Chapter 34 – She even pecked the end of Shen Qiao's nose!
Shen Qiao's eyes were still closed, his face as tranquil as a body of still water. In the eyes of the others, the bamboo stick in his hand followed wherever his heart desired and tapped at whichever direction he wanted, having no order or patterns to speak of.
Facing such a completely random way of fighting, Duan Wenyang didn't dare to take it lightly. His expression was even graver than when he was facing Li Qingyu. Within an instant, they had already exchanged hundreds of moves. From the ground to the roof, and from the roof to the top of a tree, their figures drifted swiftly from place to place, sometimes in the light and sometimes in the shadows, sometimes mild while other times fierce. The speed at which they were crossing swords was so inconceivably fast that those who were slightly inferior in martial arts couldn't even identify their moves.
So far, Shen Qiao seemed to show no signs of being at a disadvantage.
Taking advantage of the opportunity that Duan Wenyang was too busy to notice them, people from the Su Family quickly came up and surrounded Su Wei. Su Qiao then sent someone to accompany his mother and brother back to the inner room while he himself stayed outside despite the pain.
The more they watched, the more astonished they became, and among them, Duan Wenyang was the most astounded.
Previously, Shen Qiao did not react at all to Duan Wenyang's taunts and the sighs from Li Qingyu. Everyone thought it was normal for not only Duan Wenyang, but the others also felt that with Shen Qiao's current situation, he was already in fact half-destroyed. His reputation could be rebuilt, but it would be very difficult for him to recover his martial arts. A person without martial arts had no foothold in the pugilistic world. If he had to rely on another person's protection, no matter how powerful his protector was, he was no more than a piece of rubbish in other people's eyes. Anyone would have the right to look down on him.
But it just so happened that such a "useless person" had accomplished something that most of the people present could not do — not only did he manage to stop Duan Wenyang, but he also fought him to a draw.
Many people couldn't help but think that the Sect Leader of Mount Xuandu was, after all, the Sect Leader of Mount Xuandu. Even though the title as the 'number one Daoist sect under the Heaven' was very flattering, Shen Qiao did not become Qi Fengge's successor without reason.
That being said, if his skill was almost on par with Duan Wenyang, how did he lose to Kunye and end up like that? Were there other reasons that people didn't know about?
All kinds of thoughts flashed chaotically in people's minds as they riveted their eyes on the fight, in fear that they would miss a second of it. All they could think of was how its marvelousness was not any less than the fight just now between Li Qingyu and Duan Wenyang.
However, inside the battle circle, Shen Qiao was not as relaxed as the onlookers imagined him to be.
Duan Wenyang was indeed very strong, and his martial arts was indeed superior to Kunye's. These statements were true.
The only reason why Shen Qiao was able to hold on for so long was because, first of all, he still had fifty percent of his martial power as his foundation. Second, Duan Wenyang did get injured when he fought against Li Qingyu. Lastly, the martial arts of Mount Xuandu combined with the laws implied by the Eight Trigrams, Zi Wei Dou Shu, and many schools of astrology. It was extremely exquisite and unpredictable. Duan Wenyang had never encountered it before, so he naturally found it difficult to seize the opportunity to be offensive and was swept along.
It was a dazzling and splendid fight in other people's eyes — Duan Wenyang's whip came one slash after another, each one of them bearing the unstoppable, thunder-like momentum. The overbearing and insolent inner qi, along with the images created by the whip, were forced upon Shen Qiao one after another. The pressure on him gradually increased. Like a fragile porcelain that was beautiful yet on the verge of breaking, he was unable to withstand another blow.
Suddenly, the bamboo stick cracked in half. Li Qingyu immediately threw the Autumn Water Sword in his hand to Shen Qiao and shouted, "Take it!"
Shen Qiao listened to the direction it came from, and without turning his head, he stretched out his hand and caught it firmly. With one swing, Sword Energy came down from the top and split the nine layers of images that Duan Wenyang's whip had created right in the middle!
Thousands of mountains instantly collapsed. Like water surging through the valleys formed by the cracks and breaching the dykes along the way, the Sword Energy rushed forth with a crushing force, as if nothing else in this world could stop it!
Duan Wenyang's face changed slightly. He had to give up his offense and retreat. The images of the whip disappeared immediately and was replaced by a white streak of light.
