Chapter 66: You and I do not travel the same path. We never did, and we never will.
Chen Gong stared fixedly at Yan Wushi, asking, “Does Sect Leader Yan have a way?”
Yan Wushi said, “You probably noticed already while you were fighting the monkeys that their nails are not only sharp but also poisonous. As a result, as soon as they leave a scratch on one’s body, the cut would immediately swell and start to itch.”
He spoke at a moderate pace, apparently not at all affected by the fact that Chen Gong was poisoned. In fact, there was even a kind of carefreeness in his voice as if the matter had nothing to do with him.
“Claws as sharp as theirs must be sharpened often. Since this place doesn’t offer a variety of rocks to choose from, the chalcedonies guarded by those monkeys naturally became their best choice. They polish and sharpen their claws on it from time to time, but they do not get poisoned by it. That is because, within 500 meters of any highly toxic substance, there must exist something that counters it, just like the spiders and the monkeys in this ancient ruin.”
Murong Qin found the key in his words, “Is Sect Master Yan saying that there is an antidote for the poison my lord has?”
Something suddenly flashed through Chen Gong’s mind. He shouted, “The jade cistanche! Is it the jade cistanche?! Hurry, go see if there’s any jade cistanche around there!”
Murong Qin and the others quickly ran to the cliff edge. They looked around, and sure enough, there were some jade cistanches.
“Lord! There’re indeed jade cistanches!” Murong Qin said with joy.
Shen Qiao couldn’t help but glance at Yan Wushi: the latter only stood there with both hands gathered inside his sleeves, his body half-hidden in the shadow —— he clearly did not intend to respond.
Chen Gong flew into a rapture. “Bring it over!”
Murong Qin and his nephew cut off all the jade cistanches they saw and brought them back. Without so much as a glance, Chen Gong wolfed everything down in one gulp.
However, no miracle occurred. About fifteen minutes passed, and his right hand was still unbearably itchy. The purplish color even gradually darkened while it continued spreading upwards and was already reaching his shoulder.
Chen Gong’s face was so livid that it was almost the same color as his arm.
Only then did Yan Wushi finally explain slowly, “The jade cistanche is indeed an antidote for the poison. However, its branches and leaves are useless. The only part capable of detoxifying is its fruit. Because the monkeys have been eating these fruits for generations, they are not afraid of the poison on the chalcedony or the spiders and are thus able to live here. Since this place was once an altar, these monkeys might have been trained by the Ruoqiang people back then to guard the cistanches. Have you seen the monkey leader yet? It has already developed a humanlike face. You can clearly tell that it must be unusually crafty.”
These words should have been interesting. Unfortunately, the speaker’s rather methodical tone made it sound quite dull. Chen Gong was not in the mood to listen to him detailing the monkeys’ origins. Normally, he would have flown in a rage and had Murong Qin arrest the person by now, but since his life was still in the other person’s hand, he had no choice but to swallow his anger: “It seems that Sect Master Yan has picked all of the fruits. I don’t know what you want from me, but I’m willing to do anything I can. Please give me the jade cistanche fruits.”
Yan Wushi demanded, “You know what I want.”
He simply would not say it explicitly.
Chen Gong knew Shen Qiao very well. He knew that Shen Qiao was a gentleman and that a gentleman could be deceived by a pretense of reason, therefore he had always gained an upper hand in his confrontations with Shen Qiao. However, he could not do the same to Yan Wushi. The latter was known for his erraticity and presumptuousness. One could not use common sense to predict how Yan Wushi would act. In fact, Chen Gong knew that even the news of Yan Wushi’s survival could not be used against him. On the contrary, Yan Wushi currently held the jade cistanche fruits, and those were Chen Gong’s life-saving straws at the moment.
“How can I know if Sect Master Yan doesn’t make it clear?” Chen Gong was making his final struggle.
Yan Wushi replied coldly, “Why don’t you guess if I can destroy the fruits before those dogs of yours rush into action? If you agree to take the risk, I’m not against giving it a try.”
As soon as he said it, Murong Qin, despite the rage rushing to his head, had no choice but to give up his original plan of approaching Yan Wushi.
Chen Gong gritted his teeth, “You want what’s inside the Tai’e Sword?”
Yan Wushi did not say anything.
There was nothing else Chen Gong could do except fish out the piece of silk from his bosom and hand it to Yan Wushi.
“Where’s the jade cistanche?”
Yan Wushi took over the piece of silk. Then he fumbled out a fruit from some place and threw it to Chen Gong.
