Chapter 68: Out of sight, out of mind.
They were fighting against the enemies together in the ancient city of Ruoqiang, but that was only because they had common enemies. After they were back on the ground, Chen Gong and his two subordinates might not have any advantage over Shen Qiao at the moment, but they held the biggest secret against him —— not only did Yan Wushi not die under the attack of five top masters, but Shen Qiao even rescued him.
If this information was known to others, the five great powers that besieged Yan Wushi surely would not leave the matter like this, and Shen Qiao, who would be alone at that time, might not be able to fight against that many people. Even though Chen Gong hinted that he would not leak their whereabouts, Shen Qiao could not easily believe in him again. Therefore, he would naturally take precautions in everything he did so as to avoid making the same mistake twice.
To get back to Tuyuhun from their current place, they must first pass through the small town they rested at last time, but Shen Qiao did not want to meet Chen Gong again, so he did not stay at an inn in the town but instead asked to stay a few days at a household outside town.
The financial situation of this household was even worse than Bona’s. They did not even have lamb soup and could only offer oil pancakes. Neither were there many empty rooms. In the end, they only managed to vacate one.
“You said before that jade cistanche has miraculous effects on external injuries. Since you took so many jade cistanches, isn’t there the possibility that your head wound can fully recover?”
Yan Wushi took out a jade cistanche from his sleeve and passed it to Shen Qiao. “This is for you.”
Shen Qiao asked in surprise, “What for?”
Yan Wushi said, “You were also scratched by the monkeys in the underground palace at Ruoqiang, weren’t you? The amount of juice each jade cistanche has is limited, and its effect is just so-so. They’re not as good as the fruits.”
Shen Qiao took the jade cistanches. He suddenly asked, “You are Ah-Yan, not Xie Ling right?”
After a moment of silence, Yan Wushi said, “How did you know?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “You talk too much. Xie Ling barely says a word in a whole day. Also, from what I know of Yan Wushi, he is a person that will never treat himself poorly, not even a bit. You all have different personalities, but many intrinsic qualities don’t change. During the few days we’ve spent at Bona’s house, Xie Ling would never touch oil pancakes if there was lamb soup. Even if there were only oil pancakes, Xie Ling would just silently force himself to not eat it. But now, even though you show dislike on your face, you still ate the oil pancakes.”
Yan Wushi chuckled, “Ah-Qiao, I didn’t know you paid so much attention to every one of our moves. I feel extremely flattered!”
“If I don’t pay close attention, I am afraid that a fool like me will be lied to again without even knowing.”
These words were said leisurely and calmly without the slightest resentment. How much malice must he have encountered in this world to forge this kind of chivalrous and tender heart?
Yan Wushi sighed lightly, “Ah-Qiao, if you are a fool, then there are no smart people in this world!”
Shen Qiao could not help smiling, “Thank you for your praise.”
Yan Wushi asked in a sweet voice, “Do you like me or Xie Ling more?”
After blanking out for a moment, Shen Qiao recomposed himself and replied in a light manner, “Regardless of whether it’s you, Xie Ling, or any other personality, all of you are just a thread of Yan Wushi’s inner demon, and since you’ve already obtained the piece of silk, it’s only a matter of time before he fixes the Demonic Core. In time, all of you will disappear, and Yan Wushi will still be Yan Wushi. Whoever I like is not important.”
Yan Wushi laughed, “You’re right, at the end of the day, we all emerged from Yan Wushi and are attached to him. We cannot have our own separate existence. The reason why you like Xie Ling the most is that he is the most unlike Yan Wushi, isn’t it?”
Shen Qiao did not answer. He only sighed, “We did not get to sleep well in Ruoqiang. Let us rest for now, I’m also tired.”
Without waiting for the other to speak, he closed his eyes, crossed his legs, and started to meditate.
In the few days inside Ruoqiang City, even though every step of the way was full of danger, Shen Qiao experienced new things. Those monkeys, though not as sly as humans, were tenacious and even more aggressive than humans. When he was fighting them, there were many times when he felt like he was wandering between life and death, and it was in these moments that his comprehension of martial arts was brought to the next level.