The white light wasn't Sword Energy, for it was both intangible and formless. Nor did it have the feel of inner qi. It was light and airy like a soft ribbon, but at the same time, it followed the other person's heel as if it was conscious, shooting straight at Duan Wenyang in a persistent pursuit, unwilling to let him off for even a second.
"What's that? Is it also Sword Energy?" Zhan Ziqian couldn't stop himself from asking out loud.
"No, it's Sword Intent," answered his senior martial brother, Xie Xiang.
Zhan Ziqian asked, "Why is it different from the one Li Qingyu used?"
Xie Xiang replied, "Li Qingyu's Sword Intent was formless, while this one has form."
"The formless surpasses the formed. Therefore, Li Qingyu is slightly superior?"
Xie Xiang asked in return, "Sword Intent itself is inherently formless, so how can the formless surpass the formed? If one can cultivate a formed Sword Intent, it means that this person has already grasped the essence of sword art and is nearly at the level of Sword Heart!"
Zhan Ziqian suddenly understood, and his impression of Shen Qiao soared from mild affection to adoration almost instantly.
This time, Duan Wenyang had retreated more than ten steps. However, despite its weak and soft appearance, the white Sword Intent didn't reduce its sharpness at all. It pressed on and allowed no rest, refusing to let him go.
The end of the whip clashed with the Sword Intent. A section of the whip which was created with the skin of Southern Sea alligators and a few dozen medicinal ingredients was actually cut off by the Sword Intent!
Duan Wenyang's expression changed slightly as he struck a palm toward the Sword Intent. In an instant, like a cloud rising behind bold cliffs, or a white band of mist spanning across a river, the water touched the sky as they merged into the same color, making it impossible to tell where everything started!
The billowy wave materialized into real substance as it surged in all directions. Everyone who saw it turned pale and retreated several steps before they found out that what had been coming at them was not a real wave but only what remained of the wave-like Sword Intent.
The crowd came to their senses again, but they could still feel the sensation of the cold moisture on their faces. And because of that, they finally realized how powerful the Sword Intent was.
Zhan Ziqian found it quite interesting. He couldn't stop himself from wiping his face. As expected, there was nothing on his hand. However, Xie Xiang told him, "That's because he hasn't fully achieved the state of the formed Sword Intent. If a formed Sword Intent is practiced to its consummate level, there's no guarantee that the spectators won't be harmed by it."
Zhan Ziqian had always admired his junior martial brother's insight. After hearing it, he asked, "From what I saw, his inner qi does not seem to match his Sword Intent. Why is that?"
Xie Xiang agreed, his eyes still following the fight, "He should be suffering from a former injury which caused his inner qi to decrease by a lot. Even though he has comprehended the Sword Intent, he couldn't bring out its best form. I'm afraid he may not be able to hold on for long."
Zhan Ziqian hurriedly looked toward Shen Qiao. Since he had a good impression of Shen Qiao, he didn't want him to lose. Yet across the layers of sword light and the whip images, he could hardly discern their expressions.
Duan Wenyang was a little worn out. A section of his whip was cut off, and he still suffered injuries from the fight with Li Qingyu earlier. At this time, he started to regret underestimating Shen Qiao. Even though the other person's inner qi was somewhat weak, his Sword Intent was tremendously fierce. No matter how much inner qi Duan Wenyang had, he couldn't continue to let it pour out like this forever. Seeing that the color of the Sword Intent had brightened again, he was afraid that it would come back and he had no heart to fight any further. He gave up attacking and retreated as he laughed, "Sect Leader Shen, you're true to your name. I'm a little busy today, so I'll come ask for your advice some other time. See you!"
No one was able to stop him if he wanted to go. Despite being born in Tujue, he was exceptionally well-versed in the lightness skill. None of the people present could tell the origin of such bizarre and treacherous movements.
Shen Qiao didn't follow after him.
He was the only person who had fought both Kunye and Duan Wenyang.
Kunye was very skilled in martial arts. However, if Shen Qiao hadn't been poisoned beforehand, the battle on Half-Step Peak would have undoubtedly ended with Kunye's defeat.
But Duan Wenyang was different. Even though Shen Qiao had lost a majority of his martial arts, he still had insight and experience. How frightening this opponent was truly surprised Shen Qiao. Although it looked like he was winning, he had not been able to feel out the other person's limit. If the battle had continued on, the worn Shen Qiao would've lost for sure, but Duan Wenyang had instead chosen to withdraw at such a moment.
