“Then all the more for you to strip.” Xiao Chiye took off his arm guards and set them on the wooden ledge under the eaves together with his cloak and outer garment. The soldiers in the inner hall of the military drill grounds wanted to come over to pay their obeisances, but he raised a hand to stop them. He turned around to look calmly at Shen Zechuan and said, “That’d be just perfect for me to see and experience for myself the difference between a body trained by the Ji Clan’s mental cultivation techniques and mine.”
“Since we are from the same school of martial arts.” Shen Zechuan set Langli Blade at the side. “Then the stances and moves are naturally the same.”
“Not necessarily so.” Xiao Chiye said, “My shifu incorporated an external boxing style1 into it, so it was already quite different from the Ji Clan Boxing Style by the time it was imparted to me. If they were identical, you wouldn’t have been totally oblivious of the fact that night.”
“If you want to exchange pointers, then just say so.” Shen Zechuan slid a leg out in an arc. “Why speak of stripping? You sound just like a beast.”
In that very instant, Xiao Chiye felt as though Shen Zechuan had suddenly turned into another person. Rainwater and mountain fog overlapped, washing out Shen Zechuan’s facial features. In contrast, his slender body became all the more striking.
“My wish is to be a beast in human clothing.” Xiao Chiye strode down the stairs and stepped into the curtain of rain. “I gave you a kick five years ago. Do you hate me for it?”
Shen Zechuan said, “If I say yes, wouldn’t that mean I have been tossing and turning having sleepless nights thinking of you? So nope. I don’t hate you at all.”
Xiao Chiye struck up a starting stance and said, “What a pity. If you hate me, then you can get your revenge today.”
Amid the biting cold wind, Xiao Chiye slowly added on, “—That is, if you can.”
Raindrops came pitter-pattering down, bouncing for a few steps before spreading their wings on the veranda. At this moment, Xiao Chiye sprang up in the rain to make his move first.
He threw out a punch, only to strike at empty air. But the vigor and strength of his blow sent the water droplets flying and splashing onto Shen Zechuan’s cheeks.
Having missed his target with that strike, Xiao Chiye swept his arm to the left. Shen Zechuan blocked his blow with a lightning move of his hand. When both men’s arms collided, Shen Zechuan frowned from the pain and retreated a few steps back.
Ji Clan’s Boxing Style!
Shen Zechuan pursed his lips into a tight line, but laughed out loud instead.
Shifu’s boxing style was steady and robust. Xiao’Er2 obviously lacked the steadiness but was far more ferocious. His strength was too astonishing. Just a collision like this, and the impact had already numbed Shen Zechuan’s arm.
The Ji Clan’s Boxing Style was meant to be imparted to this kind of man, because his internal and external constitution all made it particularly suitable for him to train in it. Xiao Chiye’s physique granted him the qualification to hold the various heroes in contempt. But was receiving an unfair advantage from Heaven the crux to determining victory?
What Shen Zechuan did not believe the most was the fate Heaven decided for them!
Shen Zechuan raised a leg up, and raindrops suddenly went splashing towards Xiao Chiye. His leg sweep3 was quick and brutal. Any other ordinary person would home in on the advantageous and avoid the dangerous; thus, they would first evade an incoming attack.
But Xiao Chiye just had to meet difficulties head-on. He lifted his arm to block and fend off Shen Zechuan’s leg with a “thud”, then strode a steady step forward.
It was too late for Shen Zechuan to retract his leg. Facing off Xiao Chiye was just like facing off a tiger or a leopard poised for action. A wavering heart, an evasive gaze, an avoidant stance—As long as he showed any signs of these, Xiao Chiye would instantly storm in. He would never miss any opportunity to attack his opponent.
Letting Xiao Chiye go on the defensive was much easier to deal with than letting Xiao Chiye go on the offensive!
Shen Zechuan exerted force with his leg, and the pressure slightly slowed down Xiao Chiye’s movement. In a twinkling of an eye, Shen Zechuan was lifted into the air by Xiao Chiye. He leaned his entire body back, supported his weight with both arms on the ground, and straightened back up like a soft willow in the wind. The moment he sprang back to his feet, he swept his leg out again.
Once again, Xiao Chiye bent his arm to block it. This time, his eyes were calm as he said, “An ant trying to shake a tree.4 Should I diss you for overrating your abilities, or should I commend you for your courage?”
