Qi Yin sat on a bamboo raft, propping his head up and watching the surging clouds recede.
Fu Lan sat in front of him with Lord Cat. Behind him were stacked luggage boxes and cages, which were piled up to half his height. Inside were his and his brother’s bedding, pillows, clothes, shoes, and the black cat’s soft cushion. They had too much stuff, and the boxes couldn’t fit it all, so Fu Lan made him carry a pot so that they could cook when they arrived at Wu Fang. Lord Cat had been in Feng Huan Mountain for several months and had become so fat that Fu Lan couldn’t carry it anymore, so he had to make a bamboo basket for it.
The two brothers, one carrying a pot and the other a basket, looked like country bumpkins who had just come out of a mountain valley, and were not very smart.
Today was December 12th, and they set off on time. Ye Qing Ming led a group of disciples from Feng Huan Mountain to accompany them. Qing Shi stood on the Repentance Cliff and waved goodbye to them, nagging them not to cause trouble when they arrived at Wu Fang Mountain, and not to trample on flowers and plants or damage objects, because Feng Huan Mountain was poor and couldn’t afford to pay for it. They also shouldn’t fight with fellow disciples and anger their masters, because Feng Huan Mountain was of low status and couldn’t afford to offend others.
Just before they left, Qing Shi drew a talisman on Qi Yin’s face, embellishing his appearance so that his face, which looked so much like Qi Shen Wei’s, wouldn’t be recognized.
At first, Qi Yin was relieved to see the bamboo raft, as they had so many luggage boxes that they couldn’t fit them all in their Qiankun pouch. But an hour ago, he saw several large ships with white sails catching up from behind and sailing towards them. A group of men and women surrounded the stern, pointing and laughing at them in the sea of clouds.
“Look, it’s those poor devils from Feng Huan Mountain! What are they sitting on? A bamboo raft? Hahaha!”
Liu Bai rowed his bamboo raft over and said, “The world is really getting worse. These immortal sects are becoming more and more extravagant, especially those people from Wu Fang Mountain, who wear white clothes and white robes every day. Think about it; how much money does it take just to make a white silk robe?”
To be honest, if he had the opportunity, Qi Yin would prefer to associate with these vulgar people.
Liu Bai continued, “Many beautiful maidens from various sects will come for the Dao conference this time. Do you have any thoughts, junior brother?”
Fu Lan and Qi Yin both shook their heads obediently. Fu Lan shook his head because he had a monk’s heart. He saw everyone in the world as the same. The only difference between people was whether they were younger brothers or non-younger brothers in his eyes. Qi Yin shook his head because he had suffered too much from emotional distress and had already made up his mind to carry the burden of the world and not get involved in the mortal world.
“Oh, don’t rush to refuse,” said Liu Bai with a look of understanding. “Let me remind you first. If you want to approach a girl you like, make sure to inquire about her background. Absolutely stay away from Zhong Gu Mountain.”
“Why?” asked Qi Yin.
Liu Bai lifted his chin toward Yun Zhi. “It’s all because of our eldest senior brother. Last time during the conference, he seduced Zhong Gu Mountain’s junior sister, took her for a ride on a flying sword and even released sky lanterns at Wu Fang’s Contemplation Cliff. The lanterns were slightly off-target and almost burned down the school. As a result, he was punished with 100 lashes in the disciplinary hall.”
“Where was he lashed?”
“On the palm of his right hand,” replied Liu Bai.
Qi Yin facepalmed.
“That little girl was deeply moved,” said Liu Bai. “After the conference, when we were heading back to the mountain, she caught up with us and insisted on returning to Feng Huan with us. I told her Feng Huan is poor and the mountain life is harsh. She said she was willing to endure hardships with our eldest senior brother.”
Qi Yin was speechless. These young lovers nowadays were really disgusting.
“Guess what our eldest senior brother said?” Liu Bai wiped his face and put on the appearance of a decent gentleman. “He said, ‘You’ve got it wrong. I’ve always treated you like my little sister.'”
What a rogue! Qi Yin was impressed and felt a deep sense of admiration. Yun Zhi, that scoundrel, may not be proficient in swordsmanship, but he was definitely a first-rate trickster when it came to deceiving innocent women.
Liu Bai rowed away on the bamboo raft, and Qi Yin turned to look at his brother. Fu Lan was gazing at the sea of clouds, clearly not listening. It seemed like nothing in this world could penetrate his heart, neither Qing Shi’s chanting nor Liu Bai’s gossip.
Qi Yin poked Fu Lan and asked, “Brother, have you ever thought about your origins?”
Fu Lan was startled for a moment, then replied, “Yes, I have.”
“The fool doesn’t remember who left him on Ba Mountain. He has lived in the temple ever since he could remember,” said the black cat, nestled in Fu Lan’s arms. “Later, I thought that maybe the fool’s background is related to the temple. When we first came to the southern region, we investigated various divine relics, visited Yun Meng ruins, and also went to Anyang Yin Xu ruins… but we didn’t get much out of it.”
