It hadn’t even been a month since Cheng Qian was initiated into the Fuyao Sect, and he already ran into the biggest crisis of his life – he, as the apprentice of a weasel, with his narcissistic, presumptuous and sissy first senior brother, as well as his artful and cunning second senior brother, was going to rescue his fourth junior brother, who might have been eaten down to bones, from a henroost.
What if the Hen Zhenren wouldn’t release him?
And what if their fourth junior brother had already been served on someone’s plate by the time they arrived.
Cheng Qian contemplated the talisman in his hand. Their master threw it to them right after he finished carving it, giving no information about what it was for and how to use it. But first senior brother just took it and left without asking. Did he know that already?
Cheng Qian hesitated to believe that first senior brother actually knew anything besides incense. Thus he braced himself up for Yan Zhengming’s imaginable mockery and asked modestly, “Senior Brother, do you know what this talisman is for?”
“Summoning lightning.” Replied Yan Zhengming without even thinking.
Getting such a direct answer, Cheng Qian breathed a sigh of relief. First senior brother seemed very self-assured and confident, so that must be it; he did have energy feel, and systematically learned about charms after all.
It was pitiful, but if Cheng Qian knew how conceited his first senior brother was, he wouldn’t have felt relieved so early – the truth was that Yan Zhengming only took a brief glance at the charms, and got a rough idea that it resembled the lightning-summoning charms, which he replied to Cheng Qian assertively.
Yan Zhengming had little patience to routinely sit and learn those boring charms. He only memorized the rough shapes of some familiar charms perfunctorily, just for the sake of satisfying his master’s examinations. He had no concept of what “a small discrepancy can lead to a great error” meant in the art of charms.
Soon enough, they arrived at the back of the mountain. Cheng Qian aside, the other two knew the way very well.
There was a precipitous cliff. Through the apertures between the rocks, they could see the abyss down there and hear a sinister wind gusting up.
Cheng Qian couldn’t resist looking down, after which his heart twanged like a giant elastic band. It was too high and too deep. He had never been somewhere so dangerous, his face suddenly blanched. But after he caught his breath, he was somehow attracted by the spectacular abyss. Holding back the feeling of nausea, Cheng Qian gulped, craned his neck, and took another look down cautiously.
Perhaps due to him normally being overly observant and proper, Cheng Qian found for the first time, that he was somewhat fond of such a perilous place near the abyss.
“What are you looking at? Do you want to be smashed into a flat meat pie?” Seeing Cheng Qian almost stretching his upper body hazardously, Yan Zhengming clenched his shoulder and pulled him back vigorously.
Yan Zhengming was very puzzled on why these brats all had the inclination to dice with death. He couldn’t help recollecting that when he was their age, he behaved himself and never played up. Could it be that the kids master brought back this time were both freaks?
Certainly, “delicate” young master Yan never roughhoused, he couldn’t even stir himself to walk to the morning classes and would like to be carried over instead. There was no trouble that was tempting enough to entice him.
By now, they could already hear the sound of water. Yan Zhengming rubbed the mud off his shoes onto a big rock with an inexplicably hateful expression, as if it was the greatest sacrilege in the world that his shoes were mudded.
After that, he turned to Li Yun and glared at him. “We’re almost there. This way.”
This young master was spoiled to the point of being unruly. He never concealed a ghost of his emotions and just displayed them very explicitly on the face. Cheng Qian felt malice, contempt and loathing from first senior brother’s glare, as if it was saying “Aren’t you dying to see what the cave looks like? Now your wish has come true. Have a good look then.”
Li Yun’s face went chalk white. Seeing that, Cheng Qian started deliberating over what he should do to put down the fire if senior brothers got into a fight, as he was so little and trivial.
Quite unexpectedly, however, Li Yun remained as mute as a fish. He willingly accepted being treated like a doormat for the time being, as if the more Yan Zhengming was sarcastic to him, the better he would feel.
Yan Zhengming shot him a ferocious stare, and led them to the pond on the top of the hill and stood by.
“Can you both swim?” Asked Yan Zhengming. But immediately he said to himself before the other two could reply, “It doesn’t matter if you can’t. Hold your breath and stay close to me. Don’t flap about when you’re in the water.”
Finishing that, Yan Zhengming caught hold of Cheng Qian by his wrist with a very disgusted and loath expression, as though being forced to touch dog shit.
Cheng Qian had never touched such a hand, which was cared more meticulously than anyone else’s he had seen – even better than that of the maid’s, who combed first senior brother’s hair. There were only a few unnoticeable calluses on the parts which he used to hold a sword and writing brush, yet they weren’t very thick. So you could see that this guy wasn’t hard-working at all.
Apart from that, there wasn’t a half, let alone a single, agnail on his hands.
But soon after, Cheng Qian was dragged into the water by this beautiful, fair hand.
The water was bone-chilling, and Cheng Qian nearly choked. Their jumps created many foams and splashes, making it difficult to find the direction. Clinging to the tablet in his bosom, Cheng Qian was drawn forward by Yan Zhengming.
Soon, a huge rock got in their way.
Yan Zhengming pulled over Cheng Qian’s sleeve and used it as a cleaning cloth to wipe the moss and waterweed off the rock, and a small figure of the Big Dipper exposed itself. Yan Zhengming felt the part around the head of the dipper, then pressed somewhere with his thumb.
If you were familiar with horoscopes, you would know the place Yan Zhengming pressed was where the Dubhe1 was. Suddenly, the stone gate rumbled open. Cheng Qian was nearly washed away by the surging torrent. He held tight to the gate with hands and feet, and pounced forward with all his might.
But presently, Cheng Qian was surprised to find that he was standing on the ground.
