Qi Ling Shu, like Qi Shen Wei before him, was a once-in-a-century genius in the art of swordsmanship. Qi Yin imagined that Wu Fang Mountain must be laughing uncontrollably, as they had now encountered two such rare talents in just one generation.
This person could easily be called the second Qi Shen Wei. While others were still drooling and babbling as infants, he could already recite the “Dao De Ching” from memory. While others were still clumsily writing characters and drawing symbols, he was already proficient in talismans. And while others were still tripping and falling while walking, he was already soaring through the sky on his sword. He followed Qi Shen Wei every step of the way, and if he hadn’t been Qi Shen Wei’s direct disciple, people would have suspected he was Qi Shen Wei reincarnated. What was even more sad was that among these mediocre talents, including Qi Yin who was barely average, this kind of person looked even more amazing, almost legendary.
People like him, immortal swordsmen, could fly instead of walk, high above in the sky, far beyond the reach of mortals. To be able to look up to them was already an extraordinary grace. But there were still some lucky ones who caught a glimpse of him. During the last Wu Fang Daoist competition, he had walked on the white marble platform of Wu Fang’s main hall, dressed in plain white clothes, his figure hazy in the misty snow. He stood at the forefront of Wu Fang’s three thousand disciples, his thin and slender back resembling a person carved from ice and snow.
Qi Yin heard some disciples from Western Kun Lun gossiping next to him. “I heard that all girls from the immortal mountains fought for him, arguing over who would bring the lotus rib soup into his secluded room during meditation. Two young girls grabbed and bit each other, tearing each other’s hair like weeds. He saw from afar and only said, ‘Send them to the disciplinary hall.'”
“I heard that occasionally, sisters with good relationships would make concessions to each other. One would say, ‘You be the main wife, and I’ll be the concubine. Let’s call each other sisters.’ The other, blushing, would say, ‘How can I accept that? You should be the main wife, and I’ll be the concubine.’ They kept making concessions to each other, but in fact, Qi Ling Shu had never seen these two before.”
Qi Yin didn’t care about this at all. He was used to being mediocre, and he was grateful to anyone who didn’t step on him. He only remembered one thing he heard on the street – Qi Ling Shu was raised by Qi Shen Wei.
“Sorry, junior brother, I didn’t mention this to you.” Yun Zhi patted Qi Yin’s shoulder in the inn. “Mainly because I was afraid you would feel inferior and not come.”
Qi Yin glared at him resentfully. “Will I run into him on the mountain?”
“No, no,” Yun Zhi promised. “That kid is busy. He’s always slaying monsters and demons, flying around. He’ll probably just come to compete, and you won’t run into him. Besides, why are you afraid? Don’t you have your brother with you? You’re the darling younger brother of the demon lord. If you don’t like that kid, just ask your brother to take care of him.”
Fu Lan drew his sword in confusion and asked, “Do we have to fight?”
Qi Yin sighed and pressed Fu Lan’s broken iron sword back into its scabbard, then pulled him back to their room.
The next morning, they flew up to Wu Fang on their swords. Looking down from above, the peak was covered in snow, spread all over the mountain, white as far as the eye could see. Pavilions and temples dotted the mountains. Waterfalls rushed down, and plunged straight into the endless abyss. They couldn’t ride their swords anymore after reaching the gate, and they had to line up to enter the mountain on a narrow mountain path. A few steps ahead was a steep cliff. Qi Yin leaned against the bushes and looked down. Occasionally, a gust of wind swept over the mountain. The foot of the cliff surged and roared, and snow piled up on the treetops. The smoke and snow were hazy, and it was hard to tell if it was a white sea of clouds or clear white snow.
A protective array in the sky revolved slowly around the dim North Star. Thin lines of flashing light crossed the dome, shining as brightly as the stars. This was Wu Fang Mountain’s boundary array, which could transform into a killing array when invaded by enemies and kill them before they could even reach Wu Fang Mountain.
“This is really an immortal mountain.” Qi Yin marveled at the sight. Compared to Wu Fang, Feng Huan Mountain was like a beggar digging his feet on the roadside. One was poor and shabby, and the other was ethereal and transcendental.
