Yuwen Song didn’t know that when he woke, there’d be an extra person in the room, he thought he hadn’t woken up properly, so blinked his eyes several times, couldn’t resist rubbing them, then unsure asked: “Yan-zongzhu?”
Along this journey, he had always shown poise beyond his years, rarely letting slip this kind of childish gesture, Shen Qiao smiled inside, said gently: “You may recognize him, indeed this is Huanyue Sect’s Yan-zongzhu, why don’t you greet him?”
Yuwen Song folded his hands in greeting: “Wanbei Yuwen Song, has seen Yan-zongzhu.”
Yan Wushi made a noise of acknowledgment, was giving him face: “No need for formalities, last time I saw you was two years ago, this passing interval, you’ve grown a lot.”
Yuwen Song: “Thank you Yan-zongzhu.”
Yan Wushi: “Then do you want this venerable one as your shifu?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yuwen Song was struck dumb: “Ah?”
A twinge of colour appeared on Shen Qiao’s face: “Yan-zongzhu is not being very kind, when have you resorted to stealing other people’s disciples?”
Yan Wushi smiled languidly: “But see his reaction, he didn’t refuse right away, so after hearing this suggestion, must have wavered in his heart, compared to you, he must be more willing to be my disciple!”
Yuwen Song hurried to make amends: “I must thank Yan-zongzhu, but this wanbei has already promised Shen-daozhang to enter the Daoist sect, since I have given my word, there is certainly no reason to retract them, so I beg for Yan-zongzhu’s understanding!”
Yan Wushi raised an eyebrow: “What’s good about being his disciple? Can’t do this, have to respect that, but if you came with me, your two shixiong would have more than twenty years on you, in the future I’ll pass the zongzhu seat onto you, Huanyue Sect is very wealthy, in no circumstances would we need you to wear one set of Daoist robes all year, looking at things on the whole, lots of good things to be gained?”
Shen Qiao, annoyed: “Did you come back with me just to steal a disciple?”
Yan Wushi: “If no one asks after him, then it would suggest his potential isn’t that great after all, if I’m fighting with you, then that means your judgment is good, you should thank this venerable one instead.”
Shen Qiao finally understood, if Yan Wushi wanted to, he could gather all of the reason in the world for himself.
Yuwen Song put a hand on his forehead, not wanting to see Shen Qiao rendered speechless, immediately jumped to his future shizun’s aide, trying to divert Yan Wushi’s attention back to him: “Me and Shen-daozhang are headed to Bixia Sect, what are Yan-zongzhu’s plans?”
Yan Wushi: “Yes.”
Yuwen Song: “Ah?”
Yan Wushi, equanimously: “Didn’t you invite this venerable one to Bixia Sect as a guest? I accepted.”
Yuwen Song was dumbstruck.
Wait wait, that wasn’t my intention at all! He sighed internally, looked to Shen Qiao to save him.
Shen Qiao started to say: “Yan-zongzhu, Bixia Sect is in decline, today it is not of high standing, I’m afraid it won’t meet your standards.”
Yan Wushi: “Oh, not to worry, this venerable one won’t make a fuss.”
Shen Qiao forced a smile: “But I am not a disciple of Bixia Sect, on other people’s grounds, I can’t decide their affairs for them.”
Yan Wushi: “Not a problem, when they see this venerable one, they would not refuse.”
Shen Qiao, speechless again, couldn’t help adding: “I don’t understand, there is no connection between Huanyue Sect and Bixia Sect, their sect is weak, probably won’t be able to give anything of value to Huanyue Sect, so why is Yan-zongzhu so set on going?”
Yan Wushi: “Naturally, it’s to give you face, why else would I grant my presence to such a small sect, when they see me, they should trip over their feet in welcome, how would they dare refuse?”
This conversation had no way of continuing!
Shen Qiao almost spat blood, feeling that the other clearly understood but was feigning confusion, moreover couldn’t understand in this brief period they were apart, Yan Wushi’s attitude had shifted remarkably.
