Thousand Autumns – Chapter 22
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Despite having experienced innumerable twists, setbacks, and all the rough and ragged paths of life, was there really someone that was still capable of holding onto their conscience
Spring Water Fingering was one of the feats that Yan Wushi was well-known for. He had defeated countless masters with it in the past. Even Qi Fengge used two verses to especially describe it. One could see just how unique and exquisite this set of martial arts was.
Nowadays, Yan Wushi must have reached an even higher state.
However, few people were aware that this set of fingering arts came from a set of sword arts.
Yan Wushi was once a sword expert. He had a sword that accompanied him everywhere. Later, he lost the sword, and for a period of time, he couldn't find a weapon that he was satisfied with, so he simply used his finger instead. No one would have thought that it would actually turn out well and that he would come up with this set of fingering arts because of it. It had a tender and sensuous name, but only people within it could understand what kind of storm they were facing.
If the person here had sharp eyes, then his eyes would have told him that Yan Wushi's movement was clearly very slow, very graceful, and very soft. It was as if he was simply going to brush away the dead leaves on the other person's shoulder. But his finger had already turned into numerous afterimages, so many that it was almost impossible to tell which "image" was his real hand.
Shen Qiao was blind. Since a blind person would not be confused by his vision, his other senses had become even sharper.
What he felt was a tremendous pressure rushing toward him from all directions like a mountain pressing down from above. It was almost going to crush him flat while the inner qi surged back and forth. This pressure was not evenly distributed either. Rather, it followed the other person's finger, sometimes pressing down on his shoulder and sometimes threatening his neck. It drifted from place to place, making it impossible to defend.
Shen Qiao was totally wrapped inside this pressure which the other person had constructed. It was like being surrounded by walls from all sides. The dense layers of inner qi were like numerous tide waves. He had nowhere to retreat, no place to advance. Once he exhausted the inner qi inside him, what awaited him was Yan Wushi's finger–a finger as soft as spring water–to gently touch his body.
Then the only thing left for him would be death.
Shen Qiao only had thirty percent of his inner qi and was perhaps less capable than even a second-rate martial artist. Normally, people of this level didn't even need to dream about surviving Yan Wushi's attacks. But Shen Qiao's advantage was that he already had all of Mount Xuandu's martial arts in him, together with the two volumes of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. Even though he might not have enough time to make use of all the contents he had just memorized, the recovery of his memories meant that his ability to cope with the enemy had also been restored. At the very least, he would not be as passive as before.
Using his hand as a sword as well, he lifted his sleeve and made a pose.
This was the opening move of Azurewave Sword Art–Mellow Breeze.
Azurewave Sword Art was the exact sword art Yu Ai had used during his battle with Yan Wushi.
Even though Mount Xuandu was world-famous, it only had a few sets of martial arts. As for sword arts, there were only two sets of them.
Since Qi Fengge believed that the principle of martial arts was the same as many other principles in this world, it ultimately all came down to simplicity. Great art conceals itself. Instead of learning many different martial arts, it would be better to practice and perfect these two sets of sword arts until one could control and use them freely as one wished.
As its name implied, Mellow Breeze was an opening move that was gentle and forgiving, making people feel like they were bathing in a cool breeze. Shen Qiao didn't have a sword in his hand, and he therefore had to put out two fingers together as his sword. After this move, he finally retrieved the familiar feelings from the past.
From his Dantian, his inner qi rose continuously and went upwards along Yangguan, Zhongshu, Zhiyang, and other acupoints. They aggregated at Fengfu, then flowed towards Sidu and Waiguan.  The other person forged his inner qi into layers of impenetrable defense, pressing toward him from all directions, but Shen Qiao happened to guide his own inner force to his fingertip just in time.
A white mark streaked across like sword light — this was the Sword Energy.
The Sword Energy flew out, and Shen Qiao changed his movement immediately afterwards. Imitating the "Three Refrains of Zither" in Azurewave Sword Art, he pointed a few times in succession with his finger. Each one of them directly pressed the nodes of this "net" that Yan Wushi had weaved using his inner qi.
