Thousand Autumns – Chapter 29
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: But your hand feels good.
Yuan Xiuxiu was just testing Shen Qiao with her first attack. Had Yan Wushi tried to stop her, she probably would not have continued. But the fact that Yan Wushi didn’t gave her the impression that this boytoy was not that important to him. She giggled at the thought of this, and didn’t hold back on the third palm. She was going to make Shen Qiao pay with his life for Huo Xijing’s.
But things were different this time.
She wasn’t able to land her hand on Shen Qiao’s head. Yuan Xiuxiu’s expression turned ghastly. She forced herself to bend in mid-air and, with an almost impossible posture, dodged the finger pointing toward her from behind.
She didn’t even stay afterwards. Her figure swayed like the willow branches in March as her toes tapped on the twig next to her. Soon, her white dress disappeared from everyone’s line of sight into the faint distance, leaving only a stream of sweet laughter behind: “Yan-lang has been so cruel to me. I’ll leave for now, and let’s talk about our old friendship some other day!”
Shen Qiao didn’t think that Yan Wushi would stand up for him. Neither did Bian Yanmei, but he dared not say a word and only hurried over to greet them, “Welcome back to Chang’an, Master. It was my incapability that had caused today’s event. I should be punished for it!”
Yan Wushi didn’t reply. He just helped Shen Qiao up and asked, “Are you okay?”
Shen Qiao only shook his head and didn’t reply. He was already too weak to answer.
Yan Wushi simply picked him up by the waist. Shen Qiao had already slipped into a half-asleep, half-dazed state. His body, after losing the ability to struggle, appeared particularly supple.
“Return to the city first,” he said to his disciple.
In contrast with Yan Wushi’s calmness, Bian Yanmei was actually quite shocked by his action.
He didn’t think too much about it when he first saw them together. Later, when Shen Qiao killed Huo Xijing, he was so immersed in the fight between Yan Wushi and Yuan Xiuxiu that he didn’t notice it until Yuan Xiuxiu attacked Shen Qiao. However, seeing how Yan Wushi remained completely unmoved, he just followed him and looked on from the side.
Although, it didn’t seem like things were heading the way he assumed they would.
Bian Yanmei was a little confused.
On their way back, he found an opportunity and asked him, “Master, how should I address this person?”
Yan Wushi said, “He’s Shen Qiao.”
Bian Yanmei bent his head and tossed the name around in his mind. It sounded quite familiar to him.
Yan Wushi continued, “He’s the sect leader of Mount Xuandu.”
Bian Yanmei was flabbergasted once again. When he looked back at Shen Qiao, his eyes were so wide that they were almost going to pop out of his head.
Who was Shen Qiao?
The sect leader of Mount Xuandu.
What kind of place was Mount Xuandu?
The number one Daoist Sect under the Heaven.
After they sealed the mountain, its figure wasn’t as dominating as it used to be, but it was still the sect which had once produced someone like Qi Fengge. Anyone would stand in awe upon hearing its name.
However, the leader of such a sect…was now lying in his master’s arms?
It was not like Bian Yanmei hadn’t heard about Shen Qiao falling off the cliff during his battle with Kunye, but he had been focusing mostly on the affairs within the imperial court of Northern Zhou. He didn’t go watch the fight himself, and neither did his junior martial brother, Yu Shengyan, have the chance to tell him about it since he had gone to train at the foot of Half-Step Peak as instructed by Yan Wushi. As a result, Bian Yanmei was unaware of the ins and outs of the story that happened afterwards.
He cleared his throat, “I heard Shen Qiao carried on Qi Fengge’s mantle and was ranked among the Top Ten. How come he couldn’t even take three palms from Yuan Xiuxiu?”
“He only has half of his martial arts left. Besides, since I force him to stay busy with me every night and he doesn’t get enough sleep, it’s natural for him to be somewhat tired during the day.”
He sketched it in such a casual manner, yet Bian Yanmei couldn’t help but expand his thoughts on it.
What did he mean by “forced to stay busy every night and didn’t get enough sleep”…
It really wasn’t his fault to have misunderstood the sentence.
