Chapter 57: Since when does an outsider have the right to humiliate the disciples of Mount Xuandu?
Dou Yanshan must have put all of his martial power into that strike. There was no way he could have shown any mercy to his opponent. As a result, not only did it fracture Yan Wushi’s skull, but what was more troublesome was that it must have severely damaged the inside as well. After turning it over in his mind, Shen Qiao could only start with breaking down the blood clots in Yan Wushi’s head, then continue on slowly correcting all other damaged meridians in his body as well as repairing the internal organs. As for whether Yan Wushi would wake up again or remain in this half-dead state for the rest of his life, that would be Heaven’s call.
He was here racking his brains out thinking of a way to save him, while the other person just laid there in a deep coma, eyes closed and breaths feeble, completely unaware of the changes happening in the outside world. Shen Qiao glanced at him and sighed softly, then pulled a bitter smile.
They had two meals per day, mostly lamb and pancakes —— after all, a small foreign village couldn’t offer anything better. But Shen Qiao had always been an easygoing person. He ate whatever they brought him and never complained.
As for Yan Wushi, things were rather complicated. He was totally unconscious and could at most eat some broth. However, with his jaw tightly closed and his tongue blocking the front of his throat, it was impossible to feed him with a spoon. Even if one could get the soup in by force, it would only later dribble away from the corner of his mouth. There were special tools designed for feeding decoctions nowadays, but Shen Qiao had no way of getting ahold of one in the small Tuyuhun village. Left with no other choice, he first took a sip of the soup himself, then pried open Yan Wushi’s teeth and depressed the other’s tongue with his as he forcibly fed the soup mouth-to-mouth. This way, he could at least make the other person swallow a mouthful or two.
Yan Wushi’s body was recovering extremely slowly. The inner qi in his Dantian never disappeared, but it was so faint and so little in amount, much like a candle in the wind that could go out at any minute. Shen Qiao’s own martial power hadn’t fully recovered yet, so he could only transfuse his inner qi to Yan Wushi and guide it through his body once every day. He didn’t know what to do in this situation. He was more or less just trying anything he could think of.
The once unbridled, egotistical, and insufferably arrogant man could only lay on the bed now at the mercy of others. Even that shadow of a smile that always teased the corner of his lips no longer existed. The face was handsome as before, but that was all there was. All those extra traits and temperaments which reminded people of a grandmaster of the demonic sects had disappeared, all except the scattered, starry white next to his temples and the hard-to-believe docility on his face.
The table was turned. Perhaps even Yan Wushi himself had never guessed that he would one day fall into such a state.
That being said, according to what Shen Qiao knew of the man, even if he had foreseen the ambush, he was likely going to attend the appointment anyway. The others might avoid it like the plague, but for Yan Wushi, it was a battle opportunity hard to come by.
His mistake was that he was overconfident. He thought he would never lose. Even if he did, he would still be able to leave easily. What he didn’t expect was that, as a fellow member of the demonic sects, Guang Lingsan was determined to participate and eliminate him even at the cost of giving away the hidden flaw of the Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin.
Shen Qiao didn’t have the medicinal ingredients needed to make decoctions. All Yan Wushi had was that sole trace of inner qi which Shen Qiao had transfused to him. However, on the fourth day, his breaths once again weakened to the point of being almost imperceptible. Shen Qiao knew this would not work. Even if the man still had a chance of survival, dragging on like this for a couple more days would make him eventually snuff off.
Holding the soup bowl in his hand, Shen Qiao slightly frowned and fell into deep thoughts. Suddenly, he saw that Yan Wushi’s eyelids seemed to tremble.
The movement was so small that he almost thought it was an illusion.
“Sect Master Yan?” Shen Qiao tried calling his name, but just as he expected, there was no response.
He grabbed the other person’s wrist. The pulse was so weak that it was almost neglectable. Without looking closely, the man appeared to be no different from a dead body.
Somehow, Shen Qiao suddenly felt a sense of ridiculousness.
