Thousand Autumns – Chapter 23
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: How hard of a bone does he have inside him?
Shen Qiao felt like he had slept for a long time, but he wasn't completely unconscious. At least he was still aware of people talking loudly next to his ear and the wheels under his body rambling on as they rolled forwards.
He had fainted, but the inner qi inside him never stopped circulating. The benefits of practicing The Strategy of Vermillion Yang was now revealed–the wounds on his body were gradually healing without him knowing it.
Even though the restoration process was extremely slow, by the time Shen Qiao woke up, those feelings of distress and nausea had already disappeared. It was just that he had been drowsing unconsciously these days, so after waking up, he was inevitably a little absent-minded as if he was still in a dream. He covered his head with both hands, appearing to be at a loss.
He looked around and found himself inside a carriage. Yet the carriage had come to a halt, so he couldn't tell what was outside.
Shen Qiao recalled carefully. He was fighting with Yan Wushi before he passed out, so Yan Wushi had probably taken him away.
Just as he was thinking hard about it, the carriage's curtain was lifted up, revealing Yan Wushi's face.
Just this one sentence nearly made Shen Qiao's hair stand on end.
He couldn't say he had a close relationship with Yan Wushi, but he still had some understanding of the man's temperament and his way of doing things. Were it not for the fact that, no matter how he looked at him, the person before him had that same face, Shen Qiao really would have thought he was possessed by some ghost.
For when had the Demonic Sovereign–whom everyone dreaded at the mention of his name, whose behavior was so perverse and volatile, who took pleasure in mocking and ridiculing others–ever spoken in such a tender tone?
Shen Qiao hesitated, "Sect Master Yan… did something happen?"
"You were seriously injured and was out cold for many days. Luckily, the inner qi from The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang has been acting inside you and protecting your heart meridian. Just a few more days of rest and you should be all right. We've just entered Ying Prefecture and I found an inn to stay at. Come."
He came forward and bent down, lifting Shen Qiao towards his chest.
Shen Qiao felt his blood run cold. He wished he could turn around and run away at once. Unfortunately, he had just woken up after many days of sleep, and his body was still too weak to resist. So he could only let the other person have his way.
Yan Wushi put up a gentle smile. He ignored Shen Qiao's expression–the kind of look as if one had just spotted a ghost, and carried him into the inn. He walked all the way from the lounge to the backyard, allowing others to crowd around him however they wanted. Even the servant who was guiding them kept looking back. However, he didn't mind any of it and remained the same as before.
"Just to let misters know, this is the prettiest yard. Not just within our inn, but throughout the whole Ying Prefecture City. Just take a look at the bonsai and the water, it doesn't lose by much even if you compare it to the courtyards in those luxurious mansions. And if you want to enjoy some spring scenery, you don't have to go out to the countryside and climb the hills. All you have to do is to stay in this yard and you can have all the spring sceneries of our city!"
The servant was really eloquent. Unfortunately, Shen Qiao couldn't see, and neither could he feel the beauty the person was describing. He could only guess from the servant's attitude that it probably cost a considerable amount to rent this place.
On the other hand, Yan Wushi seemed to be quite interested. He didn't command the servant to shut up. In fact, he even asked him to give a complete presentation and would comment a few lines once in a while. It cheered up the servant even more. Talking non-stop, he introduced the whole yard and every little detail in it.
Yan Wushi was carrying a grown man in his arms, but he somehow still had the mood to stroll around the courtyard without feeling tired. After seeing this, the servant's reverence of him grew even greater.
Shen Qiao's body was terribly in need of rest. He had only been awake for so long before he started to feel tired again that he almost fell asleep in Yan Wushi's arms.
The servant was finally sensible enough to leave. Yan Wushi carried Shen Qiao into the bedroom and laid him down on the bamboo couch next to the window.
The bamboo couch was covered with a thick, soft fleece blanket. As soon as he lied down, Shen Qiao could hear all of his bones moaning in comfort.
But Yan Wushi wasn't in a hurry to leave. Instead, he sat down next to Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao asked, "Is there only one bedroom with the yard that Sect Master Yan has rented this time?"
Yan Wushi seemed to be taking things easy, "Of course there are more. But since I am the one who rented the yard, I can sit wherever I want. You have slept for several days, and I have been taking care of you throughout the trip. Yet you don't thank me; you even try to change the subject instead. So this is what the upbringing of the sect leader of Mount Xuandu is like?"
Shen Qiao thought to himself, 'that's because you're acting weird.'
As he was thinking about this, the other person suddenly reached over and straightened out his wrinkled collar. It gave Shen Qiao a good scare. This time, not only was he surprised, he was actually horrified.
