The sand rat put in a lot of effort, and you’re still laughing.
The old Confucian scholar had never heard of Meng Qi’s name before.
He even momentarily spaced out, almost mistaking “Chu Dynasty’s State Teacher” for some sort of renowned title in the martial world. When he finally realized that those two words referred to the “Chu Dynasty,” he immediately thought of several former kings from the Chu Dynasty in the southern region.
Taking Prince Ning as an example, the hierarchy of his officials was in utter chaos.
The official positions from the former royal court hadn’t been completely abolished. Instead, they had reinstated titles like prime ministers and grand generals, which were originally reserved for emperors. The vice ministers of the three ministries and six departments, positions of considerable prestige, were now so commonplace that even first and second-rank officials held little value. Third and fourth-rank officials were everywhere. Once outside Prince Ning’s jurisdiction, hardly anyone recognized their ranks. As for a position like “State Teacher,” a role that was offbeat in nature, who could even determine its rank?
The old Confucian scholar desperately tried to convey his willingness to align himself with Prince Ning in order to secure his life. But even as he attempted to do so, Meng Qi had already struck his right ulna bone with a palm strike.
The cries of agony heard by Mo Li and the villagers were a direct result of this strike.
It wasn’t the old Confucian scholar’s reaction upon hearing Meng Qi’s name that prompted the cry; it was an expression of fear – at least that’s what the villagers thought.
An injury to the ulna bone wouldn’t be fatal, but if left untreated, it could incapacitate a person significantly.
There were generally two methods for disabling martial arts. One was to rupture the “Dantian,” the core of internal energy storage. Practitioners of internal energy relied on the Dantian to circulate their internal energy through their meridians, forming a continuous cycle. Shattering the Dantian meant being unable to continue cultivating internal energy, or even utilizing it. In such cases, one could switch to practicing external martial arts. However, in the world of martial arts, if one didn’t cultivate internal energy, they could never hope to achieve the realm of top-tier experts.
Aside from the Dantian, the ulna bone was the second vulnerable area.
Even with immense internal energy, techniques required execution. Unless one was like Meng Qi, who cared little about depleting their internal energy and could directly suppress opponents, causing them to cough up blood.
With his ulna bone severely injured, the old Confucian scholar couldn’t even raise his right hand, and his body staggered a few steps.
Suppressing the excruciating pain of broken bones and strained tendons, his eyes were filled with fury.
“State Teacher Meng, I’ve had no grievances with you in the past and no recent enmity! I am no match for you, so why resort to such lethal measures?”
Meng Qi raised an eyebrow, aware that in the minds of these people, ordinary folks ignorant of martial arts weren’t much different from ants. The scale of their killings, whether more or fewer, was only a matter of “reputation.” If one wasn’t a righteous individual, they wouldn’t even consider such scruples.
Only when martial prowess reaches a certain level do they look at each other with respect and consider each other as equals.
So when the old Confucian scholar questioned, he not only lacked shame but also was unyielding. He had only wanted to come and seize the Gold Silk Armor. Apart from that, he had not offended Meng Qi. Now that the armor was gone, he was willing to retreat. Yet, the other party was relentlessly pursuing him. This had turned into a feud!
“I am Elder Song Ya of the Spring Mountain Sect. By acting like this, are you trying to provoke eternal enmity with the Spring Mountain Sect?” the old Confucian scholar said sternly.
Meng Qi sneered, “So what if it’s the Spring Mountain Sect?”
“Furthermore, as you’ve said, once a person is dead, setting fire to the body can easily conceal the killer’s identity,” Meng Qi said with a sarcastic smile. His techniques didn’t slow down at all, forcing the Elder of the Spring Mountain Sect to go all out, forcefully increasing his internal energy, even if it meant suffering backlash afterward.
Elder Song Ya spat out blood, and his clothes puffed up, his expression turning ferocious.
With a loud shout, he unleashed a palm strike mixed with a noxious mist, sweeping up sand and pebbles from the ground, charging like thunder, as if cleaving a mountain.
Elder Song Ya possessed exceedingly high internal energy and had cultivated poisonous techniques as well. Just these two points alone made him a formidable opponent in the martial world, as not many could rival both internal power and poison simultaneously. Those well-versed in sophisticated martial arts from major sects, as well as swordsmen and knife-wielders, would be cautious.
Hence, Elder Song Ya of the Spring Mountain Sect was a thorny adversary even among the villains. Disguised as a Confucian scholar for years, he appeared to be an unsuccessful old student, complete with a gentle demeanor. Many were deceived by his appearance and suffered losses without realizing how it happened.
However, today Elder Song Ya had kicked against a tough rock.