When Yan Wushi brought Shen Qiao to Sang Jingxing with his own hands and forced Shen Qiao into that blind alley, it probably never occurred to him that he would end up where he was today, much less having himself be butchered at others’ will. Had Shen Qiao not come, with the way Guang Lingsan and Dou Yanshan handled matters, Yan Wushi would have been decapitated a long time ago. At that point, even the most powerful immortal wouldn’t be able to come back to life anymore.
Even at this moment, if Shen Qiao could make just another strike on his chest or head, it would be enough to turn Yan Wushi from this half-dead state to a completely dead man.
For a long time, Shen Qiao stared at the other person in silence before he finally raised his head a little and took in a mouthful of soup. Then, holding Yan Wushi up by the nape, he grabbed the other’s chin, forced him to open his mouth and slowly fed the soup to him.
Having repeated it for several days, Shen Qiao was already very skillful and fluent at this set of actions. His Daoist Heart was pure, and his intention was to save people. Therefore, he did not think it was awkward or overly intimate.
In other people’s eyes, however, things were entirely different.
Bona adored Shen Qiao. Despite the fact that Yan Wushi’s state of existence still scared her, she insisted on delivering the daily meals herself just so that she could talk to Shen Qiao a little more whenever he came to open the door himself. Although the language barrier made communication between them rather difficult, she was still perfectly content.
Today she brought lunch over like usual. For some reason, perhaps the dish tray was a little heavy, she didn’t feel like knocking on the door. She shouldered it open and went straight through the yard to the back room.
The door to the back room was left open, and there she was, standing agape and speechless at the scene before her eyes: Shen Qiao was bending over, holding the dead man’s jaw as he pressed his lips against the other’s, completely ignoring the fact that Bona had just walked in. Under the dazzling sunlight, Bona even saw their tongues intertwining!
To be more precise, Shen Qiao’s tongue was trying hard to push between the other’s clenched teeth and reach in as far as possible so that he could successfully deliver the soup into Yan Wushi’s mouth.
But the other person was unconscious —— a living corpse after all. Even after all the efforts, some soup and dribble still trickled down the corner of his mouth.
People in the western regions were more open-minded, and Bona was young, beautiful and very popular among the boys in the village. Even so, in the many years of her life, she never once had such intimate interaction with a man. For a long time, she stared at them, her face burning, her heart racing, her mouth dry, but she was unable to move a step.
Shen Qiao was in the middle of feeding soup to Yan Wushi and was not expecting Bona to suddenly come in. He had no choice but to finish what was left in his mouth before he set down the soup bowl and greeted Bona who was now flushing hotly.
Watery-eyed, Bona asked Shen Qiao in her broken Chinese, “So you like him. That’s why you don’t come close to me, or accept my love. Is that right?”
The misunderstanding was huge indeed! Shen Qiao smiled bitterly, “This village doesn’t have the tools for feeding decoctions, so I have to feed him like this. Please don’t misunderstand, we are not even friends.”
Bona asked puzzledly, “Then why does Mister Shen refuse to accept my love? Is it because I’m not as good-looking as girls from the Central Plains? Or is it because I’m not as gentle and ladylike? You can tell me, and I will learn.”
Little did Shen Qiao expect that he would get himself a love affair during his short stay. Women in the Central Plains would never say it out loud so frankly even if they fell in love with a gentleman at first sight. However, Bona didn’t care. If she liked a person, she had better confess early. Otherwise, by the time the other man returned to the Central Plains and they could never see each other again, it would be too late to cry.
Shen Qiao patiently explained to her, “I’m a Daoist priest. Priests can’t marry.”
But Bona did not buy it, “Papa said priests can still choose to resume a secular life.”
She actually came prepared.
Caught between tears and laughter, Shen Qiao had no choice but to tell her, “You’re only fourteen, but I’m already past the age of independence. The age gap between us is too big.”
“What’s the age of independence?”
“That would be thirty years old.”
Surprised, Bona said, “You’re thirty already? I can’t tell at all!”
“Martial artists tend to live longer.”
