“Senior brothers.” Qi Yin sat upright with a serious expression. “I have a request.”
As the sky grew darker, the windows and doors of the tile house were tightly closed. A candle was lit on the lacquered table, and the dim candlelight settled on the faces of the senior brothers, casting them in a mix of golden light and shadow, like still statues in a temple. Yun Zhi was the first to speak, “Junior Brother Hei (1), just speak your mind.”
“Don’t call me Junior Brother Hei.” Qi Yin pulled Fu Lan, who was kneeling beside him, over to the candlelight and said, “Yun Lan, our fellow disciple, has fallen seriously ill with a disease called ‘cutsleeve’. He is constantly suffering from the illness, which endangers my safety. I request that you senior brothers come up with a solution.”
Yun Zhi shook his folding fan, which had “Nonsense” written on it. He shook his head and said, “Junior Brother Hei, your words are wrong. Junior Brother Dai’s feelings surpass human relationships and physical laws. He is not afraid of vulgar opinions, and his feelings are pure. If you do not respond to his good intentions but instead you say he’s ill, what is the logic behind it?”
“Don’t call me Junior Brother Hei!” Qi Yin was going crazy. He said, “If you have the guts, you come and live with him in the same room. Otherwise, don’t talk such nonsense.”
Liu Bai rolled up his sleeves and raised his eyebrows. “What happened? I haven’t seen you like this before. Did Junior Brother Dai do something to you?”
Qi Yin had a headache. How was he supposed to answer that? Was he going to announce to the world that he had been kissed by Fu Lan, the lustful demon? Where was he going to put his face? He pursed his lips in frustration and was about to say that nothing had happened when Fu Lan spoke up in a dazed voice, “I kissed Xiao Yin.”
As soon as he said this, Qi Yin almost spat blood. All the senior brothers were stunned by Fu Lan’s confession. Liu Bai asked with a straight face, “Kiss? Do you mean what I think you mean? Mouth to mouth?”
Fu Lan nodded honestly, then lowered his head in dismay. “Did I do something wrong?”
It was over, Qi Yin thought dejectedly. He might as well go back to his room and hang himself with a rope.
“Junior Brother Dai, a happy marriage requires mutual love. You have pushed Yun Yin to such a point…” Yun Zhi covered his mouth with his fan and took a deep breath. “Is this a case of forced love?”
A senior brother in the corner sighed. “This is a shameless act.”
Another senior brother said sympathetically, “This is the annihilation of human nature.”
Qi Yin said coldly, “If you can’t come up with a solution, I’ll kiss each one of you.”
As soon as these words were spoken, everyone shuddered, the thought of being pinned down and kissed by a man making them all nauseous. Liu Bai smiled smugly and placed a box on the table. “These are all my treasures, junior brother. You’re in luck this time.”
But he didn’t hurry to open the box. Instead, he coaxed and tricked the youngest junior brother, Liu Zhu, to go out and keep watch. Ever since the Elder of Discipline returned to the sect, he would occasionally come and check on them at night. Feng Huan Mountain was not a prestigious sect, and they were not afraid of being kicked out, but they were afraid that the Elder would take away Liu Bai’s treasures for his own collection.
Liu Zhu blushed and refused to go, but several senior brothers threatened him, saying that he wouldn’t get any food tomorrow if he didn’t go. Liu Zhu stomped his feet in anger and reluctantly went out, crouching under the eaves to watch.
Liu Bai built up the suspense before finally opening the box. The senior brothers crowded around the small circle of candlelight, their eyes fixed on the contents of the box. Liu Bai took out rolls of scrolls and placed them on the table, carefully unrolling them. The scenes depicted were of beautiful mountains and rivers, with pavilions and towers nestled among them, and little figures scattered throughout, their clothes half-loose, their eyes full of meaning, engaged in intimate activities.
Everyone let out a long “Oh” and playfully pointed at Liu Bai. “You little rascal, hiding such treasures and only bringing them out now.”
“The best is yet to come,” Liu Bai said, hooking his arm around Fu Lan’s shoulder. “Watch, Junior Brother.”
