Chapter 65: Why don’t you ask me?
With this acting as a cushion, Shen Qiao was able to readjust his breath. He focused his strength into his hand, and the Grieving Celestial Sword sunk deeply into the stone wall. Then, stepping on the jutting edge of the crevices, he held his breath, leaped up, and landed where Yan Wushi was hiding with a flip.
It was not a cave, but a crevice formed by the cracking of the wall due to age. After the city was buried by wind and sand for many years, it had already become one with the underground world.
Before he could ask, Yan Wushi already said, “What’s down there should be the red chalcedony Chen Gong is looking for.”
Shen Qiao had been busy fastening himself to the wall just now. Therefore, he did not pay much attention. As he looked down, he found that there was actually a red glow. Under broad daylight, the red glow was just the light of the ore itself and would not be considered dazzling, but in the dark, it was enough to light people’s faces.
They made several turns on their way from there to the front, and there was chalcedony lighting on both sides. However, the chalcedonies were all deeply embedded into the rocks. There was no way to dig them out. They were surely beautiful enough, but what did Chen Gong need them for? The emperor of Qi very much favored him and showered him with endless glory and wealth —— even Murong Qin now served him loyally, not to mention all the money and treasures he had. The Chen Gong before had nothing and would probably risk his life for the chalcedony, but today’s Chen Gong had so much more. Why did he still decide to come here despite all the risks?
Shen Qiao withdrew his gaze and turned back his head. “Thank you very much. Why are you here?”
But Yan Wushi did not answer his question, “There’s a shortcut leading to the place below.”
Shen Qiao asked, “Have you been there already?”
“I didn’t get close. There are still two monkeys around there guarding it.”
“Did you see the jade cistanche?”
Yan Wushi gave a positive reply.
Shen Qiao briefly checked his own status: there were more than a dozen or so cuts on him, big and small, most of which were scratches from fighting with the monkeys while he was protecting Yan Wushi. Others included bruises and scuffings from the fall, but they were all external injuries. Even if the monkey’s claws were poisonous, the poison was weak enough to be easily forced out of his body through the circulation of his inner qi.
Compared to theirs, the injuries on Chen Gong’s side were slightly more severe.
Yan Wushi said, “The monkeys have lived here for hundreds of years without daylight, feeding on human-faced spiders and jade cistanche. Their skin is so hard that it can’t be penetrated unless one uses sharp weapons infused with inner qi, and their bodies are as lithe as that of a swallow. This is what makes them so difficult to deal with.”
However, Shen Qiao actually felt uplifted. “Let’s go then. Now that we’re here, we should as well finish the last step. Once we have the jade cistanche, we can heal your external injuries soon.”
Yan Wushi glanced at him, “Do you need to take a rest?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “Let’s get the jade cistanche first, just in case we run into Chen Gong later and things become unpredictable again.”
Yan Wushi nodded and didn’t make any more comments. “Follow me.”
He got up and led the way in the front while Shen Qiao followed behind him.
After they left the chalcedony cluster, the red glow disappeared, and the path was once again shrouded by darkness. They tried to walk with light footsteps; amidst the rustling of their clothes, the two people’s breathing sounds intertwined with each other, with one behind the other location-wise, creating an atmosphere which might seem intimate but was in fact estranged at its core.
The trip was not short, and there were quite a few crooks and turns along the way. Yan Wushi moved at a slightly faster pace since he had already walked it once. After about fifteen minutes, he suddenly halted. Luckily, Shen Qiao reacted fast and stopped himself in time, otherwise, he would have directly bumped into Yan Wushi.
“It’s right in front…” Yan Wushi turned around and said softly.
However, before he could finish, a stinky gust of wind greeted their faces. Shen Qiao pulled Yan Wushi behind himself and held up the sword in his right hand to block it.
A weight of a thousand pounds suddenly pressed down from above. Shen Qiao was taken by surprise and retreated three steps in a row, but he soon drew out his sword and swiped it across before him. The monkey made a long hiss. It took a step back, but it quickly threw itself at him again. At the same time, another monkey also jumped on Shen Qiao, joining the chaos.
The darkness blinded Shen Qiao, but it also made his senses more acute. He stepped back and waited for the two monkeys to rush forward together, then, infusing his sword with inner qi, he turned the weapon into a white ray of light. The two monkeys were caught off guard; they howled in pain as the blade cut through their skin and immediately attacked Shen Qiao even more fiercely.
Shen Qiao said to Yan Wushi, “I’ll keep them here. You go get the jade cistanche!”
