Thousand Autumns – Chapter 32
Translator: MoMoePom, Tin
First published on Ainushi.
Synopsis: There are rumors that you have a deep relationship with Sect Master Yan, that you two are together all the time…
Under everyone's gaze of astonishment, Shen Qiao appeared to be quite calm. "Shen is no longer the sect leader. I’m afraid that I'm going to disappoint Brother Duan."
When Kunye requested to fight with Shen Qiao, Duan Wenyang was the one who delivered the letter. Therefore, Shen Qiao's identity was not a secret to him.
He was Kunye's elder martial brother, but because of his Han blood lineage, his status in Tujue was actually lower than Kunye's, which was the main reason why Kunye was the one who fought as the representative of Hulugu, not him.
Duan Wenyang laughed, "It's true that the greatest hermit retreats in the noisiest fair. With your reputation and prestige, if you have told them who you were, I'm afraid that even those from the Chunyang Daoist Temple would have to wait after you. You don’t need to attend the party under Sect Master Yan's name. There are rumors that you have a deep relationship with Sect Master Yan, that you two stay together all the time. Are you telling me that it is true?"
No one expected that they would witness two great dramas in a row when they thought they were only attending a birthday party.
For a moment, the hall overflowed with buzzing whispers. One after another, the guests all fixed their eyes on Shen Qiao. Even Puliuru Jian who was sitting next to him was greatly astounded and turned to Shen Qiao as well.
After Shen Qiao fell off the cliff, neither he nor his dead body were found. People all thought he probably felt guilty about bringing humiliation to Mount Xuandu and was too ashamed to come out again, that he might have concealed his identity and simply retreated deep into the mountains. However, to everyone's surprise, he actually showed up on a birthday party held by aristocrats of Northern Zhou.
Li Qingyu studied him carefully. Deep inside, he was greatly disappointed.
Before he went to Mount Xuandu, he once felt sorry for not being able to fight with Shen Qiao. Looking at the other person's sickly and emaciated body right now, he felt an even greater sense of sorrow. But this time, he was not sorry for the loss of a rival, but for the fact that this rival was no longer worthy to be his rival.
Shen Qiao remained silent. He didn't answer any more questions from Duan Wenyang.
With a sigh, Lady Qin took off the ring and handed it to her son. "This ring originally belonged to Hulugu. Time has passed. Even though things have remained the same, people have changed, as well as the situation. I ought to return it to its rightful owner now. Here, take it."
She was born into a noble family, but not only did she travel afar to study in Tujue, she even had such a deep connection with Tujue's grandmaster Hulugu. Ever since their childhood, Su Wei and Su Qiao always thought their mother was just a usual well-bred lady. Her relationship with their father was also extremely affectionate and harmonious. Now, judging by the complicated feelings in their mother's words, it seemed like her relationship with Hulugu was even beyond the normal master-apprentice kind.
Hulugu seemed even more of an eccentric then. After losing such an item, he'd delayed for so long and had not come to demand it be returned until this day, thirty years later, when Duan Wenyang appeared and finally exposed the truth to the world.
Su Qiao itched to know the truth, yet was unable to ask in the current setting, so he could only relinquish the ring to a Su Family servant and have them hand it to Duan Wenyang.
Duan Wenyang took over the ring and made a Tujue salute. "I can't thank Lady Qin enough for how highly principled you are. With this keepsake, I can finally report to my master's spirit."
Lady Qin asked, "How did Hulugu pass away?"
Duan Wenyang sighed, "My master went into a closed- door meditation in search of a breakthrough in order to achieve the State of Harmony between Heaven and Man. He set a period of three years and asked us not to disturb him during this time. Who would have thought that when we went in to check on him after the time was up, Master had already died in a seated posture!"
Those present at the scene who were of an older age still remembered how the Hulugu of years past had ambitiously swept away the experts of the Central Plains and was finally stopped by Qi Fengge. Regretfully, the fate of even the prodigy of their generation was to become but a pile of dust to be scattered. No matter how fierce and heroic the future internal disputes and fights were in both the political and the pugilistic world, it no longer had anything to do with Hulugu or Qi Fengge.
All capable and genius individuals eventually went with the wind, leaving only lament and sighs behind.
Lady Qin remained silent. No one knew what she thought of it.
Su Wei and Su Qiao, hating that Duan Wenyang had disrupted their mother's birthday party, didn't bother to remain polite. "You already have the ring, please quickly leave our house!"
"Misters, don't be in such a rush to throw me out. There's another purpose of my visit this time: I would like to ask you for a person."
Su Qiao thought that he was trying to make the situation unfavorable for his mother, so he replied coldly, "We don’t have the person you want."