The reality was that in the past few days, Yan Wushi had been forcing Shen Qiao to fight with him in order to bring out Shen Qiao’s potential. Since he showed no mercy during these fights, Shen Qiao had no choice but to brace himself to face them, pulling himself back from the verge of life and death each time; while during the day, he would be pressed by Yan Wushi again to discuss martial arts related topics such as the Demonic Core and the Daoist Core. After many days, his body naturally couldn’t take it anymore, so he would fall asleep after killing Huo Xijing.
Perhaps Yan Wushi had no intention of investigating what his disciple was thinking, or perhaps he had deliberately left it ambiguous. In any case, the sentence successfully led Bian Yanmei to some dubious misunderstandings, and he started to look at Shen Qiao with a different pair of lens.
When Shen Qiao woke up, he was already in the Residence of the Junior Perceptor. Yan Wushi had been summoned by the Emperor of Zhou and was not in the residence at the time, but Bian Yanmei, on the other hand, was quite interested in Shen Qiao. He wasn’t in a hurry to leave, so he lingered for a while longer. When the servant reported that Shen Qiao was now awake, he directly went to see him.
Thereupon Bian Yanmei discovered how different Shen Qiao was when he was asleep and when he was awake.
When he was asleep, Shen Qiao appeared to be gentle and harmless, almost like a pushover. Anyone who saw him lying in Yan Wushi’s arms would have mistaken their relationship.
Of course, Bian Yanmei’s thought had now completely gone on that track. He sent people to find out about it afterwards. In addition to what he heard and saw himself, it wasn’t hard for him to reach a conclusion: This sect leader of Mount Xuandu must have been seriously injured after he lost to Kunye. He was too ashamed to return to Mount Xuandu and met Master; therefore, he half-willingly agreed to be taken under Master’s wing and become his boytoy. It was a disgraceful decision, so he didn’t dare to let others know about his identity, and even less so to make it public.
However, when he saw Shen Qiao sitting next to the table neatly dressed, he was no longer as certain of his conjecture. Because even though the other person still looked pale with his eyes unfocused and an almost otherworldly pretty face, one could never associate him with those kinds of boytoys who attached themselves to others.
“Sect Leader Shen has come a long way here. You’re our guest. Since I’m afraid that Master will be quite busy these days, you can stay in this Residence of the Junior Preceptor first. Just tell the servants if there’s anything you need.”
“Many thanks, Mr. Bian. I’ve caused you a lot of trouble.”
Bian Yanmei couldn’t help but laugh, “Master brought you here, and this residence is Master’s property. It’s my duty to take care of you, so you don’t need to think of it as trouble.”
He was still slightly disappointed at this moment, feeling that it was rather lamentable that the disciple of someone like Qi Fengge, whose bearing was unsurpassable, would end up as other people’s boytoy. If he had died after the defeat, all problems would have ended with his death, and he would at least leave a tragic yet honorable impression. But with him living on like this, remaining alive only for the sake of it–it was simply despicable.
However, Shen Qiao shook his head. “The reason why I killed Huo Xijing earlier was because this person was guilty of a monstrosity of unpardonable crimes. In order to prevent him from harming more lives, I had no choice but to stop killing with kill. However, Huo Xijing was a disciple of the Harmony Sect after all. I can only hope that my action won’t cause problems for you.”
Bian Yanmei didn’t know he was referring to this. It gave him a start, but he soon replied, “The Harmony Sect and the Cleansing Moon Sect have long since been enemies, and Huo Xijing killed my servant. In fact, I should be the one to thank you for killing him.”
Shen Qiao laughed at himself, “If someone else wants to kill another person, I would normally try to talk them out of it–hypocritical of me indeed. But when I saw someone like Huo Xijing, I was actually the first to act. Clearly, all of my efforts in the past with cultivating my heart and disposition are but a lie to myself.”
He still looked pale and exhausted. Even his self-mocking words were so mild, having no deterrence at all.
Bian Yanmei couldn’t help but pity him and he even started comforting him, “Actually, even the Confucian school has a saying like this: ‘If evil is repaid with kindness, then what should kindness be repaid with?’ Huo Xijing was a sinister and erratic man. Even as a disciple that originated from the same Holy Sect, I had no good impression of him. Truthfully, I’m afraid that many people would like to thank you for his death.”
They talked a little more. Seeing that Shen Qiao was too tired to continue, Bian Yanmei finally got up and took his leave.
