Thousand Autumns - Chapter 26
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: I bet you treated that Junior Brother Yu of yours with even more compassion and tenderness before, right?
Yan Wushi had dragged him into this convolution. However, even without the trouble caused by him, Shen Qiao would still have liked to meet Xie Xiang.
He could tell Xie Xiang was not a bragger just from the speech he gave in the hall about the state of the world.
Shen Qiao spoke up, "I was quite enlightened by mister's brilliant views. May I have the pleasure of asking for some advice on my martial arts as well?"
No one would despise listening to kind words. After hearing what Shen Qiao said, Xie Xiang could no longer throw a dark face at him even though he didn't have a favorable opinion of Shen Qiao. It was just that he was anticipating Yan Wushi to be his match, but now it was this person whom no one had heard of. It would diminish his prestige whether he won or not, so he replied coldly, "Thank you for your praise. Xie still has errands to run for my master. I'm afraid I don't have time."
Yan Wushi suggested almost sarcastically, "You want to fight with me, don't you? I'll fight you if you win against him first."
Linchuan Institute was a famous Confucian sect, and Ruyan Kehui ranked third among all contemporary martial artists. As his disciple, how bad could Xie Xiang be?
In the past, Shen Qiao spent most of his time on Mount Xuandu and rarely set foot in the outside world. To put it in a good way, one could say he was otherworldly, but to put it in a bad way, his ignorance of the changes happening in the world was exactly the seed which induced the later coup on Mount Xuandu. Now, as he traveled in the mundane world, it was inevitable for him to come into contact with all kinds of people. He lost over half of his martial arts, and it was not something he could fully recover overnight, nor could he regain it simply by locking himself inside the room and mulling over it.
Therefore, even though he clearly knew Yan Wushi was just fanning the flames, Shen Qiao still insisted, "The untalented me would appreciate some guidance from Mister Xie."
Xie Xiang didn't know who Shen Qiao was, and neither was he aware of the fact that all of Shen Qiao's identity, status, and martial arts was once on the same level as his master's. No matter how good his self-control was, he finally started losing his temper after being provoked by Yan Wushi over and over again.
Having a fit of the sulks inside him, he couldn't help but sneer, "Fine, I'll show you my guidance then!"
He lunged toward Shen Qiao immediately after he finished talking. It was not a causal move. With his fingers slightly bent, his hand moved as fast as lightning. However, if one looked at it closely, the movement was rather beautiful. It was very much like plum flowers blooming or the sprinkling of fragrance powder from a beauty's hand — it rustled by as if thousands of flowering trees were blooming in riotous fusion.
The style of Linchuan Institute's martial arts was more simple and unadorned. It followed the principle that "great arts conceal itself", all of which except the "Golden Devastation" Xie Xiang was using right now. A dazzling sight to watch, it was the only set of martial arts from Linchuan Institute that prevailed on its complication and speed. It was also what Xie Xiang had used to make his name in the pugilistic world.
Xie Xiang was very confident of the success of this move, and neither did he plan to give Shen Qiao a heavy blow. He just wanted to break Shen Qiao's arm so that in the future, the other person would not be carried away by the little victories he possibly had.
What he didn't expect was that his fingertips only barely touched Shen Qiao's sleeves before he missed!
He couldn't hold back his surprised gasp and stepped forward for another try.
And he missed again!
Those were two extremely exquisite moves. If Shen Qiao had dodged it purely with blind luck the first time, there was no way he was just as lucky the second time.
Xie Xiang was not stupid. He too realized that Shen Qiao was not as weak and gullible as he appeared to be.
He became a lot more serious and even took out his weapon. It was a jade ruler. Even though it was made of jade, it was a piece of jade of extremely rare quality. The color of it was even brighter than that of red jade, to the point that one could almost see blood dripping out of it. If Xie Xiang were to fill this jade ruler with his inner qi, it would probably break the bones of anyone it hit.
However, Xie Xiang had hit a snag right now. Not only was his red ruler unable to hit Shen Qiao, it couldn't even get close to him. Whenever it was about to touch the other person, there would always be an invisible stream of inner qi pushing his ruler to the side.
Xie Xiang purposely wanted to prove himself. The red light surrounding the ruler suddenly brightened!
It brought howling storms with it along the path, whistling and showering down at Shen Qiao!
Each hook and stroke it made could nearly tear down the heavens and the earth, and the stream of air brought up by its moves wrapped layer after layer around Shen Qiao. However, they could only swirl around him at a distance of three inches away from his body — they couldn't advance any further!
