Chapter 52: I’m still me.
Even though Shen Qiao was able to attain the state of Sword Heart in a life and death moment, this new state was not yet stable. The fight with Kunye had also exhausted him both physically and mentally that he could hardly continue. Now as Kunye’s blade thrusted down from above, he only stood fixedly on the spot as if he was in a trance, his face pale, and could not react in time.
The other people were far from them. All they saw was that Shen Qiao, despite having the opportunity to kill Kunye, stopped after the latter cried out begging for mercy. The two said something, then Kunye caught a moment of Shen Qiao’s absentmindedness and suddenly attacked!
Shiwu couldn’t help scream, “Master! Watch out!”
Kunye’s breath grew heavier. He could almost hear his own heart thumping. This strike, if hit, could definitely crush Shen Qiao’s skull and kill him on the spot!
He didn’t think his behavior was dishonorable and unjust. Not only was he a martial artist, but he was also the Left Wise King of Tujue. Shen Qiao was against the collaboration between Tujue and Mount Xuandu. If he let Shen Qiao master Sword Heart, it would become a tremendous potential threat to both Tujue and Mount Xuandu. Therefore, he had to kill this threat while it was still in the cradle. He could not give it any chance to grow and expand!
All of these things happened in just a split second.
Earth-shattering Blade Qi pressed down from above. Shen Qiao stood in the exact same place, not moving at all. Perhaps he didn’t have time, perhaps he still hadn’t come back to himself, or perhaps he was stunned by the other person’s powerful offense. He didn’t even raise the sword in his hand. All he did was take three steps backwards.
It was only three steps in other people’s eyes, but for Kunye, these three steps were no different from a natural chasm. His blade actually missed because of it!
Shen Qiao finally struck.
Like a white halo piercing through the sun, the Sword Light penetrated the boundless curtain of Blade Qi and crashed straight into Kunye’s chest!
After missing his strike, Kunye’s body seemed to freeze as well as the expression on his face. He couldn’t move any further, his eyes gazing fixedly at Shen Qiao without blinking.
“How…” He finally uttered a word using all of his strength.
The Sword Light disappeared. Shen Qiao stood only inches away from Kunye. The two of them were so close that they seemed to be breathing into each other.
But the tip of the Grieving Celestial Sword had already pierced Kunye’s chest.
Shen Qiao’s face was just as pale as Kunye’s. If it wasn’t for the fact that his sword was still inside the other person’s body, he might look more like the defeated one.
“Because I’ve been keeping an eye on you all this time,” he said coldly. “You can’t put too much faith in the martial ethics of a person who poisons his opponent with Quietus.”
Shen Qiao said to him, “I am very disappointed in you. My master once said that Hulugu was a respectful opponent. You, however, as his disciple, are not even one tenth of his character. You’re unworthy to be his disciple!”
Kunye opened his mouth as if he wanted to retort. But when Shen Qiao pulled out the sword in his hand, what rushed out of Kunye’s mouth was nothing but fresh blood.
Shen Qiao tapped lightly on the ground with his feet and slid out a few meters, dodging the blood gushing out of the other person’s heart when he pulled the tip of his sword out of Kunye’s body.
Kunye didn’t move at all. His breathing gradually faded, but his eyes were still wide-open. His body refused to collapse.
To remain firmly standing even after one’s death —— such a solemn and tragic scene shouldn’t appear on a person like him.
Holding the sword in his hand, Shen Qiao walked over and pushed him lightly.
Kunye fell straight down on his back and finally exhaled his last breath.
Shen Qiao stared at him, but there was no joy on his face.
This person was the start of all chaos on Mount Xuandu, and his invitation for a duel on Half-Step Peak was also the prologue to all of Shen Qiao’s setbacks and misfortunes.
Kunye was now dead, but everything was still far from coming to an end. Mount Xuandu could never return to its past peacefulness, and this world would inevitably witness another round of the flames of war.
Shiwu and the rest of the group all cheered after seeing Kunye fall down. But before their happiness could last any longer, they were once again terrified when they saw Shen Qiao: while supporting himself with the sword, he slowly fell onto his knees and spat out a mouthful of blood.
Shiwu’s lightness skill was not good enough for him to directly leap over the natural chasm lying between them. Just as he was worried sick, Zhao Chiying had already landed next to Shen Qiao. She took the other person by the arm, wrapped her other hand around Shen Qiao’s waist, then brought him back.
As they got closer, everyone finally realized how pale Shen Qiao’s face was. He only had half of his martial power left nowadays. Even though he was able to break into the state of Sword Heart at the last moment, the consequence of forcibly breaking the limit using all of his inner qi was a complete overload of his body. Spitting blood was but a natural result.
What was more serious than him spitting blood was that he could not even stand by himself. Most of his body weight fell on Zhao Chiying.
“I apologize for my manners…” Shen Qiao frowned, his voice too light to be heard.
“Daoist Priest Shen, you put your body and soul into saving the Jade Cloud Sect, while I, the sect leader, did nothing but watch on the side. I should be the one to apologize.”
After she finished, she simply bent down and carried Shen Qiao on her own back as they returned to the sect.
Yue Kunchi was speechless, “…”
He was thinking about offering to carry Shen Qiao himself, but before he could say it, his junior martial sister had already taken action. The words ended up stuck right in his throat — — he could neither swallow them nor spit them out. In the end, he could only stare at Zhao Chiying’s back in awkwardness.