He formed a hand seal with one hand and a golden light flashed across the scroll. The pavilions and towers rose from the paper, and the mountains and rivers sprang to life. Water flowed through the mountains and valleys, making a gentle murmuring sound. The little figures also started to move, and the sound of their voices, as if women were lightly laughing and singing, could be heard. In the center of the scene was a green pool, over which a small bridge arched. A graceful woman danced on the bridge, and every time she turned around, a piece of clothing fell off, until the only thing left was a white veil, which floated away in the wind like a reed flower. One of the senior brothers reached out his hand to touch her, but he didn’t feel anything.
A table full of people watched without blinking. Qi Yin was stunned and exclaimed, “I finally understand the benefits of learning immortal techniques.”
“I spent three years’ worth of silver just to get my hands on this ‘Peach Blossom Spring Painting,’ and I couldn’t bear to look at it on a daily basis,” said Liu Bai, proudly pointing at the dancing girl in the middle. “This is my wife. I named her Xiang Xiang. Isn’t she beautiful?”
“Junior Brother has such a generous demeanor, even willing to share his wife for everyone to admire,” Yun Zhi sincerely praised.
“Don’t flatter me, don’t flatter me. It’s all for my junior brothers’ sake.” Liu Bai bowed and turned to Fu Lan. “How about it, Junior Brother, do you feel a scorching heat between your legs? Do you have the urge to transform into a wild beast? You probably haven’t seen a woman before. As long as I open your eyes, I guarantee you’ll be cured!”
Fu Lan shook his head and said, “No.”
Liu Bai was surprised and said, “Nothing at all? It seems like you’ve completely cut yourself off from women!”
Yun Zhi tapped his nose with his fan. He suddenly pulled down Qi Yin’s collar, revealing his tanned shoulder and a large portion of his chest. “How about now, Junior Brother?”
Fu Lan shook his head in confusion.
Qi Yin stood up with a start. Fumbling to pull up his shirt, he shouted, “Are you crazy?”
“Tsk.” Yun Zhi closed his fan and tapped his palm, shaking his head. “Junior Brother, it seems like you’re not a cutsleeve after all.”
“What do you mean?” Qi Yin asked suspiciously.
Yun Zhi gently uttered two words, “Erectile dysfunction.”
Fu Lan remained silent.
The other disciples were also silent.
A senior brother in the corner sighed. “Truly tragic.”
Another senior brother sympathetically said, “Accept your fate.”
Qi Yin was angry and shouted, “What the hell, Dai Ge is as strong as three bulls! You’re the one with erectile dysfunction!”
“Nevermind, nevermind. As long as Junior Brother is not a cutsleeve, it’s all good. Xiang Xiang can also sing, so why don’t we enjoy it together?” Liu Bai rubbed his hands together and everyone leaned in closer.
The candlelight flickered, and the singing on the scroll was like flowing water, soft and gentle, blending into the dim yellow light and diffusing into the darkness. They were all focused on the painting, but Qi Yin’s mind was elsewhere, inexplicably thinking of the sudden kiss from the afternoon, the vast world, raindrops falling everywhere, and the two of them under a green bamboo umbrella.
His ears burned, and his heart thumped.
Unable to help himself, he glanced at Fu Lan. The quiet man turned his head to look out the window, gazing at the hazy lights outside through the thin window screen. He knew Fu Lan was lost in thought again. This guy could sit for a long time during his usual meditation, and others might think he was practicing, but in reality, he was lost in thought. No one knew what he thought about, maybe nothing at all. His mind was like a vast expanse of mist and smoke, and his eyes always appeared empty and distant, as if he was detached from the entire world.
This guy didn’t have the emotions that an ordinary person should have, like a small dragonfly lying thoughtless on a leaf, or a godly figure overlooking all living beings from the sky. Qi Yin suddenly thought that it would be nice if Fu Lan was a girl. He looked so handsome and had a calm personality.
“The Elder of Precepts is at the door,” Fu Lan suddenly said.
