On the third day, Yun Zhi and Qi Ling Shu had a sword-fighting match, and Yun Zhi was defeated. Qi Ling Shu rose to the top of the sword-fighting ranking list, and no one could match his blade’s sharpness. Qi Yin watched from afar. His sword light swirled like falling snow on the platform. The man stood silently in the midst of the sword light, dressed in white like frost.
Whenever Qi Yin looked at him, he felt complicated and couldn’t describe whether it was envy or something else. Everyone told him that Qi Ling Shu inherited Qi Shen Wei’s mantle. Both his swordsmanship and personality were similar to Qi Shen Wei. He was Qi Shen Wei’s only disciple, and they were like father and son. Qi Yin lowered his head, kicked a pebble at his feet, and saw his own shadow on the marble wall, also dressed in white. Everyone else looked divine, and he looked like a hooligan.
Someone next to him praised, “Indeed, he is Elder Qi’s direct disciple. He has such an impressive demeanor and is truly superior to everyone else!”
“That’s right. Why isn’t he Elder Qi’s real son? That Qi Yin looks so vulgar and unrefined. Compared to Qi Ling Shu, it’s like heaven and earth!”
People passed by one after another, and Qi Yin watched the tall figure on the platform from afar. Suddenly, the man on the platform turned his face slightly in his direction. The two almost made eye contact, and Qi Yin felt like he was burned by fire. He hurriedly looked away and walked away with his hands in his pockets.
So cowardly, Qi Yin cursed himself as he walked. But he didn’t dare to look back. For some reason, he felt like that cold as snow guy was staring at his back.
The snow stopped on the second day, and Wu Fang’s elders taught in the hall. At noon, it was Yuan Yin’s class on Daoism. The disciples of Feng Huan Mountain rushed to the preaching hall with their books in hand, occupying the last row. The disciples of other immortal sects were thirsty for knowledge and sat in the front rows. Qi Yin, who was a rare exception among the ignorant disciples, stood hesitantly in the center for a while before squeezing his way forward. To be honest, he really wanted to learn something.
As usual, Fu Lan found the last and furthest window seat, perhaps because it was easier to daydream there. The black cat also came, swaggering over to Fu Lan’s lap, and the girls immediately surrounded him, reaching out to touch the black cat’s smooth and shiny fur. As they touched the cat and got closer to Fu Lan, he sat in the midst of the girls, feeling a bit dazed and unconsciously looking towards Qi Yin.
The girls asked in a hushed voice, “Young master, is this your cat?”
Fu Lan nodded absentmindedly.
A pretty boy who owned a cat was always popular with the girls, even if he had just beaten up a cute little junior sister the day before. Handsome people could do no wrong, and if they did, it was someone else’s fault. Soon enough, Qi Yin heard someone explaining on his behalf, “It was those hoodlums from Feng Huang Mountain who taught him that. Our Lan Gege is so innocent. How could he possibly have intended to harm that little junior sister?”
Even Xin Xiao Xiao blushed and said, “That day, Lan Gege stood outside my room for an entire afternoon, making a snowman to apologize. When I opened the door and saw him like that, I was so frightened.”
One of the girls playfully pushed her. “Do you think Lan Gege likes you?”
“Senior sister, don’t talk nonsense!”
Qi Yin was speechless. He was the one who had made the snowman.
But he was clearly being ignored by everyone, as the girls quickly wove a story of Fu Lan mistakenly injuring a cute little junior sister under the instigation of his evil senior brothers on Feng Huang Mountain, and later realizing his mistake and patiently waiting in front of her door. Fu Lan was surrounded by a group of girls, with the back row seats being occupied by them, forcing Yun Zhi and the others to come to the front row. At the same time, Fu Lan also received the jealous and envious looks of other senior brothers, and many of them secretly made up their minds to also get a fat cat when they returned home this time.
Yuan Yin arrived late. He was a frail old man with a mostly bald head and only a few strands of white hair left, tied up in a small bun. His face was wrinkled and creased, and he wore a white cotton robe. In his right hand, he carried a heavy white jade box, which he placed on the black lacquer table with a dull thud.
