Thousand Autumns - Chapter 28
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: Shen Qiao already had no place to retreat and could only close his eyes and wait for his death.
Shen Qiao smelled some kind of fragrance. He slightly frowned and reacted extremely quickly by immediately letting go of the bamboo stick. With another performance of Shadow Shifter, he was already a great distance away from his previous location.
It was called 'Shadow Shifter', but frankly speaking, it was just a brilliant lightness skill. Within a second after Shen Qiao withdrew his hand, the bamboo stick cracked and exploded, its fragments darting rapidly towards him!
If he had pulled his hand back just a little later, he would have ended up just like that stick.
The bamboo stick was destroyed in a moment, but Shen Qiao's movement had not stopped at all. Fast and swift like the wind, he quickly retreated to the tree he was originally standing under and raised his sleeves at the same time. The bamboo chips shooting right at him fell and scattered all over the ground as if they had run into some sort of invisible barrier.
"Was I so cut off from the world? Since when did we have such an expert in the pugilistic circle?" Along with the fragrant breeze and a stream of laughter, a woman in white appeared next to Huo Xijing.
She was extremely beautiful, her white dress and silk belt rustled and danced in the wind like an immortal character who had stepped out from the preceding dynasty's paintings. Only her eyes weren't as cold. On the contrary, they were glistening and alluring; even her voice was so delicate and sweet to its core that one could almost feel their bones getting lighter when hearing it.
When Bian Yanmei saw her, however, not only did he show no sign of being bewitched, he became even more solemn and alarmed.
Huo Xijing was lying on the ground spewing blood. He thought his doom was near, but then he suddenly saw this woman appear. He went into rapture, reacting in the exact opposite of Bian Yanmei: "Sect master! Sect master help me! They're trying to kill me!"
As if he had found the floating wood which could save his life, he wished he could throw himself at her and hold onto the woman's thigh as he wept. Fortunately, he was still able to keep the last of his senses and restrained himself from performing such an action, and he continued to cry for help only with his mouth.
The woman didn't even look at him. She swiped her glance across Shen Qiao and Bian Yanmei, then fixed her eyes on Yan Wushi, smiling as she greeted him, "It has been over ten years since I last saw you, Yan-lang . It's hard to imagine how ten years have passed so fast, yet you are still as handsome and as graceful as ever. You have really won me over!"
Yan Wushi didn't reply. It was Bian Yanmei who spoke up, "Huo Xijing just killed my servant. Judging by the way Sect Master Yuan speaks, are you going to just pretend that it never happened?"
Yuan Xiuxiu's eyes wandered about as she smiled sweetly, "Huo Xijing indeed belongs to our Harmony Sect, but he falls under Sang Jingxing's order and has nothing to do with me. The reason that I came today is to discuss an important matter with Sect Master Yan. If Sect Master Yan complies with my request, I might as well leave him at your disposal."
Huo Xijing's face turned ghastly.
Bian Yanmei sneered, "Aren't Sect Master Yuan's words a little too heartless? They say, 'once a lover, always a lover'. No matter how you put it, Sang Jingxing has a rather deep relationship with you, and hence there is some sort of kinship between you and his disciple as well. If news gets out that you don't even care about his life or death, it'll probably disappoint your other disciples!"
Yuan Xiuxiu didn't even turn a hair: "If other people wanted his life, of course I wouldn't let them have it. But if Yan-lang wants it, I must of course do you this favor!"
She looked at Yan Wushi. There seemed to be endless tenderness and affection in her eyes. "We haven't seen each other for ten years, do you really not wish to talk to me?"
If any other woman acted like this, Bian Yanmei might have believed that there was some kind of history between them and his master. But the Harmony Sect and the Cleansing Moon Sect were of the same origin, so he was very aware that every word this woman spoke, and even every expression of hers, carried Enchantment with it.
However, despite knowing about it, whenever he heard her voice or saw her smile, Bian Yanmei would still be ravished and affected by it. Thus he could only force himself to not look.