Bona bit her lips and asked, “Are you still going to look like this when I’m fifty?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “How’s that possible? I’m not an ageless immortal. I’ll probably look similar to him at that time.”
Bona looked at Yan Wushi. Apart from the grizzle scattered along his sideburns, the man looked extremely handsome and showed no trace of senility.
She asked, her voice shaking, “How old is he?”
Shen Qiao thought for a moment, then answered with some uncertainty, “Less than fifty, I guess?”
It struck Bona like a bolt from the blue. Since the western regions were always full of wind and sand, the faces of those forty or fifty-ish men in the village were already weather-beaten and covered in wrinkles. How could they even compare with Yan Wushi? Not to mention that women aged even faster: most of them started to gain weight over thirty, their wrinkles deepened too. Bona knew she was still young and beautiful, but what about ten or twenty years from now? What if the man she loved was still as handsome as ever yet she was already old and hoary-haired? Even the mere thought of it pained her.
The poor girl just experienced what was probably the dawn of love in her life, yet she had already run into such an unsolvable problem. It immediately battered her out of her senses, leaving her in an abyss of sadness beyond description.
With tears in her eyes, Bona shoved the dish tray into Shen Qiao’s arms and sobbed, “Never mind. The Buddha sent you to me, but he refused to make us a pair. It is clear that we’re not destined for each other. I hope he will bless you two with a happy life, until death do you part.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Despite the awkwardness, Shen Qiao had no choice but to stop Bona who was running away crying, searching for a corner to heal her emotional scars, “I need to leave for half a day to go to the city. If anyone asks about us, you can just pretend that you don’t know. But if his enemies come and demand to take him, and there’s no other way around it, you can just hand him over. It is more important to keep yourself safe. There’s no need to risk your life for him.”
Bona wiped away her tears, “Does he have a lot of enemies?”
Shen Qiao nodded, “Quite a lot.”
Bona was deeply worried, “Isn’t it dangerous for you to be with him?”
The girl was pure and innocent and spoke her mind. She liked Shen Qiao, so she told him directly. She was deeply grieved when she was rejected, but as soon as she heard that Yan Wushi had many enemies, she immediately started to worry about Shen Qiao’s safety.
The malevolence in people’s hearts was often more terrifying than demons, but it was because there was also kindness to be found within it that this kindness was all the more precious.
Shen Qiao felt warmth in his heart. He comforted her, “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. I’m just afraid that we would implicate you and your grandpa, so promise me to be careful, will you?”
He and Yan Wushi had been staying in this small village for the past few days without any news from the outside, so he had to make a trip back to the royal capital. If all those martial artists were gone, he could take Yan Wushi back to Chang’an and give him to Bian Yanmei sooner. The demonic sects had many secret techniques. Perhaps Bian Yanmei would know how to save his master.
After he parted with Bona and her grandfather, Shen Qiao returned to the royal capital. The city was crowded, bustling with people just like before. The Coiling Dragon Fair ended just yesterday, and it was now the only topic of discussion in the inn. Shen Qiao, wearing a common desert cloak over his Daoist robe and hiding his head and face under it, sat down in a corner without anyone noticing.
In order to get more information, he intentionally chose the largest, busiest inn in the city, ordered a bottle of liquor and some meat, then quietly listened to all those voices around him.
“Have you heard? The Tai’e Sword now has an owner. Someone bought it with twenty thousand taels of gold!”
The words immediately stirred up a wave of exclamations in the surrounding.
“They must be insane, or simply have too much money to throw away! The Tai’e Sword is a famous sword indeed, but it’s only slightly sharper than others. How can it be worth that much?”
The person laughed, “There’s a reason, of course. The person who bought it was the Duke of Pengcheng District of Qi, Chen Gong.”
The others immediately understood, “Then it’s not surprising. The Tai’e Sword was once known as the King’s Sword in the country of Chu. I guess he wants to offer the sword to the Emperor of Qi.”
Someone heard it and sneered, “Qi as a country is on the verge of being destroyed. Do they really think that the Tai’e Sword is going to protect them?”