Chen Gong was not reconciled to his defeat. He couldn’t help but ask, “You already guessed what I came here for, and therefore you deliberately went ahead of us so you could use the fruit to threaten me?”
Perhaps because he was in a good mood after obtaining the silk cloth, Yan Wushi finally had the mercy to answer Chen Gong’s question, “The Tai’e Sword once belonged to the Xie Family of Chen County. Its hilt is empty, but because the metal used to cast it is very rare and exceptionally hard, the only way to hide anything inside its hilt is to first forcibly break open the sword using an queer rock from outer space and then reforge it afterwards. The sword was never heard about since it was lost until it reappeared in the royal city of Tuyuhun.”
Chen Gong finally felt less uncomfortable after eating the jade cistanche fruit. The toxins took quite some time to disappear, so he could only divert his attention by talking.
“Therefore, as soon as you saw me holding the sword, you knew that someone had already opened and reforged it. And because I went straight to Ruoqing looking for the chalcedony, you could also guess that I was looking for a way to break open the sword and take out the content within. Thus, you threw away all the cistanche fruits in advance and kept only a few on you, waiting to threaten me to hand over the item to you when I was poisoned!”
Finally realizing what happened, Chen Gong couldn’t help but sneer, “Even with you being seriously injured, Sect Leader Yan’s calculation and scheming can still beat us hollow.”
Murong Xun on the other side snapped, “How despicable and shameless of you for reaping the fruits of other people’s work!”
Yan Wushi laughed grimly and didn’t care to quarrel with them.
Murong Qin dodged slightly to the side and then jumped forward, trying to take down Yan Wushi. Unexpectedly, Shen Qiao suddenly made a move: he raised his sword horizontally across his chest and blocked Murong Qin’s attack.
After the two exchanged a few moves, Murong Qin realized that he wasn’t able to gain any advantage over Shen Qiao. It took him by surprise.
In less than a year, the blind man who was once too weak to kill a chicken at the Beyond Clouds Monastery had already recovered to such an extent, making people dare not to look down on him.
Right when Shen Qiao blocked the attack, Yan Wushi stepped aside into the darkness. “He’s gone!” Murong Qin shouted. Following his voice, everyone turned around and looked in this direction.
Sa Kungpeng rushed forward to check. Sure enough, he did not find any sign of Yan Wushi.
“Lord. There seems to be a mechanism here. I pulled it, but nothing happened!” he shouted.
“He must have controlled it from the other side!” Murong Qin’s nephew, Murong Xun, complained angrily.
Right behind them was the tomb seal stone. Not to mention that this thousand-pound seal stone completely blocked their way out, but even if it could be lifted again, the monkey leader and poisonous spiders were still waiting for them on the other side. They could defeat those monsters, but it was just too energy-consuming. Even thinking about those all-pervasive spiders gave them goosebumps.
In front of them was the cliff, and below the cliff were clusters of chalcedony crystals. They were beautiful, but they couldn’t fill one’s stomach. In addition, these things were also extremely poisonous. After seeing how miserable Chen Gong was just now, no one would desire the expanse of red chalcedony and invite trouble for themselves again.
Now, that meant they were trapped here with no way out.
Unable to vent out the rage which had been burning inside him, Murong Qin thundered at Shen Qiao, “Shen Qiao, are you satisfied now?!”
Shen Qiao was resting with his eyes closed and did not respond to the rebuke at all.
Chen Gong said in a low voice, “All of you, go look around and see if there are other exits. If Yan Wushi can get out of here, I’m sure we can do it too.”
As Murong Qin and the other two people busied themselves searching for a way out, Chen Gong turned to Shen Qiao, “Pardon me to think so, Daoist Priest Shen, but Yan Wushi was already seriously injured when he was besieged by the Five Experts. You didn’t have to take him, but because I said there might be jade cistanche at this place, you still decided to bring him on the trip. Such benevolence is enough to move, not just friends, but even strangers to tears. However, now he has obtained the jade cistanche and my piece of silk, he simply left by himself and didn’t even take you with him. Even if you don’t feel wronged yourself, I can’t help but want to call out the injustice for you.”
Shen Qiao said indifferently, “If I expect return for the kindness I do, how much will you have owed me by now? And how many times do you need to pay me back? Back then in the shabby temple, how could you have beaten those ruffians if I hadn’t stepped out? Later in the Beyond Clouds Monastery, if it wasn’t because of me, you would’ve been killed by Murong Qin already, and you wouldn’t be able to order them around like you’re doing right now. But what have you repaid me? Leading Mu Tipo to me? Or using Bona’s grandfather to threaten me to come to Ruoqiang with you?”