Duan Wenyang smiled and said, "Second young master of the Su Family, how can you not even ask for details before refusing? Don't worry, I won't cause trouble for Lady Qin. Since the ring was returned and my master's wish has been fulfilled, I have no reason to disturb her further. The person I am speaking of is someone who Taspar Khan himself commanded me to find."
Su Wei retorted, "Then you should've sought out His Majesty about it. The Residence of Su is but a small temple, and you are far too impressive to be found here! Guards! See him out!"
"Wait a second! Duke of Meiyang District, do you have a sister who married Yuan Xiong? There are long-term grudges between him and the Tujue. Now, since the two countries have formed an alliance, our Khan has ordered me to bring him and his family back to Tujue for punishment. I would like to ask the Duke of Meiyang District to turn them in please!"
Su Wei's face changed slightly.
Whom the other party had spoken of was actually his cousin and her family. Since his cousin's husband, Yuan Xiong, had gravely offended the Tujue, they were fearful that the Tujue people would take advantage of the alliance and come to ask for them, and therefore they had fled to his house. Su Wei had secretly taken them in, but unexpectedly, Duan Wenyang had discovered this and spared no pretense in confronting him.
"I don't know where they went. If you are looking for someone, then find them yourself! This has nothing to do with the Su Family!
Duan Wenyang said, "I'd like to ask the Duke of Meiyang District not to put me in a difficult situation. I took into consideration the relationship between my deceased master and Lady Qin, so I only dropped by to ask for them rather than asking the Emperor directly. If I waited for the Emperor of Zhou to give orders, by that time, I'm afraid that your family would end up very embarrassed."
Su Qiao was greatly enraged, "You specifically chose my mother's birthday to come by and show off your prowess! First, you asked for the ring and we gave it to you. Now you're pushing the limit even further? Do you really think that we are afraid of you?! I said they weren't here, and that's the truth. Get lost!"
Duan Wenyang's smile disappeared too. He narrowed and fixed his eyes at Su Qiao, then said slowly, "I heard that second young master of the Su Family was a disciple of the Chunyang Daoist Temple, so I assume your martial arts must be superb. Since we happened to meet here today, I would like to ask you for some advice on my skills!"
Su Qiao sneered, "Ah-huh! So you’ve finally revealed your true intention. You're obviously here to crash the party, but you insisted on pretending to be innocent and harmless. You have come here and asked for it yourself today, so don't go crying and telling on us in front your Khan if you end up dead or disabled!"
As soon as he was finished, he was already pouncing on Duan Wenyang.
He didn't just throw himself over randomly. Instead, it was paired with his sword art. His movements were effortless, so assured and incredibly beautiful that some onlookers immediately shouted out praise.
Faced with Su Qiao's martial arts that was intricate like a flower in heaven, Duan Wenyang did not panic or rush, nor did he retreat. He only waited for the light of his opponent's sword to reach directly in front of him, then stretched out his empty hand towards the center of the sword light.
As his bare hands encountered the sword, his hands not only remained unharmed, but also completely halted the sword.
The audience watched fixedly, only to see Duan Wenyang's right hand firmly braced against the sword's blade. Pinching the blade of the sword, he slightly twisted his wrist, and though he appeared to not have used any strength, the sword trembled to the point of letting out a sound.
Su Qiao's sword almost flew out of his hand.
An expression of disbelief appeared on his face.
His martial arts could not compare with his younger martial brother Li Qingyu's, but he could still be counted within the top ranks in the pugilistic world. Never had he encountered a fight in which he was almost utterly defeated right off the bat.
Just because his opponent was Hulugu's disciple, they were already on different levels?
Su Qiao refused to accept such a fact. He quickly changed tactics and did not hesitate any longer. Instead, he pulled his hand back and retreated some steps before he made a sharp turn with the help of the pillar. The sword light, shrouded in his inner qi, rushed once again towards Duan Wenyang's face, while his other hand which was also charged with energy, stretched toward his opponent.
"This room is too small to enjoy the fight!" Duan Wenyang didn't take it head on. Instead, he laughed brightly and leapt outside.
Su Qiao chased his heels, unwilling to let him go. The two people fought from the inside to the outside of the house, sword light radiating in all directions in a split second, washing the surroundings with its dense, chilling aura. The guests naturally followed them outside.
One person's sword was forceful like a torrential river, obscuring the sky and earth as it surged forth, while the other person was entirely unarmed, wandering within the sword's light and appearing to constantly be at risk. His situation seemed precarious, but at the same time, he skirted past the danger again and again and clung onto his life. It was a breathtaking scene for the onlookers, while other people like Princess Qingdu who were unversed in martial arts and also disinclined to see blood being shed chose to stay inside to accompany Lady Qin.
The amateurs were only there for the drama while the professionals were studying the battle. Those with higher levels of martial arts found that although each step Duan Wenyang took seemed to be filled with danger, he was actually the one who held the upper hand.
