Chapter 51: Are you happy that Yan Wushi’s time of death is close?
No one in the Jade Cloud Sect expected the battle to be so intense.
Kunye was, after all, an expert of his generation as well as the disciple of Hulugu, a person who almost broke even with Qi Fengge in his time. Such an opponent could not be brushed off easily.
Shen Qiao had already lost once, which must have left a great psychological effect on him. Winning the second round would be even harder for him than winning the first because not only must he defeat his opponent, he must also overcome himself.
Even though the disciples of the Jade Cloud Sect were worried, the presence of their sect leader at least gave them the feeling of security that their sect leader could still take on the fight even if Shen Qiao lost. Only Yue Kunchi knew very well that Zhao Chiying’s martial arts were already damaged due to her forcibly breaking out of the Closed Door Meditation. If Shen Qiao lost this battle, what awaited the Jade Cloud Sect would be the fate of submitting itself to the mercy of others.
But could Shen Qiao win?
He held back the restlessness inside him and refocused all of his attention onto the battle itself.
Kunye’s martial arts followed a wide-ranged, masculine and domineering style. As his blade came down, the formidable wind it brought stirred up an earthquake. The Blade Qi struck the ground, but those who were watching the fight felt like the earth was shaking together with it. Their ears buzzed with the sound of the blade cutting through the air. The sound was so shrill and hard to bear that those with weaker martial arts foundations were already covering their ears.
But if one were to think that Kunye’s lightness skill was bad because of these, then they couldn’t be more wrong.
They carried the battle from flat ground all the way to the cliff edge, then continued as they hung themselves against the cliff wall. Crushed stones splattered in all directions, and streams of inner qi darted around freely, dazzling people’s eyes. Compared to Kunye’s overbearing attacks, Shen Qiao’s moves appeared to be a little too gentle. His sword, just like himself, was mellow and lasting like a flower caressing one’s cheek or a spring breeze rubbing the willow branches. While its extreme purity and clearness very much resembled the nature of Daoism, it also lost the aggressive sharpness.
However, after the two exchanged over a hundred or so moves and Shen Qiao still showed no signs of being at a disadvantage, those who had been worrying about Shen Qiao finally realized that the situation was totally different from what they expected. If the power of Kunye’s blade resembled the unstoppable, rumbling thunders, then Shen Qiao’s sword, though it started out like an unremarkable trickling stream about to be stifled by the Blade Qi, continued uninterruptedly and gradually evolved in terms of intensity and scale. In the end, it was so majestic and seemed to tolerate everything around it just like an ocean accepting all rivers and their surging waves.
The more he fought, the more terrified Kunye became.
Back then on Half-Step Peak, he could only use eight layers of Blade Qi, but now he could do nine. His blade arts skill had definitely reached new heights, and he had confidence that even if Shen Qiao wasn’t injured in the first place, he could still take him on.
The opponent in front of him appeared to be shallow and delicate like a clear puddle one could easily see through. However, when he put his hand in, he found out that he could not reach the bottom no matter what.
The puddle turned out to be a deep pool!
Like its name “Rainbow Shadow” suggested, this set of lightness skills from Mount Xuandu, when used looked as if a feather-like rainbow was stretching freely across the clear sky. The Grieving Celestial Sword left several traces of white Sword Qi on the steep cliff, as if someone was painting a freehand style art. However, if one were to look closely, the Sword Qi carved so deeply into the hard stone surface that if these marks appeared on a human body, then that person’s bones were probably exposed with their blood running all over the floor.
Looking from afar, the light and shadow of the weapons intersected and criss-crossed with each other, but the brutal Blade Qi wasn’t able to take any advantage.
Yue Kunchi breathed out a sigh of relief. He turned to his side and asked Zhao Chiying, “Junior Sister, do you agree that Daoist Priest Shen should be able to win this time?”
But Zhao Chiying replied with a headshake, “It’s not that easy. Did you realize that Kunye has already attained the ninth layer of Blade Qi? As an equivalent to the highest state of Sword Intent, this last layer is extremely overbearing indeed. Each strike can turn into a myriad of shadows, capable of destroying the invincible. But so far he has only used it once —— that one attack which Daoist Priest Shen almost failed to shield.”
Yue Kunchi couldn’t help but let out a surprised gasp, his heart once again in his throat, “Is he trying to exhaust Daoist Priest Shen’s inner qi?”
“That’s true. Daoist Priest Shen can’t compete with Kunye in terms of inner qi right now. The longer they fight, the more disadvantageous it is for him.”
Yue Kunchi started to feel a little anxious, “Then what should we do? Did Daoist Priest Shen not realize it? Is he just going to let Kunye have his way like this?”
Zhao Chiying didn’t say anything. She did not believe that Shen Qiao hadn’t figured out Kunye’s intention, but neither could she tell what Shen Qiao’s plan was.