Chen Gong was at a loss for words. All the provoking speeches in his head suddenly could be said no more.
Shen Qiao continued, “You and I do not travel the same path. We never did, and we never will.”
Chen Gong felt a bit guilty at first, but what Shen Qiao said actually angered him. He said with a satirical smile, “You are extremely noble and virtuous, but what benefits does that bring you? Everything I have today was obtained through my own efforts. There’s nothing shameful about it. Let me tell you. I was born with the talent to memorize everything I see or hear. Even though I was still mostly illiterate at the Beyond Clouds Monastery, I was able to memorize everything you said word for word. Out of all those martial experts present that night, who would have thought that a nobody was capable of doing something none of them could? Mu Tipo is cruel and ruthless. Those people whom he dotes on do not last more than a month, and many of them end up tragically. However, I was able to make him recommend me to the Emperor of Qi with my own ability, and this is my real stepping stone to greater power.”
Despite the fact that Murong Qin and the others had already submitted to Chen Gong, they still felt somewhat awkward listening to Chen Gong talking about his experience as a boy-toy. However, Chen Gong did not find it so himself as he continued with ease and composure:
“Obtaining the favor of the Emperor of Qi is not my final goal. No man in the world is willing to serve others with their appearances, even if they are the ones taking the initiative in bed. With the Emperor’s favor, I asked him to find me a teacher so I can learn to read. I know very well that people with a background like mine can never be approved by those aristocratic families. But I don’t need their approval. There are only two things in this world that can grant a person popularity among the people: book and sword. Therefore, I needed to learn the most characters and read the most books in the shortest amount of time, and I did it.
“Shen Qiao, why do you think Murong Qin and the others turned to me? For glory and wealth? Wrong! No one is born to be king. The country of Qi is destined to fall, and they know that as soon as Qi suffers a landslide defeat, everyone will leave it like rats leaving a sinking ship. Serving the Emperor promises no future, so they’d rather follow me. At least I know what my limits are, unlike the Emperor and most of the nobles.
“What about you? Shen Qiao, I admit that you are truly lofty, a real gentleman. To be honest, I admire you very much because I can never be like you, requiting evil with good with no complaints. But a gentleman like you cannot survive in a world like this. You will be chewed alive without a bone left. Just now you were betrayed by Yan Wushi yet once more, but in the end, you have no choice but sit here with an ‘enemy’ like me while we wait for our deaths. Isn’t this ridiculous?”
Shen Qiao did not say anything. Only after the other finished did he finally say slowly, “Chen Gong, ever since I met you, I can tell you’re different from the rest in your hometown. You’re smart, vigorous, ambitious, and strict to yourself as well as to others. In troubled times like now, you have the potential to become a formidable ruler. Therefore, it is because of your capability that you’re able to play up to Mu Tipo and then gain the favor of the Emperor of Qi through him. I won’t look down on you because of things like this. The reason that you always think of me as aloof is that the conscience in you hasn’t died yet. You know what you’re doing isn’t appropriate, so you subconsciously compare yourself to me and care how I think about you. Otherwise, everyone has their path in life. You can just move forward, so why do you need to stop and look at others?”
Chen Gong was speechless. After quite some time, he suddenly laughed out aloud, “Right! Well said! Thank you for untying this knot in my mind. I’m sure I can attain yet another level from now on.”
Shen Qiao said plainly, “Congratulations then.”
He closed his eyes again. Leaning back against the cold stone wall, he let himself, both physically and mentally, completely sink into the darkness.
Ever since the moment Yan Wushi handed him to Sang Jingxing, Shen Qiao had learned to not hold any expectations. Because without expectations, one would not be disappointed or desperate. Therefore, when Yan Wushi abandoned him and left by himself just now, he only felt a little surprised at the beginning, and even the little amount of surprise soon became ordinary and common.
This was just who Yan Wushi was. Despite the huge change in temperament, the selfishness and indifference that was part of his innate character did not become any less.
Not every effort would be repaid.
He was already used to it. How could he still be disappointed at this?
Murong Qin and the other two people searched everywhere and started to feel hopeless. They still had rations on them, and martial artists needed a lot less food than an ordinary person. So, these rations could last a very long time, but they couldn’t stay here forever. Not to mention that this place was deep underground. There was no sunshine, and the air was very stagnant too. Even if they didn’t die of hunger, it would just be a matter of time before they would suffocate to death.
At this moment, Sa Kungpeng suggested, “What about I go search the bottom of the cliff? Maybe there are other exits around.”
