Qi Yin wandered around outside all day. Whenever he felt depressed, he liked to take a walk, look around, pull out some grass and poke at an ant colony. As he walked, his mood would gradually lighten. When the sun began to set, he arrived at Repentance Cliff. He climbed down the vines, and the Wolf King lay below, basking in the sun. The setting sun shone on his white hair, which billowed like clouds, dyed orange, as if wrapped in rolling fire.
Qi Yin let go of the vines and rested his head on the Wolf King’s back. The fur was soft and fluffy, like being wrapped in cotton. He breathed a long sigh of relief, closed his eyes, and rested.
“You brat, how come you have time to come and see me today?” The Wolf King opened his eyes and squinted. “Is it because you haven’t made any progress in your sword training and you’ve come to complain to me?”
“Do people die if you don’t poke at their scars?” Qi Yin lazily replied.
The Wolf King laughed. “No, but they’ll have a lot less fun.”
“I envy you. You don’t have to do anything, just lie here and bask in the sun every day.” Qi Yin sighed.
“Envy my ass. Mushrooms are growing on the fur on my back.” The Wolf King grunted unkindly. “What do you have to envy? You practice your sword and meditate every day. Are you itching for a woman or some fine wine?”
“I can’t just sit here meditating and chanting sutras all my life. One day, I will have to leave the mountain and find my own way. I don’t want to become a senior member of a sect after achieving great mastery in the Dao. Instead, I’ll be a wandering Daoist catching small demons and evil spirits, but I haven’t even learned how to control a sword.” Qi Yin looked up at the sky and said, “Brother Wolf, humans are different from you demons. We have to buy a house, get married, have children, and support them financially for their education and marriage. It’s not like you demons who can just roam around and set off fireworks wherever you want.”
“You’re the one setting off fireworks everywhere!”
Qi Yin sighed and said, “Anyway, we have to spend money on everything, but I only have a little bit of silver. If I leave the mountain, I won’t even be able to afford to rent a house. It’s going to be tough!”
“You humans are so troublesome. The world is so big, why do you have to buy a cage to lock yourself in?” The Wolf King shook his head.
Qi Yin sighed again and sat cross-legged next to the Wolf King. The sun was high in the sky, burning half of the sky red, and the trees below seemed to be on fire as well. Qi Yin propped up his cheeks and asked, “Brother Wolf, how do demons cultivate? Do you also meditate and enlighten yourself?”
“That’s your Daoist way, kid.” The Wolf King said, “Demons grow stronger by feeding on each other, killing and devouring. Most demons were originally animals after all. The southern demons gather in groups, with each group having its own territory. I often hear about one demon tribe being nearly annihilated by another demon tribe, and their territory burned to barren land. Demons also fight each other endlessly, and when they encounter demons from the Nine Abyss, it becomes a deadly battle.”
Qi Yin was a little stunned and suddenly thought of Dai Ge. He asked, “What about demons who were originally people? Do they cultivate like you?”
The Wolf King shook his head. “Those are different. Most of them are Daoists who have gone astray and are not in the south. You Daoists meditate and enlighten yourself, while they drink the blood of humans to enhance their cultivation.”
“But what if there’s a human who grew up in the south among the demon tribe?”
The Wolf King straightened his body and stretched lazily. “Human children are naturally weak and defenseless without claws and fangs or parents to protect them. The chance of survival is slim. Not only human children but demons who gather in groups, such as the Jialing River demons, Liangshan birds, and Minshan bugs, all have their own territories. It’s okay to be in their own territory, but if a small demon accidentally enters another’s territory, it’s a matter of life and death.”
Qi Yin fell silent for a while. Dai Ge had never met his parents, and was probably a child abandoned in the mountains. Qi Yin remembered that Yun Zhi had asked Dai Ge if he had any relatives, but other than Qi Yin, he only mentioned the cat. These two guys had no group or tribe to rely on; they were lonely demons relying on each other for survival. Qi Yin asked, “What if you have no relatives or territory?”