Yan Wushi finally said, "There's something I want to tell you since long ago."
"Go ahead, Yan-lang," said Yuan Xiuxiu, her eyes smiling.
"If you want to dress up like a fairy, then don't put on such a licentious look. It may work with other men, but it only makes me sick. It would be better if you can cover your face too next time so as to not spoil my appetite."
Bian Yanmei and Shen Qiao: "…"
Yuan Xiuxiu: "…"
Bian Yanmei had a hard time holding back his laugh.
Yuan Xiuxiu's face turned livid from anger. She glared at Yan Wushi as though he was already a dead man.
However, only a moment later, she resumed the smile on her face. "Yan-lang is right. I'll change my style as soon as I return. I'll change into anything you like if only it makes you happy."
Yan Wushi raised his brows. "It's been ten years, but you haven't changed at all. You're still as hypocritical as ever."
Pretending to not have heard it, Yuan Xiuxiu suggested softly, "Can we find a quiet place so I can tell you everything in detail?"
"You know I can only stay patient for so long."
"Yan-lang, you've really got a heart of steel. I wonder what kind of woman it takes to attract you. Back then, I tried every possible way to entice you, but you still didn't agree to spend a night with me. I almost thought I was unattractive to men!" Yuan Xiuxiu sighed. "I'm sure Yan-lang knows that Zhou intends to start a war against Qi?"
Yuan Xiuxiu continued, "When the Sun Moon Sect was still far-famed, no one had even heard about sects like the Linchuan Institute. Nowadays, like how a monkey can reign the mountain when the tiger is away, it's all because our Sun Moon Sect has fallen apart. So they took advantage of it and came to the top. If the Cleansing Moon Sect and the Harmony Sect sincerely work together, how can the old bald donkey Xueting and that old pedant Ruyan Kehui be our match?"
Yan Wushi made no comment.
Yuan Xiuxiu was confident that her Enchantment would be irresistible to anyone else, but when she was facing Yan Wushi, who not only had strong martial power but was also from the Demonic Sect, no matter how brilliant her Enchantment was, it was no use.
Hatred began to grow inside her, but her expression was still and just as adorable as before: "If Yan-lang agrees to convince the Emperor of Zhou to give up on attacking Qi, I'm willing to do anything for you!"
Startled, Yuan Xiuxiu slipped out a "What?"
Yan Wushi explained, "Didn't you just say you were willing to do anything? If you can remove the name 'Harmony' and merge your sect with the Cleansing Moon Sect, then I can convince the Emperor of Zhou to not attack Qi."
The smile on Yuan Xiuxiu's face started to fade. "Yan-lang, why do you have to be so aggressive? The Linchuan Institute is looking beyond seeing a war between Zhou and Qi. If that happens, we would just be letting the Southern Chen have the advantage at no cost. If you agree to convince the Emperor of Zhou to stop, I'll try to persuade the Emperor of Qi to cede all land to the north of Heng Prefecture and Shuo Prefecture to Zhou. How does that sound?"
"To the north of Heng Prefecture and Shuo Prefecture is the Great Wall. If I remember correctly, that area borders Tujue's territory."
Yuan Xiuxiu smiled, "Don't tell me that the Emperor of Zhou will decline the offer of such a large piece of land!"
"Qi is but a fly in the web, why should the Emperor of Zhou seek the small instead of the big and covet this petite benefit?"
He really took his time, retorting only after the other person made an argument. Till this point, Yuan Xiuxiu finally understood that Yan Wushi had no intention to cooperate with the Harmony Sect at all. He was just monkeying with her.
The smile on her face had now completely disappeared. "Yan-lang, I didn't think you would still be so arrogant after so long. You were injured by Cui Youwang ten years ago. Do you really think that now, after Cui Youwang's death, you're already the best in the world?"