Shen Qiao was also testing.
He was testing his own bottom line.
If The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang had the ability to rebuild one’s foundation and strengthen one’s muscles and bones, then, as a martial arts which had integrated the merits of the Three Schools, the Inner Qi it generated should also have the characteristics of each of the Three Schools.
Daoism claimed that the greatest virtue was like water, in which to strive for is the same as to not strive for. This coincided with his sword arts style, and because of their common origin, he had no problem using it.
Buddhism honored solemnity, which contained both the awe of its guardian deity’s terrifying gaze as well as the kindness one would find on Bodhisattvas. This was a rather abstruse depiction. The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang blended this concept into its inner qi. Its rigidity, together with the softness of Daoism, formed a harmonious balance of Yin and Yang. This made it possible for him to blend in a trace of indomitability into his flexible sword moves and also allowed him to switch his style freely between that of a gurgling stream and of a turbulent ocean.
Confucianism, however, was more of a mixture. When Tao Hongjing wrote The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, he took the benevolent and tolerant aspect of Confucianism and used it to integrate and adjust each school’s merits. When a practitioner exhausted their inner qi, their Dantian could produce more. Like spring coming upon a withered tree, such a steady flow of unlimited inner qi is capable of bringing one back to life.
Before, Shen Qiao had the inner qi from Mount Xuandu as his foundation, which actually slowed down his progress when he studied The Strategy of The Vermillion Yang later. Now that he had to learn everything from the beginning again, he was finally able to feel its wonder. It was indeed the most miraculous book in the world. In fact, most people probably didn’t know its real marvel when they fought for it.
What was even more intriguing was that Tao Hongjing probably had foreseen that it would be hard to keep a book in a world of chaos when he wrote it, and its content might not stay intact after he passed away. Therefore, even though the book had five volumes, each volume was a standalone. People would not lose the context when reading each by itself. If they could learn all of them, they would naturally attain the perfect state. But even if they only studied one or two volumes, their martial power would not be crippled —— it just might not have as obvious an effect.
Therefore, Shen Qiao was also using the battle to test the result of his many days of practice through Kunye. A person could never display the limit of their capabilities during friendly competitions. Only a life and death crisis could bring out their full potential and push them towards a new breakthrough.
The Way of martial arts was like rowing a boat upstream, to stop moving forward meant to fall back. Otherwise, people like Qi Fengge and Hulugu wouldn’t have to stubbornly choose to go forward at the risk of losing their honorable status and many years’ worth of martial power or even their lives.
The situation was extremely dangerous for Shen Qiao —— his Sword Qi was entirely suppressed by Kunye’s blade, and his inner qi was also running out. The speed of his attacks was significantly slower compared to that of before; even the power of Sword Qi was gradually weakening. It looked like he was going to lose in no time. Kunye swung his blade at him, and a frightening wave of inner qi suddenly burst out of it. Blade Qi turned into an inescapable net, surrounding Shen Qiao from all sides. It carried with it an imposing momentum, burning all plants, evaporating all rivers, and even killing all birds in its way, and in the end, it blew right at Shen Qiao’s face!
This was the ninth layer of Blade Qi that Kunye took pride in!
Surrounded by it, one could not imagine a second way to deal with such a bullying Blade Qi except to take it with brutal force. Kunye had indeed proven himself as a disciple of Hulugu. There were few in the world who could even survive this one blade-strike from him.
Concentrating all of his inner qi on the blade, he swung it down right at Shen Qiao’s head from midair in such a magnificent manner as if it was going to split even the stars!
Shiwu opened his eyes wide. He was staring so fixedly at the two people across the deep chasm that he even forgot to breathe.
He wanted Shen Qiao to win more than anyone else, but even a martial arts beginner like him could tell that the situation was unfavorable to Shen Qiao.
Above him was the boundless clear sky, and below him was the bottomless crevice. From Heaven to Earth, the dozen-meter high cliff he stood on was the only place he had. At this most critical moment, there was not even enough time for him to use lightness skill to flee. What should he do to hold back this all-out strike from his opponent?
Zhao Chiying frowned. She couldn’t help reach out to cover Shiwu’s eyes. She didn’t want him to see his master’s blood splashing right before him.
Shiwu had already lost one master. He would not be able to take the blow of losing another one dear to him!
She regretted deeply inside. She should be the one fighting. If she had known this earlier, she would never agree to let Shen Qiao take her place. Seeing how confident Shen Qiao was, she thought he had a trump card against Kunye, but she never anticipated that the other person would really fight with their life and place himself in such a dangerous state!
The Blade Qi was quick like lightning. Within almost no time, it was already touching the end of his brows. But Shen Qiao’s breath suddenly slowed down. He closed his eyes. He didn’t choose to escape; instead, he raised his sword and moved towards it.
