Chapter 61: I’m not Yan Wushi.
If talking with Yan Wushi before would make one livid enough to go and die, then talking with the current Yan Wushi would probably piss them off to go die and then come back to life again. In fact, those without a strong will couldn’t even carry the conversation forward.
Shen Qiao let out a sigh and simply shut his mouth, refusing to talk anymore.
However, the person behind him, after seeing that Shen Qiao had stopped talking, wrapped his arms even tighter. He rested his chin on Shen Qiao’s shoulder and asked, “Ah-Qiao, why are you ignoring me?”
‘Because I am trying to decide whether I should knock you out first before taking you on the trip,’ Shen Qiao thought. He turned his head slightly to the side and lowered his voice, “Since you still remember who you are, do you know why Chen Gong is looking for chalcedony in the ancient city of Ruoqiang?”
“That I do not know, but I’ve heard about jade cistanche before. It is usually found deep inside the Gobi Desert, often hidden among rock cracks, and therefore is extremely hard to find. It is a rare treasure indeed. However, it is obvious that Chen Gong only wants the chalcedony. He only mentioned jade cistanche to lure us into running the errands for him.”
Even before Yan Wushi was injured, Shen Qiao had hardly heard him analyze anything in such a mild tone.
“Yes, I’ve noticed it as well. But even without the jade cistanche, as long as he is still holding Bona’s grandfather as a hostage, we are left with no choice but to go with him. Although, if we can find the jade cistanche on the way, then your wounds will be able to recover completely.”
Yan Wushi said, “The main injury I have is the flaw in my Demonic Heart. Jade cistanche can only cure external cuts. It won’t help much.”
Shen Qiao was a bit amused, “But you have a fissure on your head. Jade cistanche can heal fractured bones and torn muscles. Doesn’t it come in handy? We have to treat the external cut first no matter what.”
“Actually, I don’t want it to heal,” Yan Wushi said, sounding a little down.
Shen Qiao frowned. “Why not?”
He had a feeling that Yan Wushi’s current disposition was different from all the others he had seen so far —— in fact, it closely resembled the one from a few days ago who smiled gently at Shen Qiao right after waking up.
“Because I may not be able to talk to you again once it heals. Don’t tell me that you prefer the other Yan Wushi who was not only blind to your sincerity but even gifted you to Sang Jingxing.”
“You are him.”
“I’m not him.”
Shen Qiao felt a bit speechless. “Who are you then?”
After a moment of silence, Yan Wushi said, “You can call me Ah-Yan.”
“Would you please say it once at least? I’ve never heard you call my name before.”
Shen Qiao said dully, “I can’t when I’m looking at a face like yours.”
Yan Wushi complained bitterly, “The face is just a person’s outside appearance, an empty shell. There’s no need to focus too much on it. I know all the things he has done to you. Yan Wushi is ungrateful and heartless, but I will never let you down. Ah-Qiao, one cannot find a second person in this world who is as good as you. If he doesn’t cherish you, I will. Will you let me?”
Shen Qiao stopped talking and completely ignored him, but Yan Wushi did not give up. He wanted to say some more, then he saw Chen Gong’s horse suddenly slow down. The other man turned around, and, seeing that Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao had been chit-chatting all this time, could not help but tease, “Looks like the rumor out there isn’t true. From what I see, Daoist Priest Shen and Sect Master Yan are in a very good relationship, which I find to be quite a relief. With you two aiding me, I have no worries about not finding the chalcedony this time!”
Shen Qiao looked up at the sky. He had been living here for several days and had some knowledge of the local weather.
“Is there a sandstorm coming?” he asked
Chen Gong had not the slightest idea, but he had brought with him people that did know. Murong Qin, for example, answered at once, “You’re right. There’s a small town just ahead of us. Why don’t you take a rest there first, My Lord? We can also switch our mounts at the place and continue the journey tomorrow?”
He used to be such a haughty person, but now he was even willing to address Chen Gong as his lord. Shen Qiao couldn’t help but glance at him.
Murong Qin’s expression looked just as usual, as if he didn’t think that this master-servant relationship was a disgrace to his social status.
He should be serving directly under Qi’s emperor Gao Wei, and yet now he was referring to Chen Gong as his master…
As if he knew what the other person was thinking, Yan Wushi approached Shen Qiao from behind and whispered into his ear, “The Murong Family has already pledged their loyalty to Chen Gong in private.”