With a deafening sound, haze rolled and closed in. Sparks fell upon the net, adorning it like beads!
If anyone else was here, they would have seen a dazzling light bursting out between the two people. Shen Qiao couldn't see with his eyes, but he was actually able to break through the other's attack by only relying on his grasp of Yan Wushi's inner qi!
From the beginning of Yan Wushi's assault to Shen Qiao solving it in the end, the people within might have felt like it had been a long time, but for the bystanders, it probably only lasted for a second.
Yan Wushi was a little surprised by this turn of events. However, what followed was an expression of interest growing on his face.
He collected his fingers together into a palm, and his figure floated like a cloud or a phantom. From different directions, he struck three more palms towards Shen Qiao.
These three palms were like the wind passing between mountains or air rising over the sea. They poured down high from the sky with a momentum so tremendous and boundless. In comparison, Yan Wushi's attacks from before were nothing but child's play. It was only at this moment that they finally tore down the mask of elegance and revealed their ferociousness nature underneath!
Three palms from three directions.
Yet there was only one Shen Qiao who had only two hands. It was impossible for him to withstand attacks coming from three different directions at the same time.
Shen Qiao chose to retreat.
After he dissolved Yan Wushi's offense, no inner qi was blocking him from behind. He took several steps backwards. However, that was all he could achieve before the three palms from Yan Wushi arrived before his face!
However skilled Yan Wushi was, he was just a human. He could not strike three palms at the same time. Despite his fast speed, there had to be a delay. It was just that the speed was too fast, making it impossible to tell the order.
But Shen Qiao could, because he was blind.
A blind person didn't need to "see", they "hear" instead.
After he was injured, he had experienced so much suffering which was unimaginable for him before. These pains formed a distinct contrast with his past after he regained his old memories.
There were also times when Shen Qiao felt lost and puzzled. He had also been grieved by his relatives' betrayal.
Yet at this very moment, his heart was undisturbed.
When he was still Mount Xuandu's sect leader, the state of his mind was placid too, but that was a kind of tranquility which belonged to someone who had never experienced any setbacks.
However, the tranquility he was experiencing now was a result of him going through the blasts, the storms, and all kinds of predicaments.
When the raging waves ceased, the moon climbed up above the clouds, merging the water and the sky into the same color.
There were no waves, no ripples, no grief, nor happiness.
It was like watching spring darkening the grass along the stone stairs or autumn thinning the layers of clouds upon the sky. It was like seeing a well reflecting the lonely lantern hanging above it or the moon shining on the colored glass below.
He was able to tell the order of these three palms. Within an instant, like a lotus flower, his hand unfolded and closed again–he was using the "Rising Waves in Mount Cang", "Sun and Moon Within", and "Purple Air from the East" of the Azurewave Sword Arts.
If the disciples of Mount Xuandu were here, they definitely wouldn't have recognized that these moves originated from the Azurewave Sword Arts. In Shen Qiao's hand, these moves possessed endless changes and were already something completely different from their original forms.
However, if Qi Fengge were to return to this world, he would certainly be able to tell that Shen Qiao wasn't just using the forms of these sword moves; in fact, they were even beyond the formality of Sword Energy and had achieved the realm of Sword Intent!
Sword was the king of all weapons. It had always been highly praised by people in the martial arts field. Nine out of every ten martial artists out there used swords as their weapons. Although for most of them, their skills couldn't even be said to have entered the hall of fame, let alone the discussion of realms.
There were four realms in sword arts: Sword Energy, Sword Intent, Sword Heart, and Sword Spirit.
For one to be able to control the sword with their inner qi was an indication that this person had already reached the state of "Sword Energy". This was something all Xiantian experts were able to achieve. Shen Qiao had already reached this state before he lost his martial arts.
He was extremely gifted. Having practiced sword arts since his childhood, at the age of twenty, he had already broken through the formality of sword moves and entered the state of "Sword Energy". Afterwards, Qi Fengge passed on the remaining script of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang to him. Integrating the qi-cultivation method inside the remaining script into his Sword Energy, his sword skills improved day after day. Had everything continued as it were, comprehending the "Sword Intent" would just be a matter of time.