Feel first the world then oneself; forget first oneself then the world. Only by doing so, a person can forget both the world and themselves and then become truly unaffected by all ups and downs in life.
The Grieving Celestial Sword turned into a band of white Sword Light, and within the light, Shen Qiao’s figure was nowhere to be seen.
The assertive smile on Kunye’s lips suddenly froze.
His Blade Qi could not advance any further!
Shen Qiao’s sword pierced straight through his Blade Qi and was striking right at his chest.
This was not right!
Kunye immediately turned around and swung the blade in his hand horizontally before him. Just as he expected, Shen Qiao appeared behind him, and the two strands of white Sword Intent turned back to suppress his Blade Qi.
This was impossible!
The thought flashed through Kunye’s head, but he didn’t have time to think deeply about it. Concentrating power on his feet, he leaped high into the air and, as he turned around, struck down at the cliff behind him. The rocks on the side of the mountain crumbled almost immediately with a deafening sound. Stones of various sizes started falling one after the other. He then jumped upwards again and landed directly on the top of the cliff.
He glanced down, but amidst the falling rocks, his opponent’s trace was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, an alarm rang in his head!
Kunye turned around and made another strike.
But this one didn’t land on his enemy. Instead, he felt a sharp pain on his back —— the other person was even faster than him and had obviously detected every move he intended.
It was impossible! Impossible!
He thought Shen Qiao had reached the state of Sword Intent, but this clearly wasn’t Sword Intent!
Wherever the sword was, it was also the place where the Way was. Knowing each other inside out, connected through flesh and soul —— Shen Qiao and his sword were like two hearts sharing a common beat.
It was Sword Heart!
Shen Qiao actually comprehended Sword Heart!
After he discovered this terrifying fact, Kunye dashed forwards like hell. The pricking pain followed behind him like a shadow. It never stopped, as if it was tied to him by an invisible thread, and he was the puppet on the other end, unable to escape its control no matter what.
This felt absolutely terrible. Kunye had never felt so horrified even when he was chased by Yan Wushi. Yan Wushi was only after him to test his martial arts. Kunye knew it too, so he didn’t use all of his strength at that time. But now it was different. Since he had the intention to kill Shen Qiao, Shen Qiao could also kill him.
If both parties were giving it their all, then luck was out of the question.
Given enough time, this person would definitely become a great enemy of his!
But the future was too distant for Kunye. What he needed to do first was to escape.
He couldn’t help crying out loud, “I admit my defeat! I lost! Don’t kill me!”
He could still sense the prickling pain, but it seemed to have suddenly been mitigated by a lot.
Kunye dared not let down his guard as words rushed from his mouth, “I have something to tell you! It’s about Yan Wushi! He has belittled and humiliated you so many times. Now that his time of death is close, don’t you want to kill him with your own hand?!”
The Sword Light swept past his hair and nailed the tree trunk in front of him, instantly splitting the latter into two parts across the middle.
Kunye felt a sharp prickling pain in his outer ear and his cheek. It must’ve been caused by the Sword Light. But if he hadn’t said those words just now, the tree trunk surely wouldn’t be the only thing it had cut through.
He ran out of strength and stopped. Using his blade as a stick, he leaned on the stone wall behind him and breathed heavily, not even caring to wipe away the bloodstain next to his mouth. He could almost hear the pounding of his own heart.
“I lost. You win.”
The last thing he could have expected was for Shen Qiao to reach the state of Sword Heart. At this moment, all he could think of was him escaping death and the lingering fear that came after it.
He also knew that once he admitted his defeat, someone like Shen Qiao who adhered strictly to martial ethics would never run him to earth and hit him when he was already down.
Qi Fengge and Hulugu would have done the same.
Kunye asked, “Have you ever heard of the Coiling Dragon Fair?”
Shen Qiao didn’t respond. Apparently he was waiting for the other to continue.
Kunye took a breath and said, “On September 9th, a grand gathering called the Coiling Dragon Fair will be held in the capital of Tuyuhun, Fuqi City. Merchants from all walks of life gather there every year, and there are almost always rare treasures being brought to the daylight and sold to whoever makes the highest offer. It is said that one of the auction items this year belonged to Yan Wushi’s mother.”
Shen Qiao frowned slightly.
As if he had sensed the other person’s doubts, Kunye sneered, “I heard from my senior martial brother that Yan Wushi’s original family name was Xie. He was said to be a descendant of the Xie Clan in the Chen Commandery.”
This clan started around Wei and Jin Dynasties. During that time, they and the Wang Clan were both top rich and powerful families in the world, and the most famous person among them all was Xie An. However, things changed as time passed, and old glories no longer shone. The Xie Clan had already declined greatly, but a lean camel was still bigger than a horse — — the family was still well-renowned in the southeast region.
It was the kind of prestige that was completely unrelated to the pugilistic world but purely built among scholars and in the Imperial Court.
