Chapter 62: There may be hundreds of thousands of Chen Gongs in this world, but there is only one Shen Qiao.
As soon as the words were out, everyone stared over and sure enough, the middle-aged man was nowhere to be seen. The air was getting thicker before them; whipped by gusts of wind, sands formed swirls on the ground. Visibility had dropped to its lowest. Amid the blowing sandstorm, Shen Qiao couldn’t even tell which one was Chen Gong, let alone the middle-aged man.
Murong Qin worked his way up to the front of the group. He pulled Chen Gong back and shouted, “My Lord. The wind is too strong. Let’s take shelter on the side for now!”
Chen Gong clenched his teeth and refuted, “That won’t work. None of us know our way around here. We have to follow the guy closely!”
Right after he finished, the sandstorm became even stronger, and one could see with a lift of their head dark clouds carrying the yellow sand as they swept across the land. The sand made their eyes tear and their vision blurry. Under such a circumstance, even exceptional martial experts would not be able to contend against the mighty force of Heaven. They could only tighten their cloaks and coverchiefs, yet the storm still made it extremely difficult for anyone to move a step.
Shen Qiao tried to bend himself over as much as possible to reduce the wind force while tightly holding Yan Wushi’s wrist.
Alerted, the horses started to wriggle and kick restlessly. Shen Qiao wasn’t looking, and by the time he realized it, he had already lost the reins in his hands. He looked back, but the horses were gone.
There was nothing but howling wind next to his ears, and no other color but blinding yellow before his eyes.
“My Lord, this way…”
Shen Qiao vaguely heard Mutong Qin say so. He hurried over towards the direction of the voice. Suddenly, he missed his step and found himself sliding downwards!
Below him seemed to be a bottomless abyss. The slope was so extremely steep that Shen Qiao felt like he had been falling for ages yet he still hadn’t stepped on firm ground.
Such a state lasted for quite some time before he finally felt the slope getting slightly flatter. Shen Qiao pressed against the rock behind him and managed to stabilize himself on the incline.
It was pitch black down there. One couldn’t even see their own fingers. But for him, the situation actually felt quite familiar, a feeling he hadn’t experienced for a long time.
The wind that had been whistling next to his ear disappeared. The world around him became dead silent.
All except for the fast and feeble breathing sounds which came from below.
“Who’s there?” Shen Qiao asked.
The breaths paused. After a while, someone said in a faint voice, “…It’s me.”
Shen Qiao groped with his hand to feel the direction of the incline. After a few leaps, he reached the source of the voice, asking, “Why are you down here?”
He clearly remembered that he had released Yan Wushi’s hand before he fell.
Yan Wushi said, “Ah-Qiao, I think my hand is dislocated. And my head hurts too…”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Your head is still cracked. It would be more surprising if it didn’t hurt after you fell from a height like this.
He had no choice but to walk over and ask, “Which one?”
“My right hand.”
Shen Qiao felt his way through and reset the other’s dislocated joint. The latter let out a muffled grumble, but he didn’t whine about the pain this time.
“Wait for me right here. I’ll go take a look at what’s ahead of us,” Shen Qiao said to him.
As soon as he was about to step away, Yan Wushi immediately grabbed the hem of Shen Qiao’s robe.
Shen Qiao asked, “Won’t it make your head hurt more if you get up and walk right now?”
Shen Qiao didn’t want to waste too much time on the conversation. He too feared that if they were to lose direction down here, they might not be able to find the others again. So he said, “Alright. Let’s walk slow and find Chen Gong first.”
Even though they talked quietly, there was still a lingering echo to their voices, indicating that they were in a rather spacious place below the ground —— something like a cave.
But everything happening was so bizarre that they had to make sure they stayed on guard…
The ground underneath was covered with uneven rocks. One could easily trip on them if they were too careless. But these stones didn’t seem to lay in random patterns. Shen Qiao bent down and touched a few of them. To his surprise, they were neatly cut into well-defined shapes and even had chiseling marks on their surfaces, all of which indicated that they were actually man-made products.