Yuan Yin scanned the room, cleared his throat, and said, “I know you kids fall asleep as soon as you hear a lecture. You’ve read enough scriptures on your own mountain, so I won’t bore you with them and let you come all this way just to sleep. Today, I’ll tell you something you want to hear.”
Everyone looked at each other in confusion. Yuan Yin raised his finger and knocked on the jade box, asking, “Does anyone recognize this?”
“An octagonal white jade box,” someone said.
“What is it used for?”
“To seal spiritual objects,” replied Liu Bai, rushing to answer.
“Not bad.” Yuan Yin picked up the jade box and walked to the front of the room. “Monkey kids, make way.”
Everyone made way, and Yuan Yin placed the jade box on a small table in the center of the room. Dozens of pairs of eyes stared intently at the tightly closed box. Yuan Yin drew a complicated symbol, and a green light flashed as the box slowly opened, and milky white mist drifted out. Qi Yin secretly touched the mist and found it warm, like his fingertips.
The white mist dissipated, and everyone finally saw what was inside. It was a bloody heart, smooth and shiny, as big as the fists of two adult men. It was still beating, pulsing heavily like a drum. Everyone was stunned, and Yuan Yin signaled his disciples to come closer and take a look. They were so close that Qi Yin could even see the fine wrinkles on the heart’s surface and the thick blood vessels that had been cut off.
“This is the heart of a nine-headed bird, also known as the Gugu bird. As you can see, its heart is even bigger than its brain,” said Yuan Yin.
Qi Yin was shocked beyond words and instinctively turned to look at Fu Lan and the black cat. Fu Lan sat in the center of the spacious seat with a calm expression. The green eyes of the black cat were also emotionless, and it was impossible to tell what he was feeling.
“Master, is this…is this heart taken from a demon’s body while it was still alive?” Qi Yin asked.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Yuan Yin stroked his white beard and smiled. “As a Daoist, one should be compassionate. Why would we dissect demons and take their hearts? But, my child, demons are our natural enemies. If we want to defeat them, we must understand them. This Gugu bird rampaged along the banks of the Xiang River thirty years ago and dissected the chests and abdomens of more than ten children. Child, we and demons are enemies after all.”
Qi Yin didn’t say anything else, and Yuan Yin continued, “As you can see, although the hearts of different species have slight differences, overall, demon hearts are much larger than ours. You should all know that demons cannot be killed without destroying their hearts. Their life and death depend on their hearts. Their hearts not only give them strong self-healing abilities, but also give them longevity. From our observations, the lifespan of demons can reach up to five hundred years. If a great demon focuses on cultivating, it can even live up to eight hundred years. The longest living demon today is the Northern Wolf King in Feng Huan’s Heavenly Boundary Array.”
“What about Fu Lan? How long has he been alive?” someone asked.
Yuan Yin got angry at the mention of him and snorted. “That beast doesn’t eat or drink, and he won’t answer any questions. But according to my estimation, he has at least two hundred years of cultivation.” He paused and continued, “The Ninth Abyss mo clan has an even longer lifespan than the yao clan, but they are hard to hunt down. After Fu Lan sealed the Ninth Abyss, they lost their passage to infiltrate Southern Jiang and the human world. That’s why we haven’t obtained any of their hearts yet. But their hearts must be even stronger than the yao clan.”
Everyone discussed in agreement. Yuan Yin looked at the jade box and sighed. “Perhaps the secret of longevity for mortals lies in the revival of Daoism in the mortal world.”
“Master.” Zhao Ming raised his hand.
Qi Yin recognized him after a while as the disciple of Wu Fang Mountain who had told the story of how Yao Xiao Shan got expelled.
Yuan Yin nodded to him.
Zhao Ming said, “It is said that Nuwa molded mud to create humans. Although we are mortals, we are descendants of the gods. Why is our lifespan so much shorter than demons?”
Yuan Yin chuckled twice. “Zhao Ming, when you say ‘it is said,’ may I ask who said it?”
