Thousand Autumns – Chapter 21
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: What does your life or death have to do with me?
Every expert had at least some degree of an expert's manners, whether they were sensitive about their reputation or were unwilling to let go of their pride. People of high status usually wouldn't do something like using another person as a scapegoat because they still cared about their face. Only someone like Yan Wushi who could destroy even The Strategy of the Vermillion Young without a second thought would be able to commit such a shameful act. No wonder it left Yu Ai hopping mad behind them, and it even rendered Shen Qiao speechless.
Yan Wushi brought him all the way down the mountain. They passed through Xuandu Town and arrived at the relay station in the countryside, a place they had stayed at before when they first entered the town. There was a sparse little forest, which could be regarded as a spacious spot.
He put Shen Qiao down.
Shen Qiao cupped his hands: "Thanks!"
He was injured during his fight with Yu Ai. All of his blood and qi had been stagnant ever since. After such a long time, he finally started to feel the warmth slowly returning, and sensation coming back to his limbs.
Yan Wushi just bluntly sneered, "So what's the point of your trip to Mount Xuandu? It only proved what I said the other day was true: the human heart is worthless when interests are involved. Your martial brothers could betray you without any hesitation for the sake of their interests. In order to become the sect leader, they could let you fall off the cliff and yet turn a deaf ear to it. Qi Fengge boasted his sect as being orthodox and morally upright, but the conducts of his disciples are even comparable to the people from our Demonic sects. How amazing is that!"
He was very much aware that after Shen Qiao fell off the cliff, people from Mount Xuandu also took turns searching for him out there. However, at that time, he had already saved Shen Qiao and brought him back with him. So of course, those people went back empty-handed. But there was no need for Yan Wushi to speak on their behalf; he was more than happy to see Shen Qiao fall into despair from now on, turning from a softhearted, castaway sect leader into a person full of hatred toward everyone in the world.
But Shen Qiao didn't take up the thread of the conversation. He found a large stone next to him with his hands and then slowly sat down.
Yu Ai was a little stubborn and very much a utilitarian. Ever since he was a child, he had to be the best in everything he did. Had he not grown up on Mount Xuandu, it was hard to say whether he would have become another Yan Wushi. But over these years, he had indeed put his heart and soul into Mount Xuandu. He hoarded nothing for himself, and the fellow disciples all had fraternal love towards one another. However hard-hearted he once was, all of these things should be enough to warm him up. Not to mention that Yu Ai was not Yan Wushi after all; therefore, prior to that event, even if his master Qi Fengge were to be reborn, he wouldn't have anticipated it either, let alone Shen Qiao.
He orchestrated Shen Qiao's defeat in the fight with Kunye and made him lose to a Tujue person under thousands of staring eyes. Since his reputation was completely swept away, Yu Ai naturally became his successor. No one would consider him unqualified. It was also a way to get it done once and for all, since even if Shen Qiao were still alive, he wouldn't have the face to ask to become the sect leader again.
This sounded very plausible, but considering how excitedly Yu Ai had sworn back then that he had difficulties that he couldn't voice, saying the reason he did it was to place Mount Xuandu above all other sects in the world, then the matter seemed a bit odd.
Assuming Yu Ai really had his own difficulties like he said and there were other reasons behind the event, then he was definitely not only referring to his secret collusion with the Tujue people to set up Shen Qiao's fall from the cliff.
He must have been cooperating with the Tujue people on some other things as well that were even more important.
Shen Qiao knitted his brows. He could only feel the pricking pain everywhere inside his head and remained puzzled despite the amount of thought he put into it.
Ever since the Jin Dynasty moved to the south, many riots broke out from the five barbarians. Even though the regimes of each country had changed frequently during these years, the power of countries such as Zhou and Qi, which had extremely rich Western cultures, gradually sinicized due to their inheritance of the Han systems. People could still accept it, though reluctantly, if they were the ones to unify the world. But for a nation like the Tujue Khaganate whose people were still grazing on the grasslands even today, a barbarian nation that would invade the Central Plain from time to time, they could not be called wise rulers in any event.
The erratic and brutal image of the Tujue people had already left deep impressions in people's hearts. Without enormous benefits, it was impossible that Yu Ai would act in the face of universal condemnation.
In that case, what was he really scheming? What were the Tujue people able to promise him? Or what benefits could they bring to Mount Xuandu?
Shen Qiao couldn't discuss these things with Yan Wushi.
Although their relationship was getting deeper nowadays, they weren't friends yet. Because of the other person's moodiness, it was even more impossible for Shen Qiao to ask for hearty advice from a mere acquaintance like him.
Shen Qiao had no other choice but to turn it back and forth in his own mind.
It was just that no matter how he thought about it, he felt like he was looking at it through a thin layer of window paper and could not get to the key point.
Yan Wushi suddenly asked, "Have you had enough rest?"
At a loss, Shen Qiao lifted his head. Because he was still thinking about other things, his face looked a little innocent and absent-minded.
"If so, then let's fight."
Shen Qiao: "…"
He gave a bitter smile, "Sect Master Yan, how am I going to be your match? Didn't you try it already last time?"
Yan Wushi found it strange, "Then why do you think I brought you out? What does your life or death have to do with me? If I want the remaining script of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang, I can go search for it on Mount Xuandu directly. Why do I need to bring a nuisance like you? You bear two books of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang inside you right now. Restoring your martial arts is just a matter of time. But not everyone is as lucky as you. I have long been looking for a person who has mastered The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang so that I can study this set of martial arts by Tao Hongjing through him. But I can't fight with myself, and neither can I practice with that Bald Donky Xueting. Aren't you the perfect candidate then?"