Shiwu followed them here and there like a little tail. He wasn’t able to help much, but it seemed like seeing Shen Qiao with his own eyes was the only thing that could set his mind at rest. However, Shen Qiao fell unconscious as soon as he was brought back by Zhao Chiying and could not be woken up no matter what. Even though Zhao Chiying told Shiwu it was because Shen Qiao had overused his martial power and needed time to recover, the boy still insisted on staying next to Shen Qiao and refused to leave for even a moment.
Shen Qiao slept for a really long time. Many grotesque people and things flashed across in his dreams, and when he finally woke up, he still looked a bit lost and in a trance.
“Master?” Shiwu anxiously waved before Shen Qiao’s eyes.
Shen Qiao pulled the boy’s hand down and smiled, “I’m fine.”
Ever since he started practicing The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang again after his foundation was destroyed, he looked rather sickly. In addition to his eyes which hadn’t fully recovered yet, no one out there would believe he was actually a martial arts expert who had already attained the state of Sword Heart —— a person who was bedridden with a lingering disease would sound much more convincing.
As the actual person who saved him at death’s gate and brought him back to life, Shiwu had a deeper understanding of the condition of Shen Qiao’s injuries. He always had this deep down fear that Shen Qiao would collapse at any moment.
As if Shen Qiao had caught the boy’s mood, he gently stroked Shiwu’s head and asked, “Did Kunye die?”
Shiwu nodded, “He’s dead. Sect Leader Zhao confirmed it herself.”
Shen Qiao slowly let out a breath of relief.
It had been almost a year since the battle on Half-Step Peak, but so many things had happened in between that when he looked back, it was like yesterday.
“Shiwu, if a person puts you in the hands of a malicious evildoer which eventually causes your foundation to collapse and your Daoist Core to be destroyed, will you hate him?”
Shiwu nodded, “I will.”
“Now this person is trapped in a dangerous situation. If you watch him die, it may lead to many other innocent people losing their homes or even their lives. Will you choose to save him?”
Shiwu frowned deeply, trying hard to think of an answer. This question was apparently too sophisticated and abstruse for a child his age. After all, the most tragic and complicated thing he had ever experienced so far was the death of Zhu Lengquan and Chuyi.
Shen Qiao laughed in spite of himself. He already had an answer in his mind, so why bother making things difficult for a child?
Shiwu sensed something. He looked up and asked, “Master, you’re going to save that person, aren’t you? Is he the one who caused you to almost lose your life?”
Shen Qiao didn’t try to hide it. He nodded, “Yes.”
“That cruel-hearted bastard doesn’t deserve to be saved!” Shiwu said angrily.
Shen Qiao shook his head, “He’s not cruel-hearted. He just doesn’t have a heart for others. He treats everyone in this world equally heartlessly — — he’s not particularly kind to anyone. I didn’t understand this at first and thought I could melt even the hardest heart of ice. I am the one who sees him as a friend, and it is also my own wishful thinking that he should treat me the same.”
“If you think he is your friend, shouldn’t he feel the same?”
Shen Qiao smiled, “That is incorrect. There are many things in this world that even if you have spent time and effort on it, you still may not get anything in return. You need to be aware of this before making your investment, otherwise, you will only hurt yourself.”
Shiwu felt that there seemed to be something deeper in Shen Qiao’s smile when he said it. But he could barely understand what these words meant, let alone getting to the content behind them.
“…So, are you going to head down the mountain to save that person?”
After a long period of silence, Shen Qiao said, “Yes.”
“I’m going with you!” Shiwu said without the slightest hesitation.
And that was the last thing he said to Shen Qiao while he was still conscious.
Zhao Chiying took over Shiwu from Shen Qiao’s arms —— the boy fell asleep immediately after Shen Qiao hit his sleep acupoint —— and heaved a sigh, “Is this really necessary?”
“Parting comes regardless of people’s reluctance. He’s still young. There are countless dangers awaiting me on this trip. I can’t have him come with me. He will understand after he wakes up. I here entrust Shiwu to you, Sect Leader Zhao. Thank you for taking care of him.”
After he finished, he cupped his hands at Zhao Chiying and bowed deeply.
Zhao Chiying said, “Why do you insist on going knowing there will be dangers ahead? Yuwen Yong is not necessarily a wise ruler. No matter how the political situation in this world changes, how does it relate to us? With your capability and aptitude, if you focus on cultivating in the Jade Cloud Sect, even breaking through the Sword Heart state and apprehending Sword Spirit is just a matter of time.”
Shen Qiao gave a self-mocking smile, “There are certain things in this world that a person just has to do despite being aware that it may not be possible. The result is not often what one likes, but as long as there’s the slightest hope, I wouldn’t want to give up easily. Perhaps I’m just an innocent and naive person.”
Zhao Chiying thought for quite some time and heaved a long sigh at the end, “You’re not naive. You know all the consequences that might happen, yet you still choose to proceed with no second thoughts. You always hold righteousness above everything else. I have to admit you’re better than me!”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “I’m not as great as you think. All I wish is to meet that person one more time, to see the disappointed look on his face and let him know that he didn’t succeed in planting the Demonic Core in me. Neither did I fall under its control — — I’m still me.”
He cupped his hands at her again and headed straight down the mountain without looking back.
During his stay at the Jade Cloud Sect, Shen Qiao had already taken off his casual clothes and changed back into the Daoist robe he always wore before. Now, with his hair fixed by a jade hairpin and his white Daoist robe fluttering in the wind, he looked like an immortal from afar, so gorgeous that one could hardly take their eyes off him.
Zhao Chiying looked after him in silence and suddenly thought of two verses in a poem.
For the ideal that I hold dear to my heart, I’d not regret dying a thousand times.