This place was nothing like Feng Huan, where there were wild grass and weeds everywhere. Surely there were all kinds of spiritual herbs and medicines all over this place. Compared to Wu Fang, Feng Huan Mountain seemed to be full of swindlers.
But that wasn’t the point. The point was that the scene in front of him was quite embarrassing. Yesterday it wasn’t very obvious in town, but now that they had climbed the mountain, the ragged beggars and thugs of Feng Huan Mountain stood out even more among the white-robed disciples of various immortal sects.
They looked like wild chickens flying into a group of elegant white cranes. Especially Qi Yin, who was carrying a large iron pot on his back, and Fu Lan, who was carrying a basket as long as his body. The senior brothers in front of them had an itch scratcher behind their necks or a broken fan in their collars. They might as well sit down and pick their feet in public.
“Look at those fools. What kind of attire is that?” The other sects behind them sneered and laughed. “Look at that iron pot. Oh, I know, it’s a turtle shell specially made by Feng Huan. When demons come, they just hide inside, haha!”
“That basket carrier looks handsome,” whispered a girl, “but a little dull. Is he from a mountain village?”
“You don’t know anything. It’s called backwater charm! That’s the specialty of Feng Huan,” replied another.
Qi Yin was so embarrassed that he wanted to find a hole to crawl into. But he didn’t want to tell Fu Lan to throw away the basket, since they had brought it for the cat.
Several young disciples of Wu Fang came to greet and guide them. They were all dressed in white, carrying long swords on their backs. They didn’t laugh at Qi Yin and Fu Lan’s appearance, and instead greeted them respectfully. “Welcome, senior brothers and uncles. Please come this way.”
Wu Fang had many disciples, and each disciple also had disciples, spanning several generations. Feng Huan didn’t have many disciples, and they were all apprentices of a few old men such as Qing Shi and Qing Ming. Actually, everyone was about the same age, and calling them senior brother or uncle was just a formality. Qi Yin was about to return the gesture, but Fu Lan made a bow beside him and said, “Thank you, nephew.”
The smiles on the young disciples’ faces froze for a moment. Qi Yin hurriedly pulled Fu Lan behind him and apologized, “My brother doesn’t know any better. Please forgive him.” He then turned to Fu Lan and whispered, “You can’t call them nephews. You should call them senior brothers.”
Fu Lan looked at him perplexedly and pointed to Yun Zhi, who was standing nearby.
Qi Yin looked over and saw Zhou Ran, whom he had met at Yao family’s house. Zhou Ran made a long salute, and Yun Zhi just stood there nonchalantly, accepting his bow. When Zhou Ran stood up, Yun Zhi patted his fair face and laughed. “Hey, nephew. It’s been a long time. How have you been?”
Ye Qing Ming, who had no respect for seniority, was standing next to him picking his teeth. He didn’t bother to control his own disciple’s thuggish behavior, and his own behavior was no better. Zhou Ran smiled and nodded in reply. Yun Zhi walked past him with his hands behind his back, followed by Sang Ruo and Sang Ya. Sang Ya pinched Zhou Ran’s smiling face and crisply called out, “Nephew!”
A group of people walked past Feng Huan Mountain, and each person called out “nephew” to Zhao Ran. The people behind them were gossiping in a flurry. Qi Yin heard someone say “shameless” and “disgraceful”. Fu Lan didn’t know what was going on and remained silent. Qi Yin had become numb to it all, having failed to learn swordsmanship well at Feng Huan Mountain and having developed a thick skin. His senior brothers and sisters paid no attention, walking through the mountain gate with great arrogance.
Qi Yin and Fu Lan passed by Zhao Ran, who greeted them politely, but Qi Yin’s appearance had changed a bit, and he didn’t recognize Fu Lan. Perhaps it had been too long since they last saw each other, and he had forgotten.
After some hesitation, Qi Yin bowed to Zhao Ran and said, “This senior brother, I am a recent cultivator and greatly admire Master Yuan Wei. I came here originally to make friends with Young Master Qi Yin, Master Yuan Wei’s son, but I heard he has fled the mountain. Is it true?”
