Chapter 64: Nobody would dare to look down at Shen Qiao anymore.
Shen Qiao stopped. The other party didn’t advance either. They stood opposite each other, and the air between them became rather strange.
Shen Qiao had already seen the same kind of green-glowing eyes on the other monkey earlier, so he wasn’t very surprised to see them again. He just felt a little strange. Why were there so many monkeys in such an ancient ruin which had been desolated and sealed up for many years?
Were they really able to live here for hundreds of years without any food or water?
Seeing that Shen Qiao made no moves and showed no signs of impatience, the owner of the pair of green eyes couldn’t hold back anymore. The green glow flashed and then disappeared, and everything once again returned to darkness. Even the stink of blood quickly faded in the air.
Did it really leave this easily?
The stairs ran deep. As Shen Qiao groped his way through, he discovered that there were decorative patterns carved on the walls on both sides of the stairs. Apparently, this place once belonged to a bustling city. However, after Loulan annexed Ruoqiang, the country completely disappeared from historical records, together with its people and countless treasures. Perhaps Loulan took everything with them, or perhaps they just passed into oblivion. In any case, not a word about them was heard again in the ever-flowing river of history.
Shen Qiao climbed down the stairs step by step, carrying Yan Wushi on his back. The darkness reaching far out into the emptiness seemed to slow each step infinitely. Yan Wushi’s breaths hovered next to Shen Qiao’s ears, sounding a bit heavy because he was injured and was unable to repress them. The faint heat they brought, and the sound of the Grieving Celestial Sword as Shen Qiao tapped it on the ground scanning for the path —— all of these trivial details seemed to give Shen Qiao the illusion of an endless road.
If there is no end to it, then why not stop and rest?
We won’t be able to leave no matter how far we walk…
Suddenly, he felt a sharp, cold sting on his nape. Yan Wushi had touched him with his hand, and it made Shen Qiao shudder involuntarily.
The place was so poorly ventilated for so long that it was inevitable for people to feel stuffy after staying here for a long time. Their thoughts would become sluggish, and therefore it was easy for them to feel muddle-headed as well.
Shen Qiao was too busy thinking about that monkey just now that he failed to notice this and almost fell for the same trick.
“Thanks,” he said.
Yan Wushi did not reply.
Shen Qiao was used to it. The inner qi in Yan Wushi’s body was in disorder. The person could hardly control himself and was constantly switching between his several personalities. The current one probably didn’t like to talk.
The two walked a little further. Suddenly, Shen Qiao felt that the stairs underneath him had disappeared, the walls on the sides gone as well. He was now stepping on flat ground. However, the current situation only made them more uncomfortable, because they could not guess how large this empty area was or whether there would be traps taking them by surprise from below.
A sword was approaching Shen Qiao’s face soundlessly. In the darkness, even its cold body which used to shine like chilly water had lost its lustre.
But Shen Qiao had stayed in the dark for a long time. He was used to listening to everything with his ears, and his ears were exceptionally sharp. The tip of that sword was still an inch away from his eyes, but he had already jumped off the ground and started moving backwards rapidly, holding his sword across his chest. With a loud clang of metals, the other party’s tempestuous attack was completely dissolved by this simple action.
“What kind of demons are you?! Tell me your name!”
Before Shen Qiao could speak, the other party had asked first.
Feeling slightly awkward, Shen Qiao challenged back, “Then please inform me of your name first.”
This time, the other person actually recognized his voice and asked, “Is it Daoist Priest Shen?”
“And you are?”
“I’m Chu Ping. I came together with the lord.”
Chen Gong had brought more than a dozen people with him. Besides those like Murong Qin whom Shen Qiao was already acquainted with, he had close to no interactions with the rest of the team.
Shen Qiao admitted, and then asked, “Where’s Chen Gong?”
Chu Ping said, “They’re in front of us. A monkey-like monster took away two of our men just now, so I thought you were… Please excuse me, and follow me this way!”
His voice still sounded a bit shaky, and he was panting as he spoke —— the person clearly had just finished a tough fight.
“Are there any traps around this place?”
“Not that I know of. This place should be a terrace, and there’s a turn right at the front. Lord and the others are just around the corner.”
Shen Qiao followed Chu Ping and used the sound of the latter’s footsteps to determine the direction they were heading. A moment later, he heard someone ask, “Who is it?”
Chu Ping answered, “It’s me, Patriarch Murong. I’ve found Daoist Priest Shen.”