Everyone startled and quickly made a hand gesture. In the blink of an eye, everyone disappeared. There was only a square lacquered table left, with only Qi Yin and Fu Lan sitting there, staring at each other. The door slammed open, and Ye Qing Ming burst in. Liu Zhu, who was dozing off, looked up with a dazed expression. As soon as he saw Ye Qing Ming, he gasped and ran away.
Ye Qing Ming lowered his head and looked at the “Peach Blossom Spring Painting” on the table, then glanced at the stunned Qi Yin and Fu Lan, shaking his head. “You two are really something, hiding here doing this kind of thing. You, Yun Lan, I thought you were a well-behaved person, but I didn’t expect this…it’s disgusting.”
Fu Lan stared at him blankly.
Qi Yin was on the verge of tears. Fu Lan hadn’t run away because he was slow to react, while Qi Yin hadn’t run away because he didn’t know any magical spells except for drawing a few symbols.
“I don’t usually pay much attention to you guys, and when I occasionally inspect the doors, it’s just a formality.” Ye Qing Ming rolled up the painting scroll and put it into his sleeve. “But rules are rules. I’ll take care of this filthy stuff for you. You two are not allowed to sleep tonight. Go and sweep the mountain steps from top to bottom. Since this is your first offense, I’ll be lenient this time. Don’t make the same mistake again!”
After he finished speaking, he adjusted his hair tie and disappeared in a flash. Qi Yin was speechless. The mountain steps had nearly a thousand levels. It would be a death sentence to sweep them all!
Liu Bai appeared, holding onto the doorpost and crying, “My Xiang Xiang…”
Several senior brothers and sisters successively dispelled the invisibility spell and advised Liu Bai to just give up and save enough money to marry another wife soon.
Qi Yin led Fu Lan out of the door with a dejected expression and carried a broom to the mountain steps. Fallen leaves scattered along the path, and a long line of bluestone steps extended towards the endless darkness of the night. Qi Yin stood on top, feeling dizzy and hopeless about his life.
Fu Lan had already started sweeping the ground absentmindedly. He was always obedient and easy-going. Qi Yin had no choice but to accept his fate. The mountain wind was freezing, making people shiver. Fu Lan draped a piece of clothing over Qi Yin’s shoulders, then withdrew his hand and picked up the broom again.
Fu Lan’s clothes smelled like the mountain, reminding Qi Yin of the desolation of fallen leaves and winter snow. Why was that? Fu Lan was clearly a silly and slow young man, yet he had such a bleak and lonely scent. It was as if… as if he was a withered leaf that drifted thousands of miles without a home.
“Hey, Dai Ge,” Qi Yin suddenly called out to him.
“Hmm?” Fu Lan stood at the foot of the steps, looking up.
“Is your hometown in southern Xin Jiang? Why did you leave?”
Fu Lan was taken aback and said, “The demons there don’t like me. The cat asked me to come to the mortal world and take a look at various miracles. There are many people in the mortal world, and there are also some demons. But after coming here, I realized that I’m not very likable.”
“It’s not that. Did you only talk to men?” Qi Yin said, “You’re so handsome, of course men won’t like you. You should find a girl.”
Fu Lan didn’t say anything.
Qi Yin hesitated for a moment, scratched his head, and said, “Um… could it be that you really can’t get aroused?”
“Xiao Yin,” Fu Lan said dejectedly, lowering his head, “please don’t talk anymore.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Fu Lan said.
Qi Yin: “…”
“Junior Brother Hei, Junior Brother Dai!” Sang Ruo shouted from the top of the steps.
Qi Yin helplessly thought, has the whole sect been calling me “Junior Brother Hei”?
“Since you’re going to sweep the mountain steps, could you please help me find Lan Xian’s lilac ring? She seemed to have lost it on the steps this morning. I looked for it until dusk but couldn’t find it. Could you guys take a look for me?”
“Sure, leave it to me.” Qi Yin made a reassuring gesture.
1. Junior Brother Hei – “hei” literally translates to “dark / tanned skin.” East Asian skin is usually pale unless you work a lot under the sun, like Qi Yin did.