Xiao Chiye had only just said this when he backhandedly grabbed Shen Zechuan’s calf. His shoulder sank as he attempted to flip Shen Zechuan over to the ground.
Having already been swung up, Shen Zechuan made use of the momentum and stepped on Xiao Chiye’s shoulder. That amazing waist strength of his came into play again as his legs twisted around Xiao Chiye’s neck and spun him over to the ground together with him.
Xiao Chiye’s palm slid straight up along this straightness and hooked around the spot that had bent into an arch earlier. The suppleness in his palm was so smooth it was incredible.
He simply wanted to touch Shen Zechuan.
Because he could not fathom it. Whether it was the Ji Clan’s Boxing Style or the Ji Clan’s Broadsword Style, as long as a person trained all the year-round, his body muscles would definitely, and visibly, develop. But Shen Zechuan not only concealed it to the extent it looked as though he had never trained in martial arts, but also to the extent that both Chen Yang and Qiao Tianya were taken in, thinking him to be morbidly weak and sick due to a deficiency of vital energy and blood.5
Shen Zechuan lifted his body off the ground and slammed his elbow towards Xiao Chiye’s head. Xiao Chiye tilted his head to dodge the blow. He held on tight to Shen Zechuan’s waist and pinned him against his own chest, then felt his way up from the latter’s waist to his chest.
The eastern pearl6 was still hidden in his bosom!
The moment Shen Zechuan’s back bumped into Xiao Chiye, he clasped hold of Xiao Chiye’s arm and flung him over his shoulder into the rain.
The spray of water instantly wetted his hair.
Shen Zechuan wanted to retreat, but Xiao Chiye unexpectedly hooked him with his long leg and sent him tripping towards himself. Shen Zechuan’s body was already tilting towards Xiao Chiye, but in that very instant, he trod on the water and gradually stabilized himself just like the reverberations of the strings on a qin.7
Xiao Chiye straightened up and threw himself forward again. His hook struck at empty air, but he touched a lock of Shen Zechuan’s long hair that had fluttered up in the rain as the latter spun around in a retreat to evade his blow.
The rain-soaked lock of hair longingly slipped past Xiao Chiye’s fingertips as if wanting for more, causing him to feel a wet itch.
“Not fighting anymore.” Xiao Chiye suddenly clenched his fist and looked at Shen Zechuan. “The rain has gotten heavier.”
Shen Zechuan looked back and asked, “Have you touched enough?”
Without batting an eyelid, Xiao Chiye said, “Not soft, but not hard either.”
Shen Zechuan said a little mockingly, “I thought you were going to tear off all my clothes.”
“If I really wanted to.” Xiao Chiye said, “We would be baring all of ourselves to each other right now.”8
With that, he raised his other hand and waved the thin blade Shen Zechuan always carried with him.
“The Ji Clan’s mental cultivation techniques need to be paired with the broadsword. Even if you use these things every day, you will not be able to defeat me in this lifetime. If you can’t beat me, then how are you going to take revenge?”
Shen Zechuan’s thin blades were originally hidden on the outside of his thighs. He glanced down, then looked at Xiao Chiye again. He said, “Fighting and killing will hurt relationships. Isn’t it more pleasant to play the fool together?”
Xiao Chiye said, “I only fear that you are hiding a blade behind your smile9 to stab me when I’m the least unaware.”
“Only the word lust has a blade above it.”10 Shen Zechuan spread out his hands. “Second Young Master is a gentleman. What’s there to fear?”
Xiao Chiye placed the thin blade in Shen Zechuan’s palm and said unhurriedly, “I’ve just said that I’m a beast in human clothing. Why do you always see me as a gentleman?”
Shen Zechuan wanted to retract his hand.
But Xiao Chiye grabbed him by the wrist and said, “Seeing as you are so obedient today, this Second Young Master will take you someplace that’ll make you feel good.”
“Viceroy.” Shen Zechuan suddenly said with a severe countenance, “Please, I’m not into men. Let us just part on good terms without hard feelings. Why pester me to such an extent?”
Xiao Chiye was momentarily dumbfounded, then he turned his head to the side and saw a whole bunch of Imperial Army soldiers clinging all over the doors and windows of the military drill grounds inner hall to watch the show.