Murong Qin’s voice sounded a little tense, “Hurry up and come over!”
Chu Ping became nervous as well. “What’s wrong? Did the monkey come again?”
Murong Qin did not speak. Soon, they heard a light screech in the dark, and there was a small flame in his hand.
By the fire light, Shen Qiao saw that there were other people standing next to Murong Qin. But, the group seemed to have decreased in number compared to when they first arrived.
After seeing that it was Shen Qiao who had come, Chen Gong looked much more relaxed. “I’m glad you two are safe.”
“What happened?” Shen Qiao asked.
“The storm blew away the sand that covered the deep pit, so we fell down the hole which turned out to be connected to the ancient city of Ruoqiang. However, this place is quite large. Since our men were separated by the fall, it took us some time to bring everyone back together.”
“Where should we go now?”
Surprisingly, Chen Gong answered each of his questions. “My men did a quick scouting around just now. If I have guessed correctly, our current location is still within the original city wall. Jade cistanche grows under the ground, and therefore we must find the passage leading to the underground portion of the city and proceed further from there.”
Shen Qiao said, “This city has been buried by the sand for hundreds of years. Even if there once was a passage, it has probably been blocked by now. We may not even be able to find it before we run out of supplies.”
Chen Gong said, “You may rest assured. I happened to see a cartography sketch of Ruoqiang before I came and have some idea of where the passage may be. Back then, the Ruoqiang people built an altar on the north side of the royal city. The passage should be right below the altar, so all we have to do right now is find that altar in the north.”
He then continued, “There are some monsters down here. I’m sure you’ve seen them on your way over. Probably some kind of monkeys that live around this place. They have sharp ears and eyes and are used to living in the dark, and their speed is very much comparable to that of a martial artist. We need to be careful and not make the same mistake again.”
He wasn’t just talking to Shen Qiao, but more to those subordinates accompanying him. Perhaps because they had just lost a few members due to some reason or another, everyone agreed in chorus right away. Then, with Murong Qin leading the way, they all followed the spark in his hand and proceeded.
Since they had more people now, everyone seemed to be much more relieved, feeling that they had at least someone to depend on. Especially after Shen Qiao joined —— ever since they had witnessed with their own eyes in the capital city of Tuyuhun how Shen Qiao was capable of fighting against Dou Yanshan and Yu Ai by himself yet showed no sign of disadvantages, they all had already placed Shen Qiao among the first-rate martial experts in their minds.
Not many knew about Kunye’s death at this time. Once that news spread out, nobody would probably dare to look down at Shen Qiao anymore.
This was just how materialistic the pugilistic world was. Underneath the lofty ideals and noble swords laid the same set of worldly principles —— the survival of the fittest and the admiration to those who were strong.
Those monkeys hidden in the dark were probably daunted by how many people they had and didn’t dare to come out. So, Chen Gong’s group was able to travel in peace for quite a long time. Since Ruoqiang was only a small country even before its destruction, it was reasonable to conclude that its capital would not be very large either. The distance they had traveled should be more than enough for them to go from the south part of the city all the way north.
They all had doubts, but due to the gap between their social statuses, no one dared to question Chen Gong. Only Shen Qiao asked, “How long do we still need to go?”
Chen Gong was also somewhat uncertain. After all, what he saw inside the imperial palace of Qi was only a fragment of the cartograph passed down from the Han Dynasty. “We should be close now,” he said.
However, as soon as he finished, someone in their group suddenly shouted in a low voice, “Sixth young master is missing!”
Another cry followed immediately after, “What is this?!”
In order to save the fire sticks, Murong Qin was the only person in the group who had one lit. Before he was able to pass the fire stick over, someone was already fumbling in their pockets in panic, hoping to find another one to light up. But because he was too nervous, his hand trembled and the fire stick dropped right on the ground.
Murong Qin hurried over. The small fire lit up the ground, and they immediately saw a hairy spider on the fire stick that they had just dropped. It was dark gray all over, and its body —— not including the legs —— was already close to the size of a grown man’s palm. On its back were three white stripes that looked like a person’s face with closed eyes. Once the spider started to move, the “eyes” would open, as if they were “blinking”.
The people had never seen anything creepy like this. They were not afraid, but all of them did feel their hair standing on end and they felt utterly nauseous.
Some of them couldn’t stand it anymore and swung their swords at the spider, cutting it right in half. However, more baby spiders instantly swarmed out of its abdomen and started crawling towards their feet one after another.