“Who knows? They say that Chen Gong is a courtier who got his position by fawning over the Emperor of Qi. If Qi is destroyed, all of his fortune and even his life will probably go down with it. He’s most likely just trying anything he can at the moment, making that last-minute effort, you know!”
As soon as his last word faded, a group of people walked in. The leading man was tall and sturdy, donning a gaudy robe tied with a jade belt. His face was not that handsome, but it had a lively, heroic spirit that even the luxurious clothes could not conceal. He surveyed the room after coming in, then, with a brief nod, servants immediately hurried before him to arrange seatings and dishes. That air of greatness instantly differentiated him from the rest of the pugilistic people.
Speak of the devil, and here he was. The people who had been talking excitedly about him just a moment ago all felt more or less a bit awkward and quieted down.
Not only were the others peeping at Chen Gong, but Shen Qiao, without moving his face, also cast a glance at the man from his corner.
If it was not for the fact that one could still vaguely make out that familiar contour of his face and all the people around him whispering to each other: “The person is here, cut it out,” Shen Qiao would never dare to make the connection between this arrogant, reserved young aristocrat and that boy in the shabby temple back then.
The landlord didn’t need to know his identity to realize that this was an important customer he must not offend. Bringing the servants with him, he quickly cleaned up the few tables left by the previous group. Face wreathed with smiles, he then led Chen Gong to his seat.
As soon as Chen Gong and his men took their seats, another group showed up in succession.
Shen Qiao quickly glanced at them and frowned, thinking to himself what a coincidence it must be, as he pulled the hood that was already covering his forehead even lower.
Yu Ai and Dou Yanshan sat down at the same table. Yu Ai was by himself. He didn’t bring any disciples with him, while Dou Yanshan was accompanied by several members of the Six Harmonies Association. Two of them looked somewhat familiar, resembling the Hu brothers whom Shen Qiao recognized from that night in the Beyond Cloud Monastery.
However, he couldn’t see clearly and was also afraid that they would notice if he stared for too long, so he quickly lowered his head and went back to tasting his wine, waiting patiently for everyone to leave.
The inns outside of the Great Wall didn’t particularly care about details. Even this one, the biggest and best inn in the royal city, didn’t have any private rooms. Having so many people gathering under one roof was quite lively, but their voices were all over each other too. As a result, those who spoke louder would naturally be heard by others.
Since Chen Gong was here and had brought with him a large number of servants, apart from a few troublemakers, the martial artists did not wish to make enemies for themselves for nothing. Thus, the topic of the Tai’e Sword was over, and it was only natural for them to bring up the other extremely shocking news which had already been mentioned countless times in the past few days.
“Do you think Yan Wushi is really dead?”
Judging by the way he spoke, the man who was talking wasn’t very skilled in martial arts, nor was he from a prominent sect. Because when he said those three syllables, “Yan Wushi”, he unconsciously lowered his voice, as if he was afraid that a living Yan Wushi would suddenly appear in front of everyone the next second just like Chen Gong did.
The name apparently carried an extraordinary amount of power. As soon as the first person brought it up, the room fell into a momentary silence just like when Chen Gong came in. Then someone replied, “I guess so. It was said that Sect Leader Yu and Chairman Dou also participated in the ambush. They’re sitting right over there. If you don’t believe it, you can go ask them.”
In the past, whenever the pugilistic people heard Yan Wushi’s name, their hearts would inevitably tremble slightly. However, after the recent news that he was killed by five of the top masters in this world, it actually aroused more dissent.
What did being ambushed by five top martial experts mean? In other words, these five men weren’t confident that they could win the fight one-on-one, so they needed to join hands in order to kill him. The pugilistic world always respected the strong. Admittedly, many felt relieved when they heard about what happened, but there were also many people who secretly admired Yan Wushi because of it: they believed he would probably become the next number one martial expert in this world after Qi Fengge, if he hadn’t died.
