Chapter 58: From now on, you are no longer a disciple of Qi Fengge.
Even if some of them didn’t know who Yu Ai was beforehand, after those words he just said, it was impossible for anyone to remain ignorant.
The reason they had no scruples talking and commenting about Shen Qiao was because they thought he was just an abandoned disciple of Mount Xuandu who, having lost all of his martial arts as well as his halo, posed no threats to themselves. They didn’t believe Mount Xuandu would continue to protect him either. However, to everyone’s surprise, Yu Ai stepped up.
After the initial startle, Shen Qiao slowly put down the beef roll. He knew what it was for.
No matter how much of a complete failure he was, Shen Qiao once belonged to Mount Xuandu. When others talked about him, they were also staining Mount Xuandu’s reputation, and Yu Ai could not tolerate it.
What he did not understand was that if Yu Ai truly cared so much about Mount Xuandu’s reputation, why did he agree to ally with the Tujue? Wasn’t being conferred by a Tujue Khan just as shameful?
Shen Qiao slightly shook his head. He was no longer interested in the farce before him. He was only waiting for the others to eat their fill and walk away before he could get up and leave himself.
The person who had lost his teeth to Yu Ai was now in a towering rage. He mumbled indistinctly, then grabbed the longblade next to him and threw himself at Yu Ai!
But Yu Ai didn’t even pull out his sword. He took the other party down with the single chopstick in his hand.
The person he just beat was Ji Jin. He was nicknamed the Godly Nine-Tailed Fox, though people usually referred to him as Ji the Bigmouth behind his back because he was careless, overly outspoken, and often offended others. Ji Jin was quite skilled in martial arts, and although he might not be a first-rate master per se, he was at least second-rate. He usually knew when to stop and would not speak ill of others in front of them. This time, for some reason or another, he failed to realize that the sect leader of Mount Xuandu was sitting right in front of him. It was admittedly an unfortunate mishap and caused him extreme public humiliation.
His friend dare not back him up. He helped Ji Jin get on his feet and had to smile and apologize to Yu Ai on his friend’s behalf, “Sect Leader Yu, please forgive us. My brother had a bit too much liquor today and must have been talking junk!”
Yu Ai didn’t respond to him. His eyes went straight over the man and fixated on the person behind. “Ah-Qiao, are you not going to greet me even after such a long period of separation?”
Shen Qiao sighed softly. They grew up together and knew each other too well. Even with his face covered, his body and movement still showed a sense of familiarity. Yu Ai was not stupid. He would eventually realize it after some time.
Shen Qiao put down his hood and heard someone say next to him, “It’s Shen Qiao!” The voice immediately triggered a wave of surprised murmurs.
Quite a few of them felt a bit guilty —— the person whom they had commented loudly on just now had been sitting right next to them all this time, listening.
What is wrong with today? some of them thought. They talked about Chen Gong, and there Chen Gong was. They talked about Shen Qiao, and Shen Qiao was here. With this rate, could Yan Wushi also show up later?
They couldn’t help but shiver at the thought of it and looked around.
“It’s been a while since we last met. I hope everything is going well with you, Sect Leader Yu.”
Since Yu Ai already saw him, Shen Qiao didn’t bother to pretend anymore. He nodded and greeted Yu Ai gently as if they were just two nodding acquaintances who hadn’t seen each other for a long time.
For a moment, all the clamor and noise in the inn ebbed like tides, leaving only Shen Qiao’s voice in Yu Ai’s ears.
He looked Shen Qiao up and down as if he wanted to determine how the other person was doing himself. After a long time, he finally said, “You’ve lost weight.”
Shen Qiao didn’t reply to the statement. He was only here to gather information. There was no point in staying after they found out about him.
“I still have some errands to run, so I’ll excuse myself first. May Sect Leader Yu and Chairman Dou enjoy your meal.”
But Yu Ai wouldn’t let him off this easily, of course. His feet moved, and the next moment, he already blocked Shen Qiao from the front, “Ah-Qiao, come back to Mount Xuandu with me.”
Shen Qiao’s expression didn’t change. “Sect Leader Yu must be joking. Since I’m no longer a disciple of Mount Xuandu, there isn’t any ‘coming back’.”