If he were to ask further, it would probably be something even scarier.
He thought in silence for a long while, only came up with this one sentence: “What if I don’t want Yan-zongzhu to come along?”
Yan Wushi, astonished: “You just said you can’t decide their affairs for them, so why would your willingness matter, Shen-daozhang, how can you be so unreasonable?”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Yuwen Song looked at his future shizun in sympathy.
Yan Wushi turned to him suddenly: “You really don’t want to be this venerable one’s disciple?”
Yuwen Song, caught off guard, shook his head like a toy drum.
Yan Wushi didn’t say anything more, just smiled, gentle as water.
But this smile made Yuwen Song shiver.
So like this, what was previously two people on the trip became three.
Facing someone who doesn’t understand refusal, who couldn’t be insulted away, who probably would beat you in a fight, Shen Qiao could only choose to not see him.
But Yan Wushi’s existence by itself was very hard to ignore, the three of them walking together, his handsome-approaching-devilish appearance, often attracted the glances of strangers, like when they had stopped to eat a meal at an inn, almost all of the staff thought they were travelling together, and that Yan Wushi was the one responsible for the bill, will seek him out first on this matter, Shen Qiao tried to remedy this on several occasions to no avail, his efforts exhausted.
Like at this moment.
The three of them had already reached the foot of Taishan, the light of the day had faded, so they decided to stay at the base of the mountain for a night before going up.
It was peak hiking season for the sightseeing, the inns at the mountain base were often full, the owner not expecting travellers so late, hastily came out to greet them, and let the staff bring out a hot meal, filling the table with dishes, smiled apologetically: “So sorry, these days there are so many people hiking up to see the scenery, there’s only one room left, would it be ok?”
Yan Wushi glanced at Shen Qiao, the latter had given up insisting that they were in fact not travelling together, and didn’t say anything despite having the opportunity to intercede.
In his eyes passed a glimmer of a smile, and he reasoned out: “Yes. How large is the room?”
The owner laughed: “Not large, just an inner and outer section, but it exceeds in its elegance, if you see it I guarantee you will be satisfied, all the inns within this ten-li radius, no one has better ones!”
Yan Wushi nods: “Then go bring us a set of weiqi.”
This time of year the people here to view the mountain scenery were mostly literati, wanting to appeal to their interests, the inn had prepared in advance, the owner smiled: “Yes, yes!”
He followed with praise: “Looking at the three of you I thought you were jianghu wanderers, didn’t expect you to have the hobbies of intellectuals, truly talented in both respects!”
Shen Qiao really could not think of any factor that would draw Yan Wushi to Bixia Sect, could only attribute it to another one of his passing temperaments, hadn’t expected that the other would follow through, had come all this way, from beginning to end his interest hadn’t seemed to wane, and didn’t bring up the topic of departure, now they were on the brink of entering the gate of Bixia Sect, Shen Qiao’s headache continued, he was afraid this god-level menace might stir up trouble for the other sect, tried repeatedly to part ways to no avail, rather he had been teased the duration of the journey, leaving him at his wits’ end when he heard that all the inns were full, he furrowed his brows, considered if it would be better to make an ascent the same night, Bixia Sect was mid-way up the mountain anyway, if it wasn’t for Yuwen Song, the trip could be easily done.
Yan Wushi seemed to read his thoughts: “The bed we leave for Yuwen Song, you and I can play a game of weiqi in the outer room?”
Shen Qiao forced a smile: “Yan-zongzhu, what is your real intention coming to Bixia Sect, are you still unwilling to tell me truthfully?”
Yan Wushi: “This venerable one said it was for you, but you didn’t believe it.”
Shen Qiao shook his head, of course he didn’t: “Although my wugong is recovering, perhaps eight to nine parts my previous level, but to insist that I am on par with you, that’s forcing things a bit, in a fight my chances of winning are slim, at this moment I am still not worthy to be your opponent.”