Most people dared not say it out loud, but some were stubborn and overly outspoken. They heard someone say loudly at once, “After all, using many to defeat a few is against the pugilistic principle. It’s a pity that a grandmaster like Yan Wushi would die so unjustly!”
Yu Ai darted him a cold glance but didn’t say anything. Dou Yanshan, on the other hand, lightly flicked his finger, and the person who was talking immediately cried out and covered his mouth, appearing to be in pain.
Pale with fright, his friend immediately jumped to his feet. “Brother, are you okay?!”
He then cupped his hands at Dou Yanshan, “Chairman Dou is a generous person. My brother always has trouble holding his tongue and tends to babble nonsense when he’s a little drunk. Please don’t take it seriously!”
Dou Yanshan sneered, “You can eat whatever you want, but you cannot say whatever’s on your mind. I only knocked out one of his front teeth. It’s just a small lesson for him. That’s enough mercy already.”
Sure enough, while Dou Yanshan was talking, the other person spat out a mouthful of blood foam and a tooth. His face still looked indignant, and he was about to say something to refute, but his friend quickly covered his mouth, scolding, “Don’t cause trouble!”
That person could only shut up in embarrassment. His friend pulled him up and the two left in a hurry.
With this short interlude, the people didn’t dare to talk drivel again. The Six Harmonies Association had business all over the world. Offend Chen Gong and you would at most be beaten up badly and never be allowed to enter the state of Qi again, but if you offended the Six Harmonies Association, you might not even be aware of when you accidentally trespassed on their waters or used the goods they escorted.
However, it was hard to keep quiet with so many mouths in a room. After only a brief silence, as some left and some came, the clamor and noise once again rose to its high point. Yan Wushi’s death was undoubtedly an inevitable topic, and this was only a remote town beyond the Great Wall, so one could imagine the amount of waves and trouble it would stir up when the news spread to the Central Plains.
Shen Qiao heard someone next to him say, “Since Yan Wushi is dead, Shen Qiao must be having a hard time.” They didn’t say it loudly, presumably talking to their friend.
“How’s that so?”
“Didn’t Shen Qiao lose all of this martial arts and go to Yan Wushi for refuge and become his boy-toy? Now that his big daddy is dead, what can a useless person like him do? Do you really think he still has the face to go back and ask Mount Xuandu to take him back in?”
These people obviously didn’t know that it had been quite a while since Shen Qiao last showed up together with Yan Wushi. The last they had heard was still when Shen Qiao attended the banquet at the Su Residence of Su on Yan Wushi’s behalf.
“You’re right. I bet he dare not go back. Didn’t Mount Xuandu already send a message out that Shen Qiao was no longer their sect leader?”
“But they never publicly expelled Shen Qiao. They must still care about the relationship they had before. Why do you think he could just wallow in disgrace like this that he would rather follow the Demonic Sovereign around than return to his sect?”
“Maybe Yan Wushi can give him the pleasure that no one else can?”
After he finished, the two chuckled salaciously, the expression on their faces blatantly reflecting their thoughts.
They had no idea that the person they were gossiping about was sitting at the table right behind them, quietly listening to their conversation without so much as batting an eyelid. In fact, Shen Qiao even had the leisure to make himself a beef roll, put it in his mouth, and enjoy it slowly.
“Since the Cleansing Moon Sect and the Harmony Sect came from the same origin, they must also share certain techniques. What you just said is not totally impossible. The Demonic Sovereign is skilled in martial arts — — he must be even more skilled in bed. Maybe Shen Qiao can’t live without him after he had a taste of that man. Perhaps the Demonic Sovereign is already tired of him, and he is the one begging to stay!”
As soon as he finished the last word, the person screamed and covered his mouth with his hand, immediately bending down and rolling on the floor in pain.
The sudden incident shocked everyone. They all looked over at the same time.
The person capable of hurting him obviously was not sitting behind him.
Shen Qiao was also somewhat surprised and looked in front of the person.
He saw Yu Ai, sitting upright and still, slowly put down his chopsticks and ask coldly, “Since when does an outsider have the right to humiliate the disciples of Mount Xuandu?”