But Shen Qiao was thinking one level deeper, “This information must be extremely secret. You spend most of your life on the prairie beyond the Great Wall and are not involved in the affairs in the Central Plains. How did you know about it? Unless… Someone else told you?”
“You’re right. Yan Wushi has made many enemies, and all of them will be satisfied with nothing short of Yan Wushi’s destruction. On September 9th, all talents will come together at Fuqi City. The five top martial experts in the world are closing in on Yan Wushi for the kill —— even if his martial arts are unrivalled, it is impossible for him to escape from this siege. As someone who was once twisted around his little finger, you must be looking forward to going there and witnessing his death yourself, aren’t you?”
Shen Qiao suddenly said, “I finally understand.”
Shen Qiao said, “Out of all countries, the Northern Zhou is most likely to unify the world. Yuwen Yong joined forces with Chen, and they attacked Qi with a crushing force. As Qi destruction is within sight, it leaves the next target of Zhou to be either Tujue or Chen. The Cleansing Moon Sect is assisting Yuwen Yong; therefore, in order to kill Yuwen Yong, you must kill Yan Wushi first. So you cooperated with the Linchuan Institute to kill Yan Wushi. With the Linchuan Institute’s huge influence in Southern Chen, they were also able to help you find out the identity and origin of Yan Wushi.”
At this point, Kunye wasn’t going to cover it up anymore. “You got most of it right, except for one thing. The one who helped us find Yan Wushi’s background was not the Linchuan Institute. It was the Six Harmonies Association. I said earlier that Yan Wushi has made many enemies. Back then on that night in the Beyond Clouds Monastery, he straightly ruined Dou Yanshan’s good deal and destroyed The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang in front of everyone. How can Dou Yanshan not hate him?”
“Then what about the Linchuan Institute? Ruyan Kehu is wholeheartedly focused on restoring the Han nation’s legitimism. If such a plan can eliminate Yan Wushi and thus take away Yuwen Yong’s right-hand man, it would be impossible for him to just sit by and watch. Many months ago, he fought against Yan Wushi in the Chen Dynasty. It was to test Yan Wushi’s skills as well as to prepare for the action on September 9th.”
“But Ruyan Kehui was also injured, so he cannot attend the gathering on September 9th. Who else is coming besides Dou Yanshan and Duan Wenyang?”
“Your martial brother Yu Ai, the sect master of the Mirror of Arts Sect Guang Lingsan, and the former Great Preceptor of Zhou Zen Master Xueting.”
Every name he uttered was more frightening than the one before.
But if one thought carefully, it all made sense.
Yu Ai had been collaborating with the Tujue people. When Duan Wenyang invited him, it was only natural for him to be happy to lend a hand. The three Demonic Sects were enemies with each other in the first place. Once they killed Yan Wushi, the Cleansing Moon Sect would be without a leader, and, with the Harmony Sect’s internal conflicts, the Mirror of Arts Sect would finally stand out, which was reasonable enough for Guang Lingsan to stay in. As for Zen Master Xueting, he was originally the Grand Preceptor of Zhou. After Yuwen Yong’s succession to the throne, he started persecuting Buddhism and even dismissed Xueting from his post. The status of Buddhism in Zhou suffered a devastating decline ever since. Whether it was for the sake of orthodoxy or “killing the devil”, Zen Master Xueting would also join them in the fight.
It was true that killing one with five didn’t sound very honorable for a martial arts grandmaster, but who would refuse if they could gain the utmost benefit out of it?
After a moment of silence, Shen Qiao asked, “How do you know that Yan Wushi will go? He might have gotten wind of it already.”
Kunye said, “My senior martial brother once said that people like Yan Wushi will go even if he knows it is a trap, because he believes too much in his own ability and is too proud. In his mind, even if he loses, he can still manage to leave without trouble. Things that are too rigid tend to break easily —— isn’t this one of the favorite sayings of you Central Plains people?”
Shen Qiao now completely understood. He sighed, “Ruyan Kehui fought against Yan Wushi on purpose. His intention was to lure out the flaw in Yan Wushi’s martial arts. Since Guang Lingsan is from the Demonic Sect, he must know how to kill Yan Wushi. So this time you all have come prepared and are determined to succeed.”
“That’s right. I know you also hate Yan Wushi to the core. It will be such a grand gathering. Even if you don’t participate yourself, how can you not come and have a look at least?”
However, as he was saying it with a smile, he suddenly raised the blade in his hand and swung it at Shen Qiao!
He knew Shen Qiao would be shaken by the news. A person’s defense was at its lowest when their mind wavered; therefore, he was certain that this stroke would succeed!
This person would surely become a huge pain to both him and Tujue. He could not let him live!
Kunye had already made up his mind as early as when he admitted his defeat. He poured all of his martial power into this move.
He would win, or he would perish!