"I don't know if I'm the best in the world, but I'm better than you at least. Sometimes I too find it a little strange. Ambitious a man as Sang Jingxing is, why didn't he replace you but instead resigned himself to stay as your adulterer?"
Yuan Xiuxiu giggled, "You think it's strange? Then why not give it a try yourself? Or maybe you're the kind that only knows how to talk but is all show in bed!"
She was obviously enraged by Yan Wushi. Before her voice faded, her sleeves had already puffed up. A dozen or so thin, transparent needles darted towards Yan Wushi and Shen Qiao!
They traveled even faster than the gale in a storm and were almost invisible to the naked eye!
Yuan Xiuxiu didn't think she could injure Yan Wushi with these needles. Meanwhile, she herself swung into the air like an spectre, and a pair of black swords had already appeared in her hands. The light covering the swords brightened, blocking Yan Wushi from both his left and right!
Admittedly, the Harmony Sect was known for their Enchantment and sexual cultivation, but as the sect master, Yuan Xiuxiu's strength should never be looked down upon. Among the contemporary Top Ten martial artists, simply because she was a woman and seldomly displayed her skills in front of others, she was ranked only second to last. However, from her fight against Yan Wushi alone, it was very clear that her actual strength was much greater than people thought.
With Yan Wushi's current level of martial arts, her being able to exchange a dozen or so moves without showing any signs of a disadvantage was already enough evidence of how greatly Yuan Xiuxiu was underestimated.
This was a marvelous and intense battle between two grandmasters. Bian Yanmei knew there was no room for him to interfere, but he didn't want to let such an opportunity out of his grasp for him to observe and study. Dazzled by its brilliance, he was entirely absorbed in the fight to the point of almost becoming selfless.
Realizing that it was an opportunity hard to come by, Huo Xijing decided to sneak away regardless of his serious injury.
However, as soon as he applied his lightness skill and before he could even make a few steps, he heard the wind whistling behind him. By the time he wanted to wring his body to dodge it, it was already too late. A light chill spread itself out on his back, and he looked down subconsciously.
A blood-tainted tree branch penetrated his back and directly pierced through his heart. There were even some small lumps of flesh at its tip — those pieces were his heart!
Huo Xijing's eyes popped out. He was still wearing the face of Bian Yanmei's servant, and because it had turned stiff, the scene was particularly creepy to look at. As if he couldn't believe he would die like this himself, he tried to turn around and remember his enemy, but a large glob of blood spouted out from his mouth as soon as he moved. He fell forward, then became still.
Huo Xijing, the living devil in people's eyes who had done all the evil deeds he possibly could, ended up meeting his judgement at this place.
It almost seemed like he had a hard time accepting that fact — his eyes were wide open as if he was still putting up a struggle in the other world.
Shen Qiao had just killed a person, but there was no trace of pleasure on his face. He supported himself with the tree on his side and sat down slowly, not even casting a glance to the fight between Yan Wushi and Yuan Xiuxiu. Closing his eyes to rest, he unconsciously fell asleep.
In the eyes of an outsider, the reason Yuan Xiuxiu was able to become the sect master was none other than her practice of sexual cultivation — where she made good use of her beauty — in addition to her affair with Sang Jingxing. As the disciple of Cui Youwang, the latter man supported and helped her secure the position of sect master. He then willingly placed himself under her, serving only as an elder in the Harmony Sect.
However, for all those people who thought this way, had they had the chance to fight against Yuan Xiuxiu themselves, they would have realized how ridiculously wrong they had been.
There was no way this woman could have become the sect master of the Harmony Sect, where powerful martial artists as many as there were trees in a forest constantly cheated against each other, if all she had was her relationship with a man.
It was just that Yuan Xiuxiu was willing to come out as the weak and delicate one. So she never corrected their mistakes but instead used it to deceive her enemies.
