The bright sun hung high in the sky, its radiance scattering through the mountain forests as the morning bell tolled slowly. Qing Shi picked up a scripture and began reciting it every day. The senior brothers and sisters in the straw hut were all listless and yawning, their heads drooping. It wasn’t their fault that they were all so drowsy; it was just that Qing Shi’s recitation was too hypnotic. Before the time it took to burn a stick of incense had passed, many people had already fallen asleep. Yun Zhi was an exception; that scoundrel was all healed up and bouncing around again, happily drawing mustaches on Sang Ya’s sleeping face with a brush.
Qi Yin, who generally didn’t recite scriptures, found morning recitation especially boring. He thought it was a waste of time and would rather do something else. Yesterday, he had finished reading “The Origin of Daoist Sects,” and today he was drawing symbols from “A Dummy’s Guide to Talismans.” He now had spiritual power and had progressed one level in his cultivation. With spiritual power, he could control his sword and draw symbols in mid-air. Full of confidence, he took out a transformation symbol, held his breath, and concentrated his energy on his fingertips.
A faint glow emerged from the symbol, and he suppressed his excitement, carefully drawing each stroke. His spiritual power was abundant at first, but as time passed, it became more and more difficult. The trail gradually became thinner, and his arm began to numb, his meridians drying up like a river. He gritted his teeth and persisted, but soon his meridians began to ache, spreading inch by inch to his fingertips until they felt like they were about to break.
“Stinky senior brother! You’re bullying me again!”
Sang Ya’s scream interrupted Qi Yin’s brushstrokes, and the transformation symbol was only half drawn. The blue light faded away, disappearing without a trace. Qi Yin covered his face, let out a long sigh, and lay down on the table. When he turned his head, he saw Fu Lan sitting on the edge of the straw hut, looking out at the distant mountains as usual. His fair profile was hazy in the light, giving off an indescribable sense of clarity and elegance.
Qi Yin stared at Fu Lan for a long time before collecting his thoughts and preparing to draw symbols again. But Qing Shi clapped the gong, interrupting his thoughts. Everyone below squinted their eyes and sat up straight.
Qing Shi smiled and said, “You monkeys, how was my hypnosis today?”
“Very good! Very good!” Everyone nodded in agreement.
Qing Shi shook his head helplessly. “You little monkeys, if you don’t study hard, you’ll just embarrass yourselves. The opportunity to embarrass yourselves is coming. At the end of the year, Wu Fang Sect will hold a Daoist debate, and anyone with spiritual power can participate. After the twelfth day of the twelfth lunar month, you will follow Yun Zhi south on your swords.”
Daoist debate? Qi Yin jolted and sat up.
He had heard of this event. It was a grand event held every five years by the three thousand immortal sects. As the head of the sect, Wu Fang would open a platform every five years and invite the elders and disciples of the immortal sects to come and discuss and learn from each other. In fact, it was a competition, an opportunity for disciples who wanted to make a name for themselves.
Qi Shen Wei, that bastard sword immortal, became famous on a Daoist debate decades ago. It was said that he fought from morning until night and stood firm on the stage. His Gui Mie Sword made him famous overnight.
Another part was the transmission of scriptures. Wu Fang Mountain claimed to be the first sect of the Daoist school, and they would invite disciples to come and listen to the teachings. Every student’s excellent Daoist theory written during the event would be compiled into a book called “Daoyuan Cuihua” and included in Wu Fang’s Purple Library.
As a child, Qi Yin used to daydream about himself standing on the stage, fighting invincible opponents and writing a long masterpiece. His “Bla Bla Scripture” would become a great work of the Daoist school, just as “Dao De Ching” was revered. However, he had grown up and stopped daydreaming. He knew that he had only mediocre skills and did not want to embarrass himself, especially at Wu Fang Mountain.
He raised his hand and said, “Master, do we all have to go?”
Qing Shi looked at him, his eyes full of meaning. “I never force anyone to go. It’s up to you.”
“Don’t worry, junior brother,” Yun Zhi came over and patted his shoulder. “With your skills, you’ll just be playing around in the competition. The written part of the debate won’t be difficult. You just need to write a few eight-hundred-word essays.”
Qi Yin almost spat out blood. “I can’t even speak eight hundred words in my dreams.”
“There’s a trick to writing, and senior brother will teach you later.” Liu Bai winked at him. “Let’s go together and treat it as a sightseeing trip.”
All the senior brothers urged him, and Qi Yin was so annoyed that he grabbed his head and said, “Let me think about it.”
After everyone left, Fu Lan slowly packed up his book. Qi Yin sighed and leaned his head on his back, muttering, “Brother, am I really stupid? I’ve been practicing for three months and only have a little bit of spiritual power. Sometimes I can use the sword art, and sometimes I can’t. I’ve only successfully cast a spell once with Lan Xian’er. I can’t even draw a spell properly, and my arm feels like it’s about to break.”
Fu Lan turned around and patted his head to comfort him.
Qi Yin said despondently, “How do you learn this stuff? I wake up early and go to bed late, practicing sword and casting spells. Now even Sang Ya can use her little shovel to scoop cat feces, but I can’t even control a spoon.”
Fu Lan thought for a moment and said, “Come with me.”
Qi Yin followed him outside. “Where are we going? Don’t throw me off the rake again.”
This time Fu Lan didn’t mess around. He took him to Repentance Cliff. Sunlight sprinkled a shimmering light all over the mountains. Fu Lan stood against the wind, and his hair fluttered in the breeze. He turned his head and said to Qi Yin, “Close your eyes.”
“What?” Qi Yin was puzzled.
Fu Lan stood behind Qi Yin and covered his eyes with his hands.