The Wolf King opened his eyes, a dark golden light flowing within them. “Everywhere is a killing opportunity, every step is a refining purgatory.”
At sunset, Qi Yin returned to the house. The room was empty and dark, with no lights on. The black cat had probably gone to mooch food from Sang Ruo and the others. Sang Ruo and her sister cooked delicious food every day, and the black cat had gotten plump from being fed by them. Fu Lan hadn’t come back either, which was unusual. Besides helping Master Qing Ming rake the vegetable garden, this guy rarely left the house. Every day at sunset, he would light a lamp and read the “Dao De Ching” that the sect leader had given him.
Qi Yin lit a lamp. The red lacquered bookshelf in front of the window was empty except for a few azalea petals that had fallen on top of it. After a while, the black cat came back and jumped onto the bookshelf to bask in the moonlight. Qi Yin also picked up a book and sat on the edge of the bed to memorize talismans. But he got drowsy halfway through and the talismans started spinning in front of his eyes.
He didn’t know how long it had been when he heard the door creak open, as if someone had come in, bringing in moonlight.
The black cat opened one eye and asked, “Where did you go, fool? Why did you just come back now?”
Fu Lan quietly walked into the room and asked in a low voice, “Is Xiao Yin asleep?”
The black cat raised his chin towards Qi Yin’s direction. The blue and white flower-patterned cotton bed curtain was only half-closed, and Qi Yin’s body was half-tilted inside, his face covered by a book. Fu Lan walked over to help him put away the book, take off his shoes, and put his legs on the bed. The black cat asked, “Where did you go?”
“I made Xiao Yin angry today, and he didn’t want to see me,” Fu Lan whispered.
“So you just stayed at the village entrance, waiting until he fell asleep before coming back?”
Fu Lan nodded.
The black cat didn’t know what to say. This guy wasn’t even married yet, how come he was already behaving like a henpecked husband?
“What about tomorrow?” the black cat asked.
“I promised to help Master Qing Ming make noodles. I’ll go to the vegetable garden early tomorrow morning,” Fu Lan replied in a soft voice.
The black cat sighed deeply and crawled back into his own bed. “You’re the most spineless demon king I’ve ever seen, fool. Just keep your voice down tomorrow morning so you don’t wake me up.”
“Okay,” Fu Lan whispered.
He turned his head to look at Qi Yin, whose wheat-colored face was hidden in the shadow of the curtain, and whose eyebrows had softened a lot. He was still the same as when he was a child. He liked to clench his fists and place them on the side of his face when he slept, which was a very cute sight. Fu Lan helped him tuck in the blanket and was about to leave, when suddenly his clothes were pulled. He turned his head and met Qi Yin’s eyes.
Fu Lan was startled and stood dumbfounded by the bed. Qi Yin slowly sat up and scratched his head, asking, “Why are you always so good to me? I even got mad at you today.”
“Because you’re my little brother.” Fu Lan crouched down with his eyes lowered. “Big brother has to take care of little brother.”
Qi Yin looked at him without saying a word. The black-clothed young man was crouched by his bed, casting his solitary shadow on the ground. Qi Yin did have a brother, a guy named Yao Xiao Shan. But ever since he was little, Yao Xiao Shan either bossed him around or made him take the blame. This was the first time he had heard, “Big brother has to take care of little brother.”
Sigh, what a single-minded guy. Qi Yin felt a pang in his heart and rubbed his head, his rough hands making a rustling sound as they touched his hair. This idiot. It was him who needed to be taken care of; he was so foolish and silly. Fu Lan paused and lifted his eyes. His big, black pupils reflected a faint glow of symbols, as if they were sprinkled with millions of brilliant gold particles.
For some reason, looking into his eyes, Qi Yin suddenly believed what he had said about their past, even without any memories or verification.