Yan Wushi asked, “Ruoqiang?”
Perhaps the fall just now had given him another concussion — his voice sounded somewhat shaky. He tried to avoid talking as much as possible and condensed a sentence like, “Could this place be the Ruoqiang they were talking about,” into just two syllables.
Shen Qiao agreed, “It’s possible.”
He took out a fire stick and lit it up.
The firelight was only enough to brighten the small area around them. However, as soon as Shen Qiao saw the place they were at, his heart sank at once.
Where they were standing right now wasn’t the bottom yet, because just a few steps next to them, the ground dropped sharply once again, forming an enormous, bottomless pit. If they hadn’t fallen right there but instead went a bit faster and directly into that “abyss”, it would be hard to tell what they’d be like now.
Right around this time, Yan Wushi suddenly whispered next to Shen Qiao’s ear, “Ah-Qiao, I think I saw someone over there just now.”
Shen Qiao asked, “Did you see who the person was?”
But Yan Wushi’s next sentence was slightly hair-raising, “I don’t think it’s a ‘person’.”
The fire stick in their hands made them extremely conspicuous in the dark. If Chen Gong or his men saw them, there was no reason that they would keep silent.
But there was only one way before them. If they didn’t go forward, they could only go back.
Shen Qiao said, “Let’s go the opposite direction then.”
The path was very narrow and only allowed one person to pass at a time.
The firelight flickered and was about to go out, while the darkness was vast and boundless. Humans became so extremely minute and insignificant that they could be engulfed by the darkness at any time.
Yan Wushi suddenly asked, “How did you feel when you were blind before?”
Shen Qiao was slightly startled. After a moment of silence, he said, “Nothing in particular. You eventually get used to it.”
“Why didn’t you hate others because of it?”
Shen Qiao thought for a moment and replied, “I did have complaints, but nothing to the degree of hatred. It’s very tiresome when one puts too much burden on themselves. It is true that there are many malicious minds in this world, but there are also many people who are willing to lend a helping hand. I want to remember them, not the things that only bring me desperation and pain.”
Yan Wushi heaved a sigh, “But all I have seen during our trips are people who treat you illy. Without you, Chen Gong would not be half as well-off as he was today. Not only did he not remember the kindness you had done to him, but he even requited it with enmity, threatening you to explore Ruoqiang with him.”
Shen Qiao said flatly, “There are also good people. You just don’t know. Back then when you handed me to Sang Jingxing and I was forced to destroy my own foundation to take him down, were it not for the little Daoist priest living in the White Dragon Monastery —— who happened to be the young boy that we saved the other day outside the Xiang Prefecture City —— for saving me in time, I would not be standing here and talking to you today. Afterwards, when the Harmony Sects came looking for me, even though the abbot knew that he could save his own life by handing me over to them, he still died for me. Since people like them exist, how could I possibly dare to let myself be carried away by hatred? Shen Qiao’s heart is rather small. There’s only enough room for kind people like them. As for those who’re not worthy to be remembered, I have nothing to spare, not even hatred.”
“What about Yan Wushi? Do you not hate him either?”
“If it isn’t for the fact that your death may very likely affect the political state of Northern Zhou or even the entire world, we would not be having this conversation.”
Yan Wushi laughed, “So you still hate him. It’s just that you’re too forgiving and softhearted that even your hatred doesn’t last very long. Ah-Qiao, your weakness is so obvious. That’s why anyone can use it against you just like Chen Gong. If you took him under control at the beginning and threatened him to hand over Bona’s grandfather, it would be a much better choice than following him all the way here.”
Shen Qiao said, “You’re right. I could have done that. But then you wouldn’t be able to get away from them. Are you saying I should have just left you behind?”
Yan Wushi said softly, “No, but I do understand the reason why the former me treated you the way he did. Because he is suspicious by nature and never trusts anyone. No matter how good you are, he will always want to bring out that dark side in you. He doesn’t understand that you are just you. There may be hundreds of thousands of Chen Gongs in this world, but there is only one Shen Qiao.”
