Thousand Autumns - Chapter 27
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Shen Qiao had the intent to kill.
Ying Prefecture was quite far from Chang'an. The distance was almost equivalent to traveling halfway across Northern Zhou. However, with Yan Wushi's level of lightness skill, arriving there in two days was not impossible at all. Therefore, as soon as he received Yan Wushi's letter, Bian Yanmei, Yan Wushi's eldest disciple, immediately sent people to take care of his master's residence in the capital so that Yan Wushi could move in right away when he arrived.
Yan Wushi didn't have an active position in the court of Zhou. But because the Emperor of Zhou relied heavily upon him, he was given a title as the Junior Preceptor of the Crown Prince. This position was said to "serve the crown prince", but the crown prince, Yuwen Yun, had his own officials from the Eastern Palace  and erudite councilors to teach him. There was no need to bother Yan Wushi about it.
In order to show how much he valued Yan Wushi, the Emperor of Zhou even gifted him a residence so he would have a place to live in during his stays in the capital.
The Cleansing Moon Sect had enough money, and Yan Wushi had his own mansion in Chang'an. In fact, he rarely stayed at the Junior Preceptor's Residence. Therefore, even though it was equipped with all the necessary servants and furniture, since it had long been without a master, the place inevitably seemed a little unattended. The only reason why Bian Yanmei ordered them to hurry and fix it up was because this time, Yan Wushi had specifically instructed that he was going to stay there.
However, he had been waiting for a couple of days and his master still hadn't shown up. Bian Yanmei was a little puzzled, but with Yan Wushi's ability, he didn't need to worry too much. Perhaps his master was delayed by some events on the road. It was just that recently, the Emperor of Zhou kept calling him in to report to the palace and he kept asking him where Yan Wushi was, saying that he wished to meet him in person soon. Because of this, Bian Yanmei sent several people to wait in the relay stations along the road to keep himself informed of his master's arrival at the capital.
It wasn't until today, March 3rd, the Maiden Festival, a day when all the girls in the city would go hiking in the city's outskirts, did he finally receive the news which was sent out ahead of time from the relay station in Luo Prefecture. It said that Yan Wushi was going to arrive soon.
Master was coming. As a disciple, of course it was his duty to go out and greet him. Bian Yanmei intentionally set all of his businesses aside and came out from the city to wait for Yan Wushi in person. Unfortunately, because it was the Maiden Festival today, the place was particularly crowded. Not only did the pretty daughters of the commoners hike out there, even the precious ladies of the wealthy and the noble families had come out in carriages. In addition to the numerous servants they brought and the merchants traveling in and out, the scene could even be compared to that of the Lantern Festival — it was jam-packed.
Under such a situation, no matter how skilled Bian Yanmei was in martial arts, it was of no use unless he was going to step on other people's heads and the tops of their carriages. That would certainly cause a lot of trouble, and it wasn't even necessarily going to be much faster. Therefore, he simply gave up the idea of riding a carriage and decided to walk.
His personal servant, Ji Ying, had been with him for many years. Bian Yanmei's everyday life while living in the capital was mainly taken care of by him — a loyal and devoted person, and he was pretty good in martial arts. He insisted on going together. Bian Yanmei thought for a moment and agreed.
They avoided the crowd and took a detour through the little alleys. However, they were still blocked by the carriages at the city gate for quite a while before they were finally able to come out.
There was a tea stop three miles away from the city. Due to its crude furnishings, not many people stopped there during their spring hikes. However, from this place, one had a clear view of anyone entering the city. Bian Yanmei walked in and ordered two cups of tea, then sat down to wait together with Ji Ying.
Ji Ying looked quite nervous, "Mister, could it be that we have arrived late? Maybe Master Yan is already inside the city?"
Bian Yanmei replied, "Unlikely. We arrived pretty early. Let's just wait a little longer."
Seeing the way Ji Ying was holding his tea cup without drinking it, he couldn't help but laugh, "It's not your first time seeing Master. Why are you still so nervous? It's not like Master is going to eat you!"
Ji Ying was about to cry, "I was being inconsiderate last time when I was handling a matter, and Master Yan gave me a lesson for it. I just hope he won't give me another one this time!"
