Synopsis: I won’t let you go.
Even though Mount Xuandu was the number one Daoist sect under the Heavens, there wasn’t any scheme or plot going on among its disciples as outsiders might have imagined.
Shen Qiao had grown up in a gentle and peaceful environment ever since his childhood.
His master was compassionate, he was both a teacher and a father to him. His martial brothers were all so friendly that there was often no difference between the seniors and the juniors when they played together in private. Even Qi Fengge was not as awe-inspiring when facing his disciples as others might have expected him to be.
Since Shen Qiao was treated with gentleness and softness by everyone around him, he too had grown to be a gentle and soft person.
The timing when he joined the sect was not very good. He was neither Qi Fengge’s eldest disciple, nor was he the last one.
Out of Qi Fengge’s five disciples, Shen Qiao was the second, a supposedly awkward position. However, since both his nature and talents were excellent, and he himself was very kind and forgiving when dealing with others, he actually became Qi Fengge’s favorite disciple. In the end, Qi Fengge passed his mantle onto him.
Yu Ai ranked the third among the disciples. He was two years older than Shen Qiao, but because he joined the sect at a later time, he had to address Shen Qiao as ‘Senior Martial Brother’. He was bothered by it for a long time during their childhood, so he would often pester and tease Shen Qiao, trying to make Shen Qiao call him senior brother. Though, of course, he failed at the end.
The two of them were similar in age. They played together ever since they were still little children, so their relationship was the most intimate. If someone were to ask Shen Qiao which person he trusted the most in this world, the answer would definitely be his master, Qi Fengge, and all of his martial brothers.
If he had to rank his martial brothers by the intimacy of their relationships, Yu Ai would probably be ranked number one.
Prior to going up the mountain, Shen Qiao also imagined what it would be like when they met each other again. Yu Ai might be surprised that someone like him who should have been dead came back to life, or he might feel a little guilty and terrified, or he might even wear a look of disgust due to his unwillingness to see Shen Qiao.
But it never occurred to Shen Qiao that the other person would be so happy. Even though he couldn’t see Yu Ai’s expression clearly, Shen Qiao could tell from his voice that it was not fake.
There were many things he wanted to say at first. But as the words reached his tongue, he didn’t know which question to start with. Yu Ai didn’t say anything else after shouting out,“Senior brother, the sect leader”. Shen Qiao guessed he was probably observing him carefully, so he could only pick the most common sentence as his opener, “How’s everything in the sect?”
The other person didn’t reply. Shen Qiao slightly tilted his head, asking with uncertainty, “Third Junior Brother?”
“What happened to your eyes?”
When the other person opened his mouth again, the voice was already close by. Shen Qiao subconsciously wanted to step back, but someone had already grabbed him by his wrist.
“What happened to your eyes?” Yu Ai asked again.
“I fell off the cliff during the battle with Kunye. After I woke up, they were already like this.” Shen Qiao dismissed the topic lightly.
The hand grasping his wrist didn’t come loose. Yu Ai said, “Stay still. I’ll take your pulse for you.”
Shen Qiao wanted to say there was no need, but since he wasn’t able to free himself, he had to let Yu Ai have his way.
Yu Ai felt his pulse
with rapt attention. After some time, he finally asked, “Your inner qi is so weak that it’s almost indiscernible. What happened?”
Shen Qiao emotionlessly asked back, “Didn’t you foresee such a result already when you poisoned me?”
The other person’s hand paused for a second because of his words. Taking the opportunity, Shen Qiao pulled back his own hand.
When a person’s martial arts reached the state where Yu Ai was at, no matter how dark the night was or how dim the candlelight was, it wouldn’t affect his eyesight.
He looked Shen Qiao up and down attentively. The other person’s complexion was cold and pale, and his figure was a lot thinner compared to before. It was clear that during these days, that person had suffered a lot of hardships out there. His wrist which was holding the bamboo stick was half-exposed under the sleeve. It was so emaciated and bony that looking at it would make people’s hearts ache.
Yu Ai breathed out a soft sigh, “Since you’re back, don’t leave again. Let me slowly explain this to you, all right?”
Shen Qiao shook his head. “Mount Xuandu is going to elect its new sect leader. Wouldn’t it make things difficult for you if an old person like me who has shamed Mount Xuandu stays here?”
Yu Ai found it strange, “Who said Mount Xuandu is going to have a new sect leader?”
“Isn’t the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference happening ten days later also a ceremony for Mount Xuandu to establish its new sect leader?”
Yu Ai was going to shake his head, but he realized that the other person couldn’t see his action. So he said, “Ever since you went missing after falling off the cliff, I have been sending people everywhere to secretly search for you, but we couldn’t find you no matter what. If you’re alive, I need to see you in person; even if you’re dead, I have to see your corpse. As long as you’re not dead, Mount Xuandu’s sect leader will never change. It’s true that I’m managing all of the affairs on your behalf, but it’s only as a regent leader. I’ve never intended to overstep and replace you.”
If it was in the past, Shen Qiao would firmly believe in everything Yu Ai said without any doubts. However, the time and situation were different now, and the Shen Qiao today did not dare to say these words anymore.
