“I’m not going to Wu Fang,” Qi Yin said.
He sat on a wicker chair, holding a cup of steaming bitter tea. Ye Qing Ming and Yun Zhi leaned against the door, turning their heads in surprise at Qi Yin’s words. Qing Shi sat at the head of the table, still smiling. This chubby guy had always been like this, smiling with his eyes half-closed, making it hard to guess what he was thinking.
Qing Shi said, “I thought you would go, but it seems I miscalculated. May I ask why?”
Qi Yin shrugged. “Mainly because it would be awkward. My cousin Yao Xiao Shan is pretending to be me to cultivate at Wu Fang. If I went and met him, it would be very awkward. And those people at Wu Fang…” Qi Yin rubbed his toe on the ground. “Every time they mention Qi Shen Wei, they always bring up my mother in an insulting way. I don’t like it.”
“Oh…” Qing Shi nodded thoughtfully. “Indeed, I didn’t think it through.”
“What are you afraid of?” Yun Zhi came over and hooked his arm around his neck. “Let’s draw a talisman to change your appearance. Even if you go, Yao Xiao Shan won’t recognize you. As for those guys at Wu Fang, if anyone dares to speak ill of your mother, I, your senior brother, will be the first to beat his mother.”
Qi Yin glanced at him sideways. “Promises are insincere, flattery is false. What are you up to?”
“Oh.” Yun Zhi laughed, showing his white teeth. “I have always been concerned about you, as your senior brother.”
Qi Yin: “…”
As if he would believe him.
“Wu Fang is the number one sect in the world. I thought my disciple would want to see the world, even if he despises Yuan Wei. But now it seems that my disciple is as calm as water, without a ripple. It’s beyond my expectations.” Qing Shi shook his head and smiled. “However, my disciple may want to hear me out before making a decision.” Qing Shi lifted his sleeve. “Tong Yi, bring the lamp of life.”
A young boy nodded and went into the inner room. The other boys closed the windows and put down the bamboo curtains. The room suddenly became dark, and Qi Yin didn’t know what they were up to. After a while, the boy came out with a crystal lamp and placed it on the tea table beside Qing Shi.
The lamp was strange. Its flame was a blue, like a ghost fire from the underworld. The lamp looked very old. The copper base was covered with a layer of green rust, and the carving was blurry.
Qing Shi said, “Do you know whose lamp this is, my disciple?”
“…” Qi Yin looked at Qing Shi, whose expression was unusually solemn, and suddenly had a guess in his heart. Could it be that guy? Wasn’t he dead? He died when he was fighting against the water ghost.
Qi Yin’s lips were a little dry, and he tentatively asked, “Is it my fathe’sr?”
“Is he still alive?”
“I don’t know.” Qing Shi shook his head. “The flickering lights means your father is neither alive nor dead, which is an ill omen. Your father and I once ventured into the demon’s lair to slay demons and evil spirits when we were young. The demon’s lair was treacherous, and during the battles, we often lost track of each other. In order to find out about each other’s situation, we both dripped blood into a lamp and lit a lamp of life. Even if we were thousands of miles apart, we would know whether each other was still alive or not.” He lowered his head and looked at the lamp. “On the eighth day of the fourth month this year, I was meditating in the mountains when I suddenly saw the lamp flicker. Soon after, news came that Yuan Wei had died. At the same time, something else visited me late at night.”
“What was it?”
“A flying paper that burns upon reading,” Qing Shi said, “with the words ‘Don’t let my son enter Wu Fang!'”
Yun Zhi interjected, “The paper didn’t have a signature, but among Master’s friends who have children, there’s no one else but your father. So Master ordered me to go to Wu Fang overnight, pretending to encounter you on the way, and to take you away halfway. Fortunately, Zhao Ran didn’t recognize you, so I took you away openly and honestly.”
“Wu Fang said that your father was seriously injured while fighting a water ghost and died without treatment,” Ye Qing Ming said, “but your father was a rare sword genius in a century, able to control a thousand flying swords at the same time. Even the Northern Wolf King was defeated by his sword, so how capable could a water ghost be? Besides, your father went to Ying River at the beginning of the year, and news of his death only came out in April. What kind of injury could drag on for four months and make the light flicker? Isn’t this clearly deceiving people?”