Zhao Ming was taken aback and said, “Ancient books and classics…”
“Are you a disciple of Ling Xi? Have you read my Daoist theory ‘The Original God’?” Yuan Yin closed the jade box and returned to the hall. “Ancient books and classics were written by ancient mortals. How do you know what they said is true? Old fantasies have become truths passed down for thousands of years. Making a few clay figures and putting them in a temple for a thousand years turns them into miracles. Child, there are no gods in this world.”
Everyone nodded in agreement. “The Original God” was widely circulated, and Zhao Ming felt embarrassed for not studying it well.
Yellow sunlight shone through the red window curtains. Yuan Yin looked at the time and said, “Class is over for today. Everyone go back and write a Daoist theory entitled ‘The Examination of Humans and Demons.’ Submit it tomorrow. Although I know that asking you to write is a waste of paper, learning more is always good.”
Everyone complained, and Qi Yin was still in a daze. Feng Huang Mountain had never asked them to write Daoist theories before, and he didn’t even know the format.
The next class was Ye Ku Can’s spell class at Cang Lang Pavilion. They had to pass through a rockery and two courtyards to get there. Without time to ask, they hastily packed their books. Qi Yin took Fu Lan and the black cat and followed Yun Zhi out.
The black cat was indignant. “You mortals are disgusting, cutting out someone’s heart and putting it there. Tomorrow, I’ll eat that heart up.”
“Lord Cat, don’t mess around,” Qi Yin said. “Yun Zhi, can you tell me how to write a Daoist theory? Are there any tricks?”
Yun Zhi floated ahead on his sword and raised an eyebrow with a smile. “The secret is divided into three points. First, find and extract quotes. Go to the library and find relevant ancient texts such as ‘The Demon Compendium’ and ‘Discussion on Demons.’ Write down useful quotes. Second, change the wording. Change the useful quotes into your own words and write them down. Third, sign your name.” Yun Zhi shrugged. “All the best.”
Qi Yin felt like he was going to vomit blood. “Isn’t this just copying?”
“Don’t worry, that old man thinks our writing is all rubbish and won’t even bother to read it,” Yun Zhi said. “Look how calm your brother is.”
Qi Yin asked Fu Lan, “Brother, do you have any ideas on how to write this? What are you planning to do?”
“I’m bored. I’m not going to write anything,” Fu Lan replied.
“…” Qi Yin was speechless. Fu Lan was fearless and did not mind punishment. If he was asked to sweep the floor, he would do so willingly. As for the topic of distinguishing between humans and demons, he looked at the black cat with his two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, speaking and eating like a human. What was the difference? Oh, right, the cat had six nipples, while humans only had two. But if he wrote this down, Yuan Yin might be infuriated.
Qi Yin scratched his head. “If the teacher doesn’t read our theories, who will grade them?”
Yun Zhi smiled. “Qi Ling Shu will.”
Qi Yin was still in shock when they arrived at Cang Lang Pavilion. Everyone took their seats, and Qi Yin was planning to sit in the front when he saw a man in white sitting there with his back straight like an unyielding pine tree. As soon as he sat down, it was like a glacier had descended, and the temperature dropped by several degrees. Everyone intuitively distanced themselves, leaving a wide empty space around him. However, some girls couldn’t help stealing glances at Qi Ling Shu. They were worried about who they should choose, between Lan Gege and the young master.
Qi Yin turned and went back to Fu Lan’s side.
“Why is he here? Isn’t he the young master of Wu Fang? Why is he attending this class?” Qi Yin whispered.
The person in front of them leaned back and said, “This is a class on spells taught by Ye Ku Can. Qi Ling Shu has not learned any secret spells.”
Ye Ku Can arrived on time and placed a cage with a trapped rabbit on the table before slowly sitting down. He was the only man from Wu Fang who wore black robes. His hood was down, and everyone took a sharp breath of air. His face was dry and shriveled, with yellow skin tightly adhering to his bones, like a dried-up skeleton. His deep eye sockets had eyes like two ghostly flames. If it weren’t broad daylight, Qi Yin would have thought that he was a resurrected corpse from a coffin.
Qi Yin whispered, “Why does he look like that?”