After he exited the room and with the chilly wind blowing in his face, he finally remembered that when he first came, he didn’t really care about Shen Qiao. However, after a decent conversation, not only was his disdain completely gone, he even felt that the other person was rather amiable, making people want to come into contact with him.
Shen Qiao clearly sensed what he was thinking too, and that was why he had intentionally brought up Huo Xijing’s death. On one hand, it was to stress the favor he had done with Huo Xijing, while on the other hand, it was to let Bian Yanmei know that even though he was now staying by Yan Wushi’s side, he was not anyone’s property.
After he figured this out, the last bit of disdain left in Bian Yanmei heart vanished like smoke in the air.
When Yan Wushi came back, Shen Qiao was playing weiqi in his room.
There was no opponent, so he was playing with himself, holding the white pieces in one hand and the black ones in the other with his eyes closed. He was trying to memorize the board layout as he felt about the pieces that were already laid down.
Every move of his was slow–he had to think for a long time after each one, but every piece he placed would land precisely on the intersection between the horizontal and vertical lines.
Even though Shen Qiao’s martial power was returning, the condition of his eyes was unstable. Sometimes he was able to see blurry images, but other times he was not any different from a blind man. He accepted the fact rather calmly, but he had to prepare for the worst circumstance, intentionally training his ability to hear and sense the surrounding environment.
Standing by the door, Yan Wushi watched him for a long time before he finally walked in.
Shen Qiao didn’t notice him at first. He was single-heartedly immersed in the chess game. It wasn’t until the other person had laid the item he was holding onto the table did he finally open his eyes to study the blurry figure that had appeared in his line of sight.
“Sect Master Yan?”
When he saw the person who had just come in, a smile naturally climbed up his face.
Yan Wushi asked, “I heard you met Princess Qingdu out there today and even managed to leave a good impression on her?”
Shen Qiao ended up laughing, “We happened to run into each other, and it can’t be counted as a good impression. Her Highness is the Heaven’s precious and talented daughter, while I’m just a commoner. Sect Master Yan must be joking.”
Yan Wushi didn’t restrain Shen Qiao’s freedom after they arrived in Chang’an. Shen Qiao could still walk around in the city if he wanted, although that would be all. If he was going to exit the city, the guards at the city gates were already informed by Bian Yanmei. They would immediately stop him and report back here.
Yan Wushi smiled, “You can’t say that for sure. I heard that during your trip to City Ye with Yu Shengyan, you met Han Feng’s daughter. Didn’t she fancy you too? Well, it’s a pity that Princess Qingdu is a serious person. If she knew that you lived in my residence, she definitely wouldn’t take you as a decent man. You missed such a great marriage. Otherwise, if you married a princess, returning to Mount Xuandu would be a piece of cake with the help of the imperial court.”
Shen Qiao felt a bit helpless. “Isn’t Sect Master Yan a bit too bored? I did nothing but exchange a few greetings with Princess Qingdu, yet you’ve already come up with such a story from it.”
Caressing Shen Qiao’s face with his hand, Yan Wushi replied in a frivolous tone, “Do you think Princess Qingdu is like the pretty daughter of some humble family who talks amiably to anyone? You’ve lost your martial arts and your status, but it’s not like you’ve lost your face too. This face of yours alone can attract not a few love affairs. Isn’t Mu Tipo one of them too? I’d say that when you go out next time, you should wear a veil like those noble ladies, so you won’t run into as many pink troubles. Otherwise, it would greatly embarrass me if rumor gets out and everyone says that my boy is flirting around out there.”
According to Shen Qiao’s understanding of Yan Wushi, the person would tease him in such high spirits only when he was in a particularly good mood or the exact opposite.
Now the only question was which one it was today.
Just as expected, in the next moment, he heard Yan Wushi ask, “I have good news and bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?”
Shen Qiao asked, “Is it good news for me? Or is it good news for you?”
“Of course it’s for you! It’s heartbreaking to see you think of me with such malicious suspicion.”
He came closer as he talked, his voice quite low, with a somewhat dubious tone.
No matter how many times this happened these days, Shen Qiao just couldn’t get used to it. He turned his head to the side at once, avoiding the warm breath the other person was going to blow at his face.
He turned his face away, but not his ears.
His ear and earlobe were immediately suffused with a thin layer of redness, like a pink mark on white jade, making people want to feel it with their hands.