Unfortunately, there was the challenge on Half-Step Peak. Shen Qiao fell off the cliff, and everything suddenly came to an end.
If it weren't for the strand of inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang which had remained inside his body, which granted him the chance to start over, all of the martial arts which he painstakingly accumulated in the first half of his life would have definitely gone to waste.
Yan Wushi was not an ordinary person. He definitely had found out about it as well. He kept pushing harder and harder, but Shen Qiao didn't just collapse on the ground–it even stimulated him to enter the realm of "Sword Intent". Yan Wushi was greatly astonished.
In addition to his surprise, there was also a trace of excitement springing up inside him.
He would force Shen Qiao to fight him from time to time only because the other person carried the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang. He hoped to be enlightened through these fights. It would help him extract the essence of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang and patch up the martial arts that he had created himself.
Therefore, the stronger his opponent, the happier he became.
Right now, Shen Qiao's mind was in a state of complete tranquility and peace.
After he comprehended the "Sword Intent", his state of mind had entered a whole new world from there. It was spacious, clear, and so mysterious that it was hard to describe.
This piece of land was boundless, like the ocean absorbing all rivers, or the cliff rising thousands of meters into the sky.
This piece of land was also extremely limited with only a square inch to move around and nothing to lean on.
However, the place where the Sword Intent lies is where the Daoist Intent shall be!
One begets Two, Two begets Three, and Three begets all things. 
There was no ground under his feet, but the ground would be there once he set foot on it. There was no light before his eyes, but there was light in his heart.
With such a mindset, even if he could not see with his eyes, Shen Qiao could still clearly sense the traces of the other person's attacks.
He waited quietly.
Yan Wushi pointed toward the center between his eyebrows.
Shen Qiao didn't fall back. Instead, he chose to raise his hand and take it straight on.
When he lifted his right hand, the spreading palm happened to block that one finger from the other person.
In a split second, all metal and rocks around them cracked and burst open like shooting stars backgrounded by the curtain of night!
Shen Qiao only heard a loud explosion next to his ear. Immediately afterwards, blood spurted out from his nose and his mouth. He lost control of his body and flew backwards, hitting a bulky trunk in the end. Then he fell heavily to the ground!
However, Yan Wushi let out a gasp and looked rather surprised.
It was because the move he just used carried at least half of his martial power. With Shen Qiao's current cultivation level, even if he had comprehended the Sword Intent, his foundation was so terribly damaged. It was already remarkable enough that he had caught sight of his attack and blocked it without dying right on the spot.
Form this alone, one could see that Shen Qiao's aptitude and potential were indeed amazing. He could still comprehend the Sword Intent even under the blow of betrayal. No wonder Qi Fengge had chosen him to be his mental disciple.
Although Shen Qiao didn't die, he wasn't much better than that.
There was no way he could have taken the blow from Yan Wushi's finger, but he took it anyway. In addition to the fight with Yu Ai earlier on Mount Xuandu, he finally passed out from exhaustion.
Yan Wushi bent down and held Shen Qiao's chin in his hand. The other person's countenance was like a cold jade. It was pale and dull. Even his lip had lost the color of its blood, and it was as if he would breathe his last at any moment.
However, ever since he was greatly injured after falling off the cliff, nine times out of every ten days, he would have this sort of complexion. Now, it just looked a bit more serious.
Amidst this gloomy paleness, however, his tightly closed eyes, his feather-like eyelashes–they all had a delicate yet special ascetic sense of beauty. Since he was unconscious, he appeared to be even more docile and adorable.
Such an obedient appearance was exactly what had confused Mu Tipo on that day, letting him mistake a carnivorous flower as a dodder herb.
But this flower's temperament was rather good, and it was always so soft-hearted. Therefore, it would repeatedly find itself in trouble. It might seem like he invited those troubles onto himself, but he would be fully prepared every time as if he had already anticipated the consequences of his soft-heartedness. If other people looked down on him because of his soft heart, that would be truly stupid of them.