Those were divine relics from other places, so naturally, they couldn’t find anything. Qi Yin said, “Listen to me. Brother, I think you are the illegitimate child of the White Deer God. Think about it, you grew up in Ba Mountain since you were young, but this place is surrounded by a white fog that eats people, and outsiders can’t even get in. So there is only one possibility – you were born inside. Besides you, who else is in the Ba Mountain Temple? It must be the White Deer God.”
Fu Lan listened silently.
“Maybe the White Deer God descended to earth and fell in love with a handsome scholar. The two of them had a secret relationship and had a child. Mortals grow old, so later when the scholar passed away, the god returned to Ba Mountain alone and gave birth to you. And because of some unknown mishap, your mother couldn’t stay with you, so she had to leave you alone in the temple. You’re not human, not demon, not monster. The Wolf King said your aura is very strange. Of course, you are a demigod, so they have never smelled the aura of a god before.” Qi Yin talked a lot and finally said, “Brother, doesn’t it make sense?”
Fu Lan didn’t even hesitate and shook his head. “No.”
Qi Yin: “…”
In the evening, they arrived at Jin Xi Town at the foot of Wu Fang Mountain. This town was not big, with only two long streets. When viewed from above, it looked like a few colorful building blocks falling in the mountain valley. Looking south, Wu Fang’s Mie Du Peak hung in the air. The peaks were in a triangular shape, surrounded by clouds and flying cranes. Vaguely visible on the dome were the shimmering light waves of a barrier.
There were chains leading to the ground in all four directions of Mie Du Peak. Liu Bai said that the chains led to four towns in Wu Fang Mountains, which were forbidden areas for demons. Below Mie Du Peak, the surrounding forbidden area was the Ice Sea Abyss, where it was icy all year round, and falling in meant certain death.
“They say the Ice Sea Abyss is also called the Sword Tomb,” said Liu Bai.
“Why? Is it because a sword immortal is buried there?” Qi Yin asked.
“Not really,” Liu Bai replied. “It’s said that Wu Fang’s disciples often accidentally fell into the Ice Sea Abyss while practicing swordsmanship, causing their swords to break and themselves to die. That’s why it’s called the Sword Tomb.”
Qi Yin shuddered. “You’re kidding me, right?”
Liu Bai laughed heartily. “Just kidding. You believed me?”
Qing Ming suggested they rest in Jin Xi Town first and go to Wu Fang the next day. Disciples from various immortal sects had come, making the town particularly lively recently. It was not known who started the trend, but sword immortals must wear white clothes and carry white swords. As soon as they entered the gate, there were white clothes and flashing swords everywhere on the streets. The beggars from Feng Huan Mountain joined the crowd, looking like chickens among a group of cranes.
As night fell, red lanterns hung on both sides of the long street, swaying and emitting a soft light under the eaves. The crowd was louder than usual this year. They said Wu Fang Mountain had strict rules, and their disciples abstained from food and drink and had few desires. Jin Xi Town was rarely this lively. Pear trees were planted on the roadside, and there were stalls selling goldfish, clay figurines, candies, and powder. The black cat followed Sang Ruo and the others to mooch food and drinks, while Qi Yin and Fu Lan strolled around together.
Qi Yin held a jug of wine in one hand and was pulled by Fu Lan with the other. Fu Lan held on tightly. Qi Yin moved his hand and said, “Brother, don’t hold on so tight.”
Fu Lan replied, “You’ll get lost.”
Qi Yin was helpless. Perhaps it was a habit from his childhood. This guy still treated him like a child and wouldn’t let go of his hand in crowded places.
Turning his head, he caught sight of a gambling house. A golden sign hung under the lanterns, and two thugs stood at the entrance. Qi Yin had never been to this place before, and he suddenly had a bad idea.
“Brother.” Qi Yin lifted his chin towards the casino. “We finally came out for a trip. Shall we go to the gambling house and broaden our horizons?”
Fu Lan looked up at the sign and said, “No.”
“A Fu said that we can’t let you go astray. If you go into the gambling house, they’ll ruin your hands. If you go into jail, they’ll ruin your legs, and even your third leg will be ruined.” Fu Lan spoke and wrinkled his brows in confusion. “What is the third leg? Don’t mortals only have two legs?”
Qi Yin was speechless. “If I still want to go in, will you ruin me?”
Fu Lan was stunned.
“This idiot…” Qi Yin shook his head and laughed. Fu Lan usually didn’t have much expression, occasionally showing a bit of foolishness that looked quite cute. The lights of the night market shone on his face, and Qi Yin couldn’t help but feel his heart skip a beat as he watched him being so silly. Somehow, perhaps because he had drunk a few sips of alcohol, Qi Yin impulsively pinched Fu Lan’s face and said, “Brother, if you keep being so cute, do you believe that I’ll bite you?”
As soon as he said it, Qi Yin regretted it. The words sounded like he was flirting with him, and it was very inappropriate. Qi Yin blushed, but Fu Lan didn’t react at all and just looked at him silently.
“He probably doesn’t understand what I’m saying, right?” Qi Yin thought, scratching his head and trying to say something to break the awkwardness. Suddenly, Fu Lan leaned down, and his warm lips approached Qi Yin’s neck, leaving the impression of his hard and wet teeth on it.