Chen Gong thought for a moment and said, “That works too. Even though there are many chalcedony clusters down there, it is still possible to get a foothold. Just be careful not to touch those chalcedonies.”
Sa Kunpeng agreed. Murong Xun who was still young and full of vigor got bored after sitting for so long, so he got up and they went together.
Everyone had been more or less scratched by the monkeys. The wounds were itchy and swelling, but they weren’t anything serious. These were only external injuries, and they didn’t need to eat the jade cistanche fruits. Applying the juice squeezed from the root of the jade cistanches to the wounds could also relieve the inflammation and itching.
After he told Murong Qin to go down and help the other two search around, Chen Gong asked Shen Qiao, “What’s your plan if we get out of here?”
Shen Qiao slowly opened his eyes. In the darkness, no one saw the perplexion in those eyes.
Based on Yan Wushi’s speed and the amount of time that had passed, the other person should have returned to the ground any minute now. With his ability, even if he wasn’t able to directly confront the Buddhist sect, he could at least quickly contact people from the Cleansing Moon Sect so as to not get himself caught in a dangerous situation. In other words, even without the presence of Shen Qiao, Yan Wushi could still live well.
Shen Qiao suddenly thought of something, “What you just obtained is one of the remaining books of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Is that correct?”
Chen Gong admitted, “That’s right.”
“Is there anything special about this one compared to the other books?”
Chen Gong was silent for a moment. Then he asked back, “How much do you know about The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang?”
Shen Qiao said, “It consists of a total of five books which integrate the merits of the Three Schools, a fruit of the painstaking labour of Tao Hongjing’s lifetime.”
“You’ve read a few parts yourself. What do you think?”
“It is indeed the most wondrous martial arts book in the world. I’ve benefited a lot from it.”
“It looks like you’re only aware of one aspect of it. It is true that The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang has five books. It is also true that it combines the merits of all Three Schools, but those are just the contents of the other four books. There’s another book which has been lost for many years. No one knows where it is, but it is said that what’s in it has something to do with the martial arts of the demonic sects.”
Shen Qiao was slightly surprised. But thinking it over, what Chen Gong said did make sense.
Yan Wushi had attempted many times in the past to make the inner qi of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang his own. He even experimented with Shen Qiao, repeatedly trying to bring out the potential in the latter. However, it was proven that the foundation of his martial arts lay within his Demonic Heart and was completely incompatible with Shen Qiao’s Daoist Core. The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was but a piece of “chicken rib” to him —— something that was worth little but would be such a waste to throw it away.
If the book only recorded martial arts from the Three Schools, Yan Wushi would not have said to Shen Qiao that he had already found the way to fix the flaw in his martial arts. With his skill, it was very likely that he had already inferred that one volume of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was hidden inside the Tai’e Sword, and the book was precisely the one he needed.
After he thought the whole sequence of events through, Shen Qiao slowly exhaled a breath, his face showing a faint trace of weariness. He suddenly felt a little tired.
But his voice still sounded as calm as before, “I see. Tao Hongjing was indeed a person who devolved deeply and studied the relationship between Man and the Heavens. No wonder the disciples of the demonic sects want The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang too. It seems like this piece of silk is precisely what they are looking for. Is it because you are also practicing martial arts from the demonic sects that you are anxiously longing for it as well? Did you join the Harmony Sect?”
“What a joke! With my current social status, why would I ever want to join the Harmony Sect and let myself be ordered around by other people? It is the Harmony Sect that needs me to provide them all sorts of conveniences, so we’re just cooperating on a business that benefits us both.”
However, these explanations were also useless. The reality was that they were still stuck down here and could not get out.
Murong Qin and the others went around one more time and came back empty-handed. Everyone felt a little disheartened. Chen Gong stopped talking too and took the opportunity to meditate and preserve his energy as well as reciting the contents on the silk cloth he just saw from that quick glance, trying to utilize it himself.
He was never someone who would just sit and wait for his death. Even under such circumstances, he still tried his best to create a favorable environment for himself. This was why Chen Gong was able to turn from a penniless commoner to the person he was today in these troubled times, and that even people like Murong Qin who was the top martial expert in the imperial court of Qi were willing to serve at his commands.
No one knew how long had passed before there was suddenly a sound from the stone wall. The group of people who were originally full of rich drowsiness all opened their eyes at once. One after another, they turned to where the noise came from and saw a figure appear at the spot where Yan Wushi had disappeared.
Murong Xun was the first to react. He jumped up and, holding the sword in his hand, was going to charge at the person immediately.
Each of the three syllables was pronounced through clenched teeth with the greatest hatred.