Countless light blue flying fish swam out of Fu Lan’s body, passed through Qi Yin’s body, and flew towards the distant sky. Qi Yin was still confused. He didn’t know what Fu Lan was doing. This guy’s hands were usually cool, just like his spiritual power that flowed like a stream, giving people a refreshing feeling. In a daze, Qi Yin smelled the scent of a rain on the mountains from him, and unconsciously leaned back, with his back against Fu Lan’s chest. Qi Yin shuddered and dared not move.
“Did you hear it?” Fu Lan asked him.
He was too close to Qi Yin, and his voice was ringing in his ear. Qi Yin’s ears felt itchy, and his heart was itchy, as if a small feather was gently tickling his heart. Qi Yin blushed and asked, “What did I hear?”
Fu Lan let go of his hand and stared at him blankly.
The small fish floated and circled around them, and the two faced each other. Qi Yin actually saw a little helplessness from this person’s usually expressionless eyes.
“Xiao Yin, you’re not focused,” Fu Lan said.
Qi Yin blushed as if he had been caught in the act, and coughed a few times. “Sorry, let’s do it again.”
Qi Yin took a deep breath, recited the calming mantra, and cleared his mind. Fu Lan covered his eyes again, and the small fish swam towards the distant mountains. Fu Lan’s spiritual power slowly soaked into him, like soaking in cool water. He heard Fu Lan’s heartbeat against his back. In a trance, his heart seemed to merge with Fu Lan’s heart, and something silently changed. Qi Yin opened his eyes.
The high sky was within reach, and the green mountains stretched out below. He suddenly realized that he seemed to be transparent. Birds could fly over him, and the wind could blow through him. He suddenly realized that he had become Fu Lan’s small fish, or in other words, Fu Lan had lent the small fish to him. However, this time was different from the last time in the tile house. They had achieved a closer integration, and all the fish obeyed his commands, flying with him towards the high sky and distant mountains.
“Qi Yin, did you hear it?” Fu Lan’s voice sounded in his ear. “Mortals often say that there is no sound in the world, but in fact, the world has a heartbeat, and the world has a sound. Listen–“
Fu Lan’s hearing was opened to him.
In an instant, the sounds of all things in the world rushed towards him like a tide. The winds and rains gathered in the distance, where dark clouds were forming, and the sound of waves crashing echoed from the nearby forests. Then there was the heartbeat, like a thread that never stopped. At first it was faint, but it grew stronger and stronger, like the beating of a powerful drum. Amidst the chaos of the world and the clamor of all things, it was hard to distinguish whose heartbeat it was – the mountains, the waves, or the vast expanse of sky and earth. The heartbeat was like the thundering sound of a thousand galloping horses, surging tumultuously.
He wandered aimlessly in the raging storm, like a tiny mayfly. He was surrounded by the deafening heartbeat, which was layered and chaotic. Amidst the noise, suddenly everything fell silent, and he heard the weak thumping of his own heart.
Do you hear it, Qi Yin? That is the vastness of heaven and earth.
In a daze, someone seemed to speak to him. He turned abruptly and heard whispers emanating from the vast mountains and rivers, as if they had flown out from the cracks of time after thousands of years. Time was boundless, with no sign of ancient or contemporary figures, and life and death were separated by the vast abyss of the Yellow Springs.
It turned out that humans were just like mayflies, passing through the world.
Yet, mayflies had a heart, and could also communicate with heaven and earth.
He didn’t know how long had passed, as the fish returned to the pool and the clouds dispersed. Qi Yin was still lost in thought, unable to return to reality.
“Xiao Yin.” Fu Lan poked his face.
“Brother,” Qi Yin snapped out of his trance and said, “you’re so amazing.”
“Heaven and earth have a sound, and all things have spirits. When you can hear the heartbeat of a sword, you will be able to control it,” Fu Lan said.
“Ah?” Qi Yin made a face. “That’ll be a long time from now.”
The two sat down on the cliff and looked at the distant mountains side by side. Qi Yin looked at Fu Lan, who was gazing ahead silently, lost in thought. Qi Yin suddenly realized that perhaps Fu Lan was listening to the heartbeat of heaven and earth just like he had earlier.
“Brother.” Qi Yin nudged him with his elbow. “Do you think I should go to Wu Fang?”
Fu Lan turned his head to look at him. “Do you want to go?”
Qi Yin swung his legs and said, “I don’t know. I’m quite conflicted. If I go to Wu Fang, I’ll definitely visit my father’s grave. I don’t know if I want to see him. I really don’t want to see him alive or dead, but sometimes I wake up and feel like I want to…” Qi Yin scratched his head, frustrated. “I don’t know.”
“This old man thinks you should go.” The black cat appeared out of nowhere and crouched down next to Qi Yin.
Qi Yin jumped in surprise. “Where did you come from?”
“I went for a walk. This mountain is so small, where else can I go?” The black cat licked its paw. “If you want to go, then go. It’s just Wu Fang. If you don’t go, you may regret it for the rest of your life. It won’t be easy to go to Wu Fang once we return to southern territory.”
Qi Yin furrowed his brow in silence.
“Go to Qi Shen Wei’s grave and take a piss for revenge,” the black cat suggested.
“…” Qi Yin remained silent.
Forget it, thinking about it gave him a headache, so he didn’t dwell on it. Qi Yin hooked his arm around Fu Lan’s neck and started chatting about random topics. “Brother, who do you think is more handsome, you or me?”
“You,” Fu Lan replied.
“Hehe, you have good taste,” Qi Yin said, pleased. He then asked, “Brother, is your current form based on your original form?”
“Can you regrow your limbs as long as your heart is untouched?”
“What if your precious treasure gets chopped off, can it still regrow?” Qi Yin persisted.
Fu Lan fell silent.
“Can it?” Qi Yin persistently asked.
“…” Fu Lan remained silent.