He remained silent for a moment before he said, “When I was fighting with Kunye that day, I already found out that more than half of my inner qi had disappeared, and the qi that was left was so stagnated that it didn’t flow smoothly. I tried my best to hold myself against Kunye, but in the end, it was still to no avail. At that time, I also tried to recall everything carefully, but from beginning to end, I couldn’t understand when was I poisoned, and where I was poisoned. At all events, I never suspected it was you.”
Yu Ai stood with his head hanging. He didn’t say anything, but his hands that were covered by the sleeves were trembling almost unnoticeably.
That was right. Ever since their childhood, to him, or in fact to everyone on Mount Xuandu, Shen Qiao never stinted his trust.
This was not because Shen Qiao was stupid and ignorant, nor was it because he was naive and gullible. It was because he believed in them. He believed that there was always kindness in this world. He believed in the people and things that accompanied him as he grew up. Moreover, he believed that these martial brothers who were like his siblings could never betray him. That was why he did not guard himself against them at all, and thus Yu Ai was able to easily find success.
Shen Qiao continued, “Later, I fell off the cliff and became unconscious. After I woke up,
up, I lost my memories, and was ignorant and absent-minded all day long. Only recently did I finally recall many of the details. The night before my battle with Kunye, you came to me saying you wanted to sleep together. You talked a lot about things in the past, saying that you were attracted to our Little Junior Sister, but she was so cold and didn’t really talk to anyone. You were troubled by it, so you could only come and tell me, hoping that I could go talk to her on your behalf after my battle with Kunye.”
Yu Ai didn’t make any comment.
Shen Qiao continued, “When Kunye sent us the written challenge for the duel, I didn’t want to take it up at first. However, you brought up the fight between Kunye’s master, Hulugu, and our master, saying that if I didn’t take up the challenge, it might hurt Master’s and Mount Xuandu’s reputations. Afterwards, you repeatedly expressed your liking for little junior sister in front of me, but what was strange was that you never had any impulsive expressions or behaviors in front of her. I didn’t suspect that you had other motives back then. I even kept comforting you, creating opportunities for you two to spend time alone. Thinking about it now, all of those were also fake, weren’t they?”
Yu Ai finally sighed, “You’re right. I’ve never had any amorous thoughts for little junior sister. The reason why I said those words was just to lead you to a misunderstanding so that you would be even less suspicious of other things. It was also for creating an opportunity for me to talk to you alone before the final battle. You have inherited Master’s mantle, and your martial arts skill is the best amongst all our martial brothers. Normal poison has no effect on you, so I had to use one of the world’s most rare poisons, Quietus  . Quietus won’t kill people immediately. If the dosage is controlled well, it can work its way in silence without anyone realizing. After a long period of time, the poison will infiltrate into one’s bones, making it look like a natural death.
“But I never thought of taking your life. I only used a little bit just to make you lose the battle with Kunye. I thought that with your level of martial arts, even if you fell off the cliff, you wouldn’t die from it. At most, you would be injured a little more seriously, and that could be fixed within a few months. But to my surprise, things still didn’t go as I had planned. After you fell off the cliff, I immediately sent people to search for you, but we couldn’t find you at all.”
Shen Qiao frowned even harder. “Quietus is extremely rare. It was said that this poison was first brought to the Central Plains by Zhang Qian through his trip to the Western Regions and was lost later on. Even the Imperial Palace might not have it, let alone Mount Xuandu. Where did you get it?”
Before Yu Ai could answer, Shen Qiao’s look suddenly changed. He was stunned, “Kunye? You obtained it from Kunye?”
“You even colluded with the Tujue people just to remove me from the position of sect leader?!”
A faint anger finally appeared on Shen Qiao’s face. “It was true that Master passed the position of the sect leader to me, but you know very well that I never had much ambition for it. Over these many years, I also relied on you a lot for helping me handle the affairs of the sect. If you had only said it, I would certainly have yielded the position to you. I just don’t understand why you would rather seek what is far away than take what is offered to you, going after the Tujue people instead?!”
His state of mind was in rage
in rage mode, so his tone was quite harsh. After he finished speaking, he couldn’t help but start to cough.
Yu Ai wanted to stroke Shen Qiao’s back to help him breathe. As soon as he reached out his hand, however, he paused for a second. Then he pulled it back at last and slowly said, “Because, Mount Xuandu cannot go on like this. Shutting itself away from all other worldly affairs, even the number one Daoist sect under the Heavens like Mount Xuandu is going to lose its advantage eventually!
“Just take a look around this world. Amongst all the Daoist sects, Chunyang Daoist Monastery of Mount Qingcheng appears to be rising in power. Their Monastery Leader, Yi Bichen, is also one of the top ten martial artists, and his fame is even much greater than yours. In contrast, look at us, the Purple Mansion of Mount Xuandu. Ever since Master ascended as an immortal, what else do we have left besides his remaining prestige?
“Your martial arts skill is not any inferior to Yi Bichen’s. If you are willing to enter the secular world, you might even have a chance to strive for the place as the top martial artist. But you willingly kept yourself mute, indicating that you would rather stay as a nobody deep in the mountains. If things continue on like this, no matter how profound and rich Mount Xuandu’s foundation is, it will eventually be replaced by others!”