It was rumored that she had an affair with Sang Jingxing and it was through his support which made her the sect master, but Yan Wushi knew that in reality, the situation in the Harmony Sect was much more complicated. Yuan Xiuxiu and Sang Jingxing were only on the same footing of reciprocal tolerance. Like this time, when Sang Jingxing asked Huo Xijing to go find Bian Yanmei, he definitely didn't inform Yuan Xiuxiu about it. Therefore, it was no surprise when Yuan Xiuxiu only answered lukewarmly to Huo Xijing's cry for help.
Yan Wushi fought with her ten years ago. Even though he was able to gain an upper hand at that time, it was only by a little. Now after ten years, his martial power had greatly increased, but it was unlikely that Yuan Xiuxiu's had stayed the same.
The Harmony Sect also practiced The Fundamental Records of Phoenix-Qilin. It was true that Yuan Xiuxiu's progress was not comparable to Yan Wushi's at the eleventh stage, but she had at least reached the tenth stage. Not to mention, when the Sun Moon Sect disintegrated, the Harmony Sect was quick in snatching the Book of Harmony . It recorded the sex cultivation technique, and it was also where they had taken their sect name from. However, only a few knew that the Book of Harmony contained not only sexual techniques but also Meditation Ways for cultivating inner qi, sword arts, etc..
Yuan Xiuxiu's weapon was a pair of swords, which was inspired by a set of two-person sword arts in the Book of Harmony. Originally, this set of martial arts required a man and a woman to cooperate and use their swords to keep off the enemies, but Yuan Xiuxiu deliberately did the opposite and practiced both sets of sword arts herself.
Such a woman was clearly not easy to deal with.
Yuan Xiuxiu didn't dare to act carelessly when facing Yan Wushi. She brought the tenth stage of the Fundamentals of Phoenix-Qilin to its full extent. Her two swords had nearly turned into two rays of black light, appearing to engulf everything in the world. The storm centered around her swirled up like a dragon emerging out of water. It grew by leaps and bounds, and soon, not even a single cloud could be seen. The sky had lost all of its light, and even Yan Wushi was wrapped inside the storm!
Bian Yanmei couldn't even make out their moves. At this moment, he finally realized how self-centered he was. He once flaunted himself as a first-rate expert, while in fact, there was yet another tier above it. If he didn't work hard, he might not even reach the level of a grandmaster before he died.
Black snow filled the sky, like an army of devils marching over from the east, filling people's ears with the sonorous, endless shouting of the hundreds of soldiers.
Bian Yanmei almost couldn't keep himself stable amidst Yuan Xiuxiu's inner qi and had to use his own inner qi to block it. As he retreated, he remembered how he had also attributed Yuan Xiuxiu's achievement to her beauty and the man behind her. Yet henceforth, he dared not think like that again.
There weren't many people in this world who could fight against Yan Wushi head-to-head without showing any disadvantages.
However, a person's bitterness was only known to themselves. In the battle circle herself, Yuan Xiuxiu was not as relaxed as Bian Yanmei thought she was.
She had already brought her inner qi to the fullest extent. The swords in her hand were shifting from solid objects to shadowy figures. They left her hand and charged about, taking their shapes at whichever place she wished. But there seemed to be an invisible attractive force around Yan Wushi which none of her attacks were able to break through. In fact, her pair of swords even showed a faint sigh of being sucked in by it.
She retrieved her pair of swords after seeing the feather-light palm that Yan Wushi struck at her. However, the other person actually avoided the seemingly invulnerable screen she put up with her swords and appeared before her in an instant. Frowning, Yuan Xiuxiu had no other choice but to take it with her fair, delicate hand.
Their palms clashed, and amidst the explosive rumble, the screen suddenly disappeared. Yuan Xiuxiu quickly retreated, her figure floating backwards like a kite, swaying and undulating in the wind like a rootless duckweed in water. After about ten steps, her feet were once again firmly planted on the ground.
Smiling sweetly as if nothing had happened, she said, "Sure Yan-lang didn't let this ten-year Meditation go into waste, I was halfway to death during the fight. My little heart is still thumping so badly now!"