Meng Qi wasn’t the least bit afraid of his poisonous mist.
Just as Mo Li had discovered during his first pulse diagnosis of Meng Qi, his internal energy wasn’t just strong; it carried an aura of righteousness, imposing as a mountain and scorching like the sun.
In the current exchange, Meng Qi was freely using his internal energy to suppress his opponent. The poisonous mist lingered for just a moment before it was obliterated entirely, like withered leaves being swept away, leaving nothing behind.
Elder Song Ya was greatly shocked, but his move was already set, impossible to retract.
Without the cover of the poisonous mist, he could only confront this head-on.
As a loud roar echoed, several houses in the distance near the village entrance shook for a few moments.
When Meng Qi had mentioned his name using intentional inner energy transmission, the villagers had heard it clearly.
“Chu, Chu Dynasty?” The old village chief was utterly shocked.
Invoking the name of a fallen dynasty was indeed a significant matter!
Zhang Dezhi had claimed that the village chief’s ancestors had held positions in the Chu Dynasty, but it was just nonsense. The old village chief himself was quite aged. When the Li family ruled during the Chu Dynasty, he had been in his prime. His ancestors would probably need to rise from the grave to serve in the Chu Dynasty’s government.
Even though there had been no government officials in their family, the old village chief was well aware of the imperial crackdown on remnants of the previous dynasty.
Back in the day, General Lu had led a large army into the capital, leaving rivers of blood in their wake. While the ordinary commoners might not have known the exact state of affairs within the palace walls, the consequences were clear. During the chaos of that rebellion, countless citizens of the capital had lost their lives. In the twelve districts of the city, the lucky ones were those who organized funerals for their families, while in some places, entire streets had almost been wiped out.
Some of the survivors had fled the capital and sought refuge with their relatives after the lifting of the ban.
The horrors of that night had naturally spread far and wide.
The royal family of the Chu Dynasty had been exterminated, and even the stubborn officials among the civil and military ranks had been systematically killed. The new dynasty was established upon a pile of decapitated heads. The village chief shuddered at the mere thought of it, quickly urging the villagers to return home, declaring that they hadn’t seen anything today.
“Ah, young lad, you better leave quickly!”
The old village chief didn’t press for more details from Mo Li, whether about the gold silk armor or anything else. Mo Li might be in the know or he might have just falsely claimed knowledge to divert the old scholar’s attention. Regardless, a deadly star had suddenly arrived, wearing the gold silk armor. It was possible that the old scholar had been killed by now. If the newcomer was particularly ruthless, no one in the village could escape.
“To the cellar, everyone, hide in the cellar!” The village chief shouted in panic.
He turned to Mo Li and said, “Young lad, I see you have some martial skills. Hurry and save yourself, staying here isn’t safe!”
Mo Li saw their intense anxiety and wanted to say something, yet he didn’t know where to begin.
Suddenly, the ground trembled, throwing everyone into further chaos. Some tried to rush inside their homes to protect their children, some attempted to flee the village, and others were simply bewildered, blindly following others in their escape.
After this chaotic commotion, everyone eventually found what they considered a safe spot.
The villagers closed doors and windows tightly, not daring to even breathe loudly. They lived in this state of tension for what seemed like half a day. Once it was certain that there was no movement outside, they began cautiously emerging to assess the situation.
The marks at the village entrance were still visible, but the thief who had been tied up in the ancestral hall had vanished.
No houses had collapsed, and there were no gruesome scenes to be seen.
Zhang Dezhi lay on his bed, deeply shaken by the events and injured. He was now in a state of confusion, muttering incoherently.
The village chief’s son, mustering up his courage, led a group of people to search the vicinity. Apart from some bloodstains, they found no bodies.
During the night, the villagers hastily cleaned up the bloodstains and reburied them beneath the soil.
By the time someone remembered Mo Li and started suspecting the identity of the person buying medicinal herbs, Mo Li’s traces were already nowhere to be found.
The villagers, who didn’t understand what the gold silk armor was, decided to swallow this name, fearing it might bring them trouble. Because of the incident involving Zhang Dezhi, they even started avoiding the word “gold,” using “valuable silver” instead whenever they had to refer to it.
So, years later, even the villagers themselves didn’t know the origins of this avoidance, and the county records had no explanation for it.
That, however, is a story for another time.
Before leaving the village, Mo Li took a detour to the ancestral hall.
Li Kong’er was still unconscious, and the villagers who had been guarding him had fled. Mo Li effortlessly carried him away.
Of course, he couldn’t resist using his inner strength to investigate. This is how he discovered Li Kong’er’s unusual state and found a hidden injury at the back of his head. After careful consideration, he deduced that this was the work of Meng Qi.
