Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, and a group of people pushed in, chattering and clamoring. Qi Yin was startled to see that they were all his senior brothers and sisters.
The first to enter was a young girl wearing a light green bamboo cloth dress, holding a small black tray with two bowls of soup and two plates of vegetables. The girl put the tray on the table and smiled. “I’m Sang Ruo, your senior sister. Little junior brother, you must not have had dinner yet. Since the Elder of Precepts is not here, just have what we made for now, and return the bowls and chopsticks to us tomorrow morning.”
Qi Yin thanked her repeatedly. He introduced Fu Lan, and everyone greeted each other. It turned out that the Elder of Precepts, Ye Qing Ming, had eight male disciples, all with the surname Liu, and six female disciples, all with the surname Sang. This small sect, from top to bottom, had only twenty-one people including the fat cat that Fu Lan brought. Adding the disciples serving the sect leader, there were only twenty-six people.
A little girl with her hair in two buns squeezed in. She was around eight or nine years old. She clapped her hands, laughing. “Great, I’m not the last to join anymore. I’m your senior sister, Sang Ya. If you don’t understand anything, just ask me.” She then saw the black cat and her eyes lit up. “A cat! Can I touch it?”
Qi Yin was about to warn her to be careful as the cat may scratch her, but when he turned his head, he saw the fat cat already lying in Sang Ruo’s arms, eyes closed, rubbing against her chest.
Qi Yin: “……”
“You guys are so amazing.” Sang Ruo scratched the black cat’s chin and said, “The sect leader hasn’t accepted any disciples for a long time. Senior Brother Yun Zhi has been his only disciple. I never thought that you would join his group as soon as you arrived.”
Qi Yin thought with a wooden face that it was probably because they were easy targets, and had handed over one or two silver coins as soon as they arrived.
“I heard that you are Master Qi’s son. We took you away, and now Wan Fang Mountain must be furious. Oh, by the way, our sect is relatively poor, so please don’t mind. If your clothes are torn or broken, just come to me or Sang Ya to have them mended. Since you’ve just joined, we’ll be kind to you and only charge two copper coins per piece,” Sang Ruo said with a smiling face.
Qi Yin laughed dryly and said, “Thanks for your concern, Senior Sister, but I can sew my own clothes. You don’t have to trouble yourselves.”
Sang Ruo seemed disappointed. “Oh.”
A group of senior brothers came over to ask Qi Yin about his hometown. When they heard that Qi Yin was from Jiangnan and had come all the way to Cixi, one of them was deeply moved and chatted with him for a long time. Qi Yin didn’t realize until he had chatted for a long time that Fu Lan, who was not good with words, had been silent like a girl all the time. Qi Yin was worried that he couldn’t get along with his fellow senior brothers and sisters, so he turned his head to look for him. Upon closer inspection, he and the black cat were surrounded by a group of women. Sang Ya was sitting directly on his lap, holding his arm and chatting with him.
“What did you do before? What does your family do?” a senior sister asked.
Fu Lan shook his head. “I have no family. I wandered around with the cat.”
Everyone’s faces showed a look of pity. Sang Ruo sighed and said, “No wonder you have gone astray and become a demonic practitioner without parents. Fortunately, you came to Feng Huan Mountain. Don’t worry, we will take you on the right path in the future. Junior Brother, from now on, you just need to send your clothes, shoes, and socks here, and we will help you mend them for free.”
They all entered the door together, but why was the treatment so different? Qi Yin looked back at the pillars, where his shadow was reflected in the black paint. His thick eyebrows were still handsome, even though his face was a little tanned. He asked himself why he was not as popular with women as Fu Lan was. He stopped looking at Fu Lan, walked to the threshold, and sat down. Several senior brothers either stood or sat beside him, and they chuckled and said, “Women like pretty boys, especially those who have a cat. Don’t worry; we’ll teach you how to approach girls.”
A guy named Liu Bai came over and leaned against Qi Yin’s shoulder. He had fair skin, a pair of flirtatious phoenix eyes, and a teardrop mole under his right eye. He leaned his elbow on Qi Yin’s shoulder and spoke excitedly, “You can ignore everything else in our sect’s Daoist arts, but there are two things you must learn. The first is sword control.”
“Why?” Qi Yin was not very interested and was drooping his eyelids.
“If you master sword control, you can take a girl out for a ride.” Liu Bai wagged his eyebrows. “If you have a top-grade immortal sword and a sword control technique that allows you to travel thousands of miles in a day without dropping a sweat, how could a girl refuse to climb onto your sword?”
“What’s the second thing?”
With a wave of his hand, Liu Bai took out a pen and a piece of yellow talisman paper from nowhere and started drawing on it. “Buy Senior Brother Yun’s ‘Complete Idiot’s Guide to Talisman Magic’,” he said. “Flip to Volume 2, Fourth Talisman, the Shapeshifting Talisman. Look!” With a flick of his brush, he produced a bunch of bright red wild azaleas, dazzlingly beautiful. “See that? Last time, I gave a bunch of flowers like this to Xiao Hui, the girl from the herb shop at the foot of the mountain, and she was so enchanted by me.”
