Qing Shi stood by the fence, hands in pockets, watching Qi Yin and Fu Lan’s backs as they walked away. The azaleas were in bloom, and sunlight shone on the red petals as if it wanted to set them on fire. The distant mountains were a pale green, with birds leaving behind white shadows in the sky. The ripples on the Heavenly Boudary Array kept spreading out like waves in the water. Every generation of the Feng Huang Mountain Sect’s head disciple would exhaust their lifetime cultivation and pass it into the Heavenly Boundary Array, so the barrier had not weakened in thousands of years. Instead, it had grown stronger with each generation. This technique was said to have been learned from a great god who fell in the southern frontier many years ago. Because of this background, the declining sect had become somewhat tragic.
A gust of wind blew by, shaking the yellow thatched roof and casting mottled shadows that quivered like the sunlight. The sunlight was old, the mountain sect was old, and the mortal world was old.
“Senior Brother, why haven’t you died yet?” Qing Ming appeared, cross-legged on his sword behind Qing Shi. He held a wine jug in his arms, which he had stolen from Qing Shi’s backyard. As a cultivator, he was not allowed to drink alcohol, but when the upper beam was not straight, the lower beams would be crooked. No one in the entire Feng Huan Mountain Sect adhered to this rule.
Qing Shi squinted his eyes and shook his head, his pale cheeks trembling slightly. “Junior Brother, you should be more polite when speaking. You should have asked me how I have been feeling lately.”
Qing Ming hung by his side, watching Qi Yin and Fu Lan gradually disappear into the distance. “Have you made up your mind? Are you really going to take in that child, Qi Yin?”
“Of course.” Qing Shi twirled his beard with a smile. “It’s because of an old friend’s request. Although our Feng Huan Mountain is declining, we can still afford to feed one child.”
Qing Ming turned his head and glanced at him. “Senior Brother, you overestimate our sect.”
Qing Shi: “…”
“Has Qing He, that old guy, returned yet?”
“He won’t be back for a short time,” Qing Shi said. “Qing He wanted to research why demons and monsters have thick hair, while mortals who cultivate have hair that becomes thinner every day. Recently, Wu Fang Mountain has opened the Purple Library for him to browse through all the scriptures.”
Qing Ming sprayed a mouthful of wine. “Can he really do that?”
Qing Shi smiled.
“Well, well, well,” Qing Ming said. “I still have one thing that I don’t understand. It’s fine that you take in Qi Yin, but Fu Lan is neither a demon nor a monster, nor is he human. He’s very strange. Why did you bring him in too?”
“It’s precisely because he’s none of those three that I want to take him in.” Qing Shi slipped his hands into his sleeves, then turned and closed the door with a smile.
Early in the morning, a red sun hung over the green mountains. The valleys were still dark, shrouded in a hazy fog. The fat cat was sleeping inside, snoring loudly.
Qi Yin had been practicing swordsmanship for two months, but he was still in the stage of clumsily flailing around on the ground.
Qing Shi had said that “you will see progress in a few months,” and he wasn’t lying, because “a few” could mean one, two, three, or even millions. In order to master the art of swordplay, Qi Yin went to meditate at the Repentance Cliff every morning. He would place his broom on the cliff and sit cross-legged, focusing his mind and gathering his qi, hoping that the broom would move even a little bit. However, he couldn’t even muster a fart after sitting there for an hour.
There are three paths in Daoism: swordsmanship, incantations, and talismans. There were no elders in the mountains specializing in incantations, so the disciples of Feng Huan Mountain didn’t know anything about magic. Talismans were simple; all you needed to do was memorize the symbols and learn how to draw them. Swordsmanship was divided into swordplay and the art of controlling a sword with one’s mind. Swordplay was easy; any 18-year-old could master it with a bit of stance training. It was the art of controlling a sword that was difficult. Without mastering this art, one could not be called a sword immortal. Qi Yin had initially blamed the broom for his inability to master the art of controlling a sword, but in a fit of desperation, he spent a lot of money to buy an iron sword and practiced with it every day, but it still didn’t help. He had spent a lot of silver for nothing, and the blacksmith even said that the sword was a high-quality imitation of a famous sword immortal’s sword, and that almost all of the contemporary Daoists had one.
Qi Yin sat on the doorstep, feeling dispirited, with his hands blistering from practicing too hard. The hilt of the iron sword was rough, and the calluses on his hands were rubbed raw. He winced in pain just from clenching his fists slightly. He had heard that there was a kind of medicinal herb on Wu Fang Mountain that could heal wounds with just a touch, but they were poor at Feng Huan Mountain, and the healers were nowhere to be found. If he got injured or sick, he had to endure it himself.
