Thousand Autumns – Chapter 17
Quality Checker: LadyBlue
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Junior Brother Yu, it’s me.
Xuandu Town was at the foot of Mount Xuandu. It had been a quiet place for many years. Despite being right next to the world-renowned orthodox Daoist sect, it didn’t seem to have much to do with the townspeople. At most, when they saw the Daoist priests coming down the mountain, they would be especially courteous and treat them with due respect.
Of course, as the number one Daoist sect under the Heavens, Mount Xuandu always paid according to the marketed price during their occasional shopping trips down here. The deals were fair. They never used their power or influence as a large sect to bully the commoners. Therefore, over these years, all of the people living in Xuandu Town were extremely proud that they could be neighbors with the Daoist priests from the Purple Mansion of Xuandu.
But that was all. A Daoist sect was a Daoist sect after all. Once you set foot on the path of Mount Xuandu, you no longer belonged to the secular world. Compared to the life of the common people living at the foot of the mountain who would get up to work at sunrise and rest at sunset, they were still in two different worlds.
When Shen Qiao and Yan Wushi arrived at Xuandu Town, however, this little town had never appeared more bustling. People were coming and going. There were martial artists within the crowd as well as quite a number of people who were dressed like Daoist devotees.
Yan Wushi explained, “In ten days time, the Purple Mansion of Xuandu will hold the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference and set the Daoist orthodoxy for the world. All philosophers and scholars have been invited to participate in this great undertaking. It has been said that all the well-known sects will send people over. There will even be representatives from the Linchuan Institute and Tiantai Sect.”
Shen Qiao asked, “What does it mean by ‘setting the Daoist orthodoxy for the world’?”
At the moment, the two of them were sitting in a teahouse, looking out the window.
Sipping his tea, Yan Wushi said, “Since you’re not there, someone has to be in charge of Mount Xuandu. As long as his identity is not announced to the world, the others won’t be knowledgeable about his current status. So, he has to find an excuse to come out in public, right? When you were the sect leader, you were so low-key that you wanted no one to know of you, but you can’t count on the others to be the same as you.”
Shen Qiao was already used to the other person’s light sarcasm whenever he spoke.
With Yan Wushi’s status and position, there were indeed few people who could catch his eyes. Apart from the deceased Qi Fengge, no one else from Mount Xuandu would be worthy enough for him to cast a direct look at them.
Even though one of them was quite moody, it was still not easy to start a conflict when the other side was an extremely good-tempered person who basically wouldn’t get angry regardless of what you said. The two of them seemed to be neither friends nor enemies, yet they also seemed to be both at the same time. Surprisingly, they were actually able to maintain some kind of subtle balance in their relationship throughout the journey.
“What are they doing over there?” Shen Qiao suddenly noticed a place not too far down. He squinted his eyes but could not see clearly no matter what. After all, it was impossible for his eyes to revert back to their initial state within a short time. Even though there was enough lighting during the day, it actually prevented him from staring for too long since his eyes would not stop tearing otherwise.
“Distributing congee and medicine.” Yan Wushi didn’t have the ability to foretell, but for things he wanted to know, someone would have already passed on the information to him way ahead of time.
He picked up a slice of sweet osmanthus root  with his chopsticks and delivered it into his mouth, slowly saying, “After Yu Ai became the substitute sect leader, on the first and fifteenth of each month, he would send disciples to set up altars in Xuandu Town to perform rites and preach Daoist scriptures. It’s said that the rain prayers conducted by the disciples from the Purple Mansion of Xuandu are very efficacious. Nowadays, whenever there isn’t enough rain, even the Regional Inspector of Mian Prefecture will send people over, inviting them to come down the mountain to pray for rain. Mount Xuandu has more and more believers now. Not to mention the other places, in Xuandu Town alone, most of the people here already have the utmost reverence for the Purple Mansion of Xuandu.”
In contrast to the expression on Yan Wushi’s face which seemed like he was ready for a good show, Shen Qiao knitted his brows even harder.
Yan Wushi said, “You remembered everything.”
The sentence was not a question, but rather an assertion.
Shen Qiao’s body was still a little sick, but ever since he was able to spit out the clotted blood in his chest, the lost expression appeared less frequently on his face with each passing day. Regaining his memories would just be a matter of time.
Yan Wushi saw it all, but he didn’t say anything because he wasn’t sure how much Shen Qiao had remembered. However, from the looks of it now, Shen Qiao should have regained most of them.