“Sixth young master! It’s the sixth young master!”
Another person lit up a fire stick. As the light flickered and hovered to the ground further away, they immediately saw a corpse lying over there. They still recognized the clothes it was wearing, but the body was so completely dried up that the skin was wrapped tightly around its bones, looking quite gruesome.
“Don’t let these get close to us!” Murong Qin shouted in a stern voice.
He drew out his sword as he spoke, and with a few swift flashes of sword lights, he killed all the spiders that were coming towards him and Chen Gong.
But the others were not as lucky. The baby spiders moved at an extremely fast speed. They climbed up along people’s feet and trouser legs and went through every slit they could find. As soon as they touched warm human skin, they would immediately inject venom and paralyze their prey. Those people wouldn’t feel anything or even make a sound until the spiders sucked up all of their blood.
In the blink of an eye, a few more members fell. These people didn’t know much martial arts except a few punches and kicks and they mostly only served Chen Gong as his lackeys. They had no chance of fighting back and collapsed silently just like the sixth young master of the Murong Family.
Upon seeing this, the other people were horrified. No one dared to let down their guard anymore. They all took out their weapons and started attacking those spiders. But the spiders were too small and continued to rush out from nowhere. In addition to the dim lighting and nervousness, they couldn’t help but miss a few of them. As soon as they hit a big one, small ones would start crawling out of it. The number of spiders simply looked endless and impossible to defend against.
All except for where Shen Qiao was: shrouded by the sword light of the Grieving Celestial Sword, not even one spider was able to get close. He shielded Yan Wushi behind him, and the sword light tightly surrounded them, not letting a single drop of water through. It was like a silver waterfall against the darkness, so bright and dazzling that it was hard for people to look away.
The spiders tended to impose upon the weak but feared the strong. As soon as they realized that they couldn’t get close to Shen Qiao, they immediately turned around and rushed towards the others.
Chen Gong scolded his men angrily, “Who told you to stab them on the abdomen? Just set a fire and burn them all!”
He had also kept himself busy, with one hand holding his sword and the other swinging a fire stick back and forth over the ground. The spiders feared the firelight and didn’t dare to come up, so he was able to take the opportunity and burn some of them.
However, they only had a limited amount of fire sticks after all. Seeing that the spiders were still pouring forth in endless waves while he had already lost a few people on his side, Chen Gong had no choice but to order, “Run straight!”
Unfortunately, disaster loved company. Right at this moment, they felt a chilly gust of wind behind them, and before they could react, another person fell facedown with an awful scream.
“It’s the demon monkeys! Those monkeys are back!” someone shouted frantically.
Caught between two fires, the people had no place to escape even if they wanted to. In extreme fear, they unconsciously gathered around Murong Qin and Shen Qiao, for those two were the strongest people among the group. So far, they were still capable of handling everything with ease without a scratch.
But things weren’t easy for Shen Qiao either: two monkeys were pouncing on him at the same time. On one hand, he had to deal with the spiders in front of him, and on the other hand, he had to manage the two monkeys from behind while keeping Yan Wushi safe at the same time. With the three events happening together, he was simply too busy for anything else.
Just like Chen Gong said, the monkeys had stayed in the dark for too long that they had already developed night vision. They were like a bunch of cunning hunters hiding in shadows, watching with cold eyes as the people ran around in circles under the spiders’ besiege, waiting for the best timing to deliver the killing blow.
The clashing of weapons rang through the cave. However, many people noticed that their sword strikes, despite appearing to be able to pierce the monkeys’ chests easily, were either blocked by the hard skin underneath the fur or dodged by the monkeys at the last moment. After a few turns, they not only had to worry about those blood-sucking spiders but also had to deal with the monkeys with inexhaustible energy. Not long after, the entire group was exhausted from all the running about and they were more or less wounded.
The monkeys’ nails seemed to possess a certain poison as well, for the scratches they made soon began to burn.
“The monkeys are the spiders’ natural enemy. As soon as they appeared, the spiders retreated.”
Yan Wushi suddenly spoke up. His voice sounded weak and hoarse; it no longer had the kind of arrogance it used to have before as if everything was under his control. But as soon as he spoke, it always had the power which made people unconsciously listen to him attentively.
Everyone who heard this sentence flickered for a second. In between their fighting with the monkeys, many people glanced at the ground, and sure enough, all those spiders whose mere sight gave them horror were gone.