As the hot steam blew into Shen Qiao’s ear, he unconsciously leaned forwards.
It didn’t take long before they reached the small town. Chen Gong’s party, which was both rich and overbearing in style, booked the best inn in town as soon as they arrived (while it was the best, it was also the only one). The living condition was a lot worse even compared to Bona’s house, not to mention the other inns in the royal capital. However, since the town was so remote, they were fortunate enough to even find a place to stay and really had nothing to complain about. Everyone returned to their own room after dinner without saying a word.
The number of rooms available was limited, therefore Shen Qiao and Yan Wushi shared the same one.
Shen Qiao was not a person of great curiosity. However, he couldn’t help but wonder how Chen Gong, who had been just an ordinary teenager not long ago, suddenly became a person full of secrets in such a short time, especially when these secrets seemed to also be related to the goal of their trip as well as their safety —— Shen Qiao had to be more prudent.
“All of Chen Gong’s power and status comes from the Emperor of Qi. Without the Emperor, Chen Gong has nothing. But Murong Qin, the best martial expert in the imperial court, has willingly become Chen Gong’s subordinate. This is very strange indeed.“
Ever since Yan Wushi‘s temperament underwent that huge change, his eyes constantly followed after Shen Qiao. Whether Shen Qiao was getting up or sitting down, Yan Wushi would stare at him unblinkingly. Shen Qiao was not dead. He too felt it, and it only made him extremely awkward. After he said those words, he couldn’t help but ask with a frown, “Why do you keep staring at me?”
“Because you’re very good-looking.” Yan Wushi flashed him a smile —— it was like ten miles of peach blossoms blooming in the spring breeze, with their branches glittering and glowing under the pouring moonlight.
“Now, let’s get down to business.” Shen Qiao sighed. The current Yan Wushi wasn’t very normal either, but he was at least slightly better than the ones before.
“Did Chen Gong know martial arts before?” Yan Wushi suddenly asked.
His question reminded Shen Qiao of where the strange feeling he had been getting lately had come from.
Not only did Chen Gong know nothing about martial arts in the past, but he was also illiterate. Where could he have possibly learned it from? All the boy knew back then were a handful of moves which Shen Qiao had taught him for self-defense, but those were only enough for handling a few bandits at most. The Chen Gong they saw today, however, walked in light and graceful steps with an imposing shine hidden in his eyes —— his martial arts must have already reached a certain level. Even if he was not a first-class master yet, he must be at least second-class and rank high in the world.
How was he able to advance by leaps and bounds in such a short amount of time? Normally, people had to start practicing martial arts at a very young age, but Chen Gong was like a tall building that suddenly rose overnight. It couldn’t help but make people suspicious.
Shen Qiao said, “There’s yet another thing. When I mentioned going back to Chang’an earlier, you said it was too late. Is it because something’s going to happen in Chang’an? Is the emperor of Zhou in danger?”
Yan Wushi shook his head. After spending almost an entire day riding on horseback, he looked quite tired. Even though he only sat on the horse and didn’t need to pay attention to the way it was heading, since he had been seriously injured beforehand, the amount of jolting was still enough to make the old wounds tear again.
“My head hurts…” His face showed a slight trace of pain as he reached for the wound on his head.
Shen Qiao was fast enough to spot it and stopped the other person’s hand. “Don’t move.”
He pressed his palms on Yan Wushi’s back and infused a few strands of inner qi into the other man’s body.
The inner power Shen Qiao was practicing right now came from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. It was the most neutral and mild type of qi. However, when it entered Yan Wushi’s body, it unexpectedly aggravated the other person’s pain, so much so that even his face began to twitch.
Left with no other choice, Shen Qiao quickly withdrew his hands.
Yan Wushi’s body temperature was so high that it was as if he was inside a burning furnace. This had never occurred before.
“Sect Master Yan?” Shen Qiao whispered.
Yan Wushi grabbed Shen Qiao’s hands, not forgetting to remind the other person even in a semi-unconscious state: “Call me Ah-Yan…
Shen Qiao: “…”
“Many of the things you said felt like nothing but a blur in my head that I can’t explain. Maybe Yan Wushi knows, but I really don’t…”
‘That is to say, each of the different dispositions he has displayed doesn’t actually remember everything?’ Shen Qiao thought to himself as he frowned.