Yun Zhi covered his mouth and whispered, “I heard that it’s because of his ascetic practice. His Revival Spell can only be mastered through extreme hardship. He meditated in an ice cave for thirty years and was roasted in real fire for another thirty years before achieving mastery.”
Qi Yin was amazed and speechless. It was true that some people were luckier than others. If this old man knew that his brother was unbeatable without enduring freezing and burning, and was also so handsome, would he faint on the spot?
“I am your master of spells,” said Ye Ku Can, his voice hoarse and frightening like the hiss of a snake. “I know you are eager to learn my Revival spell. But I’m sorry, my secret spell is only taught to my disciples. If you want to practice it, you must first become my disciple.”
Everyone already had a master, and changing sects was a taboo in the world of cultivation. There was a collective sigh of disappointment.
“However.” Ye Ku Can smiled slightly, and his wrinkled face seemed like it would crack open. “I can give you a demonstration to satisfy your curiosity.”
Ye Ku Can opened the iron cage and grabbed the rabbit’s ear with his dry, claw-like hand. He stroked the rabbit’s snowy fur, and the little creature blinked its reddish eyes under his palm. Suddenly, blood splattered, and everyone was shocked. Ye Ku Can had used a dagger to pierce the rabbit’s spine. He withdrew the dagger, and blood gushed out of the wound, pooling on the table. The rabbit fell in a pool of blood, its broken body twitching.
Some girls covered their eyes and cried loudly, while others were in a panic. Only Qi Ling Shu remained unmoved.
Ye Ku Can lifted his eyes, and the ghostly fire in his deep eye sockets flickered slightly. He spoke slowly and clearly, “Watch carefully, children. This spell is called Revival.”
As soon as he finished speaking, the blood surged and flowed back into the dying rabbit’s body. The rabbit convulsed like a sieve, and Ye Ku Can held it down, his heavy eyelids drooping like a toad. Everyone watched in amazement as the wound grew smaller and smaller until it was the size of a fingertip. Ye Ku Can then wrapped the rabbit in gauze and put it back in the cage.
There was a round of applause, but Qi Yin and Yun Zhi were still in shock. This spell was exactly the same as the one that Fu Lan had used on Qi Yin! The blood flowed back, and the wound shrank. Every aspect of the spell was identical. Yun Zhi turned his head to look at Fu Lan, who was silent and expressionless. Sometimes this guy was so quiet that he seemed unfathomable. Yun Zhi felt that he couldn’t quite figure him out. Later, he found out that Fu Lan was just naturally quiet and expressionless.
Qi Yin was also shocked. Yun Zhi had said that Ye Ku Can was a hermit from an unknown deep mountain. Could it be that this old man had been to Ba Mountain?
Deep in the Ice Sea Abyss, Yuan Ji and Yuan Yin descended slowly with folded hands.
In fact, this was a huge lake, which for some reason was frozen all year round. According to the “Record of Inner China”, the Ice Sea Abyss looked the same thousands of years ago. Yuan Ji looked down, and endless ink blue enveloped him. The Ice Sea Abyss was extremely deep. They had been descending at an almost sword-flying speed for an incense stick’s time, but still had not reached the bottom of the lake. Absolute silence surrounded them, and immense pressure hung over their shoulders. If it weren’t for Yuan Yin by his side, he would almost think that he had already arrived in the land of death.
The icy water suddenly felt slightly warm, and their feet finally touched something solid. Looking up, they could vaguely see pale sky shining through the ice and into the boundless ink blue lake.
“Junior brother, where is the thing you want me to see?” Yuan Yin asked.
“It’s right under your feet,” Yuan Ji smiled faintly.
Yuan Yin was taken aback and suddenly realized that the sensation under his feet was not quite right. If it were the lake bottom, there should be soft mud, but his feet were touching something as hard as iron. He crouched down in suspicion, and touched the hard “ground” with his hand. It was as cold and hard as wrought iron, and as smooth as delicate white porcelain.
It was a scale.
“Don’t you feel like it’s not as cold down here as it is up there?” Yuan Ji said.