Yan Wushi raised an eyebrow: “Shen-daozhang, I thought Daoist practices were about calmness and serenity with the natural world, and here you are talking about fighting and killing all the time, how violent, if you continue like this what year what month will you reach the next stage of your practice?”
His gaze swept over Shen Qiao and Yuwen Song’s expressionless faces, added mindlessly: “I heard that Bixia Sect has a renowned beauty by the name of Yue Kunchi.”
Shen Qiao, having suffered no small a shock: “That’s the zongzhu’s shixiong, and it’s a man, you are… ?!”
Yan Wushi: “Then the zongzhu must be a woman?”
Shen Qiao: “Correct…”
Yan Wushi: “Then let’s do this again, I heard that Bixia Sect has a renowned beauty, who compared to Yuan Xiuxiu doesn’t lack only exceeds, this venerable one has admired her for a long time, and would desire a meeting.”
Shen Qiao: “…”
Saying it like this doesn’t sound like you’ve admired her for a long time at all.
Regardless, Yan Wushi wanted to follow along, Shen Qiao had no counterstrategy, and before figuring out his real intention, could hardly bar him outside, making an enemy out of Bixia Sect.
After their meal, the staff took them to their room.
The room was really as the owner proclaimed, quite elegant in its furnishings and set-up, never mind Shen Qiao who was quite at home anywhere, even Yuwen Song had a happy expression, so looking out for his future disciple, Shen Qiao agreed that spending the night here would be fine.
Yuwen Song was rushed to bed to rest, while Yan Wushi held Shen Qiao back: “Let’s play a round.”
Shen Qiao declined politely: “This poor one’s weiqi skill is unrefined.”
Yan Wushi said without emotion: “That time your eyesight was bad, you could still play a blind round with yourself.”
Shen Qiao didn’t think he’d remember so clearly, felt awkward about refusing further, and so sat down.
The first round, Shen Qiao won by a sliver.
He said to Shen Qiao: “Our skill levels are similar, this time was but an error, you need to give this venerable one a chance to win, only then would it be fair.”
Shen Qiao was going to go sit and meditate, hearing this couldn’t help acquiescing: “Fine, let’s have one more round.”
The second round, Shen Qiao lost to Yan Wushi, this time the board was even more precarious than the last, as if just one move behind.
Yan Wushi generously said: “It was only because I had the first move, this time you can start.”
Shen Qiao creased his brows looking at the board, felt that something was not quite right, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
He had no innate competitive desire to win, and so replied: “No more, win or lose is a common enough thing, one win and one loss, just even.”
Yan Wushi: “This board is like sword style, did you learn something from the game?”
Shen Qiao hesitated, examined the board for a moment, shook his head: “Forgive my slowness, I don’t see it.”
Yan Wushi: “Another round, you can look closely, advance and retreat, exactly like wielding a sword against enemies, once you see it it’ll become clear.”
Shen Qiao has always respected Yan Wushi’s wugong insights, and so hearing this agreed to another round, really focusing this time.
Yan Wushi inwardly said so easy to trick, random words and he will still believe them.
The third round, the two of them finally reached a draw.
In this moment, that piece of dark sky from the sunrise had acquired a faint gold rim.
Shen Qiao examined the board again, finally realizing something, “The board is like a battlefield, can read people’s hearts and military strategy, but I have not seen anything related to sword style practice, did you purposefully dupe me?”
Yan Wushi with a straight face: “Of course not, you’re mistaken.”
He of course would not admit that the other’s appearance when concentrating was just extremely amusing.
Shen Qiao: “Then would Yan-zongzhu please explain your observations, so that this poor one may also understand?”
Yan Wushi getting to his feet: “It’s morning, this venerable one will go wake Yuwen Song, jade unworked does not become an instrument, he should practice his sword.”
Shen Qiao: “…”