He couldn’t bring himself to believe that when he woke up from his slumber, Yan Wushi had completely changed his temperament.
Neither was he able to figure out what the other person was scheming.
"Sect Master Yan, please stop teasing me."
"How can you call it teasing? Putting aside the ones out there, do you know how many disciples in the Cleansing Moon Sect want me to treat them in such an amiable and pleasant way? Rarely do I want to treat a person nicely. Others can't get it even if they beg me for it!"
Shen Qiao's mouth twitched.
"Or could it be that I have accidentally offended Sect Master Yan without realizing while I was unconscious? If that was the case, I apologize to Sect Master Yan. Sect Master Yan is the bigger person here, so please don't bother with a blind man."
Yan Wushi suddenly burst into laughter, "Shen Qiao! Oh, Shen Qiao! They all say you're kind and sincere, but from what I see, that's hardly the case. What kind of sincere man cuts other people off all the time by making use of the fact that he is blind?"
Shen Qiao pursed his lips and didn't make a comment.
Using his right hand, Yan Wushi took Shen Qiao's pause. The latter shuddered but didn't dodge. It was hard to say whether he failed or if he had no intention to do so at all.
"You still can't see?"
Shen Qiao nodded, "Perhaps it's because I exhausted my inner qi before losing consciousness. Now there are still dull burning sensations around my eyes. It'll probably take a couple more days."
"No hurry. It's still a long way from here to Northern Zhou. We will be riding a carriage along the way, so you can take your time to recuperate."
Shen Qiao frowned, "To Northern Zhou?"
"Why? You don't want to go?"
This question was sheerly unnecessary.
There were no similarities between the two people's sects, their pasts, their temperaments, or even their conduct and personalities. For someone extremely conceited and arrogant like Yan Wushi, it was impossible for him to understand why Shen Qiao could still stay so calm even when he had fallen into such a situation. Not to mention as he was now being carried around — Shen Qiao was forced to parade through the streets. Eventually, someone would recognize that he was Mount Xuandu's former sect leader. By then, it would definitely attract lots of gossip.
There would always be people that would remain Shen Qiao over and over again about the bitter experiences that he didn't want to be reminded of. As the sect leader of the world's leading Daoist Sect, he had lost both his martial arts and his position, and he was betrayed by his junior martial brother. Everything he had defended with his heart and soul was disapproved of. Everyone thought what he did was wrong. It was as if all the beliefs and ideals he had had since his childhood were completely overthrown.
What was more pitiful was that he was also blind. For him, there was no difference between night and day. When placed in an unfamiliar environment, a few extra steps were all it took to trip him, let alone the little things like washing up and getting dressed in the morning.
Compared to only having your ears available when facing an enemy, these trifling details were much more frustrating.
Yan Wushi could hardly understand this kind of loser mentality, and neither was he interested in doing so. What really interested him was this person, Shen Qiao.
Even for a martial artist, if they lost all of their martial arts and changed from someone who could easily take away other people's lives into a weakling who would be bullied by all kinds of people, even if they did not become hysterical at a time like this, they would at least be overwhelmed by anxiety and depression.
As for this person who seemed so gentle and soft, how hard of a bone did he have inside him that he was able to stay this calm?
Shen Qiao nodded, "I'm afraid Sect Master Yan's schedule for the trip will be affected by me again. I'm really sorry."
Yan Wushi thought he wouldn't want to go to Northern Zhou. He was expecting him to decline or raise an objection. However, Shen Qiao's compliance came to him as a surprise. He suggested with his tongue in his cheek, "Or you can choose to go back to Mount Xuandu, find a place in Xuandu Town, and wait for an opportunity to meet with the other martial brothers and elders. Maybe they hold different opinions from Yu Ai and will support you in reclaiming the position of the sect leader."
Shen Qiao knew perfectly well that Yan Wushi was probably just fanning the flames, trying to stir up hatred between him and Mount Xuandu, but he still shook his head and answered his question, "My martial arts is failing me right now. Besides, I lost to Kunye. I don't have the face to lead Mount Xuandu again even if I do go back. Since Yu Ai is already the regent sect leader, he must have control over the mouthpiece of the sect. I would end up being held hostage if I put myself in it. It would be better for me to stay away from them, then maybe I can make some things clear."
Speaking of this, he smiled, "Didn't Sect Master Yan once say that it was because of my ignorance of temporal affairs and my obliviousness of human minds that I have fallen into the current situation? Sect Master Yan holds an important position in Northern Zhou, so if I follow you, I can definitely learn a lot so as not to make more mistakes and recommit the same errors. It would be my blessing then."
Yan Wushi raised his eyebrows, "So you don't care anymore about Yu Ai's cooperation with the Tujue people?"