Slightly enraged, Yu Ai asked, “I never ordered to have you expelled. You’re still a disciple of Mount Xuandu. Are you saying that you don’t even want to acknowledge our Master anymore?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “I think you’ve misunderstood something. I am Qi Fengge’s disciple, and this will never change no matter what happens. But ever since you colluded with Kunye to poison me, plotted my defeat against him, stole the position of the sect leader and started collaborating with the Tujue people, Mount Xuandu is no longer the place I know. Even without your order of expulsion, I will not acknowledge myself as a disciple of Mount Xuandu anymore.”
Under Shen Qiao’s calm, bland tone, these hair-raising words sounded all the more jarring and intricate.
No one had anticipated so many hidden stories behind Shen Qiao’s fall that day. They were all stunned listening to him. When they finally came back to their senses, the hall immediately burst into another round of buzz.
Neither had Yu Ai expected that Shen Qiao would choose this moment to reveal the truth in public. Redness flashed across his face, not from embarrassment but exasperation.
Of course, Shen Qiao had no evidence. He couldn’t do anything to Yu Ai even if he said it out loud. But Yu Ai still felt greatly insulted as if his clothes had just been stripped off.
With an effort, he controlled the rage inside him and said calmly, “Ah-Qiao, come back with me.”
To which Shen Qiao replied coldly, “Yu Ai, everyone knows that the Tujue people are ambitious like wild wolves, yet you, for the sake of your own fame and prospects, willingly took favors from them. You even forced Mount Xuandu onto your chariot. I can’t stop you now, but it doesn’t mean that I approve of this result nor that I agree to join your evil deeds.”
“Since we have come to this point, we might as well ask the people here to be our witnesses. As Qi Fengge’s mantle disciple, I hereby announce: from now on, you are no longer a disciple of Qi Fengge. We will henceforth walk our own paths and will no longer have anything to do with each other!”
Shen Qiao stood on the spot, his face tranquil and indifferent as usual, as if he was totally unaware of the storm his words would arouse. His Daoist robe fluttered underneath the cloak without the help of the wind, and his face projected a natural dignity and power without the existence of anger. Hidden beneath the once mild and harmless handsomeness was a fierceness so pressing that people could hardly look at him directly —— he was like a sword kept in a box, whose sharp glisten poured out even before it was unsheathed.
Shocked and offended, Yu Ai roared, “How dare you! Master has already passed away. How can you speak like that in his name?!”
Shen Qiao said, “I was the only one around Master when he passed away, and I am his only mantle disciple. What I say represents what he desires! The reason I have endured silently up till now is to take into consideration the interests of all —— I didn’t want to see Mount Xuandu divided by internal strife. However, you have pressed on, and you even willingly accepted the Tujue’s conferment. This is against Master’s teachings, and therefore I am obliged to expel you!”
Even buddhas had wrathful projections. The gentleness on his face finally subsided, giving way to a thunder-like rage. “Yu Ai, you listen to me. You have no right to punish me, because no forefathers of Mount Xuandu will ever acknowledge you as the sect leader! I hope you stay responsible to yourself. If you insist on having things your way and do not repent, I will come back one day to deal with you!”
The hall was dead silent. Everyone stared at Shen Qiao, not able to connect him with that man who was rumored to have abandoned himself and fooled around with the Demonic Sovereign.
After Shen Qiao finished, he strode straight to the gate without another glance.
Yu Ai stopped hesitating. He gripped the Saintly Principle Sword, hoping to stop Shen Qiao. But Shen Qiao was even faster. The others could only see a black shadow pushing away Yu Ai’s sword. Only upon looking closely did they realize that Shen Qiao didn’t even unsheath his sword.
Right at this moment, Dou Yanshan joined.
His original plan was to stay out of the internecine strife between these two martial brothers of the same sect and simply enjoy the show. However, seeing how indecisive Yu Ai’s movements were, he knew the man still hadn’t made up his mind and might not even be able to stop his martial brother. Dou Yanshan had no choice but to lend a hand.
“Even though I haven’t known Sect Leader Yu for long, I can tell he values old friendships a lot and doesn’t want to handle you with a heavy hand. Daoist Priest Shen, why don’t you try to cool down a little? We can sit down and set aside some time for a heart-to-heart talk!”
But Shen Qiao did not wish to fight against Dou Yanshan. His footwork changed; using the moves from the “Rainbow Shadows”, he circled around Dou Yanshan and landed directly at the entrance of the inn.