The Vice Commander of the Imperial Army was the scar-faced man who led his men to kill the Eight Great Training Divisions that night. He clutched the window and took the lead to jeer.
“Fighting like a hoodlum taking liberties. Viceroy, what the hell?! You never smiled at us when you lecture us every day!”
“That was pestering he said!” They winked meaningfully at each other and started heckling, “How could that be the same?! The Viceroy is twenty-three now, and he has no wife at home to dote on. So all the energy in him has to be expended on someone else. It’s not the same!”
Xiao Chiye sensed that Shen Zechuan was going to run and so he pulled the latter hard towards himself. He said with a superficial smile, “That’s right. I’m into pestering others. Lanzhou, why are you running? I’m not done pestering you! The reason you aren’t into men is that you have yet to get a sweet taste of them. Second Young Master will teach you.”
When it came to being shameless and stupid, he, Xiao Chiye, would only concede defeat to Li Jianheng. Who wouldn’t know the trick of forcing yourself on someone else? Shen Zechuan was really belittling him by trying to use this kind of cheap trick to embarrass him.
Without giving Shen Zechuan the chance to reply, Xiao Chiye dragged him away.
Behind them, Tantai Hu touched his scar and asked the soldier beside him, “Who’s that man? I’ve never seen him in our Imperial Army before!”
“His surname is Shen.” The man beside him winked. “The one from Zhongbo.”
The smile on Tantai Hu’s face cooled. He propped himself up with his arms to stick his head out, then looked back and said, “He’s that fucking Shen who brought disaster upon Zhongbo? What’s the Viceroy doing with him! Shen Wei caused the death of so many people. Even eight heads of his aren’t enough for us to behead! The Prince of Jianxing’s Manor has already been wrecked by others. Yet he’s still eating and living well in Qudu. The orphans who have lost their parents on the Chashi River frontline are still gnawing on mud! Fuck this! Why didn’t you tell me earlier?!”
◈ ◈ ◈
Xiao Chiye led Shen Zechuan up Mount Feng.
There was a narrow flight of stone steps in the mountain. The stream soaked through the soles of their shoes, chilling them to their bones. But Xiao Chiye did not even look back as he parted the maple leaves dripping with water and made his way onto a path. Their shoes sank into the mud they trod upon as they walked farther in with uneven steps.
Less than an hour later, Xiao Chiye stopped in his tracks.
The thatched cottage in the misty rain was small and exquisite, but it did not look like a place to live in.
He turned sideways and said to Shen Zechuan, “You saved me once in the Nanlin Hunting Grounds. As a reward, I’ll share half of this place with you.”
“The reward I want is cold, hard cash.” Shen Zechuan said, “… not soaking in a bath together.”
“Money and fame are merely worldly possessions.” Xiao Chiye stretched out both arms to lift the fabric curtain and enter. He stood at the entrance to strip off his attire and shouted, “This place is one that even the Emperor’s old man himself had never enjoyed before.”
Shen Zechuan lifted the curtain and saw Xiao Chiye’s bare upper body. The contours of the muscles on the back of his shoulders were clean and neat, like a physique sculpted with a chisel.
Other than a small clothes rack with curvy raised ends11 in the house, there was only a hot spring that led out. Xiao Chiye hung up his clothes on one side of the clothes rack. The other end was obviously reserved for him.
Xiao Chiye took off his boots, looked back at Shen Zechuan, and said, “Do you want to turn your back to me and strip, or do you want to strip while watching me?”
Pulling at his waist belt, Shen Zechuan turned his back. The eastern pearl landed in his palm, and he conveniently put it away into his sleeve. The gaze on his back never shifted away. Shen Zechuan’s hand paused for a moment before he pulled off his own outer garment.
Xiao Chiye watched that garment slip to the ground. The fairness of Shen Zechuan’s neck finally extended downward, very much like pear blossom rice paper immersed in moonlight. His back looked so thin and smooth.
Xiao Chiye thought.
That’s right. It was as if he had been staring at Shen Zechuan’s nape all for this very moment.
How could a man’s nape produce such breathtaking beauty? This was beyond everything Xiao Chiye had seen and heard in the past. It not only surprised him, but also baffled him.
The fangs of the little wolf from Libei were sharp, but he had never bitten such a neck before, nor had he ever bitten such a man. His gaze slid down from Shen Zechuan’s nape with a strength that felt like a caress, moving along that slightly heaving contour as it made its way farther down and down.