“I’ll take a nap first…” Yan Wushi said. His voice gradually faded, and by the time he finished the sentence, he had already closed his eyes.
In fact, the reason why Zen Master Xueting and the others wanted to kill Yan Wushi was not because Yan Wushi’s death would restore order to everything. They also wanted to stop the Cleansing Moon Sect’s expansion in Northern Zhou as well as to prevent it from assisting the emperor of Zhou in unifying the world. That was to say, their final target was still Yuwen Yong. From an outsider’s perspective, Yan Wushi was already dead. The Cleansing Moon Sect had just lost its leader, and it would only be natural for Bian Yanmei, who must be overwhelmed at the moment trying to maintain the sect’s internal stability, to lower his guard on protecting Yuwen Yong, thus creating a great opportunity for the others.
Therefore, when Yan Wushi said, “It’s too late,” he probably meant that something was about to happen to Yuwen Yong.
But they had just arrived at Tuyuhun, a place thousands of miles away from Chang’an, and they were about to enter the boundless, uninhabited desert. Even without taking Yan Wushi into consideration, as long as Bona’s grandfather was in their hands, Shen Qiao still could not leave them behind. The only plan right now was to go forward and help Chen Gong obtain the chalcedony first.
Early the next morning, when Chen Gong sent his men over to wake them up, Yan Wushi was still deeply asleep. They could not wake him no matter what.
Shen Qiao had no choice but to arrange Yan Wushi to sit at the front of the horse while he himself sat in the back. He wrapped his arms around Yan Wushi’s waist and grasped the reins in front of the other person in order to prevent him from falling off during the trip.
Upon seeing this, Chen Gong handed a bottle to him. “Here’re some pills that can tonify one’s qi and help them stay awake. You can give some to Sect Master Yan. It might help.”
“Thanks,” Shen Qiao replied, “but since I don’t know what his current condition is, I suppose we should not apply the medicine so rashly.”
Chen Gong laughed, “Relax. These pills are made of mild ingredients like wolfberry and red sage. Even if it’s not effective, it won’t kill him either. If I have guessed correctly, the reason he is in such a state must have something to do with him getting seriously injured during the fight with Dou Yanshan and the others. Normally I would have looked on with indifference or even laughed at him. But we’re now on the same boat. If anything happens to Yan Wushi, you will be distracted as well, and it does me no good.”
What he said was true. Yan Wushi’s health condition did not look very optimistic —— the inner qi within his body was in disorder, and because of it, he could not accept inner qi from anyone else. There was nothing Shen Qiao could do about it.
He took the bottle from Chen Gong, took out two pills, and fed them to Yan Wushi.
Soon, the latter moved. He coughed up a mouthful of blood and slowly opened his eyes.
Shen Qiao was struck by a thought: If the ingredients in the pill were really as mild as Chen Gong said, it should not have worked such wonders.
He asked Chen Gong, “What else is in the pill?”
This time, Chen Gong answered honestly, “There are also ginseng and snow lotus. I didn’t tell you at first because I was afraid that you would worry about the strong effect and not let him take it.”
Shen Qiao asked Yan Wushi, “How do you feel?”
The other person didn’t say anything. His drooping eyelids raised slightly as if he glanced at them, then they closed again while he barely managed to straighten himself on the back of the horse.
But his face still looked pale and ghastly, and his forehead seemed to be sweating as well.
Chen Gong said, “Looks like he’s well enough to keep going. Let’s continue then.”
Chen Gong seemed to be in a hurry to reach the destination —— which he didn’t express too obviously, but Shen Qiao still sensed it.
The little town didn’t have any camels available, so they had to continue on horseback. Luckily, this area wasn’t completely covered in sand. There were still exposed rocks scattered around, indicating that it was still part of the Gobi Desert.
Yan Wushi didn’t talk to Shen Qiao again for the remainder of the trip. He only leaned against Shen Qiao’s back, full of rich drowsiness.
The fact that he was still alive was already conspicuous enough. However, amongst the people Chen Gong brought with him, including Murong Qin and the other martial artists, no one paid much attention to him. They seemed to have another goal in mind, one that was much more important than Yan Wushi.