It could be considered as sparing a life.
Li Kong’er’s injuries weren’t severe, and he would still be able to roam the martial world in the future, but achieving the status of the number one thief was probably out of the question.
Mo Li contemplated, still unaware of the thief’s identity, but leaving the person in the village was causing confusion among the villagers. So he decided to take him along.
Apart from carrying another person, Mo Li felt quite unburdened, not even needing to carry his baggage (which had been taken by Meng Qi).
Without much further thought, he chose the eastern road.
Although this direction didn’t lead to where the confrontation between the Old Confucian scholar and Meng Qi had occurred, he had to head in this direction to reach the capital city.
Mo Li found a small hill and hid Li Kong’er in a concealed spot before sitting on the hill, waiting.
Sure enough, before long, he saw a familiar figure streaking across the sky.
Meng Qi’s hair was somewhat disheveled, his upper body exposed, and he wore a pair of long pants. His outer robe was in tatters, hanging loosely on him. Despite this beggarly appearance, he still moved gracefully, walking lightly as if he were untouched by the mundane world.
Mo Li: “…”
No matter how hard the sand rat tries, it’s still a sand rat. When it takes on a human form, it’s an entirely different story.
Rising above the essence, containing the brilliance of constellations.
A lone standard beyond the mundane world, a solitary step among idle clouds.
Having been the State Teacher for many years, even though Meng Qi looked down upon Daoists, his demeanor and appearance happened to be the very image that Daoists yearned to become. When he restrained his aura, he didn’t exhibit this kind of charisma.
Mo Li had known Meng Qi for a while, but had only seen this side of him a few times.
One of those times was when they first met.
Now, after observing the sand rat for a long time, suddenly seeing Meng Qi in this particular state, Mo Li’s lingering doubts were cleared. The sand rat’s slow and deliberate mannerisms, actually stemmed from its self-confidence in its humanoid form.
—This was the essence of peerless elegance, transcendent and ethereal.
However, as Mo Li watched Meng Qi approach now, his mind was filled with the image of a plump sand rat swaggering along a wall.
No, he had to hold back his laughter.
Mo Li promptly turned his head, disguising the twitch at the corners of his mouth.
“Physician?” Meng Qi felt puzzled, following Mo Li’s line of sight to look over, but he didn’t see anything unusual.
“Nothing.” Mo Li suppressed his laughter and asked casually, “What about the gold silk armor you were wearing?”
“I took it off, it’s in my bag,” Meng Qi gestured to the bag on his back and lazily remarked, “If it wasn’t to prove that I got the gold silk armor, I wouldn’t even want to wear this thing.”
He was quite disdainful of the so-called invulnerable armor.
Because the golden silk armor had indelible bloodstains on it, Meng Qi had no interest in it. Naturally, he found it repulsive and was unwilling to wear it for even a moment longer.
“Why don’t you take another piece of clothing from your bag to put on? It’s still cold outside. What kind of appearance is this?” Physician Mo said unhappily.
Just because you have inner energy protecting you, does that mean you can walk around without clothes? Only someone who’s used to seeing it can find it strange!
Meng Qi silently put down his bag and started rummaging through the clothes.
This one was Mo Li’s, and that one was also Mo Li’s.
—Because he had previously been in the form of the sand rat, Mo Li had only bought one set of clothing for Meng Qi.
Meng Qi pretended not to know. He continued to rummage through, and his hand was about to touch the undergarments.
“Stop!” Mo Li couldn’t help but intervene.
Except for the undergarment, the others were all winter clothes, already thick enough. It would have been fine to casually touch them, but as Meng Qi slowly searched through, Mo Li started feeling inexplicably anxious.
“Those are clean clothes, don’t touch them. Look at your hands, did you wash them?”
Meng Qi pretended not to know and picked up one of Mo Li’s undergarments to put on.
“Wait, yours is here!” Mo Li couldn’t take it anymore. He could understand the urgency of putting on whatever was available earlier, but what was this person pretending to be clueless about now?
Meng Qi dismissively said, “I’m already wearing it.”
Mo Li couldn’t help but chuckle in annoyance. Just because he’s wearing it, does that make it automatically his?
“The cuffs are a bit short, isn’t it inconvenient to raise your arms? Can’t you feel it?” Physician Mo didn’t bother with pleasantries, he just threw the properly fitting clothes he had found onto Meng Qi’s face and succinctly said, “Change!”
As Meng Qi silently went to change his clothes, Mo Li settled his thoughts and found his ears slightly warmed. It was annoyance.