“Ah-Qiao! Don’t make me do this!” Yu Ai snapped, unsheathing the Saintly Principle Sword.
Before Shen Qiao replied, another person jested on the side, “To fight the few with many, to conquer the one with the crowd —— Don’t tell me you plan to deal with Daoist Priest Shen the same way you did to Yan Wushi?”
Chen Gong, who had been looking on all this time, stood up. This should have nothing to do with him, but for some reason he decided to horn in.
Dou Yanshan laughed, “The Duke of Pengcheng District just acquired the Tai’e Sword. You should hurry up and be on your way to report the mission back to the Emperor of Qi. Why are you still idling around here, meddling in other people’s business?”
There seemed to be a taint of indistinct sarcasm in the words, “Duke of Pengcheng District” when they came out of his mouth. Chen Gong was the new nobleman of Qi, but since he had no relationship with the pugilistic world, the Six Harmonies Association didn’t see him as someone important.
Chen Gong didn’t answer Dou Yanshan’s question. Instead, he turned to Shen Qiao and said gently, “If Daoist Priest Shen is looking for a way to get out of the pester, I have rented an entire courier hostel in the city. You can follow me and rest there.”
Shen Qiao replied, “Thank you very much for the offer, but please allow me to kindly decline it.”
He then cupped his hands and was going to leave.
But Yu Ai would not let him go easily. “Wait!” he shouted as he reached for Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao didn’t turn his head. Like he had eyes on his back, he gently slid a few steps to the side as he turned around and held the sword across his chest, blocking off Yu Ai’s hand. The sword sheath was infused with inner qi. The latter felt a slight shock and uncontrollably released it.
However, Yu Ai reacted quickly. He immediately pulled out the Saintly Principle Sword using his other hand. The sword light darted swiftly and gracefully as the sword swung towards Shen Qiao’s face. Its speed was so fast that even Dou Yanshan was slightly surprised by it, thinking to himself that Yu Ai probably didn’t use his full strength during their fight against Yan Wushi earlier: the guy might’ve appeared to be severely injured, while in fact he just didn’t want to charge first.
In any case, Yu Ai was determined to keep Shen Qiao here. This time, without Yan Wushi standing in the way, he would not allow Shen Qiao to escape right under his nose again. He knew how powerful Quietus was —— Shen Qiao was still so weak and sickly when they last met on Mount Xuandu. There was no way he could completely recover in such a short period of time.
However, every man deserved a new appraisal every now and then. Yu Ai’s sword Light transformed a myriad of times as it cast down on Shen Qiao, but the person who was supposed to be enshrouded underneath suddenly disappeared. With a movement so swift and volatile that it was almost impossible to describe, Shen Qiao emerged behind Yu Ai, his sword still in its sheath, as he lifted a finger and tapped on the curtain weaved by sword light.
The instant he touched it, the entire curtain crumbled underneath the inner qi into broken pieces, scattering in all directions!
There was a trace of disbelief on Yu Ai’s face. The tip of his sword quivered slightly, creating another dozen or so twirling ripples as it wound towards Shen Qiao.
As if it was a brush painting a landscape in emerald and gold, or a bright green rending the sky, it was so bright, so resplendent, like the flashing iridescence reflected by colored glasses.
It was from the last set of moves in the Azurewave Sword Arts, but slightly altered. Qi Fengge had no incompetent disciples, and Yu Ai had made improvements to the sword arts to better suit himself. Most of the time, he appeared as a cold soberside, yet when it came to sword arts, he was extremely fond of these kinds of flashy, gorgeous moves. Even his sword qi carried with it a thundering, raging fierceness. As the sword thrust forwards, it seemed to rumble right next to everyone’s ears. Those who were slightly inferior in martial powers could already feel their blood and qi churning inside them, and they couldn’t help but retreat a few steps.
But Shen Qiao didn’t.
Shen Qiao didn’t retreat!
It greatly surprised everyone, including those who had looked down on him earlier, thinking he was just one of Yan Wushi’s boytoys and attachments.
Shen Qiao finally drew his sword!