Shen Qiao heaved a sigh, “Now I’m a little convinced that you really aren’t him, because Yan Wushi would never say something like that.”
Yan Wushi said gently, “Of course I’m not him. My name is Ah-Yan!”
“…Don’t you have a headache? Why are you still able to talk so much?”
Yan Wushi stopped saying anything.
As they were talking, they had walked in a single file for about two or three minutes.
Shen Qiao suddenly stopped.
The fire stick, after giving off its last glow, died down in the darkness.
There was some puzzlement in his voice, “Did we just come back to where we started?”
At the end of the narrow path was a pitch-dark cave entrance, just like what they had seen on the other end.
“Could it be that this place is an enclosed circle, and we just walked from one end to the other?”
As soon as he finished, he heard someone say from the front, “Is it Daoist Priest Shen over there?”
It was Tuoba Liangzhe’s voice.
Shen Qiao raised his voice and replied, “Yes! Where are you?”
Tuoba Liangzhe said, “I fell down from above as well, hit my head and passed out and just woke up. May I ask if you have seen our lord and his men?”
“Not yet. We couldn’t get out of here after the fall. Have you found anything yet?”
“There’s an entrance that seems to lead to a staircase, but it’s too dark for me to tell. I lost my fire sticks when I fell. Do you have any extras?”
“We have one more.”
No matter what political position they held, they were now on the same boat and would have to make concerted efforts if they wanted to get somewhere.
Shen Qiao lit the fire stick and walked over. Tuoba Liangzhe was already waiting for them at the entrance. Looking closely, it wasn’t hard to see the large bloodstain on his forehead.
Tuoba Liangzhe asked, “Did you see any other exit on your way here?”
“Then it looks like we have no choice but to go down.”
Right at this moment, Shen Qiao suddenly saw a hairy hand behind Tuoba Liangzhe, its five fingers neatly spread out and nails glinting red, ready to place itself on the man’s shoulder.
The creature had approached without making a sound. Even they did not see it coming and couldn’t tell whether it was a human or not.
Before Shen Qiao said anything, Tuoba Liangzhe seemed to sense that something was not right. He turned around and immediately thrust his swords forward.
But the sword did not pierce the creature’s body. As if it was met by an iron wall, the tip of the sword actually curled a little.
Tuoba Liangzhe quickly retreated. Shen Qiao shoved the fire stick into Yan Wushi’s hand as he drew out the Grieving Celestial Sword and charged over.
The other figure was tall and sturdy and didn’t look like anyone from their group. Shen Qiao, remembering how Yan Wushi said it “may be non-human”, didn’t dare to take the risk. Wrapped by inner qi, his sword glowed a faint white. Even if the other party was a real iron wall, the sword would still be able to pierce through it.
However, despite its heavy and clumsy-looking figure, the monster was very quick. It twisted about and was actually able to dodge Shen Qiao’s sword. As if it was more interested in Tuoba Liangzhe, it unfolded its claws and snatched right at him!
As they got closer, Shen Qiao could feel the stink hitting his face. The monster was covered with hair, its eyes suffused with a faint green glow, looking more like an ape.
It all happened so fast. Tuoba Liangzhe thought that Shen Qiao had shared most of the pressure, but he did not expect that the ape would make an unflagging effort and rush towards him again. On his right was the bottomless abyss, and behind him was Yan Wushi. There wasn’t much space for him to dodge about. He had no choice but to climb up the left stone wall and move forwards quite a few feet with only a couple of leaps.
However, the ape chased closely after them, climbing at a speed even faster than these martial artists! It was about to catch Tuoba Liangzhe in no time!
The latter lowered his body and stepped to the side, then he made a move which Shen Qiao did not expect ——
He grabbed at Yan Wushi, hoping to throw the man at the ape in order to free himself.
Out of his surprise, his hand missed!