It was very difficult for the horses to move in the desert. As the sandstorm got stronger, the group had to dismount and walk the horses on foot. As a group of martial artists, they traveled pretty fast and actually made quite a distance from the little town in a day’s time. There was nothing but sand as far as their eyes could see. Even martial artists could do nothing about it. Fortunately, they were well prepared and had already covered their heads with cloaks and coverchiefs, thus avoiding filling their mouths with sand.
The one leading the team was a middle-aged man who was far from handsome. Shen Qiao didn’t know the person, nor did Chen Gong show any intent to introduce him. But the man clearly didn’t know martial arts and was not together with Murong Qin. Chen Gong had probably brought him to scout for them.
Holding a compass in his hand, the man sat high on a horse. He was in charge of finding the bearings, so he had people lead the horse for him.
Suddenly, he raised one hand up in the air.
In almost the next second, Murong Qin shouted, “Halt!”
Everyone stopped. All of them stared at the middle-aged man from behind.
The man looked down and studied his compass for quite some time. Then he turned around and ran up to Chen Gong, wiping the sweat off his face with a coverchief as he said, “My Lord, this is…this is strange. The compass stopped working after we got here!”
Chen Gong frowned, “But didn’t you say that we should go this way?”
Under Chen Gong’s piercing gaze, the middle-aged man almost failed to utter a complete sentence, “Yes! Yes, I did! But now…Please take a look at this!”
He handed the compass over to Chen Gong. The latter glanced at it —— the pointer was spinning crazily with no sign of slowing down.
Chen Gong, of course, didn’t understand. “What does this mean?”
The man smiled apologetically, “If I have guessed correctly, the ancient city Ruoqiang that you’re looking for is right below us. There must be something in there that’s interfering with the compass. It might even be the chalcedony you want. But because of this interference, I am unable to locate the real entrance to the ruins!”
The group raised their heads and looked around: all they could see was the vast, yellow expanse of sands, blurring even the boundary between the sky and the ground. Occasionally, they could spot a few bare rocks nearby, but there was not the slightest sign of the so-called ancient ruins.
Chen Gong asked Murong Qin, “What do you think?”
Murong Qin thought for a moment and replied, “My Lord, what about we wait for the sandstorm to stop first?”
Chen Gong knitted his brows once again, “But there’s no shelter around here.”
He turned back to the guide. “Should we keep going or stop right here? You make the call.”
Chen Gong sounded very casual, but the other man absolutely dared not take it lightly. He hesitated, fearing that his words would lead them down the wrong way and eventually cost his own life. Scratching his head in anxiety, he stammered, “We’ll…it’s…”
Chen Gong said coldly, “Think carefully before you answer.”
The middle-aged man shuddered and blurted out at once, “We should keep going!”
Chen Gong asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes! Yes! I’ll lead the way. According to the compass, the destination should be somewhere around this area. There’s no mistake. We can definitely find it if we just search a bit more!”
“Let’s go then.”
The troop continued forwards, and Shen Qiao followed after them. He looked back at Yan Wushi who was now leaning behind him, hesitated a moment and asked, “Are you Yan Wushi? Or someone else right now?”
The other person quietly extended out a hand from underneath the robe and grabbed Shen Qiao’s wrist on the hand that was holding the reins. “It’s me. Ah-Yan.”
“…” Shen Qiao was speechless, but at the same time, he also felt somewhat relieved.
It was true that he had saved Yan Wushi’s life, but deep inside him, he didn’t want to have too much contact with the man.
From Shen Qiao’s perspective, let it be “Ah-Yan” or “Xie Ling”, both of these personalities which had split off from Yan Wushi as the result of the great change in his temperament were much easier to talk to than the original person —— at least when Shen Qiao was with them, he was able to see them not as Yan Wushi, but as two different people.
Suddenly, someone at the front screamed, “My Lord, the man’s gone!”
There’s an inconsistency regarding YWS and SQ’s position on the horse. The first time, there were clear indicators that SQ sat before YWS at first (wrapped his hands around the other person). The second time, it’s also clear that YWS sat behind SQ, leaning against SQ’s back. The third time, in the original text it actually sounds like YWS was riding on a different horse from SQ’s, but it also states how he grabbed SQ’s wrist, so I edited it a little bit to make it consistent with the second case.