"Relax. If Master finds out that you don't belong to the Cleansing Moon Sect, he will just kill you at the most and won't give you a lesson."
Ji Ying was taken aback. "Mister, I don't understand what you're talking about…"
Bian Yanmei smiled, "You're indeed very good at imitating Ji Ying's behavior and his speech that you almost deceived me. Unfortunately, you've made an enormous mistake."
Since he was already exposed, "Ji Ying" stopped putting on the humble expression of a low-level servant. "I would like to hear about it."
"Ji Ying respects Master, but he is also afraid of him. In fact, he is much more afraid of him. He would never ask to come out and greet aster together with me. You were good at imitating everything else, but you missed this one."
"Ji Ying" broke into a series of sinister laughs, "You have proved yourself to be capable enough as Yan Wushi's eldest disciple, but I wasn't planning on pretending all the way either!"
The smile on Bian Yanmei's face disappeared. "Who are you? Where's Ji Ying?"
"Ji Ying" asked back quite proudly, "How can a smart person like you not have guessed my identity? If you know who I am, then why do you still need to ask where your servant is? We're old enemies. How can you not recognize me?"
Bian Yanmei froze for a moment and his expression changed. "The Harmony Sect? You're Huo Xijing!"
Huo Xijing was notorious for his face-switching art. There was no way for a person whose face was peeled by him to remain alive. Even though Ji Ying also knew a little bit of martial arts, he definitely was not Huo Xijing's match. In fact, had Bai Rong not interrupted him in the middle, even Shen Qiao and Chen Gong would not have escaped successfully when they ran into Huo Xijing last time.
No one could tell how old Huo Xijing really was. He might be in his thirties or forties, or he might be over fifty or even sixty already. He would change into a new face every once in a while and he especially would pick those pretty ones. Over these years, he had peeled over dozens or possibly even hundreds of faces. Both the orthodox sects and the underworld gangs would cringe at the sound of his name.
Of course, the Harmony Sect was widely known for hunting others through the art of seduction to cultivate. They didn't have a good reputation to start with, but still, for someone like Huo Xijing, whom everyone loathed or even hated to the bone, his reputation was corrupted to a certain degree.
Huo Xijing laughed out loud, "Brother Bian, why are you looking at me like this? In fact, you can even say that we're disciples from the same origin. We haven't had a chance to meet each other for many years, and I really want to catch up with you. I haven't come to kill or fight!"
Bian Yanmei replied coldly, "Ji Ying was with me for many years, yet you peeled his face and killed him. I would be a disgrace to my family if I don't avenge him today!"
Huo Xijing quickly retreated several steps before the other person could attack, "Brother Bian, don't get me wrong. I didn't know he was your man when I took a fancy to his face that day. He only told me about it after I was halfway done. You see, even if I stopped then, he wouldn't have been able to save his face or his life anyway. It would be better to benefit me instead. In any case, with the presence of this face, you can always remember him. I come today to pay respects to your master under the order of my master. There's an important matter he would like to discuss."
He made little of Ji Ying's life. At first, he thought once he dropped Sang Jingxing's name, it would at least give Bian Yanmei some scruples. However, much to his surprise, the other person attacked at once without any hesitation. Bian Yanmei gathered his fingers together and extended them towards Huo Xijing like a knife, the eerie chilliness coming down right at him from above was as if the inner qi had solidified.
Huo Xijing barely managed to dodge it. He had to retreat a dozen or so steps before he could find an opportunity to fight back. But the other person followed closely after, every move of his powerful and oppressive. The little tea stop became a battlefield in an instant. The tables and chairs around them were in disarray. The owner and the customers fled in fear and were nowhere to be seen within a short moment.
For the same set of Spring Water Fingering, it carried an arrogant and domineering momentum when Yan Wushi used it. In Bian Yanmei's hands, however, it was more swift and fierce. He integrated the Cleansing Moon Blade Style into the fingering art. There was no blade in his hand, but the power was greater than if there was: with a spirit like the rippling of autumn water, the momentum of his hand was enough to cut through a mountain single-handedly. Clearing the road with blood and filling the river with corpses, it enveloped every inch of the space around them, nothing could escape!