The sword qi of the Grieving Celestial Sword soared straight to the sky in a burning rainbow, its mellowness and richness spreading out from Shen Qiao’s hand, making people want to indulge in that comfortable warmth. However, so many people still hadn’t recovered from the shock just now and didn’t even realize that Shen Qiao’s sword was already pointing to the front.
Everything happened within the blink of an eye. Before the others knew it, the two had already leaped off the ground, the tips of their swords pressed against each other. Yu Ai was as quick as lightning, but Shen Qiao was even faster: his body became one with his sword and suddenly vanished from Yu Ai’s sight.
In the world of martial arts, speed defined the winner!
The next second, Yu Ai suddenly felt alert. He immediately turned around and swung the sword across, but it was too late —— the other person’s Sword Intent was only inches away from him. There was no place to escape. He only had time to make out the tiny, white sword light. Yu Ai’s heart sunk. Before he had time to think carefully, he pushed the “Rainbow Shadow” to his best and retreated at the fastest speed like never before in his entire life. It almost looked like he had teleported three feet away!
Shen Qiao could have chased after him: his white Sword Intent had already reached perfection. One step further he would enter the realm of Sword Heart. Even though he only had about half of his martial power right now, the white Sword Intent alone was enough to frighten and pale many souls.
But Shen Qiao didn’t continue his victorious pursuit, and Yu Ai stopped too. They stared at each other, their eyes meeting, as they each indulged in their own surging feelings: they both knew deep in their hearts that they could never return to the past.
Shen Qiao was standing there, tall and straight like a pine tree, the tip of his sword pointing to the ground. He looked steadily at Yu Ai and said in a low voice, “You should understand that if you and I fight, you may not be able to win, and I may not be defeated. Don’t think you can hold me in the palm of your hand and have me at your disposal. Even though I am no longer the sect leader of Mount Xuandu, I am still Shen Qiao, and I am still Qi Fengge’s disciple!”
There was a complicated look on Yu Ai’s face, “Yuan Ying and Hengbo miss you a lot. They all wish for you to come back…”
“Yu Ai, ever since you poisoned me with Quietus, I no longer believe anything you say.”
Yu Ai’s expression changed. Waves surged slightly in his eyes, hinting at the tempestuous storm that was about to come. “That one was my fault. But from now on, I will never hurt you again.”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “There’s no meaning in saying it now. The damage is done, and it’s impossible to make up for it. What you call a remedy is nothing but self-deception. The reason I’m not going back to Mount Xuandu is because I don’t want Mount Xuandu to fall apart, much less having all the painstaking efforts of our forefathers go up in smoke. Now that you have taken the step together with Mount Xuandu’s disciples, you should be prepared to bear all the consequences. When you’re no longer able to do so, I’ll go find you myself.”
Yu Ai’s chest heaved rapidly. After a long time, he finally laughed grimly, “Good, good, good…”
He said ‘good’ three times in a row. There seemed to be a trace of dismay in his chilly tone, but it was so faint and fleeting as if it was but an illusion.
He didn’t say anything else and just returned the sword to its sheath. Then he turned around and left, without giving Shen Qiao another glance.
Dou Yanshan stroked his nose. Since Yu Ai had left, he no longer had an excuse to intervene. Not to mention that he also feared Shen Qiao’s martial arts, so he would not easily dip his feet in this muddy situation.
“Congratulations, Daoist Priest Shen, for recovering your martial power! As you know, I am somewhat friendly with Sect Leader Yu, so I had to speak up for him just now. I hope you will not take it as an offense.”
There was a reason why this man was able to command the largest sect in the world. He was subtle and shrewd, not someone easy to get along with. Just a minute ago he joined the fight with no hesitation, yet now he apologized almost immediately afterwards —— crisp and decisive, characteristics that truly resembled the manner of a formidable man.
An angry fist did not hit a smiling face, let alone someone exceptionally cultured like Shen Qiao. Upon seeing this, he nodded, “We each have our position, I understand. Chairman Dou is too polite.”
Dou Yanshan said, “Daoist Priest Shen previously took Yan Wushi’s body with you. I’m sure you must have buried him already. It is a great pity that the grandmaster of the demonic sects has perished in this remote piece of land beyond the northern borders. Since the dead deserve the greatest reverence, and the Central Plains people believe that burials bring peace to the deceased, I would like to ask Daoist Priest Shen a favor. If you would allow me, the Six Harmonies Association is willing to help escort Sect Master Yan’s remains to Chang’an and hand him over to the disciples of the Cleansing Moon Sect.”