Fu Lan was sitting on a four-legged stool, scrubbing clothes. He had tied up his sleeves to his elbows, revealing his fair arms. This guy was slim and pale; the sun couldn’t even tan him, and all the girls in the mountains liked him. A red lacquered board door squeaked open, and a girl in a greenish-blue top emerged.
“Lan Gege, you’re up so early washing clothes?” Sang Qing stared at Fu Lan dreamily.
Fu Lan furrowed his brow and meticulously rolled up his sleeves to wash the clothes. There were too many clothes to wash, and he couldn’t finish them all.
He was good to others, and he would do whatever they ask of him. The people in the sect took advantage of that. They made him carry his rake to the vegetable garden one day and sweep the mountain steps the next. Originally, it was just Yun Zhi who asked him to wash two pieces of clothes, but as the clothes piled up more and more, Qi Yin took a closer look and found that there were even stinky socks from Qing Ming mixed into the pile.
It turned out that all the dirty clothes of the entire sect were here. Qi Yin couldn’t stand it and carried the clothes back one by one with a basin, letting them wash it themselves. In the end, Fu Lan, the silly goose, thought that Qi Yin was returning the dirty clothes as clean ones and asked for them back one by one because he hadn’t finished washing them.
Sang Qing glanced at Qi Yin and snorted. “You are so lazy. Why don’t you help Lan Gege?”
Qi Yin raised his hands wrapped in bandages. “My hands are injured, I can’t get them wet. Your hands are fine; you help Lan Gege.”
Sang Qing turned away and ignored Qi Yin, tilting her head to look at Fu Lan. The longer she looked, the more handsome he seemed to become, like a jade with a few strands of hair sticking to his pale face.
She got a few drops of water on her hand and splashed it on Fu Lan’s face playfully, smiling. “Lan Gege, take a break.”
Fu Lan raised his hand to block it.
“Will you splash me too?” Sang Qing splashed some water on him again.
Fu Lan was stunned and asked, “Will you leave after I splash you?”
Sang Qing pouted. “If I’m happy, I’ll leave. Hmph, do you want me to go so badly?”
“Then I’ll splash you,” Fu Lan said.
Qi Yin suddenly had a bad premonition.
Fu Lan picked up a nearby basin of clear water and poured it over Sang Qing. Sang Qing became completely drenched, opening her mouth and spitting out a small water column.
Qi Yin was shocked.
Fu Lan put down the basin and asked, “Is it all poured out? Are you happy?”
The yard was quiet for a while. Sang Qing wiped her face and burst into tears.
“Fu Lan! Go die!” Sang Qing stood up and slapped Fu Lan hard.
Fu Lan was stunned, covering half of his face with his hand and staring at her as she ran back into the house.
“Brother, you’re so cool.” Qi Yin walked up to him, holding his chin and looking at his face. This boy’s face was tender, and there were five finger marks left behind with just one slap. Qi Yin asked him, “Does it hurt?”
Fu Lan frowned and lowered his eyelids in disappointment. “Did I do something wrong?”
More than just a mistake, it was simply a huge mistake. If he continued like this, he would be single for the rest of his life, Qi Yin thought. But he looked so pitiful, Qi Yin couldn’t bear to say it. “It’s okay, just apologize to her later.”
Fu Lan sat down to wash his clothes again, supporting the washboard in the basin and pouring water over it. He rubbed the soap suds into his palms. “Maybe it’s because I’m too stupid. When I was young in Southern Xin Jiang, no one wanted to be friends with me.”
“That’s not true. You have me,” Qi Yin said, putting an arm around his shoulder. “And you’re not stupid. Look how skilled you are at controlling that rake. I’ve been practicing with this broom and this rusty sword for two months and I still can’t get it right.” He sighed. “The black cat said that mastering these things depends on a sudden realization, which seems pretty mystical to me. I’ll probably grow a beard before I figure out how to control a sword.”
Fu Lan thought for a moment and said, “I can help you.”
“Don’t tell me it’s dual cultivation,” Qi Yin joked.
Fu Lan finished washing his clothes, rinsed his hands in clean water, and looked up. Suddenly, the nail rake in the corner of the room began to vibrate, buzzing like a bee. Qi Yin turned to look, and the nail rake suddenly stood up and flew to them. Fu Lan got on the nail rake and held out his hand to him.
Qi Yin picked up the broom and stood on it. The nail rake slowly rose, carrying them towards the distant mountains. The rows of tiled houses below grew smaller and smaller, and the people looked like ants. The mountains undulated, and straw houses were scattered like stars among them. Qi Yin saw the vegetable garden on the mountainside, the thatched house of the fat sect leader on the mountaintop, and the Northern Wolf King who lay snoring all day under the Repentance Cliff.