Without the spiders impeding them, everyone felt an uplift in spirits as if a load had been taken off their mind. For a moment, streams of inner qi and sword qi swept across the cave. Even those monkeys were forced to retreat a few steps.
But the peace did not last long. Along with a long hiss, which sounded like a woman’s wailing, suddenly tore through the darkness, the monkeys’ attack became fierce again. Some of them threw themselves forward even after they were wounded by other people’s inner qi as if nothing could stop them except for death.
Shen Qiao said to Yan Wushi, “The monkeys must be following a leader’s commands. There will be no peace until we catch it. You can stay with Murong Qin for protection for now, since I will go search for that leader and may not be able to take care of you for a while.”
Yan Wushi agreed, but said nothing more.
But they weren’t friends in the first place —— nor enemies either, at least not yet. In terms of his current personality, it was different from his original one, but they were equally coldhearted. In fact, Shen Qiao would be rather surprised if the other person actually said something like “be careful”.
He watched as Yan Wushi disappeared into the protruding crevices against the wall. After making sure that the monkeys would not find him for a moment, Shen Qiao leaped up the stone wall and, using the cracks on it as landing spots, moved towards the source of the shriek. After a few ups and downs, he quickly disappeared into the darkness as well.
With a sword in one hand and his Daoist robe fluttering behind him, Shen Qiao glided across the ground without bringing up a speck of dust. He must have looked very much like an immortal if seen under broad daylight and would have attracted countless eyes. Unfortunately, in a place like this, everyone was too busy struggling to survive. Only Yan Wushi cast a meaningful glance at his vanishing figure, then, instead of going to Chen Gong and Murong Qin for shelter like Shen Qiao had told him to, he walked past everyone straight into the deeper darkness.
No one noticed his disappearance, including Shen Qiao, who had been listening carefully with his eyes closed, searching for the location of the monkey leader. But it made no sound after that cry, so he could only look for it based on his previous impression.
The clashing and clinking of weapons from below grew farther and farther away. Shen Qiao held his breath and became one with the ruins behind him as he focused on the boundless tranquility and unknown brought by the darkness.
All of a sudden, the cry sounded once again!
It was long and wistful at first, then it suddenly changed to a sharp note, something like a bugle or signal that made the monkey group below start attacking Chen Gong and his group frantically again.
This was the time!
The Grieving Celestial Sword shot out of its sheath with a crisp sound similar to the cry of a phoenix nestling!
Shen Qiao tapped his feet on the ground and leaped into the darkness.
There was no place to stand, but he was able to soar through the air. The strike itself was not fancy, but it was extremely fast that its sword light almost wrapped Shen Qiao’s entire body as it turned into a bright white light flashing through the sky. With a slight tinge of purple, the light shot straight towards the source of the sound!
Midway through, the sword light suddenly brightened. The monkey was not dead and must have sensed the threat. But as the leader of the monkeys, the king of this ancient ruin, it had ruled over the place for so long that when it saw someone dared to challenge its authority, the first thought it had was not to run away but to be irritated and pounce upon Shen Qiao.
Under the bright sword light, Shen Qiao finally realized that different from the rest of the monkeys, this one had the face of a man. What was even more bizarre was that on its hairy human face were a pair of green glowing eyes, gazing at Shen Qiao with bitter resentment. A pair of sharp claws carried with it the stink of blood mixed with an inexplicable strange smell completely ignored Shen Qiao’s sword light and pressed down from above with mountain-like momentum!
Shen Qiao suddenly remembered what the smell was —— it was the smell that permeated the air as the spiders died all over the ground. These monkeys had spent a long time living underground. Without other food sources, they must have fed on the spiders and therefore gradually became the spider’s natural enemies over time. This was why the spiders all fled as soon as the monkeys appeared.
But with so many people appearing all of a sudden, to the monkeys it was like finding a lot of extra food. They were naturally attracted and started pursuing after them relentlessly.
The monkey didn’t know how powerful the sword light was. It thought its skin was as strong as iron, so it showed no fear and struck out its claws. The attack carried with it a strong wind and a fishy stink. If one were firmly hit by it, they would definitely have their brain matter splattered.
The two crossed paths: the inner qi wrapped around the sword light pierced right through the skin on the monkey’s chest, and the tip of the sword was an inch into the flesh.
The monkey leader was both shocked and furious. It immediately made a shrill cry. Upon hearing it, all of the monkeys surrounding Chen Gong’s party abandoned their original target and, bouncing a few times on the wall, turned straight to Shen Qiao!