"Look at you. How tired you are! How miserable your life must be! Your master died, and even your position as the sect leader was snatched by someone else. All of your martial brothers that grew up with you either betrayed you or didn't agree with your way of doing things. Utterly isolated from your family and friends, with a body so seriously wounded, you had to leave Mount Xuandu, not having anything to your name."
Using his softest tone, Yan Wushi coaxed him by speaking next to his ear, "But you don't have to live as abjectly. If you just follow me back to the Holy Sect and start to practicing the Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin, I'll even teach you the volume of The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang that I've learned. By that time, not to mention regaining your martial arts, even taking it one step further will be close at hand. This will be way faster than you taking three or five years to recover by yourself. At that time, whether you want to take back your position as the sect leader or kill Yu Ai for revenge, neither would be an issue. What do you think?"
Now was the time when Shen Qiao's will was at its weakest. His head was dreamy and confused, and his body had no strength to resist. It was the easiest time to invade his mind. Furthermore, Yan Wushi had used the Devilish Charm  on his words. They greeted Shen Qiao's ear over and over and pierced straight into his heart, pounding heavily against his Daoist Core.
Shen Qiao's brows knitted in pain, his body struggling feebly, but Yan Wushi didn't loosen his grip. He even repeated his words two more times.
"Yu Ai allied with Kunye. Because of them, you fell off the cliff and lost all of your martial arts. Do you not hate them? Without martial arts, without position and status, even clowns like Chen Gong and Mu Tipo dare to hop around in front of you. Is there really not even a tiny bit of hatred in your heart, hm? Don't you want to kill them? I can help you with that too."
If other people were to pass by, they would have thought the two of them were whispering intimately in each other's ears. The scene seemed so flirtatious, while in fact, that wasn't the case at all.
Yan Wushi tightened his grip a bit more and it left a red mark on Shen Qiao's chin which would probably turn into a bruise the next day. However, it was not the reason behind Shen Qiao's suffering. The source of Shen Qiao's pain came from the words which were being poured repeatedly into his head like incantations, and he could neither dodge nor escape the voice.
He gritted his teeth as hard as he could. Even though he had already lost his consciousness, there seemed to be a thread in his subconscious mind that had kept him tightly bound so he couldn't open his mouth to accept.
Once he opened his mouth and agreed, he would then start to lose his true self.
"Why won't you answer me? It's just a word. I can do anything for you if you just open your mouth."
I don't want to become that kind of person. Even if I'm going to do it, I'll do it myself.
"What kind of person do you want to become? Is it not good to be able to seek vengeance at your delight? You can kill anyone you want. Besides, they betrayed you first. You owe nothing to them."
Shen Qiao shook his head. Fresh blood started to spill out from the corner of his mouth, and the expression on his face began to look increasingly painful. A normal person could no longer withstand such torture, but he just wouldn't open his mouth.
Some people were ignorant of the malevolence in this world and blindly offered their kindness. It ultimately not only implicated the others but themselves as well. While some others were capable of seeing through the malice, yet they were still faithful to their hearts, remaining gentle and soft-hearted.
But people were born evil. Despite having experienced innumerable twists, setbacks, and all the rough and ragged paths of life, was there really someone that was still capable of holding onto their conscience?
Yan Wushi let out a quiet laugh. He wiped away the bloodstains at the corner of Shen Qiao's mouth. Putting his hands through his armpits, he carried him in his arms and walked towards the town.
Author’s Short Play Time:
Qiao Qiao is always spitting blood, does it make you guys feel good? →_→
Old Yan: Very good.
Shen Qiao (dying) raised his hand: I-I don't feel good….
 All of these are acupoints, indicating the path inside one's body.
 This sentence came from the Daoist scripture, Daodejing. It is the fundamental philosophy of Daoism. Dao (The Way) begets One (nothingness), One begets Two (Yin and Yang), Two begets Three (Heaven, Earth, and Man), Three begets all things (Everything in this world).
 Devilish Charm [魔音摄心]: A martial arts skill practiced by the three Demonic Sects by attaching inner qi into their voices in order to hypnotize and lure others into doing what they say.