Huo Xijing was the disciple of Sang Jingxing, one of the Top Ten experts. He himself was also shameless enough to fawn on his master and he even hunted beautiful girls to present to his master on a regular basis. He could be considered as a favored disciple by Sang Jingxing and thus was often unbridled in what he did. Otherwise, with all the evil deeds he had committed such as peeling other people's faces, he would have been arrested and chopped to pieces by his enemies long ago.
As a result, his self-ego started to boost over time. He didn't take Bian Yanmei seriously since this eldest disciple of Yan Wushi's was responsible for handling the relationship between the Cleansing Moon Sect and the imperial court of Northern Zhou. He often busied himself with maintaining contacts with those government officials, and he even held a government position himself; he must be using his brains most of the time instead of his hands and was therefore not necessarily outstanding in terms of martial arts.
However, taking one's enemy lightly often brought calamity to oneself. Even though he would not fall under the other person's control in a minute, it was also not easy for him to gain the upper hand.
Bian Yanmei deliberately wanted to take his life. He wasn't going to show mercy on him simply because they were both from Demonic sects. It was just that Huo Xijing's level of martial arts didn't allow him to do things so easily. They exchanged a few hundred moves, but neither could do anything to the other person. Bian Yanmei was able to gain a little bit of an advantage, but that was all.
Huo Xijing was a little tired of fighting and was pondering whether he should continue or just leave. If he continued, he might be able to find a chance to backstab Bian Yanmei. He could then use him to threaten Yan Wushi to give in, or he could bring him back to his master for credit. But coming from the Demonic sects, neither of them was the naive and innocent type, and hence it wasn't easy to plot against Bian Yanmei. Despite having fought for a long time, Huo Xijing still couldn't find an opening.
Right at this moment, he heard someone flatly say, "It would be a shame to say you are my disciple if you can't even take down trash like him."
As if the voice had exploded next to his ear, Huo Xijing felt his chest shake so badly that he nearly spat out blood. He was greatly shocked, and his face paled as he was going to flee despite everything!
The distraction in this split second was exactly what gave Bian Yanmei the opportunity to hit Huo Xijing's unprotected opening. The latter cried out of pain and flew backwards, but he somehow managed to turn over in midair and even tried to use the chance to escape!
However, his body unexpectedly halted in the middle of the leap and immediately crashed onto the ground!
Putting his hand over his chest, Huo Xijing panted, staring blankly at the handsome man in black who had appeared under a tree not far from him.
Next to him was another person who was supporting himself with a bamboo stick and appeared to be quite sickly.
Without a doubt, the man in black was Yan Wushi.
Huo Xijing was exceptionally obsessed with beautiful faces. The moment he saw the person next to Yan Wushi, he immediately realized that it was the man from that day whose face he wanted to peel but was ruined by Bai Rong.
However, at this very moment, he couldn't bring up any interest in that face no matter what because he didn't even know whether he would be able to save his only life.
"Greetings, Sect Master Yan. I'm Huo Xijing. I'm here to pay respects to our grand elder  on behalf of my master, Sang Jingxing." Huo Xijing forced out a smile as if he was facing a mortal enemy.
The furies of those whose faces were peeled by him probably had never imagined that the brutal and arrogant Huo Xijing would one day act in such a humble and submissive manner.
Just like how the old saying had it, "the biter is sometimes bitten." Now, Huo Xijing wished he could shrink into a ball and dig himself into a crack on the ground. It would be the best if the other person couldn't even see him.
"Grand elder? Am I that old?" Yan Wushi replied nonchalantly. There was a smile-like expression on his face.
Huo Xijing was racking his brains trying to find some words to flatter Yan Wushi with so that the latter would let him off. However, with this sudden interruption, his expression froze at once. He gaped at the other person speechlessly, and he couldn't think of anything else to say.
Bian Yanmei repressed the excitement inside him and bowed reverently, "Greetings, Master. Has everything been going well with Master lately?"
Yan Wushi shot a glance at him, "You spend all your time dealing with court officials. Presumably, you don't practice martial arts often enough so that you can't even win against trash like him?"
Bian Yanmei was greatly embarrassed, "Master was right. I'm sorry."
As for the "trash" Huo Xijing, the deep grudge in his heart caused his face to darken, but he dared not speak a word.