He didn’t need to say it. Yan Wushi was already bending over and had uprooted a few thickets of those white, hand-shaped fruit growing right above the chalcedony in the narrow crevice. These things were a bit shaped like aloe vera; they were originally ash gray, but the glow of the chalcedony had tainted them with a tinge of pale red. Some of the broken stems flowed out a milky white liquid that had a faint fragrance.
According to folklore, jade cistanche was extremely precious. They were known for their amazing curative effects in healing wounds. You might not be able to find any even in an imperial palace. However, after Yan Wushi picked a few stalks, he looked back at the chalcedony growing below the cliff without so much as a glance at the rest. Then, to everyone’s surprise, he uprooted all of the jade cistanches which had already fruited, destroyed them, and threw them off the cliff. Amid the flaming glow, the cistanche fruits soon flew out of sight.
After he was done with it, the sound of rapid footsteps came from the other end of the passage. Chen Gong’s group was finally able to get rid of the monkey pack after quite some effort, but they soon ran into the human-faced spiders along the way. The two parties fought for a while. With the monkey pack eventually catching up to them, the group had no choice but to push forward as they fought and finally arrived at this place. They thought they had found the way out, but it turned out to be an unexpected reunion with some old friends.
“Daoist Priest Shen?”
Chen Gong’s voice sounded quite surprised and uncertain. He thought there was no way that Shen Qiao would’ve survived the monkeys’ attacks, but out of all things, the other person was not only still alive but arrived even faster than him.
But there was no time for anyone to feel guilty or to interrogate, for the monkey pack in the back had already caught up to them. As for the two monkeys in the front, Chen Gong’s appearance made them change their target —— they immediately saw everyone as invaders, which actually helped take some of the burden off of Shen Qiao.
Chen Gong and his men swore under their breaths for the bad luck. They thought they were finally able to obtain the chalcedony after all the trials and tribulations, but they did not expect that there would be yet another fierce battle waiting. These monkeys were ferocious and unremitting. If they couldn’t eliminate them completely, not to mention getting the chalcedony, they couldn’t leave this place at all.
They had no choice but to hold up their weapons and fight with those monkeys. Luckily, those monkeys were not unbreakable. They were also a little exhausted after fighting with Chen Gong and his subordinates for so long. Soon, two of the monkeys already died at the hands of Murong Qin and Shen Qiao with their necks sliced open.
The monkeys had already developed humanlike emotions. The death of their kind both grieved and intimidated them, except for the monkey leader who was even more enraged and started attacking everyone more crazily.
However, despite its frenzy appearance, the monkey leader had already been thrown into confusion. On the other hand, after fighting with the monkeys for such a long time, everyone gradually grasped the tricks, which was to not confront force with force. The monkey’s neck was the softest and weakest place on its whole body. As long as they could find the right opportunity and stick their sword in it, they could at least kill the monkey by cutting open its throat if not decapitate it.
Thus, not a few monkeys lost their lives under their swords within half an hour. Chen Gong, seeing that victory had already been secured, slowly withdrew from the battle circle and walked over to the edge of the cliff.
The chalcedony cluster was only a few meters below the cliff, a distance that was almost negligible to those who were good at lightness skills. Chen Gong had come all the way from the capital of Qi for these chalcedonies and had almost lost his life on his way here. Now, as he suddenly saw his ultimate target right before his eyes, he couldn’t help but become overwhelmed by excitement.
He calmed himself down, casting aside all the useless emotions. Then, he turned around and glanced at Murong Qin and the others again.
Among the men he had brought with him to this trip, these were the only three left other than himself: Murong Qin and his nephew Murong Xun, and a man named Sa Kunpeng. They were the best three martial artists in the group, but all of them were still fighting with the monkeys at the moment and were not able to spare time or energy for anything else. Chen Gong didn’t have the patience to wait till they were available to search under the cliff, so he jumped down along the stone wall himself.
There were no monkeys or spiders down below, only chalcedonies in crystal-like clusters. The red glow was not dazzling; nor did they remind people of fresh blood. On the contrary, it actually felt slightly peaceful and auspicious. Chen Gong couldn’t hide his excitement. He couldn’t help but reach out and touch one. The crystal surface was pure and smooth and even reflected the outline of his fingers.
After a moment, the excitement finally quieted down.
Chen Gong looked around. These naturally-formed crystals were exceptionally hard and could not be obtained easily. In fact, it might require several dozen or even hundreds of men chipping and mining repeatedly to succeed.