Puliuru Jian gasped in surprise and whispered to Shen Qiao, "It seems to me that second young master Su is the one that's being teased."
Shen Qiao nodded. "I feel the same way."
Puliuru Jian was surprised by Shen Qiao's response, "Can you see now?"
Shen Qiao replied with a smile, "I can't see, but I can hear."
Puliuru Jian asked, "How?"
"The movement of his sword, his inner qi, his steps, and even his breaths all have their own sound. People who are blind tend to have sharper ears. Duan Wenyang is only testing the martial arts of Chunyang Temple, so he's not in a hurry to win. Unfortunately, Su Qiao didn't realize it and ended up falling into his trap."
Shen Qiao and Puliuru Jian were definitely not the only people present who had realized it. However, as the winner was yet to be decided, if anyone were to interfere right now, on one hand it would be unfair, and on the other hand they would seem to be thinking less of Su Qiao. Therefore, even his martial brother Li Qingyu had no choice but to wait and see the result of their fight.
Hearing him say this, Puliuru Jian casually asked, "They are both Hulugu's disciples. How is Kunye compared to Duan Wenyang?"
Only after he said this out loud did he realize it might be inappropriate to ask, and hastily added, "I didn't mean to intentionally poke at Brother Shen's sore spot!"
Shen Qiao laughed, "Don't worry. Even though Kunye is strong, his martial arts are of a fiercer and more brutal style, and he couldn't use them as freely as Duan Wenyang. In my opinion, I'm afraid that Duan Wenyang has grasped a better understanding of the essence of their master's martial arts and is slightly more skilled than Kunye."
After hearing Shen Qiao's words, Puliuru Jian turned serious. "If that's true, I'm afraid the reason of his visit today is not only to take back the keepsake or to take Mister Su's cousin, but to make a name for himself as well."
Shen Qiao nodded. "That's exactly what I thought."
Because of Su Qiao, more than half the guests who attended the birthday party today were somehow related to the pugilistic world, including quite a lot of experts from the younger generation such as Ling Qingyu who might even have the ability to strive for the Top Ten. If Duan Wenyang could defeat them, it meant he had achieved a higher level in martial arts than all these people, and it would cause a stir not any smaller than the battle between Kunye and Shen Qiao that day.
The Tujue people advanced gradually and carefully. They allied with the Northern Zhou, but at the same time, they also maintained an ambiguous relationship with the Northern Qi. On one hand, they were helping the Northern Zhou launch an attack on Northern Qi, while on the other, they also accommodated Qi's feudal aristocrats and officials seeking refuge. One could almost say that they had two minds and were vacillating. However, because of their strong national power, neither Northern Zhou nor Northern Qi dared to offend them. They had never concealed their ambitious desires.
Now, the new generation of Tujue experts arrived at the Central Plains one after another as if they wanted to continue Hulugu's grandiose hegemony that he couldn't finish in his lifetime. First, Kunye requested to fight Shen Qiao and made a name for himself with that one battle, grinding Mount Xuandu beneath his heel. Now Duan Wenyang had come to the Residence of Su to challenge all the martial artists. Had Kunye not suffered losses in the hands of Yan Wushi, the Tujue people might even have been more swollen with arrogance.
While they were talking, Duan Wenyang suddenly let out a loud laugh, and the dazzling sword light disappeared in a split second. With a muffled groan, Su Qiao had already fallen down from the roof before many people could even make out what kind of move Duan Wenyang had used.
"Brother!" Su Wei immediately stepped up and propped him up. "Are you hurt?"
Su Qiao shook his head. His face crinkled in pain, but he refused to make any sound.
Duan Wenyang also leaped down from the roof in quite a casual manner. None of the people present had a good opinion of him, but they all had to acknowledge his strength.
Su Wei shouted angrily, "Duan Wenyang! That was too much! Do you really think that no one in the Su Family could stop you?!"
Duan Wenyang sneered, "Duke, you're wrong. Your little brother was the one who attacked first, how could you blame me for it? If you agree to turn in Yuan Xiong and his family, I promise that I'll leave immediately and not disturb you anymore."
"How aggressive! We've made so many concessions, yet you're treating us like nothing but pushovers! Well, since this is the case, let me see how many skills Hulugu has taught you!" Lady Qin walked out from inside. She was already fifty in age, but probably because she practiced inner art, she didn't seem old. In fact, there was something mature and elegant in her that made her look more like a beautiful middle-aged woman.
Duan Wenyang lamented, "Speaking of it, I should have addressed you as my senior martial sister. Unfortunately, Master has already driven you out after you escaped Tujue with his ring. I heard that in those days, Master cared a great deal about you that he even intended to pass his mantle to you. Lady Qin first enticed Master with your beauty, then stole his ring and left. Thinking back on it today, don't you feel guilty for what you've done?"
