As Yun Zhi led them down the slope, he said, “The mountain slope below is the vegetable garden of the Elder of the Precepts. Before you start fasting, you can go to the kitchen there to eat. However, as your senior, I advise you to fast as soon as possible because the vegetable garden only has carrots and greens, and the only meat is the green caterpillars crawling in the field.”
As soon as the black cat heard that there was nothing to eat, his face turned green.
Yun Zhi continued, “The bamboo building in the North Bamboo Forest is the Elder of Medicine’s furnace.”
Qi Yin’s eyes lit up and he said, “Is the elder good at refining many elixirs and miraculous medicines that can increase your cultivation by leaps and bounds?”
“You’re thinking too much. His pills can only treat colds and injuries. But his medical skills are not very reliable. A few years ago, a senior brother broke his leg while riding his sword, but he failed to heal the broken leg and instead, he broke the good leg.”
Qi Yin asked weakly, “Where is that senior brother now?”
Yun Zhi shrugged and said, “His family took him away, and our master had to compensate them with a good amount of silver.” He then lifted his chin towards the south. “If you walk three hundred steps in that direction, you’ll reach the Repentance Cliff. You can meditate there, and the scenery is great, but you can’t go below the cliff. That area is our sect’s forbidden ground. There are ten peaks in the Feng Huan Mountain, and only the northernmost peak is our sect’s residence, while the other nine are all forbidden areas. It’s said that all the demons and monsters captured by our sect since its establishment are locked up inside, and those with a long lifespan can live for several hundred years. Don’t be tempted to go there and play around.”
“They’re being kept close by. Aren’t you afraid they’ll come out and cause trouble?” Qi Yin asked.
“It’s guarded by the Heavenly Boundary Array.” Yunzhi pointed to the southern sky. “Take a closer look.”
Qi Yin looked over and saw a row of geese flying over the mountain cliff. There was an almost invisible light shimmering and rippling like a wave.
“If you have demon or evil energy on you, you won’t be able to pass through that array. But Junior Brother Fu Lan should be fine. He is a bit stupid, and he has very weak demon energy, almost none,” Yunzhi said as he walked down the slope with his hands behind his back. “Don’t be fooled by our ranking as the last among the Four Immortal Mountains. It is said that in ancient times, we received favor from the Great Goddess Yu, the famous Witch of Mount Jiu Li. The Heavenly Boundary Array was laid down by her and is probably the oldest thing in our mountain.”
Qi Yin didn’t quite believe it. This thieves’ den was probably established by some fraudulent Daoist who settled here, teaching his disciples to scam people while pretending to pass on immortal techniques and Daoist spells.
Yun Zhi sighed. “These past few years have not been good. Spiritual energy is becoming scarce, and our Daoist magic is declining. It is said that there were three thousand immortal gates, but now many sects have closed their doors and ceased to exist. Who knows how many are left? Master said he will take a look at the Feng Shui (1) some other day. If the Feng Shui changes, we might become the largest sect in the mortal realm.”
Yun Zhi led them to the cluster of tile houses they had passed by while flying on their swords. This was a small village, where mud walls and tile houses were unevenly arranged. In front of the houses were wells, water tanks, and clotheslines. Each senior brother or sister had their own fenced-off area. Looking up, several white dresses were hanging in front of the houses. Qi Yin had sharp eyes and also spotted a few red bellybands and green shorts.
In the middle of the tile houses, there was a winding muddy road that stretched towards the mountain steps. Yun Zhi pointed to the last house and said, “That one happens to be vacant. You two can stay there for now. The senior brother who lived there before you left behind some bedding, so you can use that too.”
“Where did the senior brother go? Why didn’t he stay?” Qi Yin asked.