Shen Qiao didn’t deny it. Instead, he sighed, “For generations under its sect leaders, Mount Xuandu has never set foot in secular affairs. Therefore, it remained peaceful and steady like before regardless of the alternation of dynasties out there. Just think about Tao Hongjing. Despite being the number one martial artist under the Heavens, an unparalleled talent as he was, just because of his involvement in political affairs, the entire Shangqing Sect of Mount Mao fell into pieces after his death with its disciples scattered everywhere. What is Yu Ai trying to do?”
Yan Wushi raised his eyebrows, “So this is what Qi Fengge has taught you? How is his way of thinking different from a turtle refusing to come out of its shell? If he’s alone, then it’s fine for him to only mind his own morality. As the leader of a sect, however, not only was he not striving to make progress, he instead indulged in such pessimism as to lead the sect into reclusion. If this continues, how is Mount Xuandu going to keep its position as the number one Daoist sect under the Heavens? I think that junior martial brother of yours, who is now the regent sect leader, is actually much more clear-headed than you.”
Mount Xuandu’s reputation and status as ‘the number one Daoist sect under the Heavens’ was inseparable from its generations of efforts and management. Its successive generations of sect leaders all carried out the Daoist ideology of quietism and inaction. They were determined to continue withdrawing from society till the very end, and would absolutely not involve themselves with the world’s state of affairs. Even Qi Fengge, the best martial artist of his time, was no exception.
Later, after Shen Qiao took over the position of the sect leader, he even brought this kind of low-keyness to its greatest extent. People around the world didn’t know much other than that fact that Mount Xuandu had a new sect leader whose last name was Shen. Hence, even though Shen Qiao was following Yan Wushi everywhere, nearly no one recognized him.
Yan Wushi was an extravagant and egotistical person in nature who only acted as he pleased, so it was not a surprise for him to look down his nose at this way of handling matters.
Shen Qiao didn’t become angry after he heard it. He only said, “I want to find a chance to go up the mountain tonight and have a talk with Yu Ai face-to-face. I’m not sure if Sect Master Yan wants to come with me. Or would you rather wait for me down here?”
Yan Wushi asked, “Why don’t you wait till the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference, and then question Yu Ai in front of everyone to take back the position of sect leader which should have been yours?”
Shen Qiao shook his head, “In that case, the reputation of Mount Xuandu would inevitably be greatly affected. I’m afraid there are other stories behind it. I need to go ask Yu Ai first so that I can make clear what happened.”
Yan Wushi was neither in favor nor opposed to it, “Oh, then you can go and ask.”
With its awe-inspiring prestige as the number one Daoist sect under the Heavens, few people dared to force their way up Mount Xuandu single-handedly. However, Yan Wushi said it in such a casual manner, as if he was saying he would eat one more bowl of rice today–he said it without even thinking about it, not taking the matter to his heart at all.
He had a careless look on his face. As his fingers slid over the edge of the dish, the plate of scattered fried peas immediately piled up into three neat and tidy layers, with the exact same amount of peas in each layer. Using only his inner qi to control the items through the air, this skill alone had already attained a superb or even frightening state.
Since the Demonic Sovereign’s reappearance in the pugilistic world, only his fight with Kunye was in fact well-known. Simply because Kunye had defeated Shen Qiao before, as a person who had crushed Kunye, the rumors had already made Yan Wushi someone miraculous even though only a few had really witnessed the current state of his martial arts themselves.
What would people think if they saw him using the martial arts which could easily take away a person’s head for piling up some fried peas?
He asked Shen Qiao, “Right now, your martial power is probably no more than thirty percent of what it was at its peak; can you go up by yourself?”
Shen Qiao replied, “There’s a small path along the cliff at the backside of the mountain. The terrain is steep there. No one is guarding the place. It uses arrays as protective barriers. If outsiders rashly charge in without knowing, they will only become confused and disoriented and might even fall off the cliff. No matter how skilled they are in martial arts, it would be useless.”
Yan Wushi was indifferent towards it and was only going to watch the scene at first, but after hearing this, he actually became a little more interested, “In that case, I have to go see it.”
Night fell. The once lively Xuandu Town quieted down, gradually sinking into the slumberland under the starry sky.