Xiao Chiye’s mouth felt parched. He suddenly returned to his senses with a jolt and hurriedly averted his gaze.
I must be mad!
There were so many courtesans on Donglong Street! Which one of them wasn’t a genuine beauty? Why was he looking at a man’s back as though he was burning with hunger?
Xiao Chiye used to turn his nose up at people who were seduced by beautiful women, because the elders and seniors he admired were all men of resolute will. Every one of them could be said to be a true gentleman with the air of a man untempted by lust even with a beautiful woman in their laps.12
Just like his father, his brother, his shifu.
The famous generals of the world changed generation after generation. But he had never admired Qi Shiyu before precisely because Qi Shiyu was a lecher. After the battle in Zhongbo, the one he loathed the most was Shen Wei, and it was because Shen Wei was not only guilty of monstrous crimes, but was also lecherous!
But at this moment, he felt a little dizzy as that bestial instinct, captivated by beauty and stirred by desires, once again showed signs of rearing its head.
Xiao Chiye strained himself to rein in his gaze and vividly felt the contradiction between his mind and his desire. He did not love this man, but because of this man’s loveliness, the desire to embrace him, ravage him, and tear at him with his teeth sprang up within him for the second time.
“Aren’t you going in?” Shen Zechuan was completely oblivious as he turned back and approached him, unperturbed.
Xiao Chiye responded in an angry voice. “…Duh!”
The back of the neck does indeed imply lust. 23313
Credits: Many thanks to kotoni for the clarification! ♥
- 外家拳/功夫 ‘external’ martial arts, originates from Shaolin, where one uses one’s physical strength in combat to go on the offensive. The opposite 内家拳/功夫 ‘internal’ martial arts originates from Zhang Sanfeng, where one mobilizes one’s internal energy instead. The latter is more concerned about the spiritual and mental aspects rather than the physical aspects. An example of internal martial arts is Taiji/Tai Chi.
- Xiao the Second, also known as Xiao’Er and Second Young Master Xiao, will be used interchangeably depending on the occasion and person saying it. I’ll use Xiao’Er (萧二) to distinguish from the -er (儿) suffix that’s normally used as a term of endearment. e.g. Chuan-er (川儿）
- 扫堂腿 a martial art move where one typically sweeps out a leg in a circle.
- 蚍蜉撼树 literally an ant trying to shake a tree; i.e. overrate oneself.
- 气血两虚 deficiency of vital energy (qi) and blood. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), qi (or vital energy) and blood are both required to maintain and nourish one’s body to sustain life. When one’s qi is deficient, pain, suffering, and illness may occur, while blood deficiency is a condition that underlies many illnesses mainly related to the liver, kidney, heart, and spleen. The latter may seem similar to anemia, but anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the blood, whereas blood deficiency is seen as being a lack of blood itself.
- 东珠 literally eastern pearl, a rare treasure also known as the northern pearl (北珠) or tana in Mongolian. During the Qing Dynasty, pearls produced in northeast China were called the eastern pearl to distinguish them from the southern pearl produced in the south. The rulers of the Qing Dynasty regarded the eastern pearls as treasures and used them to inlay their crown and clothing with it to represent authority and honor.
(古)琴 (Gu)qin is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. One of the weapons used by Lan Wangji (MY BAE) of MDZS is the guqin.
- 坦诚相见 treating each other with sincerity, i.e. baring one’s soul/heart to one another. ᕦ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)ᕤ
- 笑里藏刀 literally a blade hidden behind a smile; i.e. a murderous heart or intents under a smiling exterior.
- 色字头上带(一)把刀, literally, only the word lust (色) has a knife or blade above it. (referring to the radicals that make up the words 色, i.e. ⺈(a component form of ⼑ which means blade) above 巴 to form the character 色. i.e., lust can lead to bitter consequences.
- 坐怀不乱 In the Spring and Autumn Period, Liuxia Hui of Lu stayed at the city gate overnight where he met a homeless woman. Fearing the woman would be frozen from the cold, he sat her on his lap (or embraced her in his bosom) and blanketed her with his clothes. The night passed without him making a single indecent move. This later came to describe an upright man who is unaffected by temptations even with a beautiful woman close by.
- 233, net lingo similar to LOL