After Yan Wushi appeared, he had already given up the thought of gaining any advantages from the other party. The best choice for him right now was to run away, but there was also the problem of how. While the other two people were talking, Huo Xijing kept looking around from the corner of his eye, searching for the best escape route.
He had killed the servant of Yan Wushi's disciple. As a master, even if he didn't take revenge himself, he wouldn't stop his disciple from doing so. All of them were from the Demonic sects. Neither was any more innocent than the other. Huo Xijing knew there was no way that Bian Yanmei was going to suddenly have mercy on him and let him off, but since Yan Wushi was here, it was practically impossible for him to escape.
Huo Xijing glanced around and spotted Shen Qiao who was standing behind Yan Wushi.
A plan came to his mind. He took action immediately and sprung up from where he was, throwing himself at Shen Qiao!
But he would soon realize it was the worst decision he had ever made.
It all happened within a blink of an eye before anyone could respond to it. Bian Yanmei wasn't sure about the relationship between Shen Qiao and his master. He was a little surprised when he saw Huo Xijing's action, but since Yan Wushi didn't move, he remained still as well.
You couldn't say Huo Xijing was slow. His figure almost became an afterimage as soon as he pounced on Shen Qiao!
He was about to catch the other person's wrist, but Shen Qiao suddenly slipped away from his hand like a fish.
Huo Xijing's heart sank at once. He sensed that something was not right. Without hesitating, as soon as his attack missed, he immediately pulled back and retreated.
He didn't even dare to spare a glance at Yan Wushi's direction, fearing that even wasting a moment like this would affect his escape!
However, things once again went beyond his expectations. The person coming after him wasn't Yan Wushi. It was the person he had tried to sneak attack just now!
The bamboo stick was turquoise and smooth. Because it was constantly struck against the ground, it was a little split at the end. Nowadays, literati and officials often liked to buy carrying poles from the porters at the foot of the hill before climbing mountains in case they became exhausted halfway up. Shen Qiao's bamboo stick was no different from those.
The bamboo stick lunged towards him in a seeming ordinary and simple way. There wasn't any beautiful and fancy moves. However, Huo Xijing's expression changed. He detected the dense cold air bubbling up within it. It came towards him right in the face like a hatchet next to his neck or a sharp blade above his head. It was still at first, but when it moved, it was like the wind and rain carrying the cloud forward with them.
Only then did Huo Xijing realize that what he thought to be a "pushover" was actually a "hot potato"!
It was too late to regret. If Shen Qiao was the only one present, then there would be nothing to be scared of. But Yan Wushi was right on the side, and it made him extremely anxious. He wasn't in the mood of involving himself in a prolonged fight, so he had no choice but to retreat in a hurry — a retreat that lasted several dozen meters.
Who would have thought that Shen Qiao would closely chase after him? His footwork seemed so light that it almost made himself appear to be nonexistent. But it was steady like a monolith at the same time, so he was actually able to keep Huo Xijing close at hand.
While watching coldly from the side, Bian Yanmei was actually quite surprised. The footworks of the Cleansing Moon Sect particularly focused on agility and aesthetics. The footwork Shen Qiao was using resembled the Cleansing Moon Sect's style to some degrees, but they were still quite different. It seemed to contain the changes from the primordial eight trigrams and Zi Wei Dou Shu . One might think they could easily see through it with the first glance, but looking closely at it again, it was just as chaotic and confusing. The mystery and profoundness of it would take up one's lifetime to study carefully.
The other person seemed to have some problems with his eyes. It should have been an obvious sign, but after searching through his mind, he still couldn't think of such an expert in the pugilist world. He turned to his master, and the latter wasn't even the least bit surprised. Therefore, Bian Yanmei had to hold back all of his questions as he continued to watch the fight.
Shen Qiao indeed wanted Huo Xijing dead.
It was only because this notorious man was already up to his neck for his crimes. As soon as he found a beautiful person to his liking, he would peel their face and then put it on himself. On occasions when this strange hobby broke out, he could sometimes switch to two or three faces in one month. The ones whose faces were taken away by him sure couldn't have survived. Besides, Huo Xijing didn't care whether his target belonged to the pugilistic world or not. Once they were locked by him, their chances of getting away were slim.
