At night, in Wu Fang Hall.
Qi Ling Shu was kneeling on a cushion, with his eyes lowered. Starlight fell on his pure white robes, coming from the open dome above. If he raised his head, he could see twenty-eight silver stars and a full moon that revolved around the central axis of the North Star, surrounded by the barrier formation that had been proportionally reduced in size. The intricate silver lines of the formation intersected and rotated slowly around the North Star. This was the center of Wu Fang, where the head and the twelve elders could control the entire Wu Fang formation by injecting spiritual power. In an instant, the barrier formation could be transformed into a killing formation, instantly crushing any external enemies who entered Wu Fang.
“Why didn’t we kill Fu Lan?” someone angrily asked.
Qi Ling Shu remained silent and lowered his gaze. The one speaking was the Elder of Discipline, Yuan Ku, a white-haired old man whose anger made his eyebrows stand out like a fierce lion’s mane. He was known for his violent temper and few dared to provoke him.
“Cut off that pig’s head and use his blood to draw Wu Fang’s flag. Southern Jiang demons were all killed in the battle of the Ninth Abyss. If we kill Fu Lan, their demon tribe will be leaderless, and we can attack Southern Jiang. They will naturally surrender, and we will have no more worries in the human world!”
A man under the full moon opened his eyes from his meditation. He was a tall and thin man with a wide robe and sleeves, and looked to be only in his early thirties, but his actual age must be far older than that. The man smiled and said, “Why be so anxious, junior brother? There has been peace in the human world for a long time, and there is no need to start a war. Besides, if we try to exterminate all the Southern Jiang demons, they will fight to the death when they have nothing left to lose, and we will face a difficult situation. This is not a good solution.”
Yuan Ku snorted. “If you’re afraid, just say so. Why bother talking so much?”
“Moreover,” the other man sighed, “the Daoist way of the human world is declining. If it weren’t for Senior Ku Can helping Wu Fang to modify the Forbidden Forest Formation, it would have collapsed long ago, and the demons would have fled. How could we sit here peacefully and talk like this if that were the case?”
“The headmaster is too kind. It’s just a small favor,” a hoarse voice came from the corner, belonging to Ku Can.
Yuan Ku asked coldly, “So, what do you plan to do with Fu Lan?”
“Of course, we won’t let it live.” The middle-aged man nodded and smiled. “I have a plan. We’ll detain it on the Contemplation Cliff to give the children a good look.”
Everyone else left, leaving only Qi Ling Shu behind in the hall. The wind was quiet, and the gauze on the windows fluttered like moth wings. The headmaster, Yuan Ji, descended slowly from the high platform, and asked, “You’re going to fight in the competition in a few days?”
“Yes,” Qi Ling Shu answered, bowing his head.
“Who’s your opponent?”
“That child? Wasn’t he the one who almost burned down the school during last year’s competition?” Yuan Ji shook his head with a smile. The faint beard on his lips moved slightly. “Don’t underestimate Qing Shi’s disciples. I heard this child has been following Qing Shi since he was young, and has learned everything about his character, swordsmanship, and even his special skills. Yun Zhi will probably be the next head of Feng Huan Mountain. But Ling Shu, you are the first disciple of Wu Fang. In this competition, you can only win and not lose.”
“Yes,” Qi Ling Shu answered.
The man patted Qi Ling Shu’s shoulder. “Your master’s spirit in the heavens will surely bless you.”
Qi Ling Shu’s eyes glazed over, and there was a hint of sadness in them. He closed his eyes, and his voice was as clear as jade. “I will not disappoint my master’s high expectations!”
On the second day, just after sunrise, Qi Yin got up to participate in the competition. At Wu Fang, everyone woke up earlier than roosters, but Feng Huan disciples didn’t take the competition seriously and were still sleeping sweetly in their rooms. Only Qi Yin was unlucky enough to have an early match and had to wake up early. Fu Lan accompanied him to the platform. Qi Yin planned to just go through the motions and wait for Fu Lan to finish his match afterwards before going back to sleep.
As expected, Qi Yin was easily defeated before he could even draw his sword, and he fell to the ground in a very ungraceful manner. The others all stepped back to make room for him, and someone laughed and said, “Feng Huan really produces trash. He lost with just one move.”
“Let’s bet on how many moves the next one will lose in.”
“I bet two moves.”
“I bet half a move, haha!”
Qi Yin was used to losing face, and his thick skin could withstand it, as could the sect’s reputation. Fu Lan didn’t care at all. He didn’t even know what losing face was. After crouching below the platform for a while, it was finally Fu Lan’s turn to go up. Qi Yin reminded him, “Just lose after two moves. Don’t really fight.”
Fu Lan nodded vigorously and went up with the broken iron sword that Qi Yin had given him. His opponent was a little junior sister from Zhong Gu Mountain, with big eyes and rosy cheeks, looking very cute. She obviously didn’t expect her opponent to be so handsome, and blushed as soon as he got up. She held her sword in a curtsy and whispered in a small voice, like a mosquito, “Xin Xiao Xiao greets senior brother.”
Fu Lan also returned the greeting and asked, “Do you have a sugar daddy?”
Qi Yin suddenly had a bad feeling.
The little junior sister didn’t understand for a moment. “What?… What sugar daddy?”
“A father who specializes in doing his daughter,” Fu Lan said.
As soon as this was said, there was silence both on and off the platform.