“Xiao Yin,” Fu Lan asked softly, “do you still want to be my little brother?” He paused, as if afraid Qi Yin would refuse, and added, “You don’t have to be my bride.”
“Sure.” Qi Yin reached out his hand to him and smiled brightly. “Just don’t get annoyed if I ever hold you back. I can be pretty hopeless sometimes.”
Fu Lan nodded vigorously and took his hand. The warmth of their palms touching each other was like a promise.
Curled up in its nest, the black cat half-opened its eyes and looked at the two people holding hands. It hummed contentedly twice, closed its eyes, and started snoring peacefully.
The next morning, there was no early class. Qi Yin and Fu Lan squatted under the eaves brushing their teeth slowly. The morning air in the mountains was cool, with a coldness that made their noses tingle. The sky was a bleak white, and the dark shadows of the mountains held a glaring sun, like an ink painting on a literati’s desk. Qi Yin flicked his toothbrush and said, “We should change our toothbrushes. Let’s go down the mountain and buy some today.”
Fu Lan nodded and handed him a mint leaf. Qi Yin put it in his mouth and chewed on it. Yun Zhi appeared out of nowhere and asked Fu Lan for a mint leaf, saying, “You guys woke up really early.”
“What’s wrong with waking up early?” Qi Yin asked him. “Why are you here so early in the morning?”
“I thought you guys would be sleeping in and wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning,” Yun Zhi said. “I came here to see someone. You’ll know in a bit.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Qi Yin was confused before he finally realized and cursed, “Go to hell!”
“You two aren’t gay?” Yun Zhi poked Fu Lan with his elbow. “When we were arranging the housing, I deliberately put you two together.”
Fu Lan nodded in agreement.
Qi Yin pulled Fu Lan over and said, “Get lost and wash your clothes yourself.”
“Make some room, make some room.” Liu Bai suddenly appeared and squeezed himself next to Qi Yin.
“Where did you come from?” Qi Yin asked.
“Your house is close to the village entrance and has a good view. There will be a good show later. Let’s watch it together,” Liu Bai said with a grin, patting Qi Yin’s shoulder.
What the hell was going on? Just as he was wondering, a figure appeared on the mountain path. She was slim and carried a large bamboo basket on her back. Liu Bai became excited and grabbed Qi Yin’s arm. The woman approached them, bouncing and jumping, and her face was reflected in the sunlight. She was as pale as lotus root, and her eyebrows and eyes seemed to be outlined with ink. They were clear and light, but had an indescribable beauty, like water lilies plucked from the water. As she approached, the sky and the earth seemed to be filled with a faint fragrance, indistinct and hiding in the wind, not clear but tempting.
“Who is she?” Qi Yin asked.
No one answered him because everyone’s eyes were fixed on her. When the woman walked away, they finally came to their senses. Qi Yin’s heart started beating belatedly, and he asked again, “Who was the girl just now?”
“She’s Lan Xian’er from the medicine hall. She has been picking medicinal herbs on the mountain since the day before yesterday,” Liu Bai said while winking at him. “What do you think? Is she very pretty, and does she have a fragrant scent?”
Yun Zhi poked Fu Lan and said, “Is she beautiful? Do you have any desire to be with her?”
Fu Lan shook his head.
“Are you serious? You’re not moved by such a beautiful girl,” Liu Bai exclaimed.
Qi Yin sighed and said, “He probably doesn’t know the benefits of being in a relationship with a girl.”
Yun Zhi then taught him, “Junior Brother Dai (1), men and women are different. Men have hard bodies and leg hair, while women are soft and gentle like water. The most obvious difference is their chests. Women’s chests are soft like cotton, while men’s are not as nice to touch.”
Fu Lan was stunned for a moment, then turned to touch Qi Yin’s chest and commented, “It’s nice to touch.”
Yun Zhi and Qi Yin were speechless.
1. Junior Brother Dai – similar to Dai Ge, it’s a nickname for Fu Lan. The literal translation is “Silly Junior Brother”