The world seemed to go silent for a moment, and Qi Yin opened his eyes wide. The white pear blossoms silently fell before his eyes.
Qi Yin had been caught off guard and instinctively backed away. “Brother, what are you doing?”
Fu Lan tilted his head and looked at him with his big, black eyes reflecting the sparkling lights. “Xiao Yin is cute, so I want to bite you.”
The lights flickered, the crowds flowed by. The two of them silently stared at each other without moving. Fu Lan probably misunderstood Qi Yin’s meaning and thought that he had to bite Qi Yin because he thought he looked cute.
Qi Yin was silent for a while, then helplessly touched Fu Lan’s head and said, “Brother, don’t bite me again in the future. If you bite me again, I’ll…”
I’ll fall for you… Qi Yin thought helplessly.
Fu Lan looked at him in confusion.
Qi Yin sighed and continued, “I’ll be angry.”
Fu Lan nodded in disappointment and lowered his eyes, seeming a little upset.
Suddenly, there was a commotion up ahead, and the crowd boiled over. The sea of people moved to both sides, pushing Qi Yin and Fu Lan back, and they were tightly pressed against a pear tree. Qi Yin didn’t know what was happening and was confused, but he could only hold onto Fu Lan tightly to prevent him from being swept away by the crowd.
A cold and desolate sword glare flashed by in the sky, cutting like a knife into Qi Yin’s eyelids. The person on the sword flew too fast, and Qi Yin only saw a fleeting figure dressed in white, cold and sharp like frost on a plum blossom or snow on a mountain. The crowd went crazy. Qi Yin heard someone shout, “Young Daoist Qi!”
Qi Yin was taken aback. Could it be Yao Xiao Shan? He had gained such a high reputation in such a short time since he joined Wu Fang?
Not long after, a prison wagon rolled down the street, and the crowd shouted again, “The pig demon Fu Lan is here! Look, the pig demon Fu Lan is here!”
“Pig demon Fu Lan?” Qi Yin and Fu Lan looked at each other in confusion.
Soon they found out the answer. The prison wagon approached, and white-robed men riding on swords guarded both sides of the wagon. Inside the wagon was a burly monster with a human body and a pig’s head. His hair was unkempt, and his coarse fangs protruded from his mouth with traces of blood. The wagon finally arrived in front of Qi Yin, and the pig demon panted heavily. His hawk-like eyes rose under his tangled hair and met Fu Lan below.
The pig demon suddenly shook and went crazy, roaring and shaking the wagon. The crowd was startled and retreated in panic. The white-robed men remained calm and quickly used a talisman. Spells inscribed on the wagon flashed, and the pig demon screamed in pain, instantly becoming still.
“Brother, do you know that demon?” Qi Yin asked, pulling Fu Lan’s sleeve.
Fu Lan nodded. “It is Zhu Ming Zang, the chief of the pig demon clan.”
“Why did he impersonate you?” Qi Yin asked.
Fu Lan just frowned and didn’t say anything.
“Then… do we have to save him? After all, he is the chief of your demon clan. Is he considered your subordinate?” Qi Yin scratched his head.
Fu Lan furrowed his brow. “No, it’s troublesome. Let’s not save him.”
Qi Yin was stunned by his decisive attitude, but Fu Lan remained as indifferent as plain water. It seemed that it was only natural for him not to take action. Was this guy really the demon lord? Qi Yin still couldn’t believe his brother’s identity. How blind the demons must be to recognize him as their leader.
“We finally caught this demon!” someone exclaimed with righteous indignation. “This demon led his demon soldiers to burn, kill, rape, and plunder. A few days ago, he went to Liu’s village outside Heng Zhou City and killed the entire village, releasing the captive pigs, causing the price of pork to rise. Now I can’t even afford to eat pork!”
“Such evil!” someone exclaimed in hatred. “Now we can live in peace thanks to Young Daoist Qi. I heard that he set up a sword formation outside Heng Zhou City and captured Fu Lan alive. With the Snow Sword, he can subdue any demon and slay any evil!”
“Nonsense! Young Daoist Qi has received the true teachings of Elder Yuan Wei. His every move reflects his master’s style. Now, who doesn’t recognize him as a beacon of righteousness in the world, a model for us all!”
Qi Yin leaned over and asked, “May I ask if this Young Daoist Qi is Elder Yuan Wei’s son, Qi Yin?”
The man rolled his eyes. “What Qi Yin? How can that waste be compared to Young Daoist Qi?”
“You’re an ignorant country bumpkin, aren’t you?” The man looked Qi Yin up and down for a moment before continuing, “Qi Yin couldn’t handle the rigorous cultivation methods of Wu Fang, so he fled the mountain with his tail between his legs last month.”
Fled the mountain? Qi Yin widened his eyes in shock.
“The Young Daoist Qi we’re talking about is the famous first disciple of Wu Fang, the only direct disciple of Elder Yuan Wei,” the man said. “Qi Ling Shu!”