The wind howled in his ears and Qi Yin rubbed his eyes awake. Yun Zhi insisted on riding his sword through the night, afraid that Qi Yin would run away. Later, Qi Yin learned that this guy had no money to stay in an inn. They had been traveling all night, and the sky was already bright. A faint hint of red and golden light appeared at the far east, and the edge of the clouds was dyed golden, like a large embroidered border.
However, the wind was strong in the sky, and Qi Yin sneezed several times. Wrapped in his coat, he squinted his eyes and came back to his senses, only to find himself leaning on Fu Lan’s shoulder. He quickly sat up straight. Fu Lan was also holding the black cat, who was snoring. Qi Yin felt embarrassed. Did this guy let him lean on him all night? It was all because Yun Zhi’s sword was too small, and the three big men could only sit shoulder to shoulder.
Feeling embarrassed in his heart, but pretending to be indifferent on his face, Qi Yin sat with his sleeves folded, and Fu Lan didn’t speak, just looking at him sideways. He usually had no expression, and his indifferent appearance made Qi Yin unable to figure out what he was thinking. Looking back at the road, all he could see was the vast sea of clouds. Wu Tang Town was already nowhere to be seen. Occasionally, he could glimpse the white waters and mountains of the countryside from the palm-sized gaps, and sometimes he could see a few scattered villages and cities in the mountains and rivers, but they passed by in a flash. People were not even worth mentioning.
“Uh.” Qi Yin scratched his head and broke the silence first. “Um…that…”
Fu Lan turned his head to look at him, his large, black eyes clear and clean, with the light and shadow of the sky and clouds hovering in them.
He didn’t look like a demon, not even like a man, but more like a teenager. Qi Yin asked in a low voice, “Have you ever eaten people?”
Fu Lan shook his head.
Qi Yin breathed a sigh of relief. Yun Zhi said next to him, “Those who cultivate the Dao have sharp ears and clear eyes. I can hear everything you say even if you whisper. Don’t worry, the aura of demons who have eaten people is very heavy, but this young man has almost no demonic aura on him, and…” He glanced at Fu Lan, and Fu Lan also stared at him blankly. “And he doesn’t seem very smart either. He doesn’t even know how to control his sword. He probably hasn’t been on the path of demons for more than three months. Fortunately, the monster you encountered before was just a newly hatched Jiutou Niao, and it couldn’t even walk properly. If it was a monster with some cultivation, ten demons wouldn’t be enough to fill its teeth.”
Fu Lan said, “I have been on this path for a long time.”
Yun Zhi showed an interested smile. “As far as I know, demons usually travel in groups. Fu Lan, you don’t have any companions around you. Could it be that you were kicked out for being too stupid?”
“I have companions. I have a cat.” He glanced at Qi Yin, “I used to have Xiao Yin too.”
The cat woke up at some point and was busy nibbling on the bread in Fu Lan’s hand. This fellow had saved the bread for his black cat. They depended on each other, and since their brains were not very bright, they were quite pitiful. Qi Yin sighed and gave half of the bread to Fu Lan, saying, “Okay, I’ll be your friend. Just don’t mention marrying me as your bride again. If you don’t understand anything in your studies, just come to me, and I’ll help you.”
Fu Lan was stunned for a moment before he realized that Qi Yin had once again refused his marriage proposal. He nodded disappointedly and looked down at the rolling sea of clouds below, looking a bit dejected.
Qi Yin didn’t pay any more attention to him, and they arrived at the territory of Feng Huan Mountain at noon. It would be a lie to say that he wasn’t looking forward to it. Qi Yin had never dreamed that one day he would really be able to climb the immortal peak like all the legendary sword immortals in the stories, with fluttering clothes and the ability to soar to the heavens and travel the earth.
Qi Yin looked down and saw rolling mountain ranges, with clouds lying between them like cotton in a nest. A gust of wind blew by. A group of white cranes flapped their wings and flew over their heads. Qi Yin reached out and took a floating feather.
This place was unlike anything he’d ever seen before – it didn’t even look real.