“He couldn’t continue learning the Dao, so he went back home to farm,” Yun Zhi explained. He leaned over and put his arm around Fu Lan’s shoulder, smiling. “My dear junior brothers, cultivating the Dao is not easy. Since you’ve entered the gate, I will provide you with some convenience.” Yun Zhi took out a blue booklet from his sleeve and handed it to Fu Lan. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Talisman Magic. I personally compiled it. It contains everything from transformation talismans, fire talismans, to water avoidance spells. Every disciple on Feng Huan Mountain has one. With this talisman magic guide, you’ll definitely succeed in class. As for you, my dear junior brother, I see you only have three copper coins. It’s okay, I’ll give it to you as a gift.”
Fu Lan looked at Qi Yin for guidance, but Qi Yin was speechless. He took out three copper coins from his pouch and gave them to Yun Zhi. Then he pulled Fu Lan into the house and closed the door.
“Alright, senior brother. You can go now. We won’t send you off,” Qi Yin said.
Yunzhi’s head popped up from the window sill again, revealing a mouthful of white teeth as he grinned. “Oh, right. One last reminder. Don’t run around or go into the forest at night.”
What did he mean? Was this place haunted at night? Before they could ask, Yun Zhi had already run far away. Qi Yin closed the window and realized the room was pitch black. He reopened the window, and saw that the orange sun was setting. The unfamiliar senior brothers and sisters were outside, chattering and laughing while folding their clothes. Perhaps it would rain in the mountains at night, and everyone was busy collecting their clothes. No one had time to get to know them. Yun Zhi didn’t even mention where Qi Yin was staying, making it inconvenient for the others to visit.
Fu Lan sat cross-legged in front of the desk, staring at him with a pair of big eyes. The black cat patrolled the room. There were two beds occupying each corner of the wall, a black lacquer long table in the middle, and a standing copper lamp on the side, with no lamp oil, only a lamp stand. A bamboo curtain separated the inside and outside, with an octagonal table and a few curved stools placed in the outside area. There was a vase of withered dry flowers on the table – so dry they were as hard as wire.
This was his new home from now on. Qi Yin sat opposite from Fu Lan, feeling a little melancholy.
He would never go back to that home in Wu Tang.
“Are we married?” Fu Lan asked him. “Only couples live in the same room.”
“We are brothers,” Qi Yin said expressionlessly. “Brothers live in the same room, and couples sleep in the same bed.”
“When can we sleep in the same bed?” Fu Lan asked.
Qi Yin sighed and said, “Give up that idea, I will not marry you. We are both men, and who knows, I might even be bigger than you when I take off my pants.”
Fu Lan stared at him blankly, apparently not understanding what he meant.
The black cat jumped onto the desk and said earnestly, “Far from it. When you were bowing earlier, this old cat took a glance, and your size is much smaller than that fool’s.”
Qi Yin: “……”
Qi Yin wisely didn’t continue this topic, and instead opened the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Talismans” that Yun Zhi had sold them. Qi Yin didn’t have much hope for that guy, guessing that he was just trying to cheat them out of their money. But the guy had worked hard to bring them here and had shown them around, so they could consider those three copper coins as a fee for his trouble.
The book was quite well-organized, with a symbol drawn on each page, labeled with the name and function of the talisman. The farther back it went, the more difficult the symbols became, and at the end, it was completely messy and looked like a ghost drawing, making their heads ache just looking at it.
“Do we have to memorize all of this?” Qi Yin cried out.
“Of course.” The black cat put its paw on the page. “Talismans are a way for ordinary people to harness the power of the heavens and the earth to repel evil spirits. In ancient times, the great shamans communicated with the gods through a book, known as the ‘Forbidden Golden Book’. Now that the Forbidden Golden Book is lost, only a few words and sentences remain, and they have become talismans. If you understand the Forbidden Golden Book, you naturally don’t need to memorize them, but since you don’t, you can only memorize them.”
“Ah…” Qi Yin looked down at the “ghost drawing” symbols, which were even harder to draw than reading the Four Books and Five Classics (2).