There was a narrow aisle behind the stone gate, which cleaved through the water deep to the earth. The water seemed to be cut off by something invisible and intangible, and thus the aisle was like a transparent tube sticking underwater. Water drops slid down Cheng Qian’s body and reunited with the rest; sprays were blocked outside and therefore wouldn’t splash.
Under their feet were stone steps which just allowed one person at a time, winding down to the deep of the valley.
Yan Zhengming carried his garish sword in hand. Apparently he didn’t want to rile someone, as he kept the sword in its scabbard even though he was already on the alert.
The stone steps seemed endless. It became unbearably cold and dark as they went deeper.
Having remained mute all the way, Li Yun finally couldn’t restrain himself anymore and asked, “He… How on earth did little junior brother come down here? I don’t think he had the nerve to come somewhere so deep alone.”
That was Cheng Qian’s doubt too. As to his knowledge, that loser was even afraid of dogs, he definitely didn’t have such valorous spirit of exploration, even for the sake of energy feel.
“Rubbish. In the evening of the first and fifteenth days, thousands of monsters worship the moon, and the stone gate opens wide. The valley is definitely not the same as what you see now.” Said first senior brother wearing a condescending face. “Think twice before you say stupid things.”
His words smacked each of his junior brothers in the face and reduced them to silence.
All of a sudden, Yan Zhengming came to a halt, which caught Cheng Qian flat-footed. Cheng Qian ran into him in an unguarded moment.
Cheng Qian’s height barely reached Yan Zhengming’s chest. So Yan Zhengming stuck out his hand and stopped Cheng Qian without much effort.
The perfume of orchid on first senior brother’s body, which was so strong that even the cold water failed to dilute it, stifled Cheng Qian and made him want to sneeze. Afterwards, he heard a hissing sound. Looking down, he found that his dirtied and smeared sleeve was ripped off by first senior brother.
And first senior brother said with righteous distaste, “Why are you still wearing that? Isn’t it sloppy enough?”
As if it wasn’t he that dirtied Cheng Qian’s sleeve!
Being made to be a “cut-sleeve”2, Cheng Qian suddenly felt his first senior brother wasn’t like a young girl at all – should such an impudent girl really exist in the world, by no means could she be married off in the future.
Before they noticed it, the end of the steps was reached. Right in front of them was the mouth of a cave which was taller than two adults. The door which was supposed to be shut tight was wide open, exposing an eerie and gloomy corner inside.
“Strange.” Yan Zhengming breathed. “Didn’t Zipeng Zhenren close the door?”
Human beings and monsters were totally different. Yan Zhengming personally hated hairy beasts and feathery birds; and to put himself in the monster’s place, he didn’t think a feather-less human being would be welcome here. The cave wasn’t originally a comfortable place, and the abnormality today even disquieted the inattentive Yan Zhengming.
After a second of hesitation, Yan Zhengming walked in and was greeted by a gust of sweet fragrance. Yet still, he sensed a faint hint of blood with his acute nose.
There was a chicken feather engraved on the stone wall. But right now, the imprint was very blurry and fading, with its tail being almost invisible. It could be easily inferred without any common sense that the owner of this imprint wasn’t in a good situation. But the problem was… whether she was approaching the end of her predestined lifespan or badly injured by someone.
Zipeng Zhenren was a super monster that had vast magic powers with the deposits of over eight hundred years’ cultivation. Normally, they shouldn’t have sneaked in so easily without arousing her vigilance. To play it safe, Yan Zhengming kept quiet.
He turned around and made a gesture of “hush” at his pesky junior brothers. Then he creeped to the front of a locked inner stone door, and twiddled a knob on the surface gingerly.
Halfway through it, he paused as if something occurred to him. Then he hissed at Li Yun and Cheng Qian angrily, “Keep back! Can’t you see what I am doing, or you want to stand there and be live targets?”
Cheng Qian and Li Yun immediately backed sideways.
Yan Zhengming gave the knob a few turns until it couldn’t be twiddled.
The stone gate let out a hoarse moan, which was so creepy that Cheng Qian got goose bumps all over his arms. A strong smell of blood overpowered him, and promptly, he heard an ominous sound of wind. But before he was able to alert his senior brothers, he caught a peep of sword light out of the corner of his eye.
It was first senior brother drawing his sword, a real, incisive sword, which glinted so brightly that it was almost burning. A current of raw air was mobilized by him, whirling and eddying in the pokey cave.
Unfortunately, the negligible power of a young man was absolutely ridiculous in the big monster’s eyes, just like an ant trying to shake a giant tree. Before Yan Zhengming could draw out his sword, he felt some emphatic press on it and the part between his thumb and the index finger fell to shaking badly. In no case could his well-preserved hands withstand such a pain as if they were being torn apart. He did a double-take when he loosed his grip on the sword in spite of himself.
The sword dropped onto the ground. Yan Zhengming doddered backwards for several steps and his hand holding the sword just now had gone numb.
The three lads looked at the ground in astonishment and saw that lying beside the coldly-glinting sword was a feather which had knocked it into the air.
Horrible stillness began to grow. Cheng Qian could see first senior brother’s face had gone ghastly.
After quite a while, Yan Zhengming dusted the dirt off his body, and said frowning, “Yan Zhengming, junior of Fuyao Sect, comes to send his greetings to Zipeng Zhenren under his master’s order.”
- Dubhe: see here.
- cut-sleeve: an allusion to gay. Here’s its source:
Emperor Ai of Han Dynasty was sleeping in the daytime with Dong Xian, his male lover, stretched out across his sleeve. When the emperor wanted to get up, Dong Xian was still asleep. Because he did not want to disturb him, the emperor cut off his own sleeve and got up.