Qi Yin examined the painting closely, but the ink painting was somewhat abstract, and the face of the man was not very clear. However, the look in his eyes was exactly like Fu Lan’s. The gaze, the posture, the lone wolf temperament that rejected the secular world – everything was exactly the same as Fu Lan’s.
Something was not right. Fu Lan left Ba Mountain at the age of eight, picked up a black cat at the age of ten, arrived at Wu Jiang River at the age of twelve, participated in the demon war at the age of thirteen, and only returned to the human world at the age of twenty-six. There was no way he could be in the painting.
Qi Yin searched around but found no other paintings of his brother. Just as he was pondering, he heard voices in front of him. Qi Yin raised his head and saw Qing Ming standing surreptitiously behind the bookshelf, whispering to a man with a sneaky expression. They were speaking in hushed tones, probably plotting something that could not be seen by others. Qi Yin instinctively quieted down and eavesdropped on their conversation.
“100 taels, no more,” the man stated firmly.
“Come on. My nephew Yun Zhi is a top disciple of the Feng Huan Sect. Isn’t he worth more than that? No, you have to give me a higher price.” Ye Qing Ming shook his head.
“Uncle Qing Ming,” the man said, “please be kind. My nephew has already put all of his savings into this. We’ll be opening a betting pool tonight at the hour of the pig. You can bet on Senior Ling Shu’s victory and make a big profit too.”
Ye Qing Ming rubbed his chin stubble and grinned. “My dear nephew, we of the Feng Huan Sect can handle ourselves. Not only can we lose, but we can also lose according to your request. Should we lose after five moves or ten? Should Yun Zhi use the ‘Dog Chewing Mud’ style or the ‘Descending Sand and Soaring Goose’ style? Or perhaps the ‘Old Man Pushing Cart’ style? The ‘Upside-down Golden Hook’ style… wait, I think I misspoke. Anyway, you can ask for any losing style you want, as long as the money is in hand, we’ll deliver.”
The man probably didn’t expect Qing Ming’s shamelessness to reach such a level, and he was speechless for a while before saying, “No need for any tricks. Just make sure you lose the match.”
Ye Qing Ming looked disappointed, but he still put the hundred taels of silver into his sleeve. “Okay, it’s on me. When that fatso boss of mine dies, I’ll come to Wu Fang to freeload. We’ll be colleagues in the future. Don’t worry, I won’t cheat you.”
The man nodded repeatedly and bid farewell. After he left, Yun Zhi emerged from the shadows, and held out his hand. “Give me 80%. You take 20%.”
Ye Qing Ming gave him a sideways glance and placed a silver ingot in his palm. “Respect for the teacher is important. 40-60.”
Yun Zhi leaned against the peach wood bookshelf and smiled casually. “Who’s going to fight, you or me? It’s 20-80, no discussion.”
Reluctantly, Ye Qing Ming added another silver ingot to his hand. Yun Zhi was satisfied, and with his arms folded, he chuckled. “Junior Brother Hei, are you comfortable in the corner?”
“You guys are really something,” said Qi Yin, who had just walked out. “If someone discovers that you’re cheating in the match, you’ll be publicly denounced. As a top disciple of Feng Huan, you’ll really lose face.”
“Is face more important than money?” Yun Zhi hooked Qi Yin’s neck and laughed. “Of course, face… “
Qi Yin thought that the guy had suddenly found his conscience and repented, but he suddenly changed his tone and said, “…is not important.”
Qi Yin: “…”
“What are you doing here?” Ye Qing Ming asked.
Qi Yin touched the scroll in his sleeve, but he swallowed his words and smiled. “I’m here to pay my respects to Master Qing He. I didn’t see anyone, so I just looked through some books.”
At that moment, the faint sound of a guqin (1) drifted in the wind, intermittent, as if the strings were plucked carelessly by someone, yet also like a continuous melody. Ye Qing Ming gestured outside with his chin. “Qing He plays the qin every night. Just follow the sound and you’ll find him.”
Nodding, Qi Yin followed the sound of the qin. It was snowing heavily outside, and the sound of the qin meandered through the snowflakes like a mournful cry. He stepped onto a high platform outside the tower and saw a slender figure kneeling on the other side, plucking the strings of a qin with fingers that were almost transparent. The melancholy melody swirled between heaven and earth.
Qi Yin sat across from the man, and the angle lamp on the corner of the tower swayed in the wind, casting a dim golden light on his face, which had exquisite features like a painting. The man had porcelain-white skin and beautiful eyebrows and eyes. His thin lips seemed chilly from the wind, with a faint red hue. However, when he smiled, there was a touch of sorrow and compassion.
He was too beautiful – so beautiful that Qi Yin felt a sense of familiarity. When the man heard the sound, he lifted his eyes. Qi Yin was stunned by his gray, misty eyes that seemed to be covered by a thin layer of fog.
He was blind.
“Master Meng Qing He,” Qi Yin said.
Meng Qing He replied warmly. “Yun Yin?”
Qi Yin was surprised and asked, “How did you know it was me, Master?”
“Although I’m blind, I have spiritual awareness.” Meng Qing He smiled lightly. “Yun Zhi often mentioned a Junior Brother Hei, and judging by your complexion, it must be you.”
Qi Yin chuckled awkwardly. “Master, you’re so ethereal that you don’t seem like a disciple of Feng Huan Mountain.”
“Oh?” Meng Qing He raised his eyebrows. “Do you find it unusual that a beautiful flower can grow in a gutter? Perhaps it’s because I became a Daoist halfway through and didn’t spend all my time with my fellow disciples, so I haven’t acquired the unique habits of our sect.” He lowered his gaze and smiled faintly. “You came to see me about your father, didn’t you? The pig demon is still on display at the Contemplation Cliff. Once the disciples of Wu Fang escort him into the Forbidden Forest, you can follow them in, but you may have to wait for some time.”