Qi Yin had heard many legends about immortal mountains, and there were always people claiming to have come from the four immortal mountains, sitting in teahouses and talking casually, while also tricking the hosts into giving them two pots of hot tea and several plates of fennel beans. The one he had heard the most about was the Hanging Annihilation Peak of Wu Fang Mountain, with four mysterious iron chains in the southeast, northwest, and disappearing into the vast sea of clouds. There was also the Wu Fang Hall in the center of the Annihilation Peak, where disciples of Wu Fang Mountain would meditate and practice swordsmanship in front of the hall every morning and evening. The sound of chanting scriptures and the swords whistling could be heard, and the people at the foot of the mountain would wake up and work to the sound of immortal music every day, and go to bed with a blown-out lamp.
The four immortal mountains were Wu Fang, Kun Lun in the west, Zhong Gu in the north, and Feng Huan, which was ranked last, but for the ordinary people, it was still an elevated existence like heaven.
Yun Zhi lowered his sword, and Qi Yin saw a long street at the foot of the mountain, with buildings of varying heights on both sides, crowded with people.
“That’s Chang Le Fang at the foot of the mountain, where they sell clothes, shoes, hats, and food, and there are also things to play with, but it’ll cost you some silver.” Yun Zhi smiled at the two of them. “You’ve just arrived. As a senior brother, I’ll take you to the Si Hai Sheng Ping Brothel to see the world another day.”
Qi Yin had a feeling that it wasn’t a good place and said, “Shouldn’t cultivators be content with simple living and few desires?”
Yun Zhi shrugged. “Just don’t let the teachers and elders know.” This person was flighty and liked to break the strict rules of the mountain. Qi Yin decided to keep his distance from him in the future to avoid being implicated by him.
After flying for a while, they entered the mountain. A long green-stone staircase stretched across the mountain, with a gate standing on it. In front of the mountain, there was a huge stone, on which Qi Yin saw red characters that read: “No swords allowed in the mountain.”
Yun Zhi didn’t even glance at it and flew straight over the gate.
Qi Yin: “…”
Flying all the way through, Yun Zhi led them through the trees, but there was no Feng Huan Hall or three thousand disciples in sight. Qi Yin gradually had a bad feeling in his heart. They finally saw some buildings. There were several scattered thatched cottages, surrounded by a fence with a small empty space in the middle, where a few small children were practicing swordsmanship. They flew over the roof, and someone poked their head out of the window on the second floor and shouted, “Damn you, Yun Zhi. Zhang has come to collect a debt. You borrowed his clothes for three days, but you haven’t returned them for a month!”
Yun Zhi didn’t even turn his head. He took off his spotless silk robe, threw it to the person below, and flew away with his sword. His lazy voice drifted through the wind, “Thank Zhang for me!”
Qi Yin looked at Yun Zhi in shock. He had stripped off his immaculate silk robe and revealed a patched-up bamboo cloth undergarment. Yun Zhi smiled and said, “If I’m going to pick you up and bring you back to the mountain, I have to dress and act like a gentleman.” He took out an outer garment from his sleeve, which had been washed so many times that it was hard to tell what color it used to be.
Fu Lan was calm, but Qi Yin felt that he was simply expressionless.
“Come on, I’ll take you to see the sect leader.” Yun Zhi led them to a high cliff and landed his sword in front of a thatched hut.
Qi Yin hesitated for a moment and said, “Um, what about your hall?”
Yun Zhi was puzzled and asked back, “What hall?”
“Like the Wu Fang Hall on Wu Fang Mountain, you should also have a Feng Huan Hall on Feng Huan Mountain, right?” Qi Yin gestured, “A white jade stupa, a dome that is as high as three floors, colorful painted beams, and a Qilin relief…”
Yun Zhi said seriously, “Junior Brother, you’re wrong.”
Qi Yin was stunned for a moment.
Yun Zhi said, “Why do we cultivate? It’s naturally to train the body through ascetic practices and the mind through limiting desires. We don’t approve of extravagance and excessive desires like Wu Fang Mountain. It is not our style at Feng Huan Mountain.”
“Oh… I see.” Qi Yin scratched his head in confusion. But it was Yun Zhi who had suggested taking him to have fun at Si Hai Sheng Ping Brothel?
“Come, I’ll take you to see the sect leader,” Yun Zhi said.
Qi Yin became nervous again and hastily put away the coat he had draped over himself, adjusting his appearance under the sunlight. He also helped Fu Lan tidy his hair and straightened his collars. After giving each other a glance and confirming that they both looked presentable, they left the black cat outside to bask in the sun and followed Yun Zhi inside.