He touched his ear and felt like he had lost face for Elder Qin. A true gentleman doesn’t easily lose his temper, yet here he was unable to let go of such a minor incident. Even thinking about it left him somewhat dumbfounded.
Yeah, he should have just grabbed the clothes and changed them without saying a word.
When Meng Qi returned, he didn’t have the clothes he had taken off. Before Mo Li could ask, Master Meng calmly said, “It is indeed quite cold. I put on two layers.”
“The smaller one is inside, and the larger one is outside. No problem with that.”
As for the outer robe, the fabric is coarse, it doesn’t make much difference who wears it.
Meng Qi’s words caught Mo Li off guard. It was almost the season of blooming flowers, and he was saying it’s cold! Is internal energy useless?
—You never heard him complain about the cold during the howling north wind and heavy snow!
But Mo Li couldn’t say that now, because he had just said it was cold and asked Meng Qi to put on clothes. Now, he was stepping on a landmine he had set up for himself. It was clear Meng Qi was waiting for him to say this!
Mo Li suppressed his irritation and continued walking without showing any expression.
A true gentleman uses his words, not his hands.
When you can’t argue with someone, you can just turn around and walk away!
“Wait a moment, Physician,” Meng Qi quickly caught up and earnestly said, “Your bag is here, and your money pouch is with me!”
“Sand Rat being like this is capable enough, I don’t think he’ll be crushed by the bag,” Mo Li didn’t even look back, he spoke as he walked, “As for the money pouch, so what if it’s lost? I still have a handful of copper coins that person threw out earlier.”
Meng Qi reached the foot of the hill and saw Li Kong’er.
“So you brought him along, Physician?” Meng Qi hadn’t intended to bring this person. He suggested, “Well, it’s not a good situation to leave him here. Why not take him to Qiong County and find a place to leave him?”
Meng Qi looked at Li Kong’er as if he were looking at a torn sack, he was even more disdainful of him than the Gold Silk Armor.
Mo Li couldn’t help but ask, “Who exactly is he?”
Meng Qi then explained the connection between the Gold Silk Armor and Li Kong’er, saying, “For the reputation of being the world’s number one thief, they would go to the lengths of stealing the Gold Silk Armor and putting in a lot of effort to find the flaws of the Cangfeng Sect. They are truly dedicated to their cause.”
After finishing, he laughed with a touch of scorn.
“…But they are nothing more than selfish individuals. What’s the reputation of a sect? It’s just a label that ‘belongs’ to them, a way to enjoy the praise of being the world’s number one thief. Such people, in the face of danger, will undoubtedly break promises, abandon companions, and betray friends without hesitation, all for their own preservation. While we may lack allies to deal with Qingwu Ancestor, we won’t have any dealings with people like them!”
Mo Li didn’t object.
In fact, his standards were even higher than Meng Qi’s. People like Li Kong’er, a renowned thief of the martial world, unless they were like the heroes in tales, righteous and gallant, or they were stealing just for fun and returning the stolen goods to their owners, he would always treat them as mere thieves.
“Who is that old Confucian who captured Zhang Dezhi and killed those people in the gambling house and pawn shop?”
“Rumor has it that he’s an elder of the Spring Mountain Sect.”
Meng Qi’s answer was almost the same as having no answer at all, because neither of them knew where the Spring Mountain Sect was located and what it was about.
“An evil sect?”
“Judging by his martial arts style, it’s possible,” Meng Qi had some understanding of the backgrounds of Jianghu people who were Taoists. He thought for a while and then asked Mo Li, “You’ve also fought against him. Do you think his martial arts are better, or Xue Ting’s?”
Xue Ting was the magistrate of Zhushan County.
Mo Li shook his head in response, “While he uses poison, I don’t think this elder from the Spring Mountain Sect has a deeper understanding of the Poison Dao. Also, I’ve never fought against Magistrate Xue, so I don’t know the extent of his skills.”
This time it was Meng Qi’s turn to be surprised.
“Never fought? No trial moves, no guidance?”
“…None of those.”
Mo Li thought to himself, would it be appropriate for him to go fight against Magistrate Xue? That wouldn’t make any sense. Sparring was the business of Elder Qin and Magistrate Xue. Moreover, Magistrate Xue had official duties to attend to, he wasn’t someone who had the leisure to engage in fights all day like a Jianghu person.
Meng Qi pondered for a moment and said, “Then it’s hard to gauge the true strength of this Elder Song Ya in the Jianghu.”
The JinYiWei of the Qi Dynasty found out that the Ghostly Poisonous Vulture was Xue Ting, the details about him were quite thorough. Meng Qi had been chasing after JinYiWei’s undercover agents for many years, so he had heard quite a bit. He knew that Xue Ting had never suffered a defeat in the Jianghu in his past.