That was right. Yuan Yin flicked his finger. The temperature in the Ice Sea Abyss was extremely low. Without spiritual protection, anyone who fell into the abyss would freeze to death in an instant. According to common sense, the deeper they went, the colder it should be, but the temperature down here was like that of cooled water.
Yuan Yin looked at Yuan Ji and released his divine sense.
His divine sense enveloped the lake bottom, and he finally saw what was under his feet.
It was a dragon.
Its body covered almost half of the bottom of the ice sea. The twisted body was covered with dense black scales that reflected icy light in the ink blue water. As Yuan Yin turned around, he was met with a long, scorching breath. Bubbles streamed up as his clothes were swept up by the turbulent waves. Yuan Ji lit a light talisman, dispelling the darkness, and saw the monstrous dragon’s face, with its two long horns pointed towards the dark dome, like a spear, vicious and deadly.
“This is…” Yuan Yin muttered, “An Abyssal Dragon.”
“Not bad,” Yuan Ji praised. “Isn’t it beautiful? Apart from the barrier array and Revival, this is the third gift that Elder Ku Can gave to Wu Fang. Its name is Wei Sheng Lan, and it is still young. With five hundred years of cultivation, it is not even half that of its father. Fu Lan killed its father, Wei Sheng Yuan, and before the Ninth Abyss was sealed, it escaped from the southern region and hid in the depths of the southern sea. If it hadn’t been seriously injured, gasping its last breath, we wouldn’t have been able to bring it here.”
Yuan Yin gazed at its closed eyes and asked, “Did you use a soul-binding spell on it?”
“Of course. As a precaution, we also used black iron lock to lock its tail,” Yuan Ji replied.
Yuan Yin trembled as he touched the dragon’s rugged facial bone. This was the first time he had ever seen such a magnificent creature. People often said that mortals were the descendants of Nuwa, the pride of heaven. If they were to see this dragon, they would know that mortals were nothing but tiny ants under the feet of these so-called barbaric demons, as light as dust.
“So what means did that pig demon use to kill Wei Sheng Yuan?” Yuan Yin asked.
Yuan Ji laughed softly. The orange light of the lamp covered his face. His smile looked mocking in the half-light and half-darkness.
“Senior brother, do you believe that it was the pig demon who killed Wei Sheng Yuan?” Yuan Ji drew his sword from his sleeve, its cold sword light flashing. The sharp tip of the sword was aimed straight at the dragon’s body, and he stabbed it fiercely.
Yuan Yin was taken aback and was about to shout “Stop,” but he saw the tip of the sword collide with the dragon scale. A clear sound rang out as sparks flew. The black iron-like dragon scale remained unscathed.
Yuan Ji sheathed his sword. “Just a fake.” Shaking his head, he said, “We should be grateful that we did not encounter the real Fu Lan, who is a demon among demons, a devil among devils, a creature born and bred by nature. People mistakenly believe that the pig demon is Fu Lan, which is good for Wu Fang’s reputation and will help establish Ling Shu’s authority. When he is promoted to the Elder of Swords position, there will be no more obstacles.”
Yuan Yin nodded and asked, “Your Tides Rising Sword cannot break through the dragon scales. How can we take out its heart?”
“Take it easy,” said Yuan Ji. “Even if we take the heart, what good will it do us if we haven’t found that child surnamed Qi yet? For now, you should draw out its meridian map and explore the flow of its spiritual energy and the distribution of meridians.” He raised his hand and floated up slowly. “I will go to seek advice from Senior Ye Ku Can and see if we can learn anything more through divination. Searching for a child surnamed Qi born in the year of Ding You who is still in his prime is like finding a needle in a haystack with only this information…”.
Leader of Wu Fang: Yuan Ji;
Elder of Daoism: Yuan Yin;
Elder of Spells: Ye Ku Chan;
Elder of Discipline: Yuan Ku;
Leader of Feng Huan: Qing Shi (bald and fat);
Elder of Medicine: Qing He (blind);
Elder of Discipline: Qing Ming (collaborating with Yun Zhi in fake competitions).