Shen Qiao’s mouth twitched. He didn't know what to say.
He said after a long time, "I only have thirty percent of martial power left, and I got injured while I was fighting with Yu Ai. I'm afraid that you ask more than what my body can offer."
"That's why I have shown you such a great mercy–letting you sit here to rest for a while."
Shen Qiao said helplessly, "Now I suddenly feel that being forced to stay on Mount Xuandu isn't as bad a choice."
Yan Wushi said, "You have now regained your memory, that is to say, you can remember and have a fluent command of the part of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang you learned before. In addition to the section you heard in the Beyond Clouds Monastery that day, it should be enough for you to comprehend it and bring your realm to the next level."
Shen Qiao thought for a moment, then sincerely nodded, "It is indeed the case."
From this perspective, even though Yan Wushi's motives weren't pure and he often had the intention to take advantage of Shen Qiao or find amusement in his suffering, Shen Qiao would still thank him a lot.
Shen Qiao said, "I haven't thanked Sect Master Yan properly since I left the spare mansion. Were it not for you, perhaps I would have already joined the strand of departed souls at the foot of Half-Step Peak."
Yan Wushi replied, "What you should thank the most is the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang inside you. I wouldn't feel like saving you were it not for its sake."
Shen Qiao tried to console himself, "…All right. I'll light some incense sticks for Master and thank him for passing on The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang to me."
Yan Wushi said, "When I fought with Yu Ai, I didn't find any inner qi inside him that came from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Presumably, Qi Fengge only passed it to you."
Shen Qiao nodded, "That's right. On that day, Master only passed the Book of Wandering Spirits to me. He ordered me to memorize it verbally and prohibited me from writing it down. Everyone out there says there is one book of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang hidden on Mount Xuandu, but till today, I still don't know whether that book is still there or not."
Yan Wushi found it very interesting: "Does Qi Fengge not want Mount Xuandu to pass it on to the later generations or does he not want all of his disciples to make something of themselves? Why did he pass the Book of Wandering Spirits to only you?"
Shen Qiao slowly explained, "I also asked Master about it before, but he didn't answer. Master and Immortal Tao were old friends when they were alive. I heard that Immortal Tao once regretted The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang after he completed it. He felt that it would pull people around the world into an endless fight if the book was out. Therefore, I think, perhaps, Master somewhat felt the same. On one hand, he wanted the fruit of his friend's painstaking efforts of his entire lifetime to be passed on to later generations, while on the other hand, he didn't want it to spread too widely as to make everyone fight over it. That's why he made such a contradictory decision."
Yan Wushi snorted disdainfully, "What a petty kindness! Regarding this matter, he was like that, and back then during his fight with Hulugu, he was also like that! Not killing Hulugu, therefore leaving hidden dangers for the later generation! The state of his martial arts was matchless, and yet it was in vain because his mind was no different from an indecisive woman! If that's the case, why does he even bother to let Mount Xanadu’s disciples practice martial arts? Wouldn't it be better if he just changed Mount Xuandu into an ordinary Daoist temple? If he wishes for a world without war, then why doesn't he start with himself?"
These words were bitter and acrimonious to the bone, but they were not completely unreasonable.
There was something in common between Shen Qiao and his master — they both had kind, gentle hearts and always were considerate of other people. But there was also a difference between them. While traveling outside, he witnessed himself a time of famine and impoverishment, the suffering of the common people and the rich and powerful ones in the world all being drawn into the game. His way of thinking gradually changed. He found out that as long as Mount Xuandu was still inside this mortal world, it was impossible to detach itself from the world and stay out of everything. It would inevitably join the game sooner or later.
Unfortunately, before he could bring any change to Mount Xuandu, Yu Ai already couldn't wait to remove and replace him, completely carrying Mount Xuandu towards an unknown path.
He slightly lowered his head and sank into contemplation.
On the other side, Yan Wushi's finger was already pointing toward this direction in silence with no warning.
Since Shen Qiao lost his sense of sight, he had been intentionally training his ears. After he heard some strange sounds, he hurriedly pushed against the stone and jumped up. Then he started retreating rapidly.
Mount Xuandu's lightness skill was peerless in this world. Once the “Rainbow Shadow”  was carried out, Shen Qiao's carriage changed at once. Like a lotus flower being tenderly helped up by a wind, or a pond of smiling blue water, or a willow branch unfolding itself — he moved with a flowing elegance that was hard to describe. One could vaguely picture what it was like when his martial power was in full bloom.
It was just that Shen Qiao's martial power hadn't recovered yet. Yan Wushi's speed was much faster than his. He was only half a step slower, but the stone he had been sitting on a moment ago had already broken into pieces with a loud bang. Crushed rocks splattered in all directions and rained towards Shen Qiao.
Luckily, he was able to put up his inner qi just in time so that his face could escape the splash. It was just that half of his sleeve was shredded by the sharp rocks. The rocks even cut his wrist. Blood streamed down his fair skin at once.
"'The tender wave of the spring water pities the reflection on it, that all of the infatuation has turned to dust.' It truly does deserve its name!" Shen Qiao didn't pay attention to the wound on his wrist; he instead concentrated on listening to the other person's movements.
According to the way Yan Wushi did things, once he attacked, he would never leave any mercy for his opponent.
After being with him these days, Shen Qiao knew it very well.
For today's battle, he must fight till the other person was fully satisfied; otherwise, he would just die in vain.
 Rainbow Shadow (天阔虹影 Tian Kuo Hong Ying): Name of Mount Xuandu's lightness skill (a kind of martial arts). Literally means Broad Sky Rainbow Shadow, (or Image of Rainbow on Broad Sky).