The defeat at Half-step Peak was completely unexpected. When he fell off the cliff, Shen Qiao was full of anger and disbelief just like any other person. However, after walking through the world and experiencing all kinds of human affairs, his warm and gentle heart had been tempered, and he could even face death calmly. This mindset was also reflected in his swordplay. Take the Azurewave Swords Arts as an example: in the past, even though he could wield the sword effortlessly and make it change at will, it lacked some indifference towards life and death. But now, everything simply flowed out naturally without a trace.
When The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was rebuilding his meridians, it also subtly influenced his original personality.
Only when a person’s mind was extremely quiet and empty could they understand the most magical and subtle beauty of nature. Shen Qiao himself was like a lone crane flying high above the boundless mortal worlds: even though Heaven’s Way was merciless and unfeeling, he was the only one who had attained it.
From the perspective of an outsider, his temperament looked more and more light and otherworldly. Even in ordinary Daoist gowns, he looked more like an immortal than anyone else.
For Shen Qiao himself, this kind of realisation had brought him into a mysterious state, one that was half-conscious and half-dreamlike. He was in darkness, yet he was able to feel everything around him —— the households that were asleep, the cold moon outside the window, the dogs sleeping next to the fences, the light breeze brushing over the branches…and even the Yan Wushi in this room.
Shen Qiao suddenly opened his eyes.
The person who was supposed to fall asleep was staring at him with wide-open eyes.
Shen Qiao asked with some uncertainty, “Is it Xie Ling?”
Yan Wushi confirmed it. He did not even blink his eyes.
Shen Qiao asked, “How come it’s you?”
Yan Wushi said, “I wanted to come out, so I did.”
These words sounded a little strange, but Shen Qiao actually understood them.
The other person meant that because of its overly strong obsessiveness, the personality “Xie Ling” was able to temporarily take control over the body.
Concise and comprehensive, with occasional pauses between words —— these were indeed Xie Ling’s style.
Shen Qiao said, “I should thank you, thank you for turning around and bringing me out when we were in Ruoqiang. It was just that when we came out, you had already switched to Ah-Yan so I waited till now to say it.”
Yan Wushi said, “No need.”
Nevertheless, his eyes were still looking at Shen Qiao.
Without the unstable temperament, without the cold and distant teasing, Xie Ling’s personality became more clear cut.
To Shen Qiao, if Yan Wushi was Xie Ling from the start, many incidents would not have happened. But there were no what-ifs in life. Yan Wushi was still Yan Wushi. Xie Ling was part of Yan Wushi, but Yan Wushi would never be Xie Ling.
Shen Qiao said, “In the past when I was practicing The Strategy of the Vermilion Yang on Mount Xuandu, I always felt like I was looking at a beauty through a silk curtain: I know she is beautiful, but I can’t see her clearly nor can I do anything about it. Until I lost all my martial arts during the battle against Sang Jingxing, I finally understood what it meant to desperately fight for one’s life. Starting everything over was actually the way to make the greatest use of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. However, giving up everything is easier said than done. For people like Dou Yanshan and Duan Wenyang, even if they know that the book can rebuild their meridians, do you think they would be willing to abandon their years of cultivation and start over?”
Yan Wushi did not say anything.
Shen Qiao also did not need him to answer. He laughed and then said, “I don’t need their answers to know that few people are willing to do so. Not to mention others, even me, before I lost all my martial arts, I would also have scruples in making such a decision. But with so much worry in one’s mind, even if they could force themselves to have their martial arts taken away, they would not be able to master The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. To put it in a Buddhist verse, one must put down his own life and death before he can let go of everything and achieve great peace.
“But the Demonic Core and Daoist Core are fundamentally different. You didn’t lose your martial arts either. You only need to fix the flaws, and it surely will be a lot easier than what I faced at the time.”
Yan Wushi said, “Why, are you saying, these?”