He stood on the spot, trying to regulate his breaths. Shen Qiao discovered that the formed Sword Intent had used more than half of his inner qi, leaving him extremely weak that he could hardly walk. He couldn't help but force a smile at himself.
Li Qingyu walked over to him. "Sect Leader Shen."
Shen Qiao turned the sword around and handed the Autumn Water Sword back to him, "Thank you very much, Mister Li, for lending me this sword. Unfortunately, my martial power is not good enough and I have disgraced such a fine sword."
Li Qingyu took over the sword. "I didn't mean what I just said. That was a slip of tongue. Please don't take it to heart."
One could tell with a glance that he rarely spoke in such a soft and humble manner. Even his apologies sounded a bit cold and stiff.
Shen Qiao laughed, "Mister Li, you're being too polite. If you didn't lend me the sword in time, I'm afraid that I would've been lying dead on the field by now."
His eyes could still make out some vague scenes; therefore, over time, he had developed the habit of squinting at people and things. Even so, his eyes still looked dull. But when basked in the sunlight, there seemed to be a shimmering shine rippling inside them, making everyone who saw it sigh regretfully.
Li Qingyu stared at him for a moment, then suddenly said, "If you have no place to go, the Chunyang Daoist Temple can provide you a place to live. You don't have to descend so far to live on other people's charity and attach yourself to people that you don't like."
On the side, Su Qiao heard this and couldn't help but be surprised. Everyone in the Chunyang Daoist Temple knew of this younger martial brother's cold, steely heart and his sole focus on martial arts. He might show some warmness in front of his master and fellow disciples, but that was it. He had never heard of him giving anyone an encouraging look, let alone inviting people over to the Chunyang Temple. Who could have thought that he would treat a complete stranger like Shen Qiao so differently?
Shen Qiao seemed a little surprised as well. He stared for a second, then smiled, "Thank you for your kindness."
Gratitude was given, yet the offer was declined since he didn't specify whether he needed it or not.
They were just two strangers brought together by an accident. There wasn't much friendship involved, so Shen Qiao didn't want to cause any trouble for the Chunyang Daoist Temple because of his own affairs.
Li Qingyu nodded. Holding his sword, he left immediately without another word.
Even though nobody said it, they all inevitably turned their noses up at this down and out former sect leader in their hearts just now. But after Shen Qiao's fight against Duan Wenyang, they no longer had such thoughts.
Granted, Shen Qiao had the advantage of fighting a second round, but under the circumstances at that time, if he didn't come out, who else could have stopped Duan Wenyang?
And who would dare to say that they would surely make Duan Wenyang withdraw?
Taking the Su brothers with her, Lady Qin walked over with the support of her servant girl and bowed deeply to Shen Qiao. "Thank you, Mister Shen, for rescuing my son in time. Please accept this old woman's respects!"
Shen Qiao hurried to stop her, "There's no need to be so courteous. It was unvirtuous of Duan Wenyang to come back right after he left and even take the Duke of Meiyang District as a hostage. As a guest in your residence, it's my obligation to lend a hand!"
Lady Qin said, "In any case, from now on, you'll be the great rescuer of the Su Family. Our door will forever be open for you. If Mister Shen has any requests, the Su Family will do our best to fulfill it."
Although there might not be many things that the Su Family was capable of doing, a promise like this still showed the sincerity of Lady Qin's heartfelt thanks.
The birthday party ended because of Duan Wenyang's interference. Everyone came in high spirits, but they ended up leaving in disappointment. Puliuru Jian walked out of the Residence of Su together with Shen Qiao. He invited Shen Qiao to his place some other time, and they finally parted after that.
Shen Qiao was about to get on the carriage when Zhan Ziqian suddenly called to him, "Mister Shen! Wait a minute!"
He cupped his hands toward Shen Qiao and said, "I wanted to talk to you earlier, but I couldn't find a chance. Could you please promise to do me a favor?"
Shen Qiao was surprised, "What is it that you're so serious about?"
Zhang Ziqian smiled, "I want to ask for your permission to put you into my paintings."
Shen Qiao asked, "Paintings?"