“What ‘Ah’? You still have a lot to learn.” The black cat glanced at him. “The drawing of talismans has strict rules, which is to mimic the ceremony of the great shamans summoning the gods. The great shamans danced to summon the gods, and their dance steps and rhythms followed strict procedures, otherwise the gods would not be pleased and would not come. Drawing talismans is the same. Every stroke and every stop must be in place, otherwise you cannot harness the power of the heavens and the earth.”
“Can you draw one for me to see?” Qi Yin asked.
The black cat patted Fu Lan’s shoulder and said, “You draw.” Fu Lan’s fingertips gathered a faint blue glow, and he drew several winding lines in the air. The glow flowed calmly from his fingertips, and a small flying fish swam in the air. The room gradually lit up, and a soft halo enveloped them. The room seemed to be filled with invisible water ripples, and the light shimmered.
Qi Yin opened his eyes wide in surprise and asked, “What is this?”
“My avatar,” Fu Lan replied.
“It’s so beautiful,” Qi Yin said excitedly. “Teach me, Ge.”
“You can’t learn it, and your spiritual power is not enough,” the black cat said. “Fu Lan’s void drawing relies on his spiritual power. You can only use yellow paper and cinnabar to draw symbols.”
“Why don’t you draw?” Qi Yin asked the black cat.
The black cat snorted and said, “My spiritual power has been sealed. I don’t even have any demon energy, let alone spiritual energy to draw symbols.”
“I will teach you,” Fu Lan suddenly said.
He walked over to Qi Yin and sat down next to him, his left hand stroking his back, and his right hand holding Qi Yin’s hand. Qi Yin was startled and wanted to break free, but Fu Lan whispered, “Don’t move.”
He felt a chilly touch on his back. It was Fu Lan transferring his spiritual power into his body. The cool spiritual power flowed through his meridians and condensed in his fingertips. Fu Lan held his hand and drew the symbols in the air. The glow flickered, and a small fish shimmered with a gentle halo as it swam out of his fingertips.
In an instant, Qi Yin’s senses became extremely sharp. He couldn’t tell if he was “seeing” things himself, or if it was the fish “seeing” things. Every corner of the room was visible to him, from the spider webs in the corners to the cracks in the walls and tiles, and even every hair on the black cat’s body.
However, the clearest thing was Fu Lan. This man sat next to him, and his breath completely enveloped him. The cool and clear scent reminded him of the mountains after rain, with wet grass and broken leaves on the ground. He couldn’t help turning his head to look at him. Fu Lan silently tilted his chin slightly upward, and his eyes reflected the faint blue fish. The halo softened his facial features, revealing a unique tenderness.
This guy… actually looks quite handsome…
Qi Yin suddenly felt that it was nice to have Fu Lan with him, even though he was not very smart and always had ulterior motives. But when they were together, he didn’t feel lonely. They had spent some money to learn the tricks of swindling people in this thief mountain. In the future, they could be two brothers who bluffed and deceived people. He would be responsible for fooling people, and Fu Lan would be the bait. This guy looked honest, so people wouldn’t suspect him.
“Dai Ge.” Qi Yin pulled his hand out of Fu Lan’s palm and asked, “What’s the story behind our engagement when we were young?”
Fu Lan: “A Fu said you are my child bride, and we’ll get married when we grow up.”
Qi Yin was speechless. This was just nonsense. What mother would marry her son off to a demon as a bride, especially when they were all scared enough to move out of town?
Qi Yin scratched his head and asked, “Why do you want to marry a mortal as your wife? Don’t you monsters hate mortals?”
“Well, mortals make empty promises and tell lies.”
“Yeah, I don’t keep my promises either, and I lie too.”
Fu Lan touched his head, his big, black eyes focused and serious.
“But you’re cute.”
1. Feng Shui – a Chinese philosophical system of arranging objects and buildings in a specific way to create a harmonious flow of energy, or “chi,” in a space. It can be used to change the fates of people in a small household, but certainly not revitalise an entire Daoist sect’s former glory, so the sect leader is just saying nonsense here.
2. Four Books and Five Classics – the authoritative book on Confucianism, written by Confucius himself.