“So you think my father didn’t die due to the water ghost?” Qi Yin asked.
All three nodded in unison.
“What does neither alive nor dead mean?”
Ye Qing Ming scratched his chin. “We don’t know either. This is the first time we’ve seen the lamp show this color.”
“In order to investigate this matter,” Qing Shi stroked his beard and said, “we sent Qing He to infiltrate Wu Fang in the name of borrowing books from the library and investigate secretly.”
“Did he find out anything?”
Qing Shi shook his head. “No. However, he checked the register of disciples who entered without permission and found that five people were missing. And all of these people disappeared on the same day, just before the lights turned dim, on April 5th.”
“Do you suspect that their disappearance is related to my father?” asked Qi Yin.
Qing Shi nodded.
Qi Yin’s mood was complicated. “Then what’s the use in finding me? Although he and I are father and son, we don’t have any kind of spiritual connection or telepathy. Even if I go, I won’t be able to find him.”
“You can.” Qing Shi patted his shoulder. “Xiao Yin, the only one who can find him in this world is you.”
He reached out and pulled out a compass from somewhere, but the pointer was rusty and wouldn’t move. Qing Ming pulled Qi Yin’s wrist and cut a finger-long wound in his palm. Qi Yin cried out in pain, “What are you doing!”
Blood flowed down his fingers, and Qing Shi caught it with the compass. The rust on the compass melted away, and the pointer slowly turned, pointing south.
“What is this…” Qi Yin stared at the compass.
“It’s a Blood Compass,” said Ye Qing Ming. “If there is fresh blood on the compass within an hour of leaving the body, it will show you the direction of your parents, children, or siblings. It’s commonly used by people to find their relatives. It’s expensive, costing fifty taels of silver for one piece.”
“How could you afford it?” asked Qi Yin.
“We didn’t buy it. Your master made it himself,” said Ye Qing Ming. “That’s not important. You shouldn’t have any illegitimate children, right? So it must be pointing to…”
Looking in the direction of the pointer, daylight shone through the plain window and cast shadows on the ground. Qi Yin murmured, “Qi Shen Wei.”
He didn’t feel good about it. He had known earlier that the person he should call father had died, and he felt lost and empty inside. He didn’t feel very sad. But now that he knew that the man might still be alive, he still felt lost and didn’t feel happy.
When he was a child, he made excuses for Qi Shen Wei and tried to guess what secret he was hiding. But even if it was a huge secret, he couldn’t forgive Qi Shen Wei for not contacting him for eighteen years. Qi Yin thought, what did it matter that Qi Shen Wei left a child behind when he died? Did he suddenly repent and atone for his sins before he died?
He remembered that Zhao Ran had said that Qi Shen Wei had confessed and punished himself in front of their master’s door. What did that mean? Qi Yin thought with his eyes downcast that he and his mother were probably the only stains on Qi Shen Wei’s otherwise pure life, and it was embarrassing and uncomfortable for him.
“Xiao Yin…” Qing Shi took his hand and squinted his bean-sized eyes, with a hint of tears in them. “At the end of the day, it’s still a life. Think about it again?”
Qi Yin couldn’t bear it in his heart. Ah, this fat man was right. He couldn’t just let that damn sword immortal die without reason. Qi Yin muttered, “Okay, I’ll go!”
Before leaving, Qing Shi handed him a long sword. “This is Yuan Wei’s Gui Mei Sword. It’s time for you to take it.”
It was a three-foot-long light sword. Qi Yin had heard of this ancient spirit sword. It was the one that Qi Shen Wei got inside a big monster’s belly. Since Qi Shen Wei became famous, nine out of ten swords made in the blacksmith shop in Wu Tang Town were named “Gui Mei.” Many young men saved up their money to buy one and wear it around their waist as a lifelong symbol, seeing Qi Shen Wei as their role model. Among the children playing in the streets, nine out of ten wooden swords also had “Gui Mei” written on them. He had one himself when he was a child, a sword he had carved and written himself, but it was later snatched away by Yao Xiao Shan.