The thatched cottage was rundown on the outside, but inside it was tidy. A painting hung in the center of the main room, but it had faded over time, making it difficult to discern the details of a dark-haired girl combing her hair by the river. Two bamboo tables were placed below the painting, both with gilt bronze incense burners on top, their lacquer worn and mottled with a smoky filament emerging from within.
A disciple came over to bow and said, “The sect leader fell off his sword accidentally and broke his leg the other day. Please wait a moment.”
“What an incompetent sect leader.” Qi Yin was shocked.
“Why so careless?” Yun Zhi was also surprised and asked with concern, “Is the injury serious? Will it affect his life?”
“There is no major problem. He used a bone-setting ointment and will hum and moan in bed for a few days, but he will recover as good as new in a short while.”
Yun Zhi looked disappointed.
Qi Yin inadvertently caught his expression and numbly thought, “Is this kid thinking about betraying his master and destroying his sect?”
After a while, the Feng Huan Mountain sect leader finally arrived. He was slumped in an old rattan wheelchair, pushed by two identical-looking disciples. They came out from behind a golden mountain and green water screen. Those two disciples looked strange with their powdered cheeks, resembling chubby little dolls from a New Year’s painting. But what stunned people even more was the sect leader himself. He was as fat as a newly released pig from the pigsty, with all his meat squeezed into the rattan chair.
Qi Yin now understood why he fell off his sword. It was really difficult for him to control his sword like this.
A disciple handed him a teacup. The sect leader took the tea, pinched the green porcelain lid, and stirred the tea froth. His fingers were thick and white, resembling pig trotters. He wore a jade finger sleeve on his thumb with finely carved lotus patterns. When he drank half the tea, tea leaves got stuck in his teeth. He broke off a small piece of rattan from under the chair with one hand and picked his teeth with it. While picking, he raised his eyes and looked at Qi Yin and Fu Lan up and down.
This scoundrel’s behavior was not at all like that of the leader of a cultivation sect. Qi Yin began to suspect that he had entered a den of swindlers.
After picking out the tea leaves, the man threw away the teacup and smiled at Qi Yin, saying, “So you’re Qi Yin, you look quite…”
Here it comes again. Qi Yin knew what the chubby man was going to say next – something like “you look just like your father” or “you should inherit your father’s legacy.” He had heard it from Zhao Ran and Yun Zhi so many times that his ears now had calluses.
But Qi Yin didn’t care. He came here just to find a place to stay and a roof over his head. When he saved enough money, he would leave.
“You look quite spirited!”
Qi Yin was taken aback and looked up. The leader rolled up his sleeves and said with a smile, “Although the two of you have a special identity, once you enter the sect, you are no different from our disciples. But entering the sect is not something you can do just by saying so. I still need to see if you have what it takes.”
Was this a trial? Qi Yin had heard of it. The first test for entering the Wu Fang Mountain sect was a trial with a thousand people, where they fought in pairs. Only the top hundred could become inner disciples, while the others had to leave. He and Fu Lan were the only ones who came to apprentice here. Did that mean they had to compete against each other?
The leader reached out his hand, and his broad palm was presented under Qi Yin and Fu Lan’s eyelids. “If you want to enter, you have to pay first. It costs one guan per year, but if you pay for three years at once, it’s only two and a half guan. Pay one guan at a time. I’ll teach you as long as I live. Since you two came together, I’ll give you a discount. You only need to pay for one person.”
Qi Yin stood still.
Fu Lan took out his purse and poured a couple of silver coins into the leader’s palm.
“Good job!” The leader gave them a thumbs up. “From today on, you are my disciples. My disciple names are ‘Yun.’ Your Dao names are ‘Yun Yin’ and ‘Yun Lan.’ Yun Zhi, go arrange their lodging. The other elders don’t need to see them unless they’re going out to exterminate demons.”
Qi Yin still hadn’t come to his senses until he left. Did they just lose those silver coins for good?
He looked at Fu Lan in shock. “Why did you pay?”
“He said we had to,” Fu Lan said, confused.
“You just paid because he said so?”
Fu Lan was at a loss. “We shouldn’t have paid?”
“Oh my god, one guan silver coin is enough for both of us to live on for a year, and that silver coin was even the one I gave you!” Qi Yin scratched his head. “We must have entered a den of thieves. Feng Huan is a den of thieves!”