Qi Yin hesitated. “I’m just worried that he won’t be able to wait that long, that’s all.”
Meng Qing He smiled. “The Forbidden Forest of Wu Fang is on the ground, and if you fly there on a sword, you will be quickly discovered. Following the pig demon and entering the forest through the formation opened by Wu Fang’s disciples is the best way.”
Qing He nodded and asked, “Uncle Qing He, I heard that you have a vast knowledge and are one of the most knowledgeable people in the world of immortals. I want to ask you, do you believe that there really are gods in this world?”
Meng Qing He replied unexpectedly quickly, “Yes.”
Qing He asked, “Why?”
Meng Qing He smiled faintly. “Yun Yin, have you ever heard of the Golden Cursive Script? The inscriptions of various miracles and monuments across the land are embellished with gold paint, hence the name Golden Cursive Script. This kind of writing is different from the writings found in books and scrolls excavated from ancient tombs, and is mostly used for worship. In the old days, people believed that the Golden Cursive Script was the writing of the gods, a divine decree from heaven. Some people believe that the Golden Cursive Script is a kind of secret script, like encrypted messages. To communicate with the gods, ordinary people must use secret scripts. Yuan Yin wrote in ‘The Origin of the Gods’ that the Golden Cursive Script was created by the ancient great shamans and circulated within their circle to prevent ordinary people from obtaining the right to communicate with gods. The magic contained in it should also be ancient sorcery, not divine magic.”
Qing He felt a headache listening to this and said, “It all sounds reasonable.”
Meng Qing He shook his head. “The meaning of the Golden Cursive Script has been lost for a long time, and no one knows what these words really mean. Are they for people to pray to the gods, or are they a divine decree from the heavens to humans? Without exploring their true meaning, people are just speculating, which is ridiculous. Take the White Deer God as an example. If you haven’t entered the Ba Mountain Temple, how do you know what kind of god it is just from hearsay? Too much time has passed, Yun Yin. Perhaps only the original explanation is the most credible. According to the ‘Record of the Southern Territory,’ the gods kneaded soil and created humans, passed on magic to the shamans, and the shamans passed on magic to humans, and this has been passed down from generation to generation, resulting in the three thousand Daoist magic we have today. Unfortunately, after the Juedi Tiantong disaster, the great gods disappeared, and we can no longer see the gods now.”
“Juedi Tiantong?” Qing He asked.
“According to records, after a great war, the Jade Emperor ordered communication between the earth and the heavens to be cut off, and no divine decrees have been received since then. Since then, the gods have not appeared in this world.”
“What battle was fought? Who fought against whom? It’s not between humans and gods, is it? It sounds serious.”
“I don’t know.” Meng Qing He shook his head. “There are no records of that battle. It’s a mystery. Regarding this, you may want to ask Master Yu Sang. He and Yun Lan once searched for traces of gods and expanded inscriptions. Perhaps he knows more about the Golden Cursive Scripture and ancient legends than we do.”
“Master Yu Sang?” This title was really strange. Qi Yin thought of the fat cat lazily sunbathing with his belly up. He didn’t seem like a master.
“Okay.” Qi Yin shrugged.
“However,” Meng Qing He smiled lightly, “I believe in gods not just because of these things.”
“Because…” Meng Qing He lowered his eyes and caressed the strings with a warm smile. “If there were no gods in this world, wouldn’t it be too boring?”
Qi Yin stayed and drank tea with Meng Qing He until he was full. Meng Qing He was beautiful like a flower, and had an ethereal quality that raised the standard of the entire Feng Huan Sect. Qi Yin found it incredible that this was the same person that Yun Zhi had said could worsen leg injuries instead of healing them.
Seeing no one around, Qi Yin put the painting he had discovered earlier in his pocket and went to find Fu Lan. Snow fell on the blue stone steps. The long rows of marble lanterns on both sides emitted a yellowish light, shrouded in the hazy snow. When he stepped onto the steps, he saw Fu Lan rolling up his sleeves and carefully sweeping the snow. The black cat squatted lazily on the lamp holder, yawning, and white mist came out of his mouth, forming a vague circle.
Fu Lan was directionally challenged, and had to bring the black cat along when sweeping snow, otherwise he might not know how to get back to the courtyard.
Qi Yin sat down on the steps. “I seem to have found a clue about my brother’s identity.”
“Huh?” The black cat bounced over and landed in Qi Yin’s arms. He looked like a fat and fluffy ball, but was actually very light.
Qi Yin spread out the scroll in front of them, and the black cat’s round eyes opened wide. Qi Yin asked Fu Lan, “Does this look like you? Could he be your grandfather? You and your grandfather are like two peas in a pod; even your eyes look the same. Is your absent-mindedness a hereditary trait?”
Fu Lan shook his head in confusion.
“I asked Master Qing He about the origin of this painting, and he said the artist was called Murong Chang Shu, a wandering hermit who loved to travel around. He disappeared later, and no one knows where he went.” Qi Yin rubbed his chin. “Who knows, his disappearance may be related to your ancestor.”
Fu Lan looked at the painting, his eyes quiet and thoughtful.
After thinking for a while, they still had no clue, and the black cat couldn’t offer any useful opinion. Qi Yin patted his butt and stood up. “Let’s leave it at that. Your ancestor came to Wu Fang, and maybe he left some footprints behind. We’ll look for them again.”
1. Guqin – a traditional Chinese musical instrument. Often referred to as the “instrument of the sages” due to its association with Confucianism and the cultivation of personal morality and virtue.