These monkeys not only had powerful attacks and crisp movements, their skin was also hard as iron. Normal weapons couldn’t even cut through it. Even the Grieving Celestial Sword could only hurt them when infused with inner qi. If they were to fight one-on-one, Shen Qiao wouldn’t have any concerns. But if ten or more were to hop on him at the same time, it would be too much to take even for a grandmaster level martial artist like Zen Master Xueting.
He immediately withdrew his sword and retreated. However, since Shen Qiao had injured the monkey leader, it refused to let him leave so easily. Not only did it throw itself towards Shen Qiao, it also ordered the rest of the pack to encircle him.
Seeing that all of the monkeys were lured away by Shen Qiao, Murong Qin quickly said to Chen Gong, “Lord. We better hurry and leave now!”
But Chen Gong refused, “No. Go help him!”
Murong Qin was slightly surprised, “My Lord?”
Chen Gong said with a frown, “We’re on the same boat right now. Shen Qiao can be a lot of help to us. We should help him as much as we can!”
After he finished, he carried his sword and jumped up first.
Murong Qin and the rest had no choice but to grit their teeth and follow.
However, the monkey chief had a very strong enmity towards Shen Qiao for hurting it that it could think about nothing else except for tearing this human apart. Other monkeys, under the might of their leader, were no longer in the mood to fight with Chen Gong’s group. They all rushed towards Shen Qiao. In fact, the appearance of Chen Gong and his men only made them even more crazy and irritable. They were so dauntless and unstoppable that even Chen Gong carelessly got a cut on his arm so deep that one could almost see the bone underneath.
Upon seeing this, Murong Qin called out anxiously, “Lord!”
He was busy applying medicine on Chen Gong while the others shrank back in fear after seeing what happened.
Shen Qiao had no connections with them. Even though he was now trapped because he wanted to capture the monkey leader first, it happened to solve their crisis at the same time.
Murong Qin lowered his voice and said to Chen Gong, “There’s no time to lose, my lord. We need to hurry and leave now! If these demon monkeys kill Shen Qiao, they’ll immediately turn to us and it will be too late.”
After a moment of silence, Chen Gong finally made his decision. “Withdraw!”
Before he left, he turned around and glanced for the last time: surrounded by the monkeys’ frantic, spine-chilling roars, the few bands of sword light seemed fierce but lonely. It was hard to say how much longer they could hold up.
Chen Gong turned back and left with Murong Qin and the others without hesitation.
Shen Qiao killed two monkeys, and he indeed started to feel tired.
After all, his martial power hadn’t recovered to its full bloom yet, not to mention that these monkeys threw themselves at the sword qi one after another as if they were out of their minds. However, the sword qi was not endless. As Shen Qiao’s sword made a long cut on one of the monkey’s chests, the monkey’s blood splashed onto his face, immediately hitting him with its disgusting stink. Even Shen Qiao couldn’t help but pause slightly.
While the other monkeys were attacking Shen Qiao, the leader had been waiting patiently on the side for an opportunity. Now, it finally spotted its chance. With a thundering roar, it pounced on Shen Qiao and locked him in its arms while knocking him backward!
Shen Qiao was tightly embraced by it. Unable to free himself, he couldn’t help but fall backwards uncontrollably. The next second, he lost his footing and fell into a deep hole.
Right at this moment, the monkey leader released him. Taking the advantage that the other monkeys were pulling it by its tail, it knocked Shen Qiao into the deep pit angrily. Then it howled loudly as if it was celebrating its victory!
Bearing Shen Qiao’s weight, the Grieving Celestial Sword left a trace of sparks on the stone wall, but Shen Qiao was still unable to stop himself from falling farther. This place was like a real abyss: no one knew how long it would take to hit the bottom. Shen Qiao’s arm was getting sore; every wound on him was hurting —— he had gotten them while fighting with the pack of monkeys, and now they were burning extremely painfully.
Shen Qiao looked down. There was a faint red glow down there. He couldn’t tell what it was.
He couldn’t feel his arm anymore. With momentary carelessness, the Grieving Celestial Sword missed the wall and he immediately started to drop!
But as soon as he felt himself falling, someone had already firmly grabbed him by the other arm!
Shen Qiao raised his head and saw that Yan Wushi had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. In order to catch Shen Qiao, he had extended his entire upper body over the edge.
“Hold on tight!” he said to Shen Qiao sternly.