Whether his martial arts were high or not was hard to say, but at the very least, his reputation as a master of the Poison Dao was well-deserved.
“By the way, where is this elder from the Spring Mountain Sect now?” Mo Li didn’t think he had died.
Since Meng Qi had brought up the “long-buried” title, he expected the news to spread. However, how it spread needed to be controlled. He wanted Song Ya to be able to speak, but he couldn’t let him blurt out everything recklessly.
“He’s seriously injured!” Meng Qi casually said, “I shattered his right costal bone, and when he forcibly boosted his strength, he suffered a backlash of internal energy. He could spit out half his life’s worth of blood. I left behind a hidden force as well. Though his strength is decent and he managed to struggle away, he won’t last more than half an hour before the symptoms worsen. If he doesn’t have miraculous elixirs, he’s a goner. He’ll only have a few last words left.”
State Teacher Meng smirked knowingly, “Do you think he’ll admit he sneaked into a village to find the gold silk armor and ended up falling flat on his face?”
People in the Jianghu cared about their reputation, even in death.
“Rest assured, even if he’s lucky enough to survive, if he wants to come back for revenge, he’ll have to deal with his own troubles first. Do you think he has no enemies? Won’t they take advantage of his serious injuries to seek revenge? As for the Spring Mountain Sect and the Jianghu folks, they’re probably more concerned about the whereabouts of the gold silk armor.”
After finishing speaking, Meng Qi was about to go grab the unconscious Li Konger, but Mo Li beat him to it.
Then, he watched Mo Li’s figure as he walked away and couldn’t help but laugh.
Meng Qi found it amusing when Mo Li’s temper flared up. When it was time to discuss serious matters, they continued discussing seriously, and despite Mo Li saying otherwise, he still helped “carry the weight.” If only Mo Li didn’t just treat him as a patient to take care of but as something else, that would be even better.
Meng Qi let out a secret sigh, then lowered his head to look at his chest and abdomen.
Is it even possible without the clothes? According to Prime Minister Deng and Marquis Jingyuan, his physique was quite admirable. Why didn’t Mo Li react at all?
Could it be that the appreciation of mountain spirits and humans doesn’t align?
Meng Qi suddenly thought of the Sand Rat’s flesh.
Due to the lack of memories of when he had taken the form of Sand Rat, he couldn’t understand why, as a mountain spirit residing in Cloud Mountain in the imperial capital, he had chosen to take on that form. Was it because he could listen to corners?
Creatures in the mountains usually valued robust bodies as beauty.
But what did a Sand Rat need to be robust for?
Do you know how difficult it is to control your body so that it doesn’t tremble while walking?
Meng Qi was already trying very hard; just thinking about it was exhausting.
“… Brother Meng?”
Mo Li frowned. What was Meng Qi so absorbed in thinking about?
Meng Qi snapped back to reality and quickly pondered why Mo Li seemed unhappy. Aside from the incident where he dug a pit earlier, it should be about his unauthorized use of the Gold Silk Armor and taking away the trouble.
Meng Qi was confident that he could persuade Mo Li on this point.
“After careful consideration, I believe there are many advantages to using the name ‘Meng Qi.'”
“Oh? Please elaborate.” Mo Li glanced sidelong, though he had a rough idea in his heart.
Qingwu Ancestor was also a Daoist master, and nothing shocked him more than the name Meng Qi.
“From my insignificant reputation in the Jianghu, even with the title of ‘State Teacher,’ others would likely assume I’m an imposter. After all, considering my age, I should be an octogenarian. But…”
Mo Li’s gaze drifted away, and he didn’t hear the rest of Meng Qi’s words.
He accidentally thought of Elder Qin.
Just imagine if County Magistrate Xue were to learn of Meng Qi’s true identity and, in shock, informed Qin Lu, who would then hear that someone of his own age was eyeing his disciple. Not only had the disciple brought the person back to Zhushan County, but also that person turned out to be the State Teacher. How would Qin Lu react to that?
Mo Li felt inexplicably guilty.
Meng Qi: “…”
He had lost focus just a moment ago, and now Mo Li was zoning out. Was it really so difficult to discuss something?
“The outstanding essence, pregnant with the brilliance of the celestial peak, shrewdness imbued with the radiance of the stars. Beyond the realm of dust, a solitary standard, leisurely clouds taking unique steps.”
— From “Old Book of Tang, Biography of Du Shenquan”
The last two lines describe extraordinary uniqueness, unparalleled excellence.