They flew higher and higher, white clouds swirling around their waists. A white crane flapped its wings and flew past them, and the wind was like a knife cutting their faces. Qi Yin shouted at him, “Dai Ge, why are we flying so high? Are you taking me on a joyride?”
“Remember, ‘Heaven and Earth are one with me, and all things are one with me.’ If all things are in you, then all things can be controlled by you,” Fu Lan said, his voice not very loud but clearly audible to Qi Yin, as if he were whispering in his ear.
“Oh.” Qi Yin hugged the broom tightly.
“Okay, let’s begin,” Fu Lan said.
Suddenly, he pushed Qi Yin from behind and Qi Yin plunged forward into the wind. Qi Yin was startled and turned back incredulously to look at Fu Lan, who stood with his hands behind his back in the wind, looking down at him with an expression of godlike detachment.
Qi Yin reached out to grab him, but he grabbed nothing. His body plummeted rapidly, and the wind blew his clothes like there were countless pigeons nesting in his sleeves. He should never have trusted him. This guy was not only a fool but also crazy!
Fu Lan suddenly appeared next to him. The calm young man fell with him, his fair face serene.
“Quick, pull me up!” Qi Yin exclaimed.
“Xiao Yin, focus,” Fu Lan replied.
“Pull me up!”
“Focus,” Fu Lan said. “Otherwise, we’ll die.”
As soon as he finished speaking, he disappeared as if he were a phantom. Qi Yin continued to fall, with endless mountains below and rivers, lakes, and seas stretching into the distance. He was a tiny speck helplessly falling towards the earth. Qi Yin’s heart was pounding, and he was going insane. There was no sign of Fu Lan, and even the rake was nowhere to be seen. There was only the sky and the earth as far as the eye could see, and the sound of the wind was like a raging tide in his ears.
Think fast, think fast. What was the spell again? Qi Yin clung tightly to the broomstick, but he couldn’t remember anything. His heart was beating too fast, and his mind was blank!
He was falling faster and faster, and the wind was piercing his throat. His neck veins bulged, and he couldn’t breathe. He felt like he was going to die. Fu Lan, that bastard, was serious! Qi Yin squeezed the broomstick hard, desperately waving it. “Move, move! Move, damn it!”
The broomstick still didn’t respond. To control a flying broomstick, one had to unite one’s heart and the broomstick, just as one had to unite one’s heart with the sword to control a flying sword. Who knows how long he had been meditating on this stupid bald broomstick for the past two months, yet he still couldn’t feel the broomstick’s inner feelings. This thing didn’t have a heart at all. What was the point of trying to feel anything!
The broomstick slipped out of his hand and flew far away, disappearing in an instant. Qi Yin despaired, opening his arms to the wind. The ground was getting closer and closer, and he could almost see the sharp edges of the blue rocks. At that moment, he suddenly remembered many things from the past: the damp beds at the Yao family’s attic, the nine-headed bird exploding out of his aunt’s mouth with teeth and claws, a fierce sword glare descending from the sky in a pitch-black night, the white-clothed sword immortal arriving gracefully… All his memories came fluttering like white butterflies on the wings of the wind. He seemed to see the beautiful woman from many years ago in the heart of Wu Tang River, her face blurred, reaching out to him with a sad smile.
What immortality, what slaying of demons. He didn’t want any of that. He just wanted a sword in his hand when disaster struck from the sky!
However… it was already too late.
The earth opened its arms to him, and the hard rocky ground rushed towards him.
No one noticed a faint blue light emanating from the tips of Qi Yin’s fingers, like tiny fireflies. However, his body suddenly stopped, and the light disappeared without a trace. Qi Yin opened his eyes, and before him, the earth was like a dark, mocking face just an inch away. His body slowly descended, his face covered in mud and dust. Qi Yin buried his head in his arms and forced a bitter smile. As expected, he couldn’t handle being pushed to this extent.
Fu Lan’s black boots stopped in front of him. Qi Yin slowly climbed up from the ground, grinned crookedly, and said, “I told you, I have no talent. I can’t do it.”
Fu Lan frowned. “Xiao Yin…”
Qi Yin patted the dust off his body. He stumbled and leaned against a tree. Fu Lan was hovering behind him. Suddenly, Qi Yin turned around and said, “Dai Ge, don’t follow me.”
Fu Lan was taken aback.
“Dai Ge, puppy is puppy, and Qi Yin is Qi Yin. They’re not the same. People change, and it’s been more than ten years. I’ve forgotten everything that happened when I was four.” Qi Yin looked at him and said softly, “So, don’t follow me.”
Fu Lan stared at him, but Qi Yin pulled the corners of his mouth into a smile and left without looking back.