There didn’t seem to be any pattern among the routes that Shen Qiao took to go up the mountain. He sometimes turned here and there, while other times he would intentionally avoid some easy-to-walk stone steps and go up the steep incline on the side. It was all because these stone paths and plants were already integrated into the Divination Arrays. If someone who was unaware of the ins and outs were to walk here, they would most likely get caught–if not by falling into the traps directly, then at least by triggering the alarms and then being detected by the disciples of Mount Xuandu.
Whether it was the conversation between Yu Ai and Shen Qiao or the internal grudges within Mount Xuandu, Yan Wushi had no interest in either of them. What he was interested in was actually the hidden Arrays along the road. He followed Shen Qiao from a distance, carefully observing the path Shen Qiao picked while mulling over it himself, something he considered to be a way of having fun.
They walked like this for about two hours–in fact, they should have been thankful that Shen Qiao, though barely, had recovered thirty percent of his martial power so that they could arrive at the top of the mountain in such a short amount of time.
Mount Xuandu stood high and precipitous, and it was much colder at the top of the mountain than at its foot. As far as one’s eyes could see, there were quite a lot of Daoist temples and halls located there with layers upon layers. Within the serene mist, they appeared cold and lonesome–a feeling that mirrored Daoism’s otherworldly, spotless purity.
Shen Qiao had grown up here as a child and had long been used to the scenery. While revisiting to his old haunts this time, however, he didn’t feel even the slightest warmth on the inside. Instead, it was as if stones were piled up inside his chest; he only wished he could breathe out a long sigh.
But he had no time to sigh. Using the forest as cover, he took the small trail and rushed directly toward a two-flat building.
He stopped before he even got close to the building. Squinting at it from afar, he was somewhat surprised in his heart.
The place was called the Yuxu Pavillion. It was the sect leader’s residence for the past many generations. Originally, he was the one who lived there.
After he fell off the cliff, Yu Ai took over Mount Xuandu as the regent sect leader. From Mount Xuandu’s all kinds of high-profile actions nowadays, it was not hard to make out Yu Ai’s ambition and intents. Therefore, Shen Qiao once thought he would definitely make Yuxu Pavilion his residence.
But when he came to check, the pavilion’s doors were tightly closed. There was no candlelight, so presumably, no one was living in there. Could it be that Yu Ai wanted to wait till the rectification of his name at the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference before moving in?
Shen Qiao pondered for a moment, thinking that since there was no one inside the Yuxu Pavilion, he should go take a look at where Yu Ai originally resided.
Right after the idea sprung to his mind, there seemed to be a figure walking towards Yuxu Pavilion in the distance with his clothes draped over his shoulders and a candle in his hand.
The figure looked quite familiar, but Shen Qiao’s eyesight was much worse than before so he didn’t dare to verify. He had to watch attentively for a long time with his eyebrows knitted before he could finally confirm that the person was very likely his junior martial brother, Yu Ai.
It was a cold and quiet night, and the buildings around here were mostly the tranquil places used by its sect leaders for cultivation, so that miscellaneous personnel weren’t allowed to enter anyway. Since it was also protected by the Arrays, normal disciples couldn’t find the way in either–it actually made it somewhat convenient for Shen Qiao to move about.
After a moment, he decided to get closer and ascertain the actual situation first.
Yu Ai went in the Yuxu Pavilion while holding a candle in his hand. Soon, Shen Qiao saw a faint light through the window being lit up in a room on the second floor.
That was the exact room he lived in before.
It was just that Shen Qiao had both overestimated his current martial power and underestimated Yu Ai’s ability. He had just walked a little closer before a voice fell into his ears, “Which friend has decided to visit without being invited?”
The voice came from the distant Yuxu Pavilion, and yet Shen Qiao felt like it had exploded right next to his ears. His ear buzzed. Dull pain immediately burst within his chest. He was forced to take three steps back, knowing in his heart that it was because of the other person who had used inner qi while transmitting the sound.
“Junior brother Yu, it’s me,” he composed himself and gave a reply.
He knew Yu Ai could hear him.
Just as he expected, in the next moment, a light sound came out from the Yuxu Pavillion, while the figure of a man had already appeared in front of him.
“Senior brother, the Sect Leader?!”
There was surprise in his voice, but there was also a happiness that Shen Qiao did not expect.
It was like even though Yu Ai was surprised by his appearance, he was also looking forward to it from the bottom of his heart.
 Lotus root stuffed with sticky rice in syrup.