“Learned anything?” one of the senior brothers laughed. “Yun Zhi was the first to learn how to control a sword and use shapeshifting talismans. He’s held hands with all the senior sisters except that little brat Liang who’s always up to no good.”
Qi Yin’s heart was as cold as ashes. Nothing was serious here on this thieves’ den.
Well, he consoled himself, he was just here to kill time. If he could really learn some flashy magic tricks and cheat a girl into marrying him, then this trip wouldn’t have been in vain.
“By the way, where does Senior Brother Yun live?” Qi Yin asked. “He led us here earlier, but we didn’t see him again.”
“Senior Brother doesn’t live with us. He lives with our sect leader,” Liubai said. “He always has nightmares at night, and our sect leader worries that he’ll be possessed in his dreams, so he often exorcises his nightmares for him.”
“Nightmares?” Qi Yin was puzzled. Did he kidnap a woman from somewhere and feel guilty, afraid that she would come to him in his dreams for revenge?
“That’s right.” A group of senior sisters walked ove. Sang Ya carried a black cat and sat down on the doorstep, saying, “Senior Brother is so pitiful. When he was seven years old, he saw his parents swallowed by a snake demon with his own eyes. The snake demon even raised Senior Brother as food and tied a rope around his neck to lead him around. Later, our sect leader happened to pass by and saw him, and that’s how Senior Brother was saved.”
Qi Yin was stunned. The mischievous smile of Yun Zhi, that little brat, floated before his eyes. He didn’t look like he had suffered such a terrible disaster.
“After that, Senior Brother always has nightmares. Our sect leader even called us to take turns to exorcise the nightmares. He said he saw us beat the snake demon in his dreams and Senior Brother wouldn’t be afraid anymore.”
Suddenly, Qi Yin had a guess in his heart and asked, “What about you guys? Why did you come here to cultivate?”
“We’re all orphans,” Liu Bai said. “I have a heart disease and was abandoned by my parents when I was a child. When our master went down the mountain to collect scrap metal, he found me in a broken basket and carried me up the mountain.”
“Sang Ya and I were abandoned by our parents because they wanted sons, not daughters.” Sang Ruo combed Sang Ya’s hair with her fingers. “Our master spent a lot of money to buy us from slave traders, and then we followed our master to practice cultivation.”
A strange feeling surged in Qi Yin’s heart. The sun had set, and the last ray of light disappeared. The night slowly fell, and the brilliant Milky Way flowed quietly in the sky. Everyone sat together under the doorstep and looked at the night sky.
This is the feeling of home, Qi Yin thought.
“Wait a minute.” Qi Yin suddenly realized something. “Why do me and Dai Ge have to pay to join the sect?”
“Have you ever shown off your wealth in front of Senior Brother?” Sang Ruo covered her mouth and laughed. “Senior Brother is very cunning. He must have talked to the sect leader and divided your money among themselves.”
Qi Yin: “… I really shouldn’t have expected too much from them.”
Tomorrow they still had to attend classes, so everyone went back to their rooms to sleep. Sang Ya gave them a few light talismans, and Qi Yin put the talismans on the wall. The room instantly lit up. Fu Lan didn’t seem to need to eat or drink, so he let the black cat and Qi Yin finish the soup and noodles.
After a satisfying meal, Qi Yin wanted to go out to relieve himself. He pushed the door and saw the shadows of trees outside. He remembered Yun Zhi’s warning earlier and couldn’t help but feel scared. Could there be a nine-headed bird monster or something in the immortal mountain? But he really needed to pee, so he dragged Fu Lan to accompany him and walked along the dirt road with his hands in his pockets.
In front of them, Qi Yin saw two people, one tall and one short, pushing each other in the middle of the road.
The man said, “I’ll escort you back to your room, and I’ll leave after you go in.”
The woman giggled for a while and said, “No, I’ll escort you. You go first.”
The man said again, “No, I have to escort you.”
The woman said in a coquettish voice, “Don’t…”
The two of them were blocking the way. The dirt road was too narrow, and Qi Yin and Fu Lan had no way to pass, so they had to wait and watch from a distance. After suffering the chilliness of the night wind for a long time, the man escorted the woman back to her room and went back to the opposite tiled house with his sleeves rolled up.
Qi Yin: “…”
Damn, these two idiots live so close by. Why did they waste so much time just now?
They walked around the village but couldn’t find the toilet. Most of the people who practiced cultivation in the immortal mountain abstained from eating and drinking, so there was no such demand. Qi Yin had to pull Fu Lan into the forest. But before they entered, Fu Lan stopped him and said, “There are many people inside.”
“Ah? Where are the people?” Qi Yin looked at the dark forest, and the shadows of the trees seemed to overlap like human figures.
Qi Yin suddenly realized that the “people” that Fu Lan mentioned may not be real “people.” He shuddered and quickly took a few steps back, leaning closely to Fu Lan.