Of course, the families of those victims hated Huo Xijing in their hearts and souls, but the man was very skilled in martial arts and he was also protected by the Harmony Sect. Therefore, many people simply couldn't do anything to him. Some who tried to avenge their relatives even ended up getting murdered.
Buddhism had the saying of "carrying out the heart of bodhisattva through thunderlike methods", and the doctrine of Daoism also stressed, "eliminate the evil, promote the virtuous". Shen Qiao was gentle and soft in nature and did not become angry easily. But once he was truly in rage, he was the type that pressed it to the end. Right now, he had already made up his mind to get rid of this source of evil called Huo Xijing. Hence he showed no mercy in his attacks. Each move of his was quick and fierce, determined in completely rooting out the wickedness.
If it was before he was injured, Huo Xijing by no means could be a match for Shen Qiao. But now, with only half of his martial power left and the inconvenience of his eyes, even though The Strategy of the Vermillion Yang was effective on ridding impurity and promoting purity; Quietus was a rare poison after all. Its effects were too drastic and it damaged his body at that time. As a result, there was still some remaining poison inside his body which hadn't disappeared. It was not something one could detoxify by merely saying so.
Therefore, the two of them kept on fighting, and one actually couldn't tell who had the upper hand.
Huo Xijing didn't want to fight against Shen Qiao at all. Although Yan Wushi didn't join the fight, his presence alone was like a ferocious beast glaring at his prey on the side. No one could tell if he would suddenly attack when he felt like it. He was anxious to get away, but Shen Qiao refused to let him go. The more Huo Xijing fought, the more fretful he became. He wished he could just choke Shen Qiao to death and be done with it, but he simply wasn't able to, so he could only sink deeper into the swamp.
When a person was distracted by his own impatience, they would inevitably show flaws in their movements. Shen Qiao couldn't see clearly right now, but he mostly had been using his mind to deal with his enemy. At this moment, facing his temporarily unguarded opponent and using his stick as a sword, he turned the feint into a real move, pointing right at Huo Xijing's heart!
The bamboo stick appeared to be light as a feather and gentle as a lover caressing one's cheek, though Huo Xijing was very much aware that it would probably pierce through his chest if he were hit by it. He clenched his teeth and halted his forward movement, then forced himself to bend backwards in the hopes of avoiding the other person's offense while striking out a palm at the same time. The palm was filled with inner qi, and the wind and thunder surged within it. He thought the other person would surely withdraw.
However, not only did Shen Qiao not retreat or dodge to the side, neither did he slow down his momentum or take a look at Huo Xijing's palm coming right at him. After the clash, his body was uninjured, and the palm passed directly through him as if he was a specter.
Shadow Shifter? Huo Xijing turned pale with fright. Wasn't that Qi Fengge's supreme feat which he was known for throughout the world during those years?
Before his body could react, he felt a sharp, pricking pain on his back.
The pain was so hard to endure. It was as if a hand was trying to pluck his heart directly out of his chest. Huo Xijing couldn't hold back and shrieked!
Yet Shen Qiao wasn't able to pierce all the way through him with his bamboo stick. Tightly grasped by an invisible hand, the stick couldn't advance any further!
Shen Qiao's expression changed!
Yan Wushi: Ah-qiao, you looked so magnificent and awe-inspiring just now. It's rare to see a normally gentle person taking such a thunder-like approach. I've developed a whole new level of respect for you.
Shen Qiao: I don't know why, but listening to you complimenting me somehow makes me shudder.
Yan Wushi: The director, King Meow, said we should let you improvise more in such scenes and that I shouldn't interfere.
King Meow (the author): You're the one having fun watching the play! You go count yourself how many times Sect Leader Shen has spat blood since he appeared in the story!
Yan Wushi (lets out a light 'ah'): At least he hasn't died yet, right?
Shen Qiao (turns away): Forget it. I'm going back to my solitary cell on Mount Xuandu.
Yu Ai: Brother, come (づ￣3￣)づ╭
 Eastern Palace: Where the crown prince lives.
 grand elder: Huo Xijing's was using a polite way to address old people.
 Zi Wei Dou Shu: A branch of Chinese astrology.
 Sect Breakdown: (with their school and supported country) I understand there are a lot of names going on and it might be quite hard to follow, so I've listed some of the ones that appear more often. Later as more characters show up, I will update a detailed one.