Zhang Ziqian replied, "Yes. I have always loved to paint, especially fairies and immortal beings. But where can I find a real immortal in this mortal world? It was not until I met Mister Shen that I finally found the person closest to the images I had in mind. Therefore, may I ask you to be my model please?"
Shen Qiao had heard of all kinds of weird requests, but this was the first time someone had ever asked to put him into a painting. For a moment, he was both amused and embarrassed by the idea and didn't know what to say.
Before Zhan Ziqian tried to take it a step further and persuade him some more, Xie Xiang had already walked over. "Mister Shen, please don't take it as an offense. My senior brother is just crazy about paintings, and he always does things like this!"
Afterwards, he cupped his hands at Shen Qiao and grabbed Zhan Ziqian by the shoulder, ready to leave.
Zhan Ziqian let out a cry in protest but still lost to Xie Xiang's power. He could only look back repeatedly at Shen Qiao, shouting: "Mister Shen! Please don't leave the Capital anytime soon! I will definitely drop by your residence someday!"
Shen Qiao broke into a smile and shook his head. After he turned around and got in the carriage, he took out a handkerchief and coughed up a mouthful of blood onto it. His look became dispirited immediately afterwards.
Duan Wenyang was injured by his Sword Intent and would need at least half a month to recover. But he didn't gain any advantages either. He hurt his vital energy as well. It was just that he had been keeping the pain to himself.
Xie Xiang must have realized it too. Therefore, he stopped Zhan Ziqian from keeping Shen Qiao there any longer.
Yan Wushi always enjoyed luxurious things. Therefore, the servants knew what he liked and they made the inside of the carriage comfortable and luxurious as well. After Shen Qiao told the carriage driver to head back to the Residence of the Junior Preceptor, he no longer needed to cover up his state. Leaning against the side of the carriage and appearing exhausted all over, he passed out, his eyebrows slightly frowning.
Extremely exhausted, Shen Qiao slept like a log, completely unaware of the things happening outside. When he woke up, he found out that the wheels seemed to be rolling under him still. His heart sank slightly.
He lifted the curtain up and looked outside. The carriage seemed to have left the city already and was now traveling in the city's outskirts. In any case, it definitely wasn't the way back to the Residence of the Junior Preceptor.
"Old Wei, is it you outside?"
Nobody answered, but the carriage gradually slowed down until it stopped completely.
The person driving the carriage turned back. She was still wearing Old Wei's clothes, but she had changed into a different face, a delicate and charming one with dimples on her chin even when she wasn't smiling.
Shen Qiao couldn't see clearly. But the moment she spoke, he knew who the person was.
"It's not just me saying it, but the Su Family's guard is really sloppy. All I did was dress up into Old Wei's clothes and put a bamboo hat over my head. As long as I can mimic his voice, I don't even need to change my makeup. They didn't suspect me at all. Anyone can come and go freely in a place like that. You can help them drive Duan Wenyang away once, but you won't be able to do it again the next time he comes."
Shen Qiao asked, "Where's Old Wei?"
Bai Rong complained coquettishly, "Alas, why does Sect Leader Shen care so much about an old man when you have a beauty like me right in front of you? Where is your concern for me? Dead, dead! I killed him, of course!"
Shen Qiao smiled, "It was my bad. I didn't need to ask that question. A person smart like you won't breed enmity with Yan Wushi over a carriage driver."
Bai Rong giggled, "I've even kidnapped you, let alone a carriage driver. Did you say something like that because you were afraid that I wouldn't tell you the truth? Alright, alright, there's no harm in telling you. You're right. I have no interest in killing a nobody like him. I knocked him out and left him in the Su Family stable, leaving his life to himself! I don't care even if he's trampled dead by a horse! But that being said, Yan Wushi sure doesn't treat you very well. He clearly knows that you're in poor health right now, coughing blood and blacking out from time to time, yet he only sent a carriage driver to accompany you? Did he foresee what was going to happen today already?"
Shen Qiao shook his head, "You don't have to make mischief between us. Our relationship is not like what you think. So, what is the reason that Maiden Bai brings me over here?"
Bai Rong suddenly leaned forward, her warm, scented breaths close at hand. Shen Qiao frowned subconsciously as he fell back to avoid her. The other person tried to grab him. His bamboo stick was already broken in Residence of Su, so he had to block it with his bare hand. The two of them exchanged a few dozen of moves.