Shen Qiao said, “You once said that only opponents who are on the same level as you can have the right to be seen as your equal. I didn’t have that right in the past. Even today, I still cannot compare with you at that time. With your capability, fixing the flaws in your Demonic Core is just a matter of time, and you will fully recover your martial arts sooner or later. What I said just now was what I understood and experienced while I was practicing The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. I hope they will benefit you. As a martial artist, I am also looking forward to having a square battle with you one day.”
Yan Wushi said, “I am. Xie Ling.”
Shen Qiao said, “I know. I’m certain that not only you, but all your other personalities can also hear these words.”
Yan Wushi looked at him without saying anything.
Shen Qiao was already used to this. In his mind, this was the reaction that “Xie Ling” should have.
He tapped on the other’s shoulder. “It’s late already. Go to sleep.”
After quite some time, the other party finally closed his eyes.
Shen Qiao also closed his eyes and continued to sit cross-legged and meditate.
After another couple days, Shen Qiao reckoned that Chen Gong’s party was in a hurry to return to Qi and therefore would not stay in Tuyuhun for long. In fact, they might have reached the borders of Tuyuhun or even left Tuyuhun already in the past few days. So he left the small town with Yan Wushi and headed to the royal capital of Tuyuhun which they had not seen for many days.
Just as expected, they didn’t see Chen Gong on their way. It had already been a while since the Coiling Dragon Fair ended, and the Central Plains martial artists had already left the city, which greatly lowered the chance that Yan Wushi would be recognized by others. But Shen Qiao felt that their behavior and characteristics were too distinct and attracted too much attention. If they continued travelling south, it might cause them unnecessary problems. Therefore, he took off his Daoist robe and changed into a set of ordinary Han clothes. Then he brought over a set of women’s clothes and some cosmetics and placed them in front of Yan Wushi.
Yan Wushi looked at him speechlessly.
Shen Qiao coughed: “Your appearance is too outstanding. It’d be better if you put on a disguise.”
Yan Wushi did not speak, but the look on his face was obviously asking why Shen Qiao was not the one who had to dress up as a woman instead.
Shen Qiao said, “You will be able to wear a veil after changing into women’s clothing. If others think that you are a woman, they usually won’t stare at you because they don’t want to be seen as frivolous. But if you continue to wear men’s clothing, when we encounter observant people such as Dou Yanshan and Duan Wenyang, they can still make out the clues. Therefore, in order to avoid getting into conflicts before we meet up with the Cleansing Moon Sect, women’s clothing is the safest choice.”
The two gazed at each other speechlessly for quite a while.
Shen Qiao frowned. “Are you wearing it or not?”
Yan Wushi shook his head. “What if I don’t?”
Shen Qiao said, “Then I will hit your acupuncture point, help you put it on, and then rent a carriage for you. Even though it may require more work this way, at least I will have a lot less trouble.”
Yan Wushi lowered his eyes. “I’ll wear it.”
“Good boy.” Shen Qiao was pleased, thinking that Xie Ling was indeed the easier one to talk to.
The grizzled sideburns had to be dyed black, but there was no need to change the overall hairstyle since many women also tied their hair on top; the eyebrows needed to be slightly trimmed; both cheeks and lips needed some rouge —— the makeup didn’t have to be very detailed —— just a general look would be enough. Even though the body figure still looked quite strange, Yan Wushi’s expression was also stiff and gloomy. There was still some handsomeness in his overall features which could be seen as a different kind of appeal.
Upon seeing how tense he was, Shen Qiao laughed, “Don’t be scared. Whenever I see portraits at Mount Xuandu fade, I was the one who always did the touch-ups. Drawing portraits and doing makeup shouldn’t be that different.”
After everything was done, he stood up and looked at Yan Wushi from head to toe. Then he nodded, “Not bad, do you want to take a look at yourself in the mirror?”
The other party expressed no interest in looking into the mirror at all and straightforwardly put on the veil.
Out of sight, out of mind.