“You!” The little junior sister was so angry and embarrassed that her eyes turned red. “I have no grievances or enmities with you. How can you humiliate me like this! Stinky thief, watch this move!”
A sword glare suddenly appeared. Xin Xiao Xiao moved her sword and weaved it into a giant net with snow-white sword light covering Fu Lan inside. Fu Lan looked confused. She hadn’t answered his question yet, so why did she start attacking?
But then the sword move changed! A sword light broke through several illusory shadows and flew towards Fu Lan. Fu Lan stood still like a wooden puppet in a white robe.
“Another waste. I’m going to win again. Remember to pay up,” someone laughed below the platform.
When the sword light was within three steps of Fu Lan, he drew his sword. The broken iron sword bought from Chang Le Road was unsheathed, and it was obviously a piece of scrap metal. But at this moment, it carried a severe pressure. A dim sword light spilled out of the sheath, and Fu Lan took a step forward. Xin Xiao Xiao’s sword barely missed his face, but Fu Lan didn’t blink. He swung his sword.
On the stage, the sword lights stopped and the two stood back to back in the cool breeze, like two reefs in the sea. Everyone looked confused and didn’t know who had won or lost. After a moment, drops of blood began to trickle out from the waist of the young girl, gradually becoming more and more, eventually turning into a fountain. In front of everyone, the girl’s face grew paler and paler, and she finally fell to the ground with weak legs. Turning around, Fu Lan sheathed his sword, and the snow-white blade was stained with a conspicuous red.
Qi Yin was dumbfounded.
In the silence, someone shouted in panic, “He killed her!”
Someone yelled, “The sword fight was supposed to be until one of them gave up. Feng Huan’s Yun Lan actually killed someone in public!”
The sword stage became chaotic, and the head of Wu Fang’s medicinal department, holding a medicine box, struggled to push through the crowd to treat the young girl. Countless people climbed onto the stage and surrounded the unconscious girl three layers deep. Fu Lan stood dazedly by the side of the stage, with people swarming around him, accusing and scolding him like a tidal wave. He was at a loss. Suddenly, someone grabbed his hand. He turned his head and saw Qi Yin’s worried face.
“Are you okay, brother?” Qi Yin asked him.
Fu Lan shook his head, frowning. “Did I cause trouble again?”
Qi Yin patted his head.
“I thought we were going to exchange two moves,” Fu Lan whispered. “But she lost after just one move.”
Qi Yin asked him to wait for a moment and went into the crowd to take a look. After a while, he came back and said, “It’s okay. Let’s go back and gather some money for medical expenses. We’ll apologize in person another day.”
Fu Lan hung his head, looking unhappy.
“It’s my fault,” Qi Yin said, pulling him back. “I didn’t explain the rules clearly enough. It’s okay, let’s solve this properly. Don’t worry, brother, I’ve got you.”
When they got back and told everyone what had happened, they all sighed and pitied Fu Lan. They gathered some money and sent him to a small courtyard in Zhong Gu Mountain, where he was beaten with sticks. Later, Senior Qing Ming came to apologize in person. Qi Yin led Fu Lan to stand outside the Moon Cave Gate, asking for forgiveness for the whole afternoon, until they were covered in snow and looked like two snowmen, before they were finally forgiven. There was also news from Wu Fang that Yun Lan insulted his fellow disciples in public and went too far, so he was expelled and punished to sweep the snow-covered steps of the mountain three thousand times.
Being expelled meant that Fu Lan didn’t have to compete in sword fighting anymore. Qi Yin was not worried at all and was actually happy about it. It was just a bit of a headache to sweep the steps three thousand times, which meant he had to sweep the entire Wu Fang Mountain inside and out. Fu Lan was calm. Besides killing, housework was the job he was best at, so he didn’t find it difficult.
At night, Fu Lan obediently took a broom and went out, while Qi Yin went to visit Qing He at the Purple Library. The Purple Library was a tower with nine floors connected by shelves filled with ancient books and inscriptions. Night pearls were embedded on the walls, emitting a faint glow. Qi Yin marveled at this, thinking that even selling just one of these pearls would be enough to support him, his brother, and Lord Cat for a lifetime.
The ladder could only reach the tenth shelf, and one would have to fly on a sword to go higher. Qi Yin looked up at the huge bookshelves and sighed, realizing that he didn’t even have the qualification to read the books, as he didn’t know how to fly on a sword.
After walking for a while without seeing anyone, Qi Yin randomly picked a book to read. The books here were very old, with yellowed pages and covered in dust. Many of the books were written in strange characters that didn’t look like Chinese. There were also several ancient paintings piled up in the corners. Qi Yin blew off the dust and sat on the ground to look at them. According to the signature on the corner of the painting, the artist was an elder from three generations before the founding of Wu Fang Sect, and the paintings depicted various scenes of Wu Fang Mountain, such as snow falling in an empty courtyard, light shining in the secret chamber, and the sun rising in the Purple Library…
Qi Yin kept flipping through the pages until he reached the last painting, which depicted a cliff with an icy sea and a vast sky below. The clouds and sky were all covered in a pale snow color. A black-clad man stood on the cliff, with a black scabbard and a dark silhouette like a lonely bamboo. Qi Yin was taken aback, feeling incredulous. He realized that this was Fu Lan, with his fair face and indifferent gaze. This was too unbelievable; the painting was at least two hundred years old, and his brother was only twenty-six years old. How could he be in the painting?