Shen Qiao shook his head, "There are lots of hidden stories behind it. I believe that Sect Master Yan can tell as well. After Hulugu left after his defeat, there hasn't been any news about him for more than twenty years. Kunye showed up in the pugilistic world under Hulugu's order. His appearance can't be as simple as challenging me. There must be a deeper conspiracy behind his collaboration with Yu Ai. I heard that Sect Master Yan happened to come into contacts with Kunye before. From your opinion, do you think he is a reckless person?"
Yan Wushi didn't hide the truth from him, "His aptitude isn't bad. Given enough time, he may become another Hulugu. During our fights, even though he couldn't win against me even if he went all out, he obviously held back a trick or two. I don't know why he didn't put out all of his efforts so I teased him a few times, but he remained the same. In the end, he couldn't put up with me any longer and ran back to Xiongnu."
The implication was that if Kunye really was a hot-headed, brainless person, even if he was fully aware that he wasn't Yan Wushi's match, he couldn't have tolerated it for such a long time without trying his best even once.
Shen Qiao's eyebrows slightly furrowed as he pondered over it.
Many things started to connect, and the truth was settling into a faint shape. But at the moment, the shape didn't seem to be clear enough. It was like an enormous ball of string. Everything was in utter confusion and chaos. He still couldn't grasp the end of that thread and thus remained puzzled in regards to many aspects.
He sighed, "It seems that things are really like what Sect Master Yan has said. I knew little about the current situation of the world, and I was so narrow-minded yet so self-satisfied with being a stick-in-the-mud. As for what Yu Ai has done, I am responsible for it too. It's because of my ignorance that I can't even guess what they're trying to do."
Yan Wushi sneered, "Where did you get all these emo-like reflections? Absolute strength nullifies all schemes. As long as you are strong enough, it won't be a big problem even if you kill all of them. If these people dare to betray you, then they should be prepared for you to get back at them. Don't tell me that if you can understand their intentions, you'll even try to forgive them?"
Shen Qiao felt rather hopeless towards his "kill them if things don't work out" attitude, "According to you, since Yu Ai is able to control Mount Xuandu, all of my martial brothers and the elders in the sect must have given him acquiescence to do so. My eldest senior brother, who has always been a peacemaker, also thinks that Junior Brother Yu is much more suitable as a sect leader than me. So should I just kill them all? These people are the pillars and cornerstones of Mount Xuandu. How can Mount Xuandu still be called a sect without them?"
Yan Wushi said almost maliciously, "Even if you can regain your martial arts in the future and you are able to take back the sect leader position, your friendship with your martial brothers and sisters can never go back to what it once was. Their betrayal will haunt you like a fish bone stuck in your throat. You'll never be able to get over it. As for them, even if you forgive them for what they did, do you think they'll believe that you don't mind?"
He continued to press on as he talked, his warm breath almost touching Shen Qiao's face.
Feeling uncomfortable, Shen Qiao turned his head away. "Everyone has evil intentions in their minds. The only difference is executing it or not. There's no need to give such harsh criticism."
Yan Wushi asked, "Oh? So does that mean that there are evil intentions in your mind as well? What are your evil intentions? Why don't you tell me about them?"
Shen Qiao wanted to retreat, but an arm blocked him at the waist. Having no other choice, he slightly arched his back.
Without him realizing, he was already pushed to the corner, and his back was tightly pressed against the wall. There was probably a painting hanging behind him as the roller at its end was right below his shoulder blades, hurting him badly.
"Ah-Qiao, what are your evil intentions? Tell me."
This "Ah-Qiao" almost gave Shen Qiao goosebumps, but before he could show the astonishment on his face, he was immediately lured by the other person's deep voice. With his mind in a trance, he opened his mouth and was about to answer.
Knock knock knock!
A stream of knocking sounds came from outside.
It slightly shocked Shen Qiao, and he sobered up at once.
"You used Enchantment  on me?!"
"This is called the Devilish Charm. The Cleansing Moon Sect is also one of the three Sun Moon Sects. Of course I know everything that the Harmony Sect knows. That silly girl Bai Rong, her skill is still far from perfect. If you listen more often, then you won't fall into her traps so easily next time."
Sect Master Yan wasn't ashamed in the least bit even with his trick being laid bare. In fact, he spoke with such a lofty tone as though it was an honor that Shen Qiao was able to make him use it.
Modest a gentleman as Shen Qiao was, how was he able to argue over Yan Wushi's pettifogging? He was so angry that he started to laugh, "So according to Sect Master Yan, I should even thank you instead?"
Yan Wushi commented, "Sure. Thank me."
Enchantment (魅术 Mei Shu): A more literal translation would be Art of Seduction, referring to the skills of enticing/seducing/luring people.