He never thought he would have the real one now.
Qi Yin took the sword and drew it out of its sheath, but he didn’t see the dazzling light he had imagined. The sword was covered in rust, and it looked like an old person’s face, with spots and stains.
Right, he heard that powerful immortal swords had to acknowledge their masters. Gui Mei didn’t lose its rust, probably because it didn’t recognize him. Qi Yin shrugged his shoulders and took the sword, then turned to leave. But as he stepped out of the threshold, he suddenly stopped and turned around to ask, “Did you guys already decide to send me there? What if I don’t want to go?”
“Then we’ll have to knock you out and let Yun Zhi take you to Wu Fang,” Qing Shi answered with a smile.
Qi Yin: “…”
They said they wouldn’t force him, didn’t they?
Qi Yin descended the mountain steps with his eyes fixed on the ground until he disappeared into the light mist. Yun Zhi crossed his arms and said with a bitter smile, “Gui Mei is an ancient spiritual sword. If it doesn’t recognize its master, the wielder’s arm will be frozen by frost. When I first held the hilt, frost flowers grew all the way up to my elbow. I almost froze to death. But my junior brother Qi Yin, who held the sword firmly, couldn’t remove the rust. Why?”
Qing Shi replied, “It’s not that Gui Mei doesn’t allow him to remove the rust, but his spiritual power is too weak to do so. After all, he is Yuan Wei’s son. How could Gui Mei not recognize him? Young people still need to practice more.”
The day before departure, Qi Yin went to the Repentance Cliff. The night was so thick it was like ink that wouldn’t dissolve. He climbed up the cliff and shouted, “Brother Wolf!” then leaped off. A white figure rushed toward him from below, and he rested his hand behind his head as he lay down in the soft fur of the Wolf King.
“You brat, who do you think I am? A mount?” The Wolf King grumbled, “If I didn’t come, you would have turned into meat sauce.”
“But you did come, didn’t you?” Qi Yin lazily looked up at the sky. “Brother Wolf, at the end of the year, there will be a Daoist debate. I have to leave tomorrow.”
“You? Compete on the Daoist debate? Don’t make me laugh. Although those Daoists of Wu Fang stink and wear sour faces every day, they really have some skills. Except for Yun Zhi, your Feng Huan Sect is not even worth someone else’s shoes. Oh, by the way,” the Wolf King said, “tell your brother to go. Your brother is a natural star of death. With him there, those old immortals of Wu Fang will have to give way.”
“I just want to broaden my horizons. I’ll be back after a quick trip.” Qi Yin sat up. “Brother Wolf, I may see my dead father when I go to Wu Fang. I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. Do you have any message you want me to deliver?”
“…” The Wolf King was silent for a while, his golden eyes flickering. After a while, Qi Yin heard him say, “It’s been twenty years since I last saw your father. Twenty years ago, I was a young wolf and had just caught a girl. She was so thin and had no flesh on her, but she cooked well. Your father came to fight me at the request of someone else. We fought until the sky was dark and the earth was dark, and I lost the last two moves and got bruises all over my body. But at the critical moment, I saw the girl taking a bath in the mountain stream. I kicked your father into the stream with one foot. Haha, I couldn’t beat him, but the girl could. She beat your father so badly that he was bleeding from his head.”
“You’re so sly,” Qi Yin said helplessly.
“What do you mortals say? All is fair in war. Your father had thin skin. If it had been me who fell in, I wouldn’t have panicked. I’d stand up straight and face it. Naked women? How dare they argue with me?” The Wolf King snorted.
“Where did you fight?” Qi Yin asked.
“At Wu River.”
“……” Qi Yin was stunned, wondering if the girl the Wolf King was talking about was his mother.
“After eighteen years of separation, I’ve lived for so long that my life is nearing its end.” The Wolf King stood up. The wind rustled through his fur, which billowed like a wave of white grass. “Boy, if you see your father, tell him that when we meet in the Yellow Springs, I will fight him again!”