Xie Xiang was genuinely surprised. When he saw Shen Qiao's attacks just now, he thought he already had an idea of Shen Qiao's strength. What he didn't expect was that the real situation was way beyond what he had anticipated!
Shen Qiao didn't even try to see with his blurry vision. He simply closed his eyes and listened with his ears.
When Xie Xiang approached him and split open Shen Qiao's surrounding inner qi with his red ruler and then jumped to attack him from above, he also raised his bamboo stick just in time to block that jade ruler.
Two weapons clashed with each other, but surprisingly, the bamboo stick didn't break!
In this short period of time, these two people had already exchanged several dozen moves.
Zhan Ziqian wasn't concerned about the fight in the beginning, but now he couldn't help but worry about his junior martial brother. He held his breath as he watched the two of them exchanging moves, fearing that he would make a sound that might disturb Xie Xiang. He slowed down his breaths and didn't even blink.
In contrast, Yan Wushi was still leisurely standing there with his hands clasped behind his back, his face full of satisfaction as he enjoyed the show.
Linchuan Institute's martial arts were mostly of a profound and imposing style, but the more Xie Xiang fought, the fiercer his attacks became. In the end, his moves were completely ruthless. He had rarely experienced any setbacks ever since he appeared in the pugilistic world. Even for the ones he had, it was against other seniors and experts, and some of them were even ranked in the Top Ten. It was not a shame to lose to those people, but as for the person in front of him right now, not only had Xie Xiang never heard of him, he was even blind!
Xie Xiang couldn't even accept a draw, let alone losing to him.
Both of them were being careful with their moves. Therefore, even though they were fighting in the middle of the street, they intentionally kept the battle circle small. Xie Xiang was a little arrogant, but he didn't want to implicate the innocent people around them either. It was just that after a few hundred rounds, along with the inner qi flowing away from his body, Shen Qiao lightly sensed a lack of energy. It would be a disadvantage for him if this fight continued on. Thus, he pushed the bamboo stick heavily against the ground and jumped up with his sleeves spread out like an ascended immortal coming down to the earth as he stroked a palm towards his opponent from midair.
Xie Xiang followed closely after. He also made a palm stroke with one hand while immediately attacking with the jade ruler in his other hand. They fought palm-to-palm in midair, and both of them shook slightly. After that, they simultaneously withdrew their inner qi and slowly landed on the ground.
Seeing Xie Xiang's ghastly face, Zhan Ziqian hurried over and asked, "Junior brother, are you alright?"
Xie Xiang put his hand over his chest and frowned. He then slowly shook his head. When he looked at Shen Qiao again, the emotion in his eyes was completely different from the one he had before, "It was my fault to look down on others."
Shen Qiao replied, "Mister Xie is too humble. I'm injured as well."
Looking quite dejected, Xie Xiang said, "There are countless talents and experts hiding in this world. It was me thinking too highly of myself. I should never speak so arrogantly."
He looked back at Yan Wushi, "Sect Master Yan was right. I can't even win against your man, how can I be qualified to fight you?"
He then cupped his hands and left without giving Shen Qiao another glance.
"Hey! Hey!" Zhan Ziqian tried to call him, but seeing that Xie Xiang didn't even turn his head back, he had no choice but to chase after him. Right after he walked a few steps away, as if he had remembered something, he stopped, turned around to cup his hands at Shen Qiao and pulled an apologetic smile before he continued to chase after his junior martial brother.
Shen Qiao didn't seem to be in better condition either. Xie Xiang was Ruyan Kehui's proud disciple and the next Master in Charge of Linchuan Institute. Although his martial arts couldn't compare to those of the Top Ten yet, the gap was not impassable. Fighting him while having only half of his martial power and a sick body, Shen Qiao actually came out with a draw with much difficulty.
Xie Xiang was at most experiencing a little bit of lurching with his inner qi, but Shen Qiao directly spat out a mouthful of blood.
Yan Wushi heaved a sigh on the side, "Well, it seems like we can't go enjoy the flowers today!"
As he was expressing his remorse, he picked Shen Qiao up, carried him in his arms, and walked towards the inn.
Shen Qiao frowned and tried to struggle, "Sect Master Yan, I can walk by myself…"
"If you move again, I'll feed you with lip-cups once we go back."
Shen Qiao: "…"
Sometimes, he really felt that Yan Wushi would be better as a rogue or a gangster than as a sect master.
One would simply get used to injuries if they were wounded frequently enough.
Shen Qiao took another nap after they returned. When he woke up again, it was already pitch-dark outside. A faint and warm kind of plum fragrance filled the room. The candle flame was flickering as Yan Wushi was nowhere to be found.