Zhao Ran’s smile faded slightly, and he nodded. “Yes.”
“I apologize for being presumptuous, but can I ask why he fled the mountain?” Qi Yin inquired.
Zhao Ran’s smile became even more faint, and he gestured inside. “Perhaps he couldn’t bear the hardships of cultivation in the mountains. As senior uncle has just arrived, Zhao Ran will show you the way.”
This guy was very secretive, and Qi Yin did not want to ask any more questions. He prepared to leave, but Zhao Ran smiled again and said, “Wu Fang Mountain prohibits eating and drinking, so please abide by the precepts.”
Qi Yin was taken aback and remembered the turtle shell on his back. He laughed and said, “Are you talking about this shell? It’s a special turtle shell made in Feng Huan. When a demon comes, you just have to crawl inside and hide. It’s very useful.”
Zhao Ran’s smile froze. Qi Yin patted him on the shoulder before following everyone inside. After passing through the Hanging Flowers Gate, the corridors twisted and turned, and snow fell all over the courtyard. They walked for a long time before arriving at their lodgings. When Qi Yin looked up, he saw the words “Empty Valley” carved on the eaves. It was a small courtyard where they would be staying at Wu Fang Mountain.
There were many people in Wu Fang Mountain. Although they had money, there was still a shortage of housing. In Feng Huan, at least two people could share a room with one bed each, but in Wu Fang, they had to squeeze into a large communal bed.
Ye Qing Ming, being of high rank, had his own room, while the men and women each had their own separate rooms. Qi Yin and his fellow senior brothers went into their room to sweep and tidy up the bedding. They divided up the sleeping positions, with Fu Lan sleeping against the wall, and Qi Yin sleeping next to Fu Lan. The reason for this arrangement was that Fu Lan was suspected of being a cutsleeve, and no one except for Qi Yin wanted to sleep with him.
Zhao Ran led his disciples to bring clothing, all of which were white silk clothes that were thin and smooth. Everyone thanked them, and Yun Zhi jumped off the bed and hooked his arm around Zhao Ran’s neck, saying, “Nephew, let me ask you something. What happened with that Qi Yin who went back to the mountain with you last time? How did he manage to escape?”
Qi Yin was taken aback. Yun Zhi turned his head and smiled, making a “no need to thank me” gesture.
Zhao Ran looked embarrassed. Yun Zhi continued, “Don’t try to deceive me with talks of not being able to bear the hardships of cultivating in the mountains. That young man’s parents are both deceased, and cultivating immortality is the best way out for him. So tell me, what did he do? What’s so bad that a disciple of Wu Fang, which has always been known for its openness and honesty, has to lie to conceal it?”
“We are honest and straightforward, and can’t stand despicable acts like stealing,” a person behind Zhao Ran couldn’t help but speak up. He bowed and said, “I am Zhao Ming, Zhao Ran’s junior brother. Senior, just tell them. It’s not like we haven’t been embarrassed before.”
Zhao Ran sighed. “Qi Yin stole the clothing of our junior martial uncle while he was bathing.”
“Junior martial uncle?” Everyone from Feng Huan Mountain was stunned, and Yun Zhi said, “Isn’t that Qi Ling Shu?”
“Yes, that’s him,” Zhao Ran confirmed.
Qin Yin’s mind went blank. What the hell was going on? He remembered that Yao Xiao Shan liked girls. When did he develop a liking for men? Did he think he was a cowherd and Qi Ling Shu was a weaver (1), stealing his clothes while he was bathing?
Zhao Ming was indignant. “That Qin Yin doesn’t even take a look at his own behavior, acting like a pig and still daring to have thoughts about our junior martial uncle! When the matter was exposed, he fled overnight. We went to his dormitory to catch him and take him to the disciplinary hall, but found that he had already left without a trace!”
Zhao Ran frowned. “Junior brother, don’t be rude.”
“He deserves it!” Zhao Ming said angrily. “I think that guy must have inherited his mother’s fox-like nature. His mother seduced Elder Qi and now her son tried to seduce our junior martial uncle. He’s shameless!”