Bai Rong's moves were extremely fast, and her fingers changed rapidly into countless shapes like a flower. In the time between two breaths, this flower had already gone through the entire process of budding, blooming, and withering. The rise and fall, life and death of a lifetime, all contained within a single moment.
However, her exquisite "Lotus Prints" was blocked by Shen Qiao. The other person seemed to have anticipated and timed all of her moves that he happened to be just a little faster than Bai Rong every time.
Bai Rong didn't see the fight between Shen Qiao and Duan Wenyang. In her impression, Shen Qiao was still sickly and seriously wounded like he had been in Huai Prefecture City. At this moment, seeing Shen Qiao successfully blocking all of her proud "Lotus Prints", it was needless to say how surprised she was inside.
"I didn't really believe it when they said that you killed my martial brother. Now it seems like it's true. Have you recovered your martial arts yet?"
After she said it, Bai Rong dodged the palm from Shen Qiao. She went around him and hit his acupoint. Afterwards, she threw her arms around him from behind and put forth her head, asking, "As a Daoist Priest, why are you born so pretty? You're driving us disciples of the Demonic Sect out of business!"
She even pecked the end of Shen Qiao's nose when she talked!
The series of events happened too fast. Shen Qiao's vital energy was already seriously injured, and it was only barely enough to fight her. He didn't expect that she would do something like this and was greatly shocked on the spot. The expression on his face was quite horrific.
Bai Rong giggled, "I've always wanted to do this since the day I saw you. Today, my wish is finally fulfilled!"
He was hit on the acupoint and he lost the ability to move. Therefore, Shen Qiao simply gave up the unnecessary struggle. "What do you want?"
Bai Rong replied, "You killed Huo Xijing, and you're asking me what I want? That guy is always good at fawning on Master, and Master likes him a lot. Therefore, he was very upset at what you did and even asked me to bring you back for punishment!"
The more she looked, the more beautiful she felt Shen Qiao was. Everyone in the Harmony Sect, man or woman, was beautiful. However, because they practiced Enchantment and often behaved without scruples, their kind of beauty could never give people that cold, otherworldly feel.
If the people from the Harmony Sect were the seductive devils rolling and basking in the desires of the mortal world, then Shen Qiao would be like the statue placed high above the ground in a temple, knowing neither sorrow nor happiness.
But for blasphemers, the more so, the more they wanted to defile the statue.
Bai Rong said cheerfully, "But I'm a little reluctant to turn you in now. You're so beautiful. If you fall into the hands of my master, under his torture, I'm afraid that you'll have to suffer badly even if you don't die. I can't remember everything in that Book of Free Will that you read last time. If you're willing to double check with me and recite it to me again, I'll let you go. I'll just go back and tell my master that I'm not a match for Sect Master Yan. How about that?"
Shen Qiao asked, "The Book of Wandering Souls of The Strategy of Vermillion Yang is hidden in Mount Xuandu. Why don't you ask me to recite that as well?"
Bai Rong laughed, "Do you think I'm stupid? I've never listened to that book before. I wouldn't be able to tell even if you mixed up the order or simply read some random sentences to me. But I can remember most of the Book of Free Will. I just don't remember all of it. If you intentionally mix up the order on that one, at least I can tell."
Shen Qiao asked, "What if I don't want to cooperate?"
Bai Rong answered in her cute voice, "Then I’ll have to hand you over to my master. I'm sure you've heard about the reputation of my master, Sang Jingxing. He's several times crueler than my brother Huo Xijing. He likes both men and women, and especially loves to cultivate through sex. He also enjoys torturing people in bed till they're almost dead. I wouldn't even dare to imagine what a beauty like you would become if you fell into his hands!"
Shen Qiao heaved a sigh, "You all regard me as a tiger trapped in a flat field whom anyone can bully and thus treat me however you want, as if I'm just a fly in a web. If this is the case, how can I not pull myself together? Even if I don't become the oppressor, at least I shouldn't let myself be oppressed by others!"
Bai Rong was taken by surprise. Before she figured out what Shen Qiao meant, she suddenly saw him reaching out and pointing at her with his slender finger!
"Spring Water Fingering?! How did you learn Spring Water Fingering?"
Bai Rong's face turned ghastly as she hastened to retreat.