Shen Qiao responded flatly, “I very much appreciate Chairman Dou’s kindness. However, the body has already been interred. It would be inauspicious to dig it out again. We martial artists are not particular about these rituals. Since he has made numerous enemies when he was alive, he should have foreseen such an end. The reason I gathered his remains is only due to the little mutual affection we had in the past.”
The other person tried a good deal to probe deeper. Unfortunately, Shen Qiao’s responses were seamless.
Shen Qiao looked around the crowd and slowly continued, “Your mouth is yours. You can talk about me however you like and I will not interfere. If you are discontent with me, you can come to me at any time. However, if I hear anyone insult my master or Mount Xuandu, then they shall excuse the sword in my hand for speaking no mercy.”
As soon as he finished, a white light flashed before everyone, and before they could react, the bamboo pole outside the inn broke and fell down in six clean-cut pieces; even the banner on top was reduced to fine powder amidst that bright sword light.
Everyone stood there, completely stupefied, especially those who had just criticized and slandered Shen Qiao behind his back —— they could feel their hearts trembling.
They knew very well that this sword light alone was already far beyond what the majority of them could ever achieve in their lifetimes.
Shen Qiao obviously did it as intimidation, a warning, not just to the others, but also to Dou Yanshan.
However, Dou Yanshan only smiled. He looked completely normal and even clapped his hands, acclaiming, “Daoist Priest Shen must have reached the pinnacle of sword arts!”
Shen Qiao said, “Just a minor trick not worth showing in public. I must have incurred Chairman Dou’s ridicule.”
If it was in the past, Shen Qiao’s temperament would never allow him to show off his martial power like this. But over the course of time, he realized that some spoke with only fists but not reasons: they honored the strong and saw kindness as nothing but a form of weakness.
After a year’s worth of wandering in the pugilistic world, Shen Qiao finally learned to treat different people with different means.
He paid the servant the compensation fee for destroying that banner pole along with the bill for his meal, then walked away.
This time, no one stopped him.
Since Dou Yanshan and Yu Ai were still around, Shen Qiao didn’t dare to leave the city in haste, much less find a medicine shop to fill prescriptions. Otherwise, with their shrewdness, they would immediately find out that something was wrong. Therefore, he found himself another inn and pretended to stay there for the night. Until the sky was completely dark and the curfew bell rang, he finally left the city without making a sound and rushed towards the village.
The impressive move he had put up in public earlier in the day was nothing but an empty show of strength. He knew better than anyone else that his current martial power was only barely enough to fight with Yu Ai. It was just that Yu Ai felt guilty inside. Besides, Yu Ai had also taken a blow from those words Shen Qiao said, so he didn’t suspect otherwise. But Dou Yanshan was different. As a spectator, he saw everything clearly and probably still doubted Shen Qiao’s martial arts. At a time like this, with a “deadweight” surnamed Yan waiting for him in the village, Shen Qiao could not afford to make any mistakes.
By the time he arrived at the village, the moon had already climbed to midheaven, its gentle radiance pouring down, shining over the entire river below. Shen Qiao finally slowed down his pace as he walked towards Bona’s house.
The village was exceptionally quiet after night, except for the occasional barks in the distance.
Shen Qiao knocked on the outer gate, a few soft taps. But in the still night, it was clear enough for those inside to hear.
The candlelight still burned in the room, evidence that the person inside was still awake.
A moment later, he heard the brisk steps of someone approaching. The gate was opened, and Bona’s slightly frightened face appeared behind it.
Shen Qiao’s eyes didn’t work very well at this time of the day, but he was long used to being blind and had learned to tell people’s emotions from their breaths and footsteps. His heart sank slightly at once. “Did something happen?”
“Mister Shen, you’re finally back!” Bona exclaimed, patting her chest in relief. “Papa’s not home, and I was so scared all by myself. That…that dead man woke up!”
From the Author:
Ah-Qiao really stood up in this chapter, looking more and more like a gong. Old Yan, what’d you think?
Yan Wushi: According to the plot, I’m just a living corpse right now. I can’t speak, and I can’t eat soup. Ah~~ [Slightly opening his mouth]
Shen Qiao: …