Speaking to this point, Yu Ai’s tone started to become passionate, “The world is in chaos now. All Daoist sects are establishing their own Daoist orthodoxies, while the other two schools, Buddhism and Confucianism, each have come up with their own moves in order to become the leading voice, intending to assist a wise ruler to seize the power of the world. Even the Demonic Sects have had their hands in it! All except our Mount Xuandu, withdrawn from the society, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the outside world. We have a great sword in our hand, and yet we refuse to put it to use. If a lord supported by the Buddhist sects or the Confucius sects aimed to unify the world one day, by that time, do you think there will still be a place for our Daoist sects to live in?!”
He calmed his voice, “Senior brother, I’ve never once thought about replacing you. I’m also aware that those who are not our kin are sure to be of a different heart. Working together with the Tujue people is but a part of my plan. However, if you were still here, you definitely wouldn’t allow me to do this, so I had no choice but to come up with this bad idea. Since you’re back now, don’t leave again. Stay here and have a nice recovery, all right?”
Shen Qiao asked, “What about ten days later?”
Yu Ai was taken by surprise, “What?”
“How are you going to explain to the other martial brothers and disciples in the sect about my return to Mount Xuandu? Ten days later, at the Jade Terrace Conference, how are you going to explain it to everyone else around the world?”
For a short while, Yu Ai wasn’t able to answer him.
Shen Qiao further asked, “After all, what are you scheming with with the Tujue people?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you anything at this moment.”
“What if I’m against it?”
Yu Ai didn’t reply.
“If I oppose, you will put me under house arrest. From then on, I will only stay as a nominal sect leader who never appears in the daylight again, so that I won’t hinder your great plan. Am I right?”
He was answered with silence again.
Shen Qiao sighed, “Your health was not good when you were young. Even though you are two years older than me, it was hard to tell from your appearance. You always liked to act liked to act spoiled when you were sick. Only because you were afraid that the younger generations would take you lightly since you were not steady enough did you embrace this dignified and mature face all day long. Even to this day, I still remember the scene of you chasing after me, insisting that I call you ‘Senior Martial Brother.”
As the events of the past were brought up, Yu Ai’s expression slightly softened. “That’s right, I remember it too. My temper was not good when I was young, and I would pull a cold face in front of everyone and my words often put other people in awkward positions. Even Little Martial Sister avoided me. Out of all the martial brothers, you are the one with the best temper, and you have always been the one to tolerate me.”
“No matter how good my temper is, there’s going to be a bottom line. I have nothing to say regarding you wanting to be the sect leader and scheming my defeat to Kunye. I can only blame myself for trusting you too much. But the Tujue people are obsessed with ambition. They have long been coveting the Central Plains. Even though Mount Xuandu has never helped any country fight over the rulership of the world, it won’t cooperate with the Tujue people either!”
Yu Ai gave a bitter smile, “I knew that you would never let me do this. Otherwise, why would I go through the painstaking effort of planning all this?”
Shen Qiao said, “The recluse principle pursued by the generations of our sect leaders might be wrong, but it’s definitely not because we didn’t cooperate with the Tujue people. You still have time to stop here and repent.”
Yu Ai replied angrily, “Mount Xuandu is also where I grew up, so of course, I wish it could become better. My heart and feelings for it isn’t any less than yours, so why do you need to assume this look of a saint then? Are you saying that you are the only one who is right in the world, and all the other people are wrong?!
“Why don’t you go ask the other disciples in the sect? Even though they didn’t say anything, do they also feel discontented on the inside about Mount Xuandu’s reclusion over these years? After the Jade Terrace Daoist Conference, I can officially announce that we will open our gates and take in more disciples. By that time, Mount Xuandu’s reputation and status will only go up higher, and I will never let the Tiantai Sect and the Linchuan Institute monopolize all the glory!”
For a long time, Shen Qiao didn’t say anything. Yu Ai’s chest was heaving from him fully venting his anger. The two of them faced each other in silence amidst the night winds.
Yu Ai suddenly felt a little sad. No matter what, they could never go back to the close relationship they had before.
Shen Qiao finally said, “Since you’ve already made up your mind, there’s nothing else for me to say.”
Yu Ai asked, “Where are you going?”
Shen Qiao replied indifferently, “My defeat in Kunye’s hand has already ashamed Mount Xuandu in all aspects. Even if the others don’t say anything, I don’t have the face to be the sect leader anymore. As for the poisons, I don’t have any evidence besides my own testimony. Even if I were to accuse you in public, people probably won’t believe it. They might even think I am blurting out nonsense because I’m unwilling to accept my defeat. You have calculated everything already. Why do you still care about where I’m going? Wherever I go, it won’t hinder your great undertaking.”
Yu Ai softly persuaded, “You’re seriously wounded. You need to stay here to recuperate.”
Shen Qiao shook his head and turned around, ready to leave.
However, Yu Ai’s slightly chilly voice sounded behind him, “I won’t let you go.”