He found his way up, put on his shoes, and got off the bed to ring the bell in the outer room. He was already proficient with this set of movements. Other people wouldn't be able to tell at all that he had problems with his eyes if they didn't closely look at him.
Soon, he heard someone knocking outside.
After the servant got the permission from Shen Qiao, he pushed the door open and came in with an attentive smile, "Mister, do you need anything?"
Shen Qiao asked, "What time is it now?"
"It's about 6 pm."
"Is there still food in the kitchen?"
"Yes, there is. If there's anything you would like, just tell me. The stove is still on, we can cook at any time!"
"Then can I have a bowl of plain congee and some side dishes please?"
The servant took note of his request. Seeing that Shen Qiao had no other instructions, he was about to leave, but Shen Qiao stopped him again, "If it's possible to cook some more complicated dishes, then could you please bring me a bowl of cat ears  and some marinated beef as well?"
"You're being too polite, mister. If guests need them, we'll always have them ready all year round! I'll tell them to prepare and send the dishes over right now. Just wait a moment!"
Shen Qiao nodded, "Thank you for your trouble."
All of these dishes were easy to make. Marinated beef was a cold and simple dish. They only needed to cut it into slices, and the cat ears were made fresh from flour dough and were boiled in a pot. Plain congee and small dishes were even simpler. In less than an hour, the dishes had already been delivered to the room.
Shen Qiao picked up the plain congee and started to slowly sip it. He only had a few gulps before someone pushed open the door again.
There was no need for him to spend the effort to look. He already knew who the person was just by the sound of their steps.
It was crisp and chilly in the night. Yan Wushi walked in with a swirl of cold air and sat down by the table.
"You've been easy to feed throughout the journey — just some plain congee and side dishes would be enough. So, did you order the cat ears and marinated beef for me?"
Shen Qiao only replied with a smile. Yan Wushi was right. He added two more dishes because he thought Yan Wushi would probably return soon.
Yan Wushi teased him, "You and I are but strangers that met each other by chance, and we are more like enemies than friends. Yet you still show so much consideration on trivial matters such as these. I bet you treated that Junior Brother Yu of yours with even more compassion and tenderness before, right?"
Shen Qiao put down his bowl and pulled a bitter smile, "Bringing up the topics that I don't want to talk about… Sect Master Yan is truly good at touching other people's sore spots!"
"I thought you were too impenetrable and senseless that no matter how much you were betrayed, you would treat everything just like before!"
Shen Qiao knew he was going to start on his humans-were-born-evil theory again, so he simply closed his mouth and didn't talk anymore.
However, it seemed like Yan Wushi had found pleasure in the detail of Shen Qiao preparing midnight snacks for him. With a sudden change in topic, he sighed with a smile, "Ah-qiao, you're so gentle and considerate. If you find your sweetheart one day, aren't you going to look after that person even more attentively? Whoever is lucky enough to be liked by you must have cultivated for several lifetimes for such a blessing!"
The word "Ah-qiao" shocked Shen Qiao like lightning that even his limbs turned numb. He couldn't help but refute, "Please don't joke like that, Sect Master Yan. I've decided to not marry anyone for the rest of my life ever since the day I converted to Daoism."
"Isn't there something called Daoist partners in Daoist sects? Well, if two people become Daoist partners, they don't need to care about secular etiquette like weddings anymore, right? You can't return to Mount Xuandu anyway, why don't go back to the Cleansing Moon Sect with me? If you don't want to be my disciple, I can offer you other 'title'!"
Shen Qiao felt his hair stand on end while listening to him — there was even a slight shift in his expression.
Considering that this person always acted on impulse, completely ignoring all social conventions, in addition to his unpredictable behavior, Shen Qiao couldn't tell if he was being serious or not. He frowned and replied, "I appreciate Sect Master Yan's immense fondness  of me…."
Right after he said the words "immense fondness", Yan Wushi let out a snort on the side, and Shen Qiao shut his mouth almost immediately.
Yan Wushi still failed to hold it back and burst into loud laughter. He laughed so hard that in the end, he even fell to the side. Pressing his hands against his stomach, he teased Shen Qiao, "Having something to laugh about after eating one's fill is just like having a snack after a meal. With Ah-qiao's seasoning, the joy is just too much for me to take!"
Till this point, how could Shen Qiao not realize that he had been tricked again? He tightly pursed his lips and closed his eyes. No matter what the other person said, he refused to say another word.
 cat ears: Not real cat ears. They're flour-based "noodles" that resemble the shape of cat ears.
 immense fondness: It's a standard start to reject people politely.