And that exactly was what Yan Wushi did. Having nowhere to escape, Shen Qiao had to lift a hand to block him. With one of them sitting and the other one leaning like this, they exchanged a dozen or so moves and it ended unsurprisingly with Shen Qiao being completely pulled into Yan Wushi’s arms.
Yan Wushi clicked his tongue. “You’re too skinny. It doesn’t feel good when I hug you.”
Then he pushed Shen Qiao away.
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yan Wushi: “But your hand does.”
Shen Qiao had long, slender fingers. Due to his sickness, they were cold and pale and felt quite good in the other’s hands. Yan Wushi played with his hands as if he was playing with a piece of white jade. The action warmed up the originally cold hand, and it now felt more like a piece of warm jade.
He always did as he pleased, and other people’s feelings had never been a concern for him. As long as he enjoyed it, he didn’t care whether Shen Qiao liked it or not. In fact, if Shen Qiao was unhappy about it, he would find it interesting and would probably going to take it even further.
As expected, when he looked up and saw Shen Qiao’s expression, he laughed, “Ah-qiao, are you unhappy? I was going to tell you news about Mount Xuandu. Do you not want to know?”
Taking the opportunity that Yan Wushi’s guard was low, Shen Qiao flicked his finger and drew his hand back into the sleeves, refusing to show another inch of it.
Yan Wushi glanced at his sleeves with pity, then said, “It was unfortunate that you didn’t stay that day to take a look at the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference yourself. I heard that Li Qingyu, the disciple of Yi Bichen from the Chunyang Sect, came down the mountain for the first time, yet he defeated Liansheng, the disciple of Monk Xueting, He Siyong from the Linchuan Institute, and two elders of Mount Xuandu. In the end, even your Junior Brother Yu joined the match himself and was finally able to beat him by half of a move. The name, Li Qingyu from the Chunyang Sect of Mount Qingcheng surprised everyone on the spot and was already well-known to the world.”
Shen Qiao also looked astounded when he heard the news. “Li Qingyu? I heard he was the last disciple of Yi Bichen’s, but he rarely appears in front of others.”
“That’s right. The Jade Terrace Daoist Conference on Mount Xuandu was precisely the first battle to make his name.”
Liansheng and He Siyong were both renowned experts among the younger generation. They weren’t as good as the Top Ten, but not many people in the pugilistic worlds could win against them.
Even though he lost by half a move to Yu Ai in the end, considering Yu Ai’s status and seniority, it was not a shame but rather an honor for him.
Just think about it. Yu Ai was Qi Fengge’s disciple, and Qi Fengge was the best martial artist of his time. If he lost with only half a move to Yu Ai, wouldn’t it imply that they were already at a similar level and that Li Qingyu was even going to surpass Yu Ai in just a few years time? One should be aware that not only was he still young, this was also his first time setting foot in the secular world. He had already achieved so much. Given enough time, how could you tell if he was not going to become another number one martial artist under the Heaven?
As for Mount Xuandu on the other hand, first there was Shen Qiao’s defeat in his fight with Kunye. Even though there was a greater cause behind it, other people didn’t know the story and would just think Shen Qiao was unworthy of his name and his martial arts were far more inferior to his master’s. The reason behind Yu Ai’s invitation to the sects all over the world to the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference on Mount Xuandu was none other than to formally announce that Mount Xuandu was going to open itself to the world once again. He could also use the chance as a start, making everyone stand in awe of Mount Xuandu’s name. However, no one would have expected the appearance of someone like Li Qingyu. Not only did the conference fail to bring back the awe-inspiring image of Mount Xuandu, it even ended up establishing a name for Li Qingyu instead.
It didn’t mean that Mount Xuandu would be reduced to a second or third-rate sect, but this was certainly a calamitous start for Yu Ai and the others. And when other people spoke of Mount Xuandu again in the future, there would inevitably be less reverence and more of a subtle shade.
After all, there was only one Qi Fengge. Without him, Mount Xuandu was no longer the magnificent place it used to be. No wonder he had decided to seal the mountain–he probably had foreseen that his later generations of disciples would turn out to be a disappointment, so he had no choice but to make such a bad decision.
Everyone would think like this.
Shen Qiao was a quick-witted person. Yan Wushi only said a few sentences, but he had already guessed everything that was going to come afterwards.