in his hand gradually subsided.
He found out that not only was Yan Wushi’s body as hard as a piece of ice, the person himself looked barely alive. He seemed to have sealed all of his senses, therefore even though Li Yue was talking and fighting right next to him, Yan Wushi still didn’t feel anything.
Shen Qiao thought for a moment. Despite the bone-chilling iciness, he still grabbed the other person’s hand from the sleeve and took his pulse.
The heart was still beating. There were still breaths coming out from his nose. But the meridians appeared to be in disorder, as if several different streams of qi were intertwining inside his body but at the same time colliding with one another because they were in discord.
In other words, Yan Wushi was showing signs of qi deviation.
The more skilled a person was, the farther they could travel on the path of martial arts and the higher pursuits they would have. As a result, they would be more reluctant to follow the rules, which often led to a higher chance of qi deviation.
If those talented grandmasters like Qi Fengge, Cui Youwang, Hulugu were willing to live the rest of their lives in peace, they could live for at least a few more decades with no problems. But for people like them, to stop pursuing martial arts would be a punishment worse than death. And when people reached the state where they stood, a step further was as difficult as climbing up to the sky. Any little slip-up could easily lead to a qi deviation and even threaten their lives.
Actually, Shen Qiao had discovered the problem Yan Wushi had since a long time ago.
The difference between the Demonic Core and the Daoist Core was rooted in the different path each of them took. Like black and white, sky and earth, their ways never crossed each other. In thousands of years, no one ever tried to merge the two Cores together. Even Cui Youwang, the greatest martial artist of the Demonic Sects had never done it. However, Yan Wushi’s personality had decided that he would never stop pursuing the Way of martial arts. What he wanted to do was deemed unachievable by others, but he just had to do it. Therefore, after ten years of Closed Door Meditation, not only did he finish studying all martial arts in The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, he even tried to use this inner qi to build a new foundation for himself——the Daoist Core. However, no matter how powerful a person was, they could have one and only one set of foundation within them. But Yan Wushi wanted to incorporate both the Demonic Core and the Daoist Core into his body, forging a new Daoist Core while still retaining the Demonic one.
Of course, this was impossible. How could a person have the Daoist Core and the Demonic Core coexist within them at the same time? Therefore, in those ten years, Yan Wushi did not succeed. His martial arts improved drastically, making him an expert almost on par with Qi Fengge, but he still couldn’t conquer this problem. Not only was that, it also left a hidden danger inside him. It normally hid itself very well, but when he fought against Ruyan Kehui today, both of them had to use all of their strength, and that small hidden danger was triggered all of a sudden.
Shen Qiao frowned deeply. He tried to push his inner qi into Yan Wushi’s body, but there seemed to be a consciousness inside that was repulsing it. Not only did it refuse to accept Shen Qiao’s inner qi, it even bit back with a flux of icy coldness which coursed its way recklessly through Shen Qiao’s body and soon traveled through all of Shen Qiao’s merdidians. Shen Qiao shook slightly. He had no choice but to let go of the other person’s hand and turn to himself. He sat down and started regulating his breaths through meditation in an attempt to melt the cold.
The moon was cold and deserted. Deep inside the mountain, the hooting of owls made the space appear even more empty and quiet. A sense of desolation pierced deeply into people’s bones. Not even a trace of the pleasant cool of early summer could be found.
Li Yue’s torch had already burnt out. Shen Qiao stood up and walked towards him. He wanted to see if he could find more torches to warm himself.
“Shen-Lang, I’ve been waiting outside for so long, yet you didn’t even invite me in for a seat. You don’t know how to treat a girl at all!” He heard someone complaining outside, then a half-angry, half-pleased face appeared outside the cave.
Shen Qiao was not surprised by it, and neither did he answer.
Bai Rong strolled in unabashed and said smilingly, “I’ve been waiting for a long time outside, fearing that Sect Master Yan would wake up. Shen-Lang, let’s make a deal. Li Yue looks ugly, so you didn’t want to let him have it. Then why not give me the chance instead?”
Shen Qiao said, “No.”
Bai Rong was slightly surprised and at the same time found it a little funny and embarrassing, “I haven’t even finished yet, why are you already rejecting me?”
Shen Qiao fumbled around Li Yue’s body and found two more torches. He lit one of them, and the glow of the fire immediately lit up half of the cave.
Bai Rong’s figure moved slightly. The next second, she was already next to Yan Wushi. She raised her hand and struck out a palm, aiming right at the top of Yan Wushi’s head. However, it was blocked by Shen Qiao who had appeared without any notice. The two of them exchanged a dozen or so moves in the narrow cave. Even though the Harmony Sect was famed mainly for its Enchantment and dual cultivation, it didn’t mean that their martial arts were any inferior compared to those of the other two Demonic Sects. Bai Rong was still young, yet she already had a good grasp of martial arts. The set of footwork invented by Sang Jingxing —— the “Sixteen Steps to Heaven” —— when used together with her hand positions, became so unpredictable that its myriad of changes seemed almost impossible for anyone to defend.
She knew Shen Qiao was not someone she could easily handle, therefore she intentionally launched a preemptive attack in hopes of a quick battle. In the blink of an eye, her palm had already struck more than ten times. On top of her her sly, erratic movements, it was almost as if she had attacked Shen Qiao from all directions at the same time. She even giggled as she attacked, “Shen-lang, you sure are a crafty person. The last time we fought, you imitated Yan Wushi’s Spring Water Fingering on purpose and that really scared me. Now I’ve seen it through, you won’t be able to trick me anymore!”
Shen Qiao didn’t say anything. The martial power he had right now was but approximately the same level as Bai Rong’s. In other words, under normal circumstances, neither of them could do anything to the other, or perhaps Bai Rong was even stronger than him. It was just that Bai Rong was scared by his fake Spring Water Fingering last time and thus played right into his hands. The same opportunity would not come twice. Bai Rong was a smart person. She understood it just as well.
She might have appeared to be gentle and all smiles while she was talking to Shen Qiao, but when she actually needed to make a move, she would show no mercy at all.
Bai Rong had been observing them for a long time from outside because she wasn’t sure if Yan Wushi was actually suffering from a qi deviation. However, thanks to the noises Li Yue stirred up, she was able to confirm her guess.
If she wanted to kill Yan Wushi, Shen Qiao would be her biggest obstacle.
“Shen-Lang, weren’t you feeling sorry for my situation in the Harmony Sect? If I can just kill Yan Wushi, I’d be eliminating a huge enemy for the Harmony Sect. From then on, no one else in the Harmony Sect would dare look down on me. I’m not asking you to do anything other than to stand back and watch. Are you not willing to help me even with something as simple as this?”
Bai Rong’s watery eyes revealed an earnest and beseeching expression, yet the movement of her hands didn’t slow down whatsoever.
“Shen-Lang, do you really think that Yan Wushi has been kind to you? He saved you, but only because he considers you as a plaything to satisfy his sick hobby of toying around with people. You are gentle and kind in nature; If someone were to do you one kindness, you would be willing to repay them with ten. But if he truly treats you well, why does he leave you alone, trapped in danger time after time? It can’t be that…..you’ve started to grow feelings for the Demonic Sovereign, can it?”
“If you’re willing to let me kill Yan Wushi, I will also try my utmost to help you recover your martial arts and climb back to the position of Mount Xuandu’s leader. Having power in your own hands feels infinitely better than depending solely on someone else, don’t you think so?”