"Shut up!" Hearing him insult their mother, the Su brothers were naturally exasperated.
Yet Lady Qin only replied with a sarcastic smile, "Since when did a junior like you have a say in the history between me and Hulugu?! Does Tujue lack so much talent that Hulugu had to take in disciples like you who can only fight with their mouths?"
She said to Su Wei, "Bring me your brother's sword!"
Before Su Wei moved, someone stated, "Lady Qin, you don't have to lower your status and bother yourself with arguing with some Tujue barbarians. There's no need to trouble you. Since he fought with a disciple from the Chunyang Daoist Temple, then we should be the ones to finish it."
The person who spoke was none other than Li Qingyu. His expression was indifferent, quite expressionless in fact, and his tone was flat without even a hint of killing intent.
But such a tone actually made Duan Wenyang's face turn serious. He studied Li Qingyu carefully and said, "You must be Mister Li, the other one of the Two Jades of Qingcheng. From what I saw, your senior brother isn't even worth a finger of yours. What a grievance it is that you have to share the title of Two Jades together with him!"
Li Qingyu ignored his provocations. He just unsheathed his sword, its tip pointing to the floor. His wrist appeared to be half-hanging and half-raised. There was something languid and nonchalant about his entire posture, and it didn't seem like he was much more serious than he was a moment ago.
Duan Wenyang's expression gradually worsened. Without anyone noticing, there was already a horsewhip in his hand. The whip was black and thin. It was hard to tell what it was made of, just that it seemed completely dull and opaque but at the same time perfectly ordinary.
Puliuru Jian couldn't figure out the knack in it. He lowered his voice and asked Shen Qiao, "Brother Shen, can you make out what is special about his whip?"
Shen Qiao shook his head. "I can't see very clearly. What kind of whip is it?"
Puliuru Jian described it to him.
Shen Qiao thought for a moment and muttered, "If my guess is correct, the whip is made by soaking the skins of Southern Sea alligators into the secret potions of the Miao tribes. It’s extremely tenacious, most sharp weapons out there can't cut it."
Puliuru Jian gasped, "So it is a treasure indeed. Now it looks like Mister Li has met his match!"
Not only him, everyone was looking forward to it. A marvelous fight was about to start, how could they not feel excited?
Right after Puliuru Jian finished, Li Qingyu moved.
His attack was very different from Su Qiao's.
Su Qiao was very fast, fast and fierce. He was trying to win with his speed, shrouding his enemy with his sword energy, leaving the other person with no place to escape. It could even affect his opponent's mentality, a style that was very effective against people who were weaker than him. However, for an expert like Duan Wenyang whose inner qi was as solid as a bastion of iron, he was strong enough to ignore Su Qiao's sword energy and go straight for his enemy.
In comparison, Li Qingyu's movement was much slower, almost as if he was taking it calmly. In other people’s eyes, all he did was send his sword flatly forward and then twirl it a little bit. The tip of his sword wasn't even pointing at Duan Wenyang but at the side, toward the ground. The action was carried out in such a laid-back manner that it was almost like a bud slowly blooming under the sun.
However, in Duan Wenyang's eyes, together with that twirl, inner qi was rushing from the other person's body to the tip of the sword, then from the sword to the ground, blowing up the grey bricks as it moved. Cracks suddenly appeared all over the floor, and brick fragments along with the air stream they were wrapped in were shooting straight at him!
At the same time, before Duan Wenyang made his next move, Li Qingyu had already leaped up. He became one with his sword and turned into a white beam. As if the inner qi that served as a barrier around Duan Wenyang was simply nonexistent, the beam, along with the purple and blue sparks and lightning created by the sudden thunderstorm, pierced right through!
From slow to fast, from gradual to rapid, all these changes happened within a split second. Anyone who wasn't paying full attention might not even understand what was happening.
Duan Wenyang wielded his whip forward and it directly hit the person as well as his sword!
The two streams of inner Qi clashed together, like two kings confronting each other face to face. For a moment, the wind surged vigorously, as if a storm had arrived, ready to turn over the sea. There were only two possibilities: either Duan Wenyang's whip was shredding Li Qingyu's sword to pieces, or Li Qingyu's sword energy was destroying Duan Wenyang's whip.
However, beyond everyone's expectations, Duan Wenyang's whip missed. The others all saw that Li Qingyu had already fallen into the shadow weaved by the whip, but somehow the shadow failed to envelop him completely. Instead, his figure blurred, and he suddenly appeared on the left, right, and behind Duan Wenyang. The "Li Qingyu" in all three directions were all repeating the same action — sending the tip of sword forward.
Just then, Shen Qiao and the others heard someone quietly exclaim, "Sword Intent! Li Qingyu has learned the Sword Intent!"