Yan Wushi stood where he was. He had no plan to hunt her down. Of course, if he really wanted to kill Yuan Xiuxiu, he would be able to do so. Yet the fight would then become a life and death struggle, and he would have to pay a price himself. Besides, the death of Yuan Xiuxiu would benefit the other people in the Harmony Sect more so than it would benefit the Cleansing Moon Sect.
Yuan Xiuxiu clearly knew it too, so she was not in a hurry to leave.
She glanced at Huo Xijing's dead body, and only then did her expression finally change. "People should check with its owner even before beating a dog. Huo Xijing holds a relatively high position in our sect, yet Yan-lang's man killed him just like that?"
Though he wasn't the one who killed Huo Xijing, since Yan Wushi was here, Bian Yanmei didn't need to pay her much respect, "Huo Xijing killed my servant, does he not deserve to die? Over these years, the Harmony Sect has killed so many Cleansing Moon Sect disciples. Sect Master Yuan, why don't we clear all our debts together?"
However, Yuan Xiuxiu actually pulled a smile after hearing it, "Judging by the way you said it, you must not be the one who killed him."
This woman's attitude changed in no time, and she acted immediately upon her instincts. One second she was still smiling and talking all sweet, and in the next second, with her half-finished sentence, she had already flashed next to Shen Qiao, reaching for his neck!
Shen Qiao was really too tired, so tired that he ended up falling asleep under the tree after he killed Huo Xijing.
But as a martial artist, he still kept his intuition and awareness of danger. He had already sensed it as soon as Yuan Xiuxiu came at him. A normal person usually opened their eyes first and would only react after they found out about the situation, but Shen Qiao immediately grabbed onto the tree behind him even before he opened his eyes. He moved behind it and used its trunk as cover.
In just the blink of an eye, a scratch mark appeared on the trunk!
It was not left by Yuan Xiuxiu's hand, but by her inner qi. Clearly, if Shen Qiao was late by half a second, this mark would have appeared on his neck instead of the tree.
Even though Shen Qiao was able to dodge the first one, he couldn't dodge the second. Before he could catch his breath, Yuan Xiuxiu's second palm was already there.
Shen Qiao had already lost his bamboo stick and he had no weapon left. There was not enough time for him to escape. He had to block it with his hands. However, he only had half of his martial power left. It might have been enough to handle an ordinary expert, but when facing a grandmaster-level martial artist like Yuan Xiuxiu, the odds were close to none.
The moment they came into contact with each other, Shen Qiao immediately retreated several steps. It wasn't until the fifth step when his back bumped into a tree did he finally stop. His face was deathly pale, as he managed to keep down the sweet gulp of blood with much difficulty.
However, that was already well beyond Yuan Xiuxiu's expectations. No matter how unlikable Huo Xijing was, he was still a disciple of the Harmony Sect. As the sect leader, she had to stand up for him. At first, she thought two moves would have been enough to finish Shen Qiao, but to her surprise, the other person was actually able to take one of them head-on.
When the third one came, Shen Qiao already had no place to retreat. He could only close his eyes and wait for his death.
Yan Wushi could have stopped Yuan Xiuxiu when she made her first move, but he decided to look on with a cold eye. Hence, Shen Qiao didn't think there would be an exception this time.
Yan Wushi: Describe me in one word.
Eldest disciple Bian Yanmei: Cool.
Youngest disciple Yu Shengyan: Handsome.
Shen Qiao: …Good.
Yan Wushi [satisfied]: Describe me in two words.
Eldest disciple Bian Yanmei: Very cool.
Youngest disciple Yu Shengyan: Very handsome.
Shen Qiao: Bye bye.
Yan Wushi: …
 Yan-lang: She addresses Yan Wushi as (Yan-lang), which is commonly used between women and their husbands or lovers.
 Harmony: Original Chinese word here is He Huan, which means "happy to be together", which is also an implicit term for sex. I translated it as Harmony because it was shorter and sounded better lol.