But Chen Gong did not intend to take these chalcedonies with him. They were undoubtedly precious, but it was never his goal to bring them back.
He untied the Tai’e Sword which he had been carrying on his back all this time, chose a chalcedony with the sharpest edge, then placed the joint between the sword hilt and the sword body next to it.
The joint immediately broke with a soft clink. He cut a famous sword which had been passed down for many generations in two halves just like that!
However, Chen Gong looked rather happy. He threw the sword body to the side and carefully took out a piece of silk from the hollow in the handle.
The silk was cramped with written words. Chen Gong looked at it for a while, his face looking more and more cheerful. In the end, he simply stood in the middle of the chalcedony clusters as he read it carefully.
However, a moment later, his expression suddenly changed. He looked down at his right hand and saw that the entire palm had already turned purplish without him realizing. The color was gradually spreading upwards along with a mixture of prickling and itching pain which made him want to scratch it badly. Chen Gong did, but it did not stop the itching. In fact, he scratched till the skin started to bleed but it still did not help.
Under the skin, the itchiness and pain became so intolerable as if thousands of bugs were biting his flesh. The veins started to show, winding their way up along the direction of blood flow, slowly spreading to his wrist.
Without anyone telling him, Chen Gong knew he had been poisoned.
This time, Chen Gong couldn’t care less about anything else. He climbed back up the cliff with a few leaps and returned to the original passway. Around the same time, Murong Qin and Shen Qiao had just managed to wipe out the majority of the monkeys, forcing the monkey leader to retreat. However, Yan Wushi had triggered some mechanism on the wall, and a huge sealing stone suddenly dropped from above. Everyone seized the opportunity and took a step back. The huge stone separated them from the monkeys, granting the group a moment to catch their breaths.
But Chen Gong was so occupied with the fact that he was poisoned that he had no stomach for the monkeys. Murong Qin, seeing how terrified he looked, hurried over to help him.
“Quick! Do you have any antidotes on you?!”
After Murong Qin saw Chen Gong’s palm, he couldn’t help but also look astonished, “My Lord, this is…?!”
The purplish-blue was already spreading to his wrist.
Chen Gong was almost roaring, “Antidotes!”
He had taken quite a lot of them at the bottom of the cliff, but they had no effect. Murong Qin was his only hope right now.
But antidotes were not a remedy for everything. Whatever Murong Qin had, Chen Gong probably had it as well. After taking several pills to no avail, Chen Gong was already on the verge of desperation.
He didn’t expect that after he had finally achieved his goal after all the efforts, he was going to lose his life because of it.
“Does Daoist Priest Shen have any way to cure this poison I have?” he said hoarsely, his eyes brimming with hope as if Shen Qiao was the last life-saving straw.
Shen Qiao had no idea how the other person had gotten poisoned. He only saw Chen Gong going down the cliff, and when the latter climbed back up, he was already like this. “Are there poisonous things down there?”
Chen Gong said, “It’s the chalcedony! Those chalcedonies are extremely poisonous! Can you save me, please? I heard that Mount Xuandu has a special skill for refining medicines. You’re the sect leader — you must have many ways to cure it. If you can save me, I’ll give everything I have to repay you!”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “I left in a hurry, and was forced to come here under your threat. There was no time for me to prepare any kind of antidote.”
But Chen Gong thought Shen Qiao simply did not want to help. He fished out another piece of jade from his bosom and threw it at Shen Qiao. “Actually, even before you agreed to come with us, I had already set the old man free. He’s probably back home with his granddaughter already. If you’re still worried, feel free to take this jade and ask for him at the Yunlai Inn in the royal city. I paid the owner to keep him there temporarily. Even if he hasn’t released the old man yet, you can show him the jade and ask him to let the old man go. I know you are a noble man, and you have saved my life many times in the past. Making you come with me on this trip was a last resort. I had no other choice. I did not intend to hurt anyone. Please help me for the sake of our old friendship!”
He spoke extremely fast. One could only imagine how nervous he must be.
Shen Qiao said helplessly, “I truly do not have the antidote.”
As soon as he said it, Chen Gong’s face turned ashy.
He tried to force the poison out with his inner qi, but the circulation of the qi only sped up the invasion of the poison. Seeing that the purplish-blue was almost reaching his elbow, Chen Gong gritted his teeth and said to Murong Qin, “Hurry! Cut my arm off!”
Right at this moment, Yan Wushi who had been quietly hiding in the dark suddenly said, “Why don’t you ask me if I can help?”