Qin Yin didn’t say a word, just remained silent. A pair of warm hands reached out from behind and covered his ears. He heard Fu Lan’s soft voice say, “Don’t listen, Xiao Yin.”
Zhao Ming had a satisfying talk and suddenly realized that the surroundings were silent. Several senior brothers from Feng Huan Mountain even stopped fidgeting and slowly drew their swords to wipe them. The sword’s blade flipped in their palms, and sword glare flickered on the roof and floor. Zhao Ming felt an invisible sense of killing intent, and turned around uneasily, only to see a black cat squatting on the tea table, its green eyes flickering like ghostly flames as it stared at him maliciously. He didn’t know which sensitive nerve he had touched. This Wild Chicken Mountain (2) was known for producing lunatics and rascals. He had heard from others before that Elder Yuan Wei and the head of Feng Huan Mountain were good friends, but he had taken it as a joke.
Zhao Ran felt that Zhao Ming had been out of line with his words and actions, so he apologized and bowed to take his leave with a smile. The door closed tightly behind him, and the senior brothers put away their swords and patted Qi Yin’s shoulder to comfort him. Qi Yin forced a smile and said he was fine, then poured himself a cup of tea.
Liu Bai spoke up, “Qi Ling Shu is the top bachelor of Wu Fang Mountain and a handsome young man. Your cousin’s taste in men is quite good.”
Qi Yin: “…”
What kind of nonsense ranking was this? Qi Yin was speechless.
“It’s okay. Soon, the top bachelor position will be taken by our Junior Brother Dai. Just wait and see. With his looks, he’ll surely defeat Qi Ling Shu!” said a senior brother.
Qi Yin looked at Fu Lan, who didn’t react much, and asked, “Are you guys really that confident?”
“Of course.” Liu Bai winked at him. “Because I’m the one who wrote this ranking.”
These shameless people were unbelievable. Qi Yin rubbed his forehead.
“Okay, okay,” Yun Zhi cleared his throat. “Let’s try on the clothes and see if they fit. If not, I’ll have my nephew Zhao Ran and his friends fix them.”
Everyone got up and changed their clothes. Qi Yin and Fu Lan took off their coarse hemp pants, revealing their red silk undershorts. The bright red color was festive and happy. Yun Zhi noticed and asked in surprise, “Why are you both wearing red undershorts?”
“We’re both unlucky, so we wear red to change our luck,” Qi Yin said.
“No,” Yun Zhi said, “I mean, why are you both wearing identical undershorts?”
“We used a piece of cloth to make it.” Qi Yin looked at him inexplicably. “Who needs two pieces of cloth to make a pair of shorts?”
Fu Lan also lifted his clothes and looked at him in a daze.
Everyone was silent for a while, then burst into laughter. Yun Zhi laughed so hard that he couldn’t stand up straight. “You two are so open about being cutsleeves. Sorry, I laugh because I respect that!”
Qi Yin was so angry that he threw down his clothes and ran over to beat him up. The other senior brothers rushed forward and pressed Qi Yin onto the bed. Fu Lan stood there, holding the middle belt of the clothes, not knowing whether to change clothes first or go over to help. They were fighting fiercely, and Qi Yin was screaming while being held down. Fu Lan hesitated for a while, then gave up the idea of helping. They were making noises like a bunch of roosters, and in the midst of the noise, Fu Lan turned his head and looked out the window at the Ling Hua Pavilion, where the Daoist competition would be held. The snow outside was heavy and falling gently, as if the sky and the earth were whispering.
1. Cowherd and weaver – a popular Chinese legend that tells the story of two lovers who were separated by the Milky Way and could only meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The “stealing clothes” part of the legend, refers to a specific incident where the Cowherd, named Niulang, stole the clothes of the Weaver Girl, named Zhinü, while she was bathing in a river. Zhinü was a goddess who weaved beautiful clouds in the sky, but she had descended to the mortal world. According to the legend, Zhinü’s clothes were her means of returning to heaven, and when Niulang took them, she could not go back.
2. Wild Chicken Mountain